Sunday, August 5, 2012

Religion and Spirituality in Counseling

Religion and spirituality are pervasive in the attitudes, perceptions, values, beliefs and values of most people. Consequently they can and do, in fact, affect therapy. Religion and spirituality seem to be psychologically deep-rooted in people. They provide a consolation in place of having a definitive answer to some of life's mysteries. Schieffelin (1976) described tribal rituals similarly in that they help people make sense out of otherwise indefinable phenomena.

These religious and spiritual beliefs become the core for other beliefs, in essence, being a true system, wherein the primary religious or spiritual beliefs become the foundation for the entire system of beliefs. As the foundational structure is supported, so is the entire system of attitudes, perceptions, values, beliefs, and behaviors. Sue and Sue (2008) contend "attitudes, beliefs, and emotional states are intertwined and can have a powerful effect on physiological responses and physical well-being" (p. 211).

Ryff and Singer (1998) found that people who believe they understand their purpose (often through religion and spirituality) have a greater sense of well-being. It is my personal belief that having a sense of purpose and meaning in life is significant and perhaps even central to having psychological health. "Valuing one's life, having a sense of direction and purpose, and being able to comprehend one's experience seem contradictory to many manifestations of psychological distress" (Steger, 1998, p. 9). Chamberlain and Zika (1998) found a direct relationship between having meaning in life (usually through religion or spirituality) and positive mental health. Alternatively, when there is a disconnect with an individual's religion, it can "contribute to pathology rather than alleviate it" (Koenig, 2009, p. 289).

Sue and Sue (2008) list "Culture-Bound Syndromes from the DSM-IV" (p. 212) which speaks to the cultural and societal aspects of psychological distress. Koenig (2009) claims "religious beliefs and practices have long been linked to hysteria, neurosis, and psychotic delusions" (p. 283). Now that psychology has a better understanding of the connection between the mind and the body, it is not unfounded to believe someone can make themselves sick. Consequently, if an individual believes he is out of alignment with his god or his beliefs, such as, the Hmong people, the effect of beliefs could be (and has been) life threatening. Western psychology cannot not always heal the powerful symptoms of an illness that has its pathogenesis in religious or spiritual beliefs (Sue & Sue, 2008). In these cases, the more powerful therapy may be found within the individual's beliefs. In essence, if the individual believes he is sick from evil spirits that have taken up residence within him, perhaps the most effective therapy will be to remove the spirits. As Sue and Sue (2008) explained with the Hmong people, healing only took place with the help of a healer familiar with the Hmong belief system.

Ultimately, it is important to understand the identities of clients (Hays, 2008). This includes their spiritual or religious beliefs. Hays (2008) believes understanding these beliefs helps the counselor understand how clients perceive the world as well as how they will perceive therapy. Respecting the wide variety of spiritual and religious beliefs helps counselors work toward a wholly therapeutic alliance that lets the client bring every aspect of him or herself into therapy.

Chamberlain, K., & Zika, S. (1988). Religiosity, life meaning, and wellbeing: Some relationships
in a sample of women. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 27, 411-420.

Hays, P. A. (2008). Addressing cultural complexities in practice: Assessment, diagnosis, and therapy (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Koenig, H. G. (2009). Research on religion, spirituality, and mental health: A review. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 54(5), 283-291.

Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. (1998). The contours of positive human health. Psychological Inquiry, 9, 1-28.

Schieffelin, E. L. (1976). The sorrow of the lonely and the burning of the dancers. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Steger, M. F. (1998). Experiencing meaning in life: Optimal functioning at the nexus of well-being, psychopathology, and spirituality. In The human quest for meaning: A handbook of psychological research and clinical applications (2nd ed., pp. 1-19). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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