Many of us get alarmed when we hear the word “spirituality” in our practice. Whether a client or patient mentions it, it’s in a curriculum in a psycho-education class, or we’re asked to incorporate spirituality into our own practice, you may freeze, feel unqualified or choose to ignore the subject. I’ve recognized that as clinicians, we don’t need to be pastors or have educations from theological institutions in order to help our client’s work through something spiritual.
I’ve noticed most clinicians are fearful of discussing spirituality because they consider themselves atheists or don’t have a church background. And some clinicians don’t believe it when others of us say: everyone is a spiritual being and everyone has a spirituality. To be spiritual means to be in connection with anything. To be spiritual means to connect to other people, to a higher being, to nature, to an idea or concept. Spirituality is living life in relation to other people and other things despite any belief in religion. And the tricky thing about all humans being spiritual beings is that it doesn’t matter whether you believe you’re spiritual or not; you are.
But not everyone is on board with this idea because over the years we’ve somehow strained the definition of spirituality and forced it into a religious perspective. The two can be connected but are actually meant to be very different things. And when it comes to helping clients who consider themselves spiritual, or want to discuss how spirituality is affecting their mental health, we are doing them a disservice if we shut down their exploration just because the idea of God weirds us out. There are always moments and times where referrals are necessary. But I don’t have to be a Democrat in order to help a client who identifies as a Democrat; all I have to do is show empathy and compassion to their therapeutic process.
Stay tuned for my next blog where I’ll offer ways to walk alongside someone’s spiritual struggles or joys during their therapy process with you as their clinician.
Kristina Walsh is a counselor-in-training at Methodist Theological School in Ohio, completing her internship this year in Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient Care in Harding Hospital at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.