An ethical therapist will not effort to push personal beliefs on a person in therapy or otherwise attempt to transform their spiritual or religious beliefs. However, if it becomes noticeable in therapy that a person’s beliefs are causing pointless distress or if the person expresses difficulty unification contradictions between private values or goals and the constraints of spiritual or religious belief, the therapist may draw the individual’s attention to this area. In this case, the therapist may support the individual in the process of clarifying what is essential for them to achieve optimal well-being.
When a person obtains benefit from spiritual practices, a therapist can also assist in the process of more deeply understanding the person’s spiritual self. This does not involve any particular teaching on the part of the therapist, but rather, encouragement to inquire into the individual’s nature, conscious mind, unconscious mind, surroundings, and so on. A person’s choices and the inspiration for and consequences of those choices might also be discussed, and a therapist may ask people in therapy who have expressed religious or spiritual values how those beliefs shock choices they have made and what they believe a higher power might want from them.
Discussion of religion and spirituality in therapy, even to this extent, is still often controversial, and many people believe the inclusion of religiously guided treatments may bring about more harm than good. Some explore indicates discussions of theology and religion in therapy may be challenging for individuals coping with certain issues. But because spiritual distress may manifest with both mental and physical symptoms, a therapist who addresses these topics may be able to provide greater healing and support.
SPIRITUALITY IN THERAPY: CASE EXAMPLE
Grieving religious mother in therapy: Doris, 42, enters therapy for grief counseling after her mother passes away following a lengthy battle with cancer. She tells the therapist although her mother was dutiful and encouraged Doris to expand her faith, Doris is not religious. This was a point of contention between them up to the time of her mother’s death. As the therapist inquires more deeply, Doris reveals she resented her mother’s goodness, which her mother commonly pushed on her. However, she also secretly fears her mother is right and she is “in trouble with God.” This fear was partially fed by Doris’ mother’s dying wish that Doris “embrace the love of God,” and Doris feels much discomfort regarding her mother’s request. Therapy helps Doris express her grief about her mother in the context of other complex feelings. The therapist also helps Doris come to terms with her inability to fulfill her mother’s last wish and accept the normalcy of their differing beliefs.