The Practical Beginners Guide to Spiritual Counseling

What is Spirituality?

Spirituality is commonly referred to as the quest or search for an innate meaning or sometimes as a belief in a greater existence outside of our visible reality. It is often linked to religion, but the practice of spirituality is generally considered to go far beyond religion and deeply connect individuals with something greater, such as the infinite universe itself. This is where spiritual counseling comes in.

Often, therapists and guests seeking treatment hesitate to include any type of spirituality or religion in the practice of therapy, due to the possible controversy of the topic as well as the potential of differing beliefs. But new research suggests that a therapist’s inclusion of the individual’s spiritual beliefs may actually assist in the therapy process and in turn increase the likelihood of healing.

Religion is most often the manifestation of people’s spirituality, but recently, people themselves as being very spiritual without actually adhering to any of the principles of a particular religion or even having considered themselves as religious what-so-ever. This practice of spirituality may include adherence to rituals. For many, spirituality may be described as the attention people pay to their own wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of others. For others, the practice of meditation, yoga, or even volunteer work are outlets in which people express their spirituality. What is Spiritual Wellness?

Spirituality vs Religion

Both religion and spirituality describe a person’s belief system as well as traditional practices regarding their relationship to or with greater power. Religion typically follows a doctrine held by a particular faith, but spirituality typically does not focus on any one specific belief system. Spirituality is most often far less structured than is religion due to there being no set traditional practices or doctrine.

However, one should keep in mind that very often spirituality and religion tend to overlap in many ways. For instance, religion is very often an expression of people’s spirituality. Take a deep breath and take comfort in the fact that regardless of whether you’re spiritual, religious or some culmination of the two, this article will delicately explore how personal beliefs are an integral part of our wellbeing psychologically. So, for the proposed purposes of this article, the terms spirituality and religion will be used interchangeably and used and broadly to refer to the belief in a higher power.

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Spirituality and Mental Health

Many individuals and their families are deeply committed to their faith and so, base most of their life’s decisions around their spirituality or religious beliefs. Spiritual psychology, prayer, quiet reflection, religious meditation, or some other aspect of religious connection often are the foundation of an individual’s self-care routine, as well as attendance of church services and volunteer work in the community.

Spiritual beliefs can significantly affect one’s ability to cope with disappointment and adverse events in life.

Religion and spirituality can:

  • Offer comfort in times of grief
  • Provide social and emotional support
  • Provide moral guidelines by which to live
  • Help people find meaning and purpose in life
  • Offer an ethical foundation

Spiritual or religious persons who are seeking the help of a therapist, often want a holistic therapy approach that includes their religious beliefs. It is often impossible to realize complete healing when a person is not giving the chance to incorporate the entirety of themselves. Therapy should, therefore, include spirituality and religious contexts and considerations when necessary or requested.

A Few Words on Spiritual Abuse

Unfortunately, religion and spirituality have been used to control or manipulate others. This can be defined as spiritual abuse. It is not always easily recognizable, especially to those involved if they believe they are only acting according to their beliefs. However, the effects can be detrimental, long-lasting, and extreme. Spiritual abuse is often in the context of relationships, families or even religious organizations.

Shame and guilt are a few of the hallmarks of spiritual abuse. People are made to feel shameful and guilty about an aspect or belief they have about themselves and are manipulated or pressured into trying to alter who they are.

Another obvious sign of spiritual abuse is single-minded thinking. When religious leaders, parents or partners discourage all questions, shame or punish anyone who feels any spiritual uncertainty or doubt or are unwilling to discuss any difference of opinion they may be using spiritual abuse.

Some examples of spiritual abuse:

  • Using faith or spiritual beliefs to extort money, goods, or services
  • Using a person’s spirituality to shame them
  • Insulting a person’s spiritual practices or beliefs
  • Forcing a person to make a choice against their spiritual or religious beliefs
  • Parents not allowing children to choose their own religious beliefs

Therapy may help people who have been affected by spiritual abuse and wish to improve their spiritual wellness.

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Types of Counseling

There are many forms of counseling, we will discuss a few of the most popular types here.

What is Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy, often referred to as talk therapy, is used to help people with a broad variety of emotional difficulties and mental illnesses. Clinical psychotherapy is used to help control or in some cases eliminate symptoms suffered by a person so they may increase their well-being, healing, and ability to function in daily activities.

