Religious or spiritual discussions do not just happen in churches. This lesson looks into spiritual and religious counseling done by therapists and why it is of interest to clients.
Spiritual & Religious Counseling
When I was in high school, I developed a fascination for psychology and knew that I wanted to become a counselor one day. During college, I began getting deeper into my faith and became interested in combining the practices of spirituality with traditional psychotherapy. When looking for graduate programs, I found that this combination did in fact exist and was being practiced by many therapists.
To be more specific, there is spiritual counseling, which is an inclusion of general spiritual topics and practices in therapy sessions, and religious or faith-based counseling, which is an inclusion of topics and practices of religious faiths within therapy sessions. Practitioners of faith-based counseling are most commonly known as pastoral counselors or Christian counselors. Many of today's spiritual and faith-based counselors draw the foundation of their work from a few leaders in the field, like Carl Jung, Harry Moody, and David Carroll.
Leaders in Spiritual Counseling
While spiritual and religious counseling was not practiced often in the 1900s, there was a leading therapist at this time named Carl Jung, who believed mental health should address deeper soul topics, and he investigated dreams as well as life stages.
Decades later, psychologists Harry Moody and David Carroll also contributed to the connection between psychology and spirituality. These two men authored the book The Five Stages of the Soul: Charting the Spiritual Passages That Shape Our Lives, which delves into our search for meaning and fulfillment through life.
What Sessions Look Like
The goal of spiritual and religious counselors is to incorporate spiritual discussions and techniques into mental health sessions. Sessions attempt to use spiritual means to help people with their particular issues and/or to help them develop this area of their life if that is desired.
Here is Erin to demonstrate a typical spiritual counseling session and then Robert to demonstrate a religious one. Erin has been dealing with anxiety lately. Her spiritual counselor teaches her affirmations where she says positive and empowering statements to herself to make her feel strong. He also teaches her meditation techniques to calm her. Lastly, he delves into life questions with Erin about her purpose and her religious faith.
Robert has also been dealing with anxiety. His pastoral counselor guides him to specific Bible verses about peace. He asks him questions about his personal faith and sees if his views connect with those in the Bible and if they are helpful to him. He teaches him ways to pray that will comfort him and grow his relationship with God.
In some cases, spiritual and religious counselors are also trained in psychology. Like me, they could have a psychology degree or they might have taken some psych classes with their spiritual training. Counselors with a psychology background would utilize traditional mental health techniques in sessions, in conjunction with spiritual ones.
Interest in Spiritual Counseling
People who are new to the idea of spiritual counseling may wonder when it would be applicable to clients. Here we have three people: Megan, Tom, and Candy. Each of them is interested in a spiritual or religious counselor for different reasons, but they all want to include spiritual discussions and tools in their sessions. Here are their stories and what they are specifically looking for in counseling.
First, let's meet Megan. Megan is 25 years old and grew up in a strict religious family. She has started investigating her faith, and she has questions about God and the meaning of life that she wants to discuss with a counselor. Megan is also experiencing guilt over past mistakes and fears that God does not want a relationship with her for that reason. She has been having anxiety over low self-worth and has little hope about her future.
Megan is specifically looking for a Christian counselor. When asked why, she shares that she wants someone who can understand what she was taught and discuss those views with her. Her hopes are to find out if God still loves her, how to let go of her guilt, and how to use the Bible as a reference.
Next up, we have 40-year-old Tom. Tom was always focused on his work and had self-esteem only when he was doing well at his job. He has recently been fired unexpectedly, and he's feeling very lost. In fact, his depression is so bad it surprises him. He is now asking questions as to why a career defined everything for him. He wonders if there is more to life and wants to discuss his possible life purpose with a counselor.
Tom would like a counselor who is spiritually-based to explore these deeper topics with him. He does not identify with a specific faith, so he is looking for a broad-based spiritual counselor. He would also like to learn stress reduction techniques, like meditation.
Lastly, we have Candy. Candy is 60 years old. She has been to a few therapists in her life but was reluctant to discuss her faith with them because she felt they would not understand. Now she is facing a situation with her husband, and she'd like to find a counselor with whom she can speak freely about her faith, and how she can draw from it for encouragement and guidance.
She would also like someone to pray with her. Candy has been praying for her husband for years and would like to ask for tips on how to keep her faith going when she feels hopeless. She is looking into seeking a pastoral counselor who has a degree as a pastor along with counseling training.
Let's review. When a therapist combines general spiritual topics and practices with psychology or discusses spirituality exclusively with clients, they are considered spiritual counselors. When therapists focus on topics and practices from certain faiths, they are known as religious or faith-based counselors. Many faith-based counselors are commonly referred to as Christian counselors, pastoral counselors, or biblical counselors.
The goal of spiritual and religious counselors is to incorporate these types of discussions and techniques into mental health sessions in order to address specific issues and/or develop spirituality. This type of intervention may be used alongside psychological techniques or by itself, depending on a counselor's training and a client's needs. Well-known spiritual counselors who have contributed to this field, include Carl Jung, Harry Moody, and David Carroll.
Once you've completed this lesson, you should be able to:
- Differentiate between spiritual counselors and religious counselors
- Describe the goal of spiritual and religious counselors
- Explain how these types of counselors combine mental health and spirituality in their counseling
- Identify well-known counselors who have contributed to the field