Working with Spirituality in Counseling by: Ryan D. Foster, Texas A&M University-Commerce

Spirituality is an integral component of human development (Benson, 2004; Foster & Holden, 2011). However, for several decades, experts in the field of counseling advised that counselors avoid talking with clients about their spiritual or religious beliefs (Young & Cashwell, 2011). With the increasing importance of taking into consideration clients’ cultural worldviews, organizations such as the Association for Spiritual, Ethical, and Religious Values in Counseling (ASERVIC), a division of the American Counseling Association, have emphasized the significance of assessing the role of spirituality in clients’ lives.

Young and Cashwell (2011) defined spirituality as “the universal human capacity to experience self-transcendence and awareness of sacred immanence, with resulting increases in greater self-other compassion and love” (p. 7). This definition of spirituality is both broad and flexible enough to incorporate a wide variety of client perspectives. Whereas clients often express their spirituality through religion, these two concepts are not the same thing. Religion is primarily a formalized structure that includes spiritual components.

Professional counselors should keep a few important points in mind regarding the intersection of spirituality and counseling (Young & Cashwell, 2011). First, counselors might find it useful to inquire about the role of spirituality or religion in their clients’ lives at intake. Asking about the role of spirituality or lack thereof when getting a background history might inform counselors about the significance or meaning clients place on these concepts. Second, counselors should always respect and respond to clients’, not counselors’, views of spirituality. Counselors should never project their own personal value system, including spirituality, onto clients. Third, if clients express that spirituality has meaning for them, counselors may want to integrate spiritual practices into their work with these clients. For example, counseling researchers have indicated value in using mindfulness (Greason, 2011) and ritual (Basham, 2011) with clients who are open to these methods. However, counselors should never use any spiritual practice in which they have not had both personal experience and formal training. Finally, counselors should become aware of their own personal views of spirituality (Hagedorn & Moorhead, 2011), just as counselors work to be aware of personal value systems and cultural beliefs.

For some clients, discussing spirituality and using spiritual practices in counseling can be a powerful component of their intra- and interpersonal healing process. As counselors, we should have knowledge, skills, and self-awareness for integrating a multitude of spiritual approaches into counseling.

References
Basham, A. (2011). Ritual in counseling. In C. S. Cashwell & J. S. Young (Eds.),
Integrating spirituality and religion into counseling (2nd ed., pp. 209-224).
Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Benson, P. L. (2004). Emerging themes in research on adolescent spiritual and religious
development. Applied Developmental Science, 8, 47-50.

Foster, R. D., & Holden, J. M. (2011). Human and spiritual development and
transformation. In C. S. Cashwell & J. S. Young (Eds.), Integrating spirituality and
religion into counseling (2nd ed., pp. 97-118). Alexandria, VA: American
Counseling Association.

Greason, D. P. B. (2011). Mindfulness. In C. S. Cashwell & J. S. Young (Eds.),
Integrating spirituality and religion into counseling (2nd ed., pp. 183-208).
Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Hagedorn, W. B., & Moorhead, H. J. H. (2011). Counselor self-awareness: Exploring
attitudes,beliefs, and values. In C. S. Cashwell & J. S. Young (Eds.), Integrating \
spirituality and religion into counseling (2nd ed., pp. 71-96). Alexandria, VA:
American Counseling Association.

Young, J. S., & Cashwell, C. S. (2011). Integrating spirituality and religion into
counseling: An introduction. In C. S. Cashwell & J. S. Young (Eds.), Integrating
spirituality and religion into counseling (2nd ed., pp. 1-24). Alexandria, VA:
American Counseling Association.

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