Professional psychotherapy can assist people coping with difficulties such as grief and loss, mental disorders, or even the mental anguish of medical illness they or a loved one suffers from. There are many forms or types of psychotherapy such as solution-focused, CBT, EMDR, and others. Forms may be used in combination with each other or with the addition of medications.

How to Find a Licensed Therapist

If you need a licensed therapist to help with something you or a loved one suffers from; immediately contact your medical insurance, city, or county, mental health provider. A quick online search for therapists near me on google.com should reveal a list of qualified therapists.

What is Pastoral Counseling?

Pastoral counselors are often religious leaders who represent specific domination; however, they can be non-denominational as well, in their approach to counseling. Pastoral counselors will typically have training in both religious theology and spirituality, which makes for a unique approach to the therapeutic process.

They often combine therapy and spiritual beliefs to help people with the issues they are facing.

How to Locate a Church Counselor

The best way to locate a pastoral counselor is to ask at your place of worship. If you are not currently attending a worship service, an online search of pastoral counselors within your religious denomination should reveal a list of promising candidates to choose from.

What is Spiritual Counseling?

Unlike earlier times when therapy and spirituality were kept separate, spiritual counseling brings the two together, by tapping into the importance of religion or spirituality within the person’s life. Spiritual counselors aim to integrate standard therapy techniques with religious/spiritual practices and wisdom to offer a deeper understanding and help to those in need. Typically, spiritual counseling can be practiced by a licensed health care professional; a psychologist, social worker, nurse, or therapist who has pursued additional training. Many spiritual counselors tend to have a background in theology as well.

Spiritual counseling is a newer approach to therapy that tries to incorporate spirituality into mental health treatment. While religion, spirituality, and therapy have been kept separate, therapists are now beginning to see value in combining spiritual beliefs in the healing process.

Spiritual counseling can fall under the category of psychotherapy and may involve talking to a qualified mental health professional. Your sessions may include different styles and techniques. Keep in mind while traditional therapy is bound by the limitations of science, spiritual counseling has the ability to tap into a deep well known as faith. If you do not necessarily need the services of a licensed mental health professional but would like spiritual guidance in matters of life and success, you may only need the services of a spiritual life coach.

Common Techniques Used in Spiritual Counseling

Spirituality is not simply restricted to a single religious doctrine because it takes each person’s individual philosophic cognitive processes as well as feelings and behavior into consideration. This can be an important tool in helping you find meaning in life.

Denominational counselors may incorporate their own specific religious traditions and practices into therapy. For instance, some prayer might be an important part of your therapy. This type of counseling might also include practicing forgiveness or referring to the wisdom of scriptures.

Non-denominational counselors may draw from other spiritual rituals or practices such as meditation, yoga or relaxation techniques.

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Do I Need to Be Religious to Benefit from Spiritual Counseling?

No, there is no need to be religious to benefit from spiritual counseling. This type of therapy is accessible to everyone, even the non-religious. In fact, it is possible and often advisable to consult and receive help from a spiritual counselor who has vastly different religious beliefs than you.

When is it that a non-religious person might decide to seek out spiritual counseling? Well, it can be used to help people who are unsure about their spiritual or religious beliefs. It can even help a person clarify their religious beliefs and give them a deeper faith.

If a spiritual counselor is simultaneously a licensed health professional, they are bound by the ethical standards of health professionals and cannot ethically “push” their beliefs on you, but rather they should be guided by your needs and beliefs during therapy.

Non-denominational spiritual counselors offer treatment that is suitable for those who may not be religious. The treatment can incorporate an exploration of spiritual beliefs and the impact they have.

What Happens in a Typical Spiritual Counseling Session?

While there is no set procedure for a session of spiritual counseling, it will vary with each counselor according to their beliefs and procedures. You can expect to receive spiritual guidance during the session. The great news is every counselor is different, that means if you are not satisfied with the counselor you have you can always look for another. The bad news is they are all different, o while you may talk to someone who loves the treatment they receive from a spiritual counselor, it in no way predicts how your experience will go.

Your counselor or therapist should listen to you and clearly understand your needs before coming up with a plan of action to assist you in your time of need. It will also vary according to the modalities of therapy they utilize and the way their personality affects treatment.

Another consideration is the point of view of the counselor if you find a non-denominational spiritual counselor vs a specific denomination the treatment will be pivoted toward the doctrine of the same.

