Research on the interrelatedness of psychotherapy and religion or spirituality has been relatively sparse historically, but in the last decade or so, it has received greater interest, particularly as it relates to multiculturalism. In a study conducted by Post & Wade (2009), several interesting findings about the differences between therapists and their clients were found. First, most therapists overall were found to have significantly less personal identification with being religious or spiritual than their clients and had very little training in counseling around spiritual issues, yet for the most part, they saw their clients’ religious beliefs or practices as a positive addition to their mental health. However, the belief systems outside of the more traditional western religions, i.e. the Judeo-Christian tradition, were more often seen as being tied to some pathology. Eastern religions, Islam and Native American faiths would be typical examples of such misunderstandings.
As this study continues to point out, the pluralistic approach, that is, the broader willingness to be open to and accepting of all faiths, even those unknown to us, is perhaps the most effective and ethical stance we can have with clients. The key danger in not taking such a position is to fall into the trap of trying, consciously or subconsciously, to make clients become more like ourselves. It is not wise, particularly in therapy, to impose our beliefs on someone else, especially to those who are more vulnerable.
There are those counselors who identify themselves as Christian counselors (or other faiths), who use such spiritual tools as scripture readings and prayers within the context of doing therapy. If this is understood and agreed to by the client prior to implementing these practices, it can be a powerful tool, which may reach into the deeper spiritual needs of the client. If handled with care and respect for the client’s perspective, without judgment, this can truly be an enriching process.
Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.