One of the two things you are never supposed to talk about in social situations is religion (the other being politics) because as we all know, opinions differ, debates become heated and good relationships can become strained.  But what about in the  counseling process?  Can one talk about religion or spiritual issues?

Historically, the answer has been no.  Counselors have shied away from discussing spiritual matters for fear of imposing their own values on a client.  Our professional associations have even had difficulty defining spirituality, let alone offering effective guidance in this area.

However, both counselors and clients are recognizing a need to do more exploration in this area.  In the broad sense once can think of religious faith or personal spirituality as the framework for how people make sense of the universe, a basis for their value system and their purpose on earth.  What is important is what the client believes, not the counselor.

For clients, their faith can be a source of comfort and support or it can be part of the problem.   For example, young adults often find their beliefs in conflict with their parents.  This can lead to a deep sense of guilt or anger and resentment, causing great interpersonal difficulty in the parent-child relation ship.  Sometimes clients discover they need to re-examine their beliefs and values, especially if they are in the process of divorce and their chosen religion disapproves of divorce.  Sometimes the scenarios are not so clear cut, but clients make comments like “I need to get back into going to church” or “I’m mad at God”.

Spirituality encompasses qualities such as love, compassion, respect, caring, tolerance and forgiveness.  All religions address these values, but even non-believers say these things are important.

When woven into the actions of our daily lives, living by these values help one to feel much greater life satisfaction.  What matters in seeking these “feel good” qualities is clarifying one’s beliefs and helping clients take action to be in alignment with what they believe.  Being in alignment means you are living by your personal code and there is harmony and peace in your life.  Since the goal of counseling is to feel happier and more peaceful, it is not completely possible to separate spirituality from many counseling relationships.

As a human we go through many levels of development, spirituality being one of  them.  Many of the most influential people in my profession have written about the need for spiritual growth and how it affects our outlook on life and decisions that we make.  Many of the books we have selected in our online Bookstore intertwine spiritual issues with personal growth.  We recognize there is a wide variation of personal beliefs and we tell clients to look at the big picture of the message of the books rather than the fine print.  Applying the basic message in your belief system is what is important.

When it comes to spirituality and counseling, look at it this way . . . if you can bare your soul with your deepest, darkest secrets and most personal information, spirituality should be no exception.

 

 

 

Mary Beth George
Mary Beth George is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Gottman Therapist, Master Trainer for the Gottman Institute and co-owner of Couples Counseling & Psychotherapy Associates. She is an empty nester with a passion for rescue dogs, traveling and spending time with people that make her laugh.