Dealing with issues of spirituality when they emerge in the counseling process

Joseph Francis Burke, Fordham University


Research indicates that a majority of the population of the United States considers religion to be important. The probability exists that these people might prefer to work with a counselor whose orientation to the therapy process is sensitive to and respectful of the spiritual perspective. A review of the literature further suggests the importance of spiritual values in the counseling process. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore and identify counselor responses to issues of spirituality that emerged in the counseling process. Specifically, the study attempted to identify the kind of counselor behavior that facilitates clients' appropriate exploration of spiritual issues with the counselor. The appropriateness of the exploration meant that it served the counseling process itself. Client participants for the study are women and men in the age range of 25–70; counselors have a minimum of 5 years experience and have been obtained with the assistance of Division 36 of the American Psychological Association as well as the Association of Spiritual, Ethical, and Religious Values in Counseling, a division of the American Counseling Association, the CAFH Foundation, and the Agosin Group. Clients have been obtained through the cooperation of the Center for Spiritual Development, the CAFH Foundation, the Agosin Group, and Common Boundaries. Data analysis has been done using qualitative processes called data reduction and data verification. This goal has been attained by use of the semistructured interview with a target sample of therapists and non-matched clients who have had the experience of dealing with spiritual issues in therapy. Counselor behaviors that helped or hindered the therapeutic process emerged through the findings of both the client and therapist interviews. The most important therapist behaviors identified by clients would include therapists showing respect, affirmation, and understanding to clients' spiritual issues, allowing and inquiring spiritual issues to come up, tone of therapist's voice in response to client-initiated spiritual issue. The most important behaviors reported by therapists included asking questions and inquiring about client spiritual issues, giving non-verbal approval if a spiritual issue emerged, willingness to listen to spiritual issues, willing to challenge client beliefs, and showing respect and reverence for spiritual issues.

Subject Area

Academic guidance counseling|Psychotherapy|Religion

Recommended Citation

Burke, Joseph Francis, "Dealing with issues of spirituality when they emerge in the counseling process" (2001). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3021694.