Woman looking up at the sky

If you went to graduate school as long ago as I did, you were probably taught to steer clear of “personal” subjects like politics, religious observance, or spiritual beliefs. What we now understand is the importance of looking at our clients not only through a bio-psycho-social lens, but through a spiritual lens as well. Clients’ lives and their behavioral choices are significantly impacted whether they are deeply connected or completely disconnected.  Although therapists  should never impose their beliefs or religious practices onto their clients, they should have the skills and comfort level to help clients freely explore those issues in therapy. When we don’t include questions about spirituality, faith, or religious observance in our assessment we are missing vitally important information about the extent to which these experiences are either potential resources for comfort and healing, or potential sources of guilt and shame, or even a part of a client’s trauma or abuse narrative.

Many clients are afraid to openly process their anger towards God, a loss of faith, or disconnection from their childhood religious practices. They fear judgment and criticism from others and will often keep these important thoughts and frightening feelings hidden. When we make it safe for clients to talk openly about these emotionally loaded issues we are strengthening and deepening the therapeutic alliance. We are also creating opportunities for clients to either get validation for their beliefs or creating a space for them to re-evaluate and even re-claim lost spirituality or religious identity.

We would be remiss if we ignored the part of our clients that either embraces or rejects spirituality, faith, or religious identity.

Research that examines the nexus between trauma and spirituality continues to corroborate that clients who, in some meaningful way, derive comfort from a spiritual or religious practice, tend to heal faster and sustain their healing longer. So, at the very least, it is certainly worth exploring these issues with traumatized clients. It’s also worth assessing whether or not a lack or loss of belief in a higher power is making it difficult for a client to benefit from a 12-step program.  Helping clients to re-define their notion of a higher power, including turning to nature or their own inner wisdom and strength, can help them overcome that obstacle.

Join us for an upcoming training “Integrating Your clients’ Spirituality into Clinical Practice

Since an integral part of therapy includes helping clients explore the many facets of their emotions, core beliefs, and behaviors, we would be remiss if we ignored the part of them that either embraces or rejects spirituality, faith, or religious identity. I invite all of you to attend an important training at the Institute in September that addresses this very issue – Integrating Your Clients’ Spirituality into Clinical Practice, presented by Dr. Heidi Schreiber-Pan. You will learn how to safely, appropriately, and creatively bring the subject matter into therapy, and how to give clients the tools they need to process and honor the parts of who they are that either embrace or reject these concepts and practices.

Heidi offers an example of the intersection between psychotherapy and spirituality in this brief clinical vignette:

Discussion of spiritual beliefs can solidify therapeutic rapport in addition to encouraging important psycho-social reflections as demonstrated by my recent work with a client. He was brought up in a home where religion and spirituality were not often discussed. His family did not attend religious services on a regular basis. Throughout his life, C. has had an intellectual interest in the topic of religion and recently became more interested in religious literature. Facing end-of-life concerns has motivated him to explore existential questions. He believes that “there is something more,” but is unsure of what it is. He is generally doubtful of church teachings but “desires to possess a stronger faith.” C’s daughter has recently experienced a religious conversion and often tries to bring God closer to her father. He enjoys their conversations surrounding spiritual issues but lacks her conviction and emotional connectedness to God.  All his life, C. has intellectually contemplated the existence of God. In the safety of the therapeutic relationship, C.’s ability to explore past spiritual moments and their accompanying emotions helped him to prepare for his final stage of life.

For more information on, and to register for, this valuable workshop, click here

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