Tuesday, December 9, 2008

On Religion and Counseling: To be Addressed or not to be (Part 2) by Tony Astro


Religion and Counseling: To be Addressed or not to be - that is the question and here are my thoughts.
Must Be Addressed
Religion and spirituality must be tackled in counseling when clients begin to address his spirituality and belief and have an effect on member’s health and influence how both clients and counselor response to the issue of concern, psychologically and physically.
Religious, cultural differences about denomination (as well as the beliefs and practices associated with being in a denomination) between client and therapists are likely to exist, particularly for clinical and counseling psychologists (Walker, Gorsuch and Tan, 2004).
The counselor is responsible for researching client’s religion or spiritual belief just like analyzing the importance of his or her race, culture and ethnic orientation. Many if not all aspect of faith is challenging to quantify and as professionals, we look at the obvious and what is proven and not the “invisible” or spirit particularly to diverse minority or people of color and people with strong religious upbringing.
The amount of training that most clinicians undergo within their graduate and professional education is quite extensive. Yet, because much of the training is anchored within the context of a European American psychological perspective, the knowledge base is limited when applied to people of color. This is particularly evident when considering the notion of spirituality (Cervantes and Parham, 2005).
Must Not Be Addressed
In other circumstances when religion is not implied nor has no influence on the patient, religion or spirituality should not be addressed. But sometimes, patients do not have to bring up spirituality and if every avenue has been tried and the remaining aspect of culture that has strong “spiritual” side and has not been explored, it must be deliberated. Spirituality is multifaceted because it cannot be described physically. Exploring this area with the patient can be carefully investigated.
The whole issue of what ‘spirituality’ might be referring to is a complex one. While the word, itself, contains another word spirit, the term has been used more broadly than one to connote simply a belief in the inherent spirit of a person. It is, however, most frequently linked to religion and to religious beliefs. In discussing faith, religion, and spirituality, many community members believed that ministers should play a role in providing spiritual counsel and comfort to families when it comes to advance care planning. Community members believe it important to address faith and beliefs with one’s doctor ahead of time. Many believed in the importance of one’s relationship with God or with a higher power, and saw this higher spirit as playing a pivotal role in one’s health, working through healthcare professionals to sustain life, as well as determining when it is “your time to go” (Phipps, True and Murray, 2003).
Personal Challenges
A military career counselor has no authority to discuss religion on any occasion. Military chaplains are allowed to talk any subjects including medical and career counseling. Many of the military chaplains have counseling license and have a high level of privacy unlike any other counselor including physicians and psychiatrist. But as a counselor, I should consider the overall personality of a Sailor who needs help and some of them are shaped by religious belief such as:
1. A client is separating or transitioning from military to civilian and seeking career guidance because he does not believe in war – sacrificing life due to his Mormon upbringing.
2. An Islam client (Navy Sailor) does not want to be deployed to Afghanistan to fight those who have the same spiritual belief of supposed enemy of the Americans so he is seeking career guidance that does not involve in such conflict.
Clinical, career counselors and counseling psychologists who find it difficult to understand the cultural heritage of clients who practice their spirituality within the context of organized religion may wish to consult with explicitly religious therapists on such therapy cases (Walker, Gorsuch and Tan, 2004).
Proactive Plan
Being of the Christian faith, a professional counselor like myself is accountable to preserve the spirituality and religious belief of every client (or patient). To do this, even though the client is not vocally spiritual, must examine his/her overall culture including family’s background including religious convictions. The client may have long been agnostic but have previously believed in Judaism. His disorientation on his previous religion making him agnostic may have contributed to some of his mental uncertainty resulting to some psychological perplexity. Asking the questions will be reasonable: Do you have or had a religion? Why have you not practiced it? Do you want to talk about it?
After those questions, observe the client how he/she reacts. The counselor must then study and know Judaism and start incorporating (if needed) in issues strong to the patient. Some patients discuss matters that cannot be seen or quantified. Spirituality is one of them. If discussing religion gives comfort and liberation to counselee, the therapist must acknowledge it to shape him or her towards their stronger wellbeing.
Among the domains of multicultural attitudes and skills most pertinent to this study are (a) an awareness of one's own cultural heritage, (b) respect and comfort with other cultures and values that differ from one's own, and (c) an awareness of one's helping style and how this style could affect clients from other cultural backgrounds. Hence, knowledge of religion and spirituality is an important element of therapists' multicultural competency (Walker, Gorsuch and Tan, 2004).
Cervantes, J and Parham T. (2005). Toward a Meaningful Spirituality for People of Color: Lessons for the Counseling Practitioner. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology by the Educational Publishing Foundation Vol. 11, No. 1, 69 – 81. University of California, Irvine.
Phipps, E., True, G., & Murray, G. (2003, December). Community perspectives on advance care planning: report from the community ethics program. Journal of Cultural Diversity, 10(4), 118-123. Retrieved December 2, 2008, from CINAHL with Full Text database.
Walker, D., Gorsuch, R., & Tan, S. (2004, October). Therapists' Integration of Religion and Spirituality in Counseling: A Meta-Analysis. Counseling & Values, 49(1), 69-80. Retrieved December 2, 2008, from Academic Search Premier database.

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