Last week I saw a comment on my previous blog which really got me thinking. The comment was in regards to my use of the term “tree hugger”. Despite knowing my intention and the reason why I chose this expression, my initial reaction was one of fear. I was immediately afraid that I had offended someone in an effort to make a point. In a matter of milliseconds this fear morphed into an insecurity which asked “Am I really competent to talk to spiritual matters in counseling?” Then, also in a matter of seconds, I fondly remembered ‘Spiritual Kindergarten’ and my doubt became a teaching moment.
In regards to the fear and insecurity, this points to why some counselors have apprehension when addressing the sacred. I think that most of us agree there is a huge need for counselors to better understand and be trained on these issues. However, many of us are afraid to talk about spirituality. This is not only due to a lack of formal training and guidance on the subject, but also because we fear doing so may impose our values onto the client. This can be compounded when the counselor has a negative experience in addressing these issues with a client or fears judgment of their own belief system.
I read a quote once which said “Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make you a far happier and more productive person.” This can certainly apply to a counselor’s desire to do right by their clients when discussing spiritual and/or religious issues. Whereas any one of us might be afraid, especially in the beginning, to ask questions or put language to spiritual and/or religious beliefs, we must do so in order to adequately address spirituality as a counseling component. This means finding out how to ask appropriate questions; using the client’s language; understanding the audience (individual, group, family, etc.); and constantly seeking ways to expand spiritual and/or religious understanding. As counselors we must always remember the reason for addressing these issues is to tap into a vital resource for clients. We also want to embrace our commitment to understanding all aspects of client functioning. Finally, and maybe most importantly, we must remain teachable. This brings me to Spiritual Kindergarten.
First coined by one of the founders of the 12 steps and later used in many contexts, Spiritual Kindergarten is a space where we learn the basics. We are learning how to live, what to do and how to be. We are finding out from those who went before us how to do things like share, play fair and take care of ourselves and others. Robert Fulghum author of the book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, stated “Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday School.” As an academic this makes me cringe, but as an academic human the humility of this idea brings me peace. I hope that at no point in my life do I feel the need to graduate. My goal, especially when working with clients within the spiritual realm, is simply to remain teachable. Thus, as with many spiritual leaders I look up to, I have found residency in Spiritual Kindergarten where appropriate exploration and learning play a large role – just like when I work with my clients.
I ask that all who have been trained to address the spiritual domain look past any fear or apprehension. Know where you are in your spiritual journey and, placing client autonomy at the head of the class, put yourself in a position where you can make observations and ask questions about these issues. Knowing what to include in informed consent as well as how to assess the client through intake and observation are essential skills for counselors and, thanks to another reader, will be discussed in the next blog.
Stephanie Dailey is a counselor, adjunct faculty and doctoral candidate at Argosy University-Washington, D.C.