Addressing Religion and Spirituality in Counseling Practice

addressing religion and spirituality in counseling practice

Counseling psychologists are expected to take a holistic view of their patients’ lives. This means counseling is based on an assessment of the psychological, biological, and social factors that influence a patient’s issues. There are also studies that suggest that religious values and spirituality should also be taken into consideration when examining mental health.

Why Focus on Religion?

Religion can support positive change during the counseling process. A person’s spiritual beliefs and faith community are sources of strength in the course of therapy. Religious involvement creates a feeling of belonging and connection. Personal spirituality, meanwhile, can provide meaning and purpose.

Counseling psychologists must understand how to carefully address patients with knowledge and respect, as well as awareness of how religion influences behaviors and assumptions. They can discuss the significance religion holds in their clients’ lives in order to establish the proper treatment and evaluate possible involvement of their values.

Religion could be part of the reason why some clients seek counseling. Religion-based issues include crises of faith, feeling alienated from one’s religion, distortion of religious beliefs and practices, and conflicts over religious values.

How can counselors meet the broad spiritual needs of patients?

Many counselors might not be comfortable addressing spiritual and religious issues. Therefore, spiritual, ethical, and religious values may be overlooked by counselors. These counselors could benefit from training on how to assess and treat patients from a religion-based perspective. How can they best meet the broad needs of patients?

Here are ways counselors can respect the religious values of their patients:

  • Active Listening—listen to understand, rather than to have an immediate rebuttal. Listen to hear without making assumptions.
  • Be empathetic—put yourself in the other person’s place. Think about how you would want to be treated and treat the person in that same way.
  • Pay attention to the non-verbal cues coming from your patients. Are they OK or uncomfortable with sharing or communicating their needs?
  • Ask questions in a respectful manner. Open-ended questions generate more substantial responses that have more depth and meaning. Ask how you can support patients spiritually.
  • Demonstrate the values that are important to the patients.

The goal is not to change someone’s belief system. Counselors must recognize that everyone is different.

Our Spiritual Lives

Spirituality serves a critical role in people’s well-being. A comprehensive understanding of a patient’s spiritual needs leads to holistic counseling services. 

Keep in mind, it is not the counseling psychologist’s beliefs, values, and practices that are the main focus, but those of the clients. Empathetic counseling means the counselor puts themself in the client’s shoes. The aim is for the counselor and client to connect without enforcing one’s own beliefs on the other person.

A Holistic Approach to Counseling

Broad counseling skills are the foundation for counselors or therapists seeking to fully understand their clients’ lives. Carlow University’s MA in Psychology program offers comprehensive study about influences on human behavior, including social, cognitive, biological, personality, and developmental. This Psychology master’s degree program offers specializations including forensic, educational, assessment, treatment, therapeutic arts, or general exploration.