Does Spiritual Counseling Really Work?

New research now suggests that incorporating an individual’s spiritual or religious beliefs into therapy can assist in the therapeutic healing process. Both psychotherapists and spiritual counselors are using evidence-based modalities and therapies to help their clients. While more research is required, some promising studies show evidence that people can experience increased levels of emotional and psychological wellbeing when they are encouraged to include their spiritual and religious beliefs in therapy. Each person will find their own relief, and there should be no judgment in where they find it.

What Issues are Spiritual Counseling Best For?

Spiritual therapy is a helpful approach during the grieving process at the death of a loved one. Loss such as this can cause one to question the meaning of life or even reevaluate spiritual or religious beliefs. It can also be helpful with anxiety issues due to questions of meaning or imbalance or spiritual guidance.

If, however, you’re consulting a spiritual therapist regarding a mental health condition rather than just general spiritual guidance, it’s extremely important to ensure that they have the proper training, certification, licensure, and registration to offer you the treatment that you need.

Do Spiritual Counseling Specialists Receive Specialized Training?

Spiritual counseling is an additional specialization required in addition to just holding certification as a therapist or psychologist, counselor, social worker, nurse or other licensed healthcare professional. The American Institute of Health Care Professionals offers a certification program for spiritual counseling. This program requires participants to complete 320 hours of education on spiritual counseling in order to become certified; continuing education is necessary to stay licensed. Also, the American Association of Pastoral Counselors provides accreditation which includes an additional 125 hours of supervised practice.

Limitations/Concerns of Spiritual Counseling

Just as with all forms of therapy, spiritual therapy is not a quick fix cure. It is a tool that can assist with healing. It would be unethical for anyone to imply it can fix all problems or can help everyone. It can help anyone, but like everything else in life, there is no guarantee.

It is imperative, however, for any spiritual therapist to value and respect the beliefs of each client individually. The therapist must always also have the best interest of the client in mind, without the desire to impose their own beliefs upon them.

What to look for in a Spiritual Counselor?

Ensure that your spiritual counselor is a certified/licensed mental health professional that also specializes in spiritual therapy. The second thing to consider is the spiritual/religious beliefs of the therapist. You may decide to find one who holds the same or different foundational beliefs as you.

You may also decide to check references of the therapist as this is often the best way to get a true feel for the type of counseling they will do. Be sure to interview the therapist before you agree to start therapy. They should be able to tell you what they believe, as well as the therapeutic modalities of choice.

It may seem silly but be sure to consider the personality of the counselor as well, You are going to be with them for untold hours and sharing your innermost thoughts, fears, joys and concerns with them. Be sure you like them.

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man in yellow jacket getting spiritual counseling

Find a Deeper Sense of Meaning Through Spiritual Counseling

Historically, therapy and religion have not been the best of friends. For Freud, the father of psychology, religion represented a pathological tendency that required treatment. Later, behavioral psychologists intentionally distanced psychology from religion to preserve psychology as a science.

So why then is spirituality and psychology beginning to come together? It should come as no surprise that psychological health and spiritual wellbeing are being found to have roots in the same place. Those who have a centered spirituality and a sense of meaning and purpose often have the greatest feelings of psychological health and wellbeing.

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Questions to Ask a Potential Spiritual Counselor

  • Are you licensed as a mental health professional?
  • Are you certified as a spiritual counselor?
  • What are your religious beliefs?
  • What if we have differing spiritual views?
  • Are you denominational or non-denominational?
  • Do you have experience working with the specific problems that I’m facing?
  • Do you believe spiritual counseling will help me?
  • How long might treatment last?
  • Will sessions be covered by my health insurance?
  • When will we meet and how often will sessions take place?
  • What is your approach to spiritual counseling?
  • Do you offer phone or online counseling?
  • How much do sessions cost?
  • How long is each session?

References

Website: www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/psychotherapy

Website: www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/spirituality

Website: www.careersinpsychology.org/spiritual-counseling-careers/

Website: www.aapc.org/page/WhyPastoral

Website: www.interfaithministers.ie/spiritual-counselling/

Website: www.therapytribe.com/therapy/spiritual-therapy/

Website: www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellor-articles/what-is-a-spiritual-approach-to-counsellingpsychotherapy

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1 Comment

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