Addressing Spiritual and Religious Issues in Counseling African Americans: Implications for Counselor Training and Practice

By Constantine, Madonna G.; Lewis, Erica L. et al. | Counseling and Values, October 2000 | Go to article overview

Addressing Spiritual and Religious Issues in Counseling African Americans: Implications for Counselor Training and Practice


Constantine, Madonna G., Lewis, Erica L., Conner, Latoya C., Sanchez, Delida, Counseling and Values


Addressing spiritual and religious issues in the context of counseling relationships may be beneficial to many African American clients. The authors discuss various roles and functions of spirituality and religion in the lives of many African Americans, with particular attention to the impact of these issues on their mental health functioning and willingness to seek formal mental health services. The importance of academic training programs that prepare counselors to address potential spiritual and religious issues with their clients, is also highlighted.

Spirituality and religion have historically played important roles in the lives of numerous African Americans (Mendes, 1982; Nobles, 1991; Taylor, Thornton, & Chatters, 1987), and many African Americans have been reared with a belief in God or a higher power (Boyd-Franklin, 1989). The baseline rates of religious involvement for African Americans are generally higher than those of the general U.S. population (Chatters, Taylor, & Lincoln, 1999; Levin, Taylor, & Chatters, 1994; Taylor, Chatters, Jayakody, & Levin, 1996). For example, African Americans have been found to (a) report higher levels of attendance at religious services than Whites, (b) read more religious materials and monitor religious broadcasts more than Whites, and (c) seek spiritual comfort through religion more so than Whites (Taylor et al., 1996).

Studies within the last 10 years have reported that a majority of African Americans are affiliated with a religious denomination (Gallup & Castelli, 1991; Taylor et al., 1996). Some religious denominations represented within the African American community include African Methodist Episcopal, Apostolic, Baptist, Church of God in Christ, Congregational, Episcopal, Jehovah's Witness, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, and a variety of Islamic sects (Boyd-Franklin, 1989; Richardson & June, 1997). By religious affiliation, 52% of African Americans report their religious denomination as Baptist, almost 12% identify as Methodist, and about 6% identify as Catholic (Taylor & Chatters, 1991). Moreover, an estimated 30% of American Muslims are African Americans (Hoge, 1996). Despite the general importance of religious and spiritual issues to many African Americans, the impact of such issues on some African American clients who may present for counseling has not been addressed in traditional academic training curricula (Shafranske, 1996). Counselors' exposure to spiritual and religious issues and the roles that these constructs play in the lives of many African American clients may help counselors to meet these clients' needs more effectively.

In the context of African American culture, religious denominations and groups may provide frameworks from which to practice specific beliefs, rituals, and rites (Mbiti, 1991). Affiliation with a particular spiritual or religious ideology is viewed as an important component of the psychological health of many African Americans (e.g., Ellison, 1993; Lukoff, Turner, & Lu, 1992; Mendes, 1982; Moore, 1991; Taylor et al., 1987), and spiritual and religious issues may represent integral parts of many African Americans' self-identity. Nonaffiliation with a specific religion may also represent a form of spiritual expression among African Americans (Taylor, 1988).

The African diaspora (i.e., the dispersion of African natives primarily into North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean during the centuries of slavery and the slave trade) is partly responsible for (a) the presence of African Americans in the United States (Constantine, Richardson, Benjamin, & Wilson, 1998) and (b) the diverse religious affiliations represented among African Americans. Although the terms "Blacks" and "African Americans" are frequently used interchangeably in the literature, African Americans represent a substantial subgroup of Blacks who reside in the United States (Constantine et al. …

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