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Integrating Religion and Spirituality in Therapy

Ethical issues and guidelines deserve consideration before religion and spirituality can be integrated into therapy. This article asserts that religious or Christian counseling to be specific, aims at promoting the spiritual growth of the patients apart from alleviating signs of diseases or resolving psychological problems. However, there is a difference between how Christian counselors and psychotherapists integrate spiritual issues and disciplines into therapy sessions because Christian counselors emphasize more explicit integration while psychotherapists take a more cautious approach (McMinn & McRay, 1999).

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Caution is very important to a certain extent because psychotherapy might suffer from the dangers of misuse of spiritual direction, and the APA has published guidelines that cover the difficult potential challenges that may arise in the process of integrating religious and spiritual aspects in psychotherapy.

According to the APA, there are challenges that face the relationships between religious professionals and psychotherapists because, on the one hand, psychotherapists complain about the imposition of extreme religious values on clients by the religious professionals who are also accused of violating the psychology work setting. On the other hand, religious professionals complain that professionals in psychology attempt to displace religious authority in therapy. Religious and spiritual interventions in therapy are important, but there are some pitfalls of religious psychotherapy that must be considered before any spiritual direction is integrated into psychotherapy (McCullough, 1999).

To start with, imposition of extreme religious beliefs or values during therapy sessions reduces the ability of the client to choose because this direction fails to provide sufficient information to the patient. Secondly, the imposition of these beliefs and values violates the therapeutic code because such a lopsided therapy that focuses on religious goals rather than therapeutic goals is quite ineffective in modern psychology.

Another ethical issue that arises in the process of integration of spiritual direction in therapy is the misuse of spiritual tools like the scriptures and prayer by religious therapists, which tend to run away from the main issues in therapy (Hall, 1997). Spirituality in psychotherapy also tends to blur some important variables which are important in the sustenance of a therapeutic relationship. Assumption of ecclesiastical belonging is another issue in the relationship between therapy and spirituality because ecclesiastical functions are usually performed inappropriately by religious therapists. Another issue is the application of religious interventions to issues that medical or psychological attention, which may prove to be very dangerous in some specific settings (Ganje &McCarthy, 2002). There is also a critical question of the charges that religious therapists levy on the clients because many feel that it is not appropriate for the religious leaders to levy these charges because such therapy is part of their pastoral care.

Going back to the APA code of ethics, there are some ethical guidelines that can be followed to minimize the dangers that may be posed by spiritual interventions in therapy. To start with, dual relationships are dangerous, and they should not be encouraged, but if a psychologist feels that spiritual intervention is vital in a therapy session, they should talk with their supervisors or other professionals first before entering into the dual relationship. The therapists should also consider the limits and risks of such a relationship because such a relationship might end up harming the client (McRay et al., 2001).

Secondly, it is unprofessional for therapists to usurp religious authority because they do not have ecclesiastical authority over their clients, meaning that they cannot perform ecclesiastical functions like confessions which are only limited to the spiritual leaders. The other ethical guideline concerns the issue of religious or spiritual leaders imposing their religious beliefs on the clients. According to the ethical code, the rights of a client are important in any therapy session, and any therapist who violates a client’s right goes against the APA code of ethics. Spiritual therapists should allow their patients to hold a religious view that differs from their own. Attempting to convert or to proselytize the clients is unprofessional and goes beyond the client-therapist boundary. Where there is a divergence of view between the spiritual leader and the patient in a spiritual therapy session, the spiritual leader can express their views while at the same time giving the client the leeway to hold divergent opinions and where a conflict of opinions may affect therapy, a referral to another spiritual leader is the most preferred direction. The issue of therapists defying the work setting boundaries can be addressed by ethical guidelines that state that the church- boundaries should be respected. This means that religious leaders in civic settings should adhere to the policies and laws that separate the church and the state, meaning that they should maintain a professional distance.

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The final area is the operation of spiritual therapists outside the boundaries of competence. Some spiritual therapists have scant knowledge of the sociology of religion which is very vital in therapy sessions (Eck, 2002). Before any spiritual therapist is recommended to a client, it is important that to ensure that they are well versed in spiritual issues in counseling and psychotherapy. Spiritual therapists should also consult whenever they encounter unique clients before they start using religious interventions in a therapy session.


Eck, B. E. (2002). An exploration of the therapeutic use of spiritual disciplines in clinical practice. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 21, 266-280.

Ganje, M. A., & McCarthy, P. R. (2002). A comparative analysis of spiritual direction and psychotherapy. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 19, 103-117.

Hall, M. E. (1997). Integration in the therapy room: An overview of the literature. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 25, 86-101.

McCullough, M. E. (1999). Research on religion-accommodative counseling: Review and meta-analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 46, 92-98.

McMinn, M. R., & McRay, B. W. (1997). Spiritual disciplines and the practice of integration: Possibilities and challenges for Christian psychologists. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 25, 102-110.

McRay, B. W., McMinn, M. R., Wrightsman, K., Burnett, T., & Ho, S.-T. D. (2001). What evangelical pastors want to know about psychology? Journal of Psychology and Theology, 29, 99-105.

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