Discussions about spirituality or faith in counselling can sometimes centre around whether we should bring up beliefs in the therapy room at all.
This came up when I was talking to psychotherapist and academic Samoon Tasmim for Conversations. In the podcast that we recorded together, he suggested counsellors reflect upon whether they will be a therapist who actively brings up spirituality, or a therapist who doesn’t invite such discussion. He finds that clients appreciate the clarity.
A person’s whole identity can be tied up with their religious or spiritual beliefs and they can provide an inbuilt source of therapeutic support. But of course, the opposite can apply. For some, faith has had a negative impact on their sense of self and a detrimental, or even damaging, impact on their life. In both cases, the client would benefit from finding a counsellor who understands the need to process this sensitively.
In this special issue we feature two articles that explore the impact of fundamentalist religious experiences. These articles are based on presentations that were delivered at the BACP event, ‘Working with Soul: creating a healthy culture, demystifying spiritual abuse within therapeutic practice’ event, in November 2022.
Gill Harvey draws upon her research with those who have experienced spiritual abuse or religious trauma in childhood, looking at the effects that this can have on a person’s development and sense of identity. With powerful testimonials from survivors, the piece brings home just how far-ranging the effects can be. It also conveys the care we need to take when working therapeutically with someone who has been through this.
Lisa Oakley and Kathryn Kinmond write about how to safely work with clients in this context. They also call for spirituality and religion to be embedded in training and CPD so that therapists are generally better equipped to work in this area.
Other articles in this issue invite us to consider how a religious or spiritual lens can inform the therapeutic process. Matthew Geary explains how he uses the Buddhist analogy of the three defective pots as a tool in his practice. Elizabeth Longshaw writes about how being able to talk to a listening professional who is a fellow member of a faith-based community can enhance client trust in the working alliance.
It is clear, