ACA Blog

Ray McKinnis
Nov 17, 2010

Spirituality and Religion for Counselors, Part 2

I appreciate the comments responding to my first blog on this topic and am encouraged to develop these ideas further. The first blog was about distinguishing religion from spirituality. This second blog focuses on the term ‘for Counselors.’ A (possibly apocryphal) story makes a couple of critical points: An American Indian tribe used to worship the Corn God as that Power Beyond all Powers who gave them bountiful corn crops every year on land where other tribes could not survive. Every year, while planting their corn, they would sacrifice a fish to the Corn God in every hill of corn. Every year their crops were plentiful.

Then the Europeans came, built a church, converted the Indians to Christianity and convinced them that there was no Corn God. So they stopped sacrificing the fish, their crops failed, and the tribe disappeared.
This story to me has at least 2 morals for us as counselors:
1. As ‘health professionals’ (=doctors), one of our first obligations as counselors is to ‘DO NO HARM.’ And when dealing with spirituality, especially, it can be so easy to do harm, more by omission than commission. We may not be aware of the affect of some ‘spiritual wisdom’ we may offer, even in a nurturing, caring way. When working with a client we must be careful that we do not inadvertently discount the ‘Corn God’ which is providing a vital benefit for that client.
2. Spirituality and religion for counselors cannot be defined by their content but only by their by their function. And isn’t that the essence of our practice anyway? What we do can help some clients make changes in their lives. But it is not necessarily the content of what we do that seems to be the most powerful that brings about change.

The most powerful aspect of our counseling is the relationship itself—the process itself, not the content of that process. We need to be aware of the same with respect to spirituality—it is not any unique content of one’s spirituality that is essential—no specific belief or idea or practice or authority, etc.—but rather the function of that belief or idea or practice or authority in that person’s life. So we as counselors need to be acutely aware of how a particular belief or ritual functions in an individual’s life even though the content seems bizarre to us—like the Corn God.

You get the point: always remember the Corn God!

Ray McKinnis is a counselor recently graduated from Argosy University, Schaumburg with a special interest in 'spirituality beyond religion' and veterans 'beyond PTSD' with a website at

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