For many people spirituality is a significant resource for understanding themselves, their lives, their purpose, and their place in the world. For many, a belief in a higher power is a major source of hope and faith. It is an important resource for coping with difficult circumstances. Often clients go to therapy desiring to incorporate their spiritual beliefs into their work with their therapist. For these individuals, couples, and families, it can be difficult to find a therapist who has training in both spirituality and therapy. Western culture has long held the belief that spirituality and religion are private matters and rarely discussed outside of formal houses of worship. In fact, it is rare to find a training program that teaches therapists how to address a client’s spirituality in the context of therapy. This lack of training leads to a therapeutic relationship in which neither the therapist nor the client feel comfortable talking about spirituality in therapy, which means spirituality is often left out of the therapeutic process.
Finding the Right Therapist for You
If you’re looking for a therapist who can help you reach your therapeutic goals while also helping you integrate your spiritual or religious practices consider if any of the following are important to you:
Is a specific faith background important to you? For instance, if you’re a practicing Christian of a specific denomination, is it important to you that your counselor be of the same denomination?
What training do you want your counselor to have? Is it important that your counselor have a theological degree such as a Master of Divinity or Doctor of Ministry or a certification in faith-based counseling?
How would you like to pay for your counseling? Many pastoral counselors and pastoral psychotherapists are not providers on insurance panels because many insurance panels do not recognize pastoral counseling and pastoral psychotherapy as a clinical fields of counseling.
How to Approach Spirituality with Your Therapist?
Should you decide to seek therapy from a therapist or counselor it may be acceptable to you to find an appropriately licensed therapist who also has training in spirituality and religion. You could still look for some of the criteria above. For example, some therapists have both clinical therapeutic training which allows them to diagnose mental health disorders as well as theological training and experience with spiritual care. If you’re not sure if your therapist has this background approaching the topic of spirituality with your therapist could create anxiety. As an example, a client reported that he once brought up the importance of spirituality with his therapist to hear his therapist reply, “Hey, if you want to talk about religion then you need to go somewhere else.” This response from a therapist can feel frustrating and even embarrassing to a client. And it can be particularly disheartening for anyone who has trusted a therapist to be neutral and objective in their approach to therapy. When considering a discussion of the importance of your spiritual resources and world-view with your therapist it may be helpful to keep a few things in mind:
Your therapist may be just as anxious as you to approach this topic.
Sometimes it’s difficult for the therapist to know the difference between spirituality and religion in therapy. Your therapist may assume you want him or her to be a specialist in religious matters.
Many therapists do not receive training on the topic of spirituality and how to address this in therapy. Most institutions that train therapists teach cultural competence and cultural awareness in therapy and leave pastors to address spirituality with clients.
Most therapists mean well and want to be ethical in their practice of therapy and don’t want to force their own worldview on their clients. They realize that spirituality and one’s faith can be a private matter. They want to respect the autonomy of their clients.
Should you, the client, talk about spirituality or religion in therapy?
If it is important to you, then YES you should! If your therapist isn’t comfortable talking about what is important to you then it might be time to seek help from another therapist. It may be difficult, but it is possible to find a therapist with the specific background in therapy and spiritual counseling that will be a good fit for you. The important thing to remember is the therapy hour is your hour. If you would like to work with a therapist who is also a seasoned professional with a spiritual care background contact Jim Workman at Olive Branch Family Therapy by phone at (919) 428-7746 or self-schedule online through the client portal at www.olivebranchtherapync.com.
Jim Workman is a North Carolina licensed marriage and family therapist and Board Certified Chaplain with 15 years of experience in interfaith spiritual care in a variety of clinical settings. For more information see Jim’s profile at http://www.olivebranchtherapync.com/about-jim.