Last week I wrote about adopting a personal definition of spirituality and religion as well as exploring your own spiritual and/or religious journey through an autobiography or timeline. The purpose, at least in the counseling context, is to foster a better understanding of your spiritual and/or religious worldview (a.k.a. your spiritual ‘self’). Since many of us come to the counseling profession from a myriad of spiritual and/or religious backgrounds, this can either serve as a beginning or a continuation of one’s lifelong spiritual journey. I want to emphasize that this exploration is extremely personal. No one can tell you, and I am certainly not going to try, how to go about doing this. But some questions I have found helpful are “Was I raised in a home where religion and/or spirituality played (or didn’t play) a significant role?”; “Am I actively engaged, or have I been engaged, in an organized religion or spiritual practice?”; “What specific beliefs – spiritual, religious, or otherwise – are important to me now?”; “How do these beliefs play out in my life?”; or “When life becomes challenging how do I cope? Where do I turn?”
In the counseling context, you may want to expand this reflection and think about a time when you have heard a derogatory remark about your spiritual and/or religious practice(s). If you are an atheist or agnostic, for example, have you ever heard something which has made you feel misunderstood or angry? If you are a part of an organized religion, have you ever heard something that has made you uncomfortable because it conflicts with your beliefs? What about the ‘tree huggers’ out there? Have you folks ever felt marginalized or teased because of your belief in the earth as a sacred space? Since most of us have been uncomfortable at some point in time in discussing these matters, how can this reflection help you be more sensitive to these issues? How do you think that your Spiritual Self may influence your work with clients? Again no one can tell us how to go about our faith journey, but hopefully these questions have raised your awareness of the importance of self exploration. The end goal, at least in the counseling context, is to increase counselor sensitivity, understanding and acceptance of diverse belief systems.
So why is all this important anyhow? Why is it imperative that counselors engage in self exploration? Probably the most basic reason is simply one of utility. How can we expect our client’s to explain their spiritual and/or religious beliefs if we don’t know what we believe ourselves? Secondly, understanding the client’s spiritual perspective allows the counselor to address all aspects of the client’s functioning. Finally, there is an increasing expectation for counselors to understand spiritual concerns and utilize holistic interventions. Much like a doctor who fails to check a patient’s blood pressure during a routine physical exam, counselors must inquire about a client’s spiritual and/or religious beliefs, practices, and experiences in order to fully understand the client as a psychospiritual being. Other benefits for both the counselor and the client include establishing a more positive therapeutic working alliance, making a more accurate diagnosis, and identifying effective treatment interventions, strengths and resources. Without assessing the client’s spiritual domain counselors are neglecting a fundamental part of human consciousness.
I wish all of you good luck in your continuous and lifelong faith journey! Thus far I have found many things along the way – some good, some not so good. On those good days the words of St. Augustine keep me motivated “Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean and they pass by themselves without wondering.” On a not so good day the words of Robert Brault simply make me smile, “Know thyself, or at least keep renewing the acquaintance.”
Stephanie Dailey is a counselor, adjunct faculty and doctoral candidate at Argosy University-Washington, D.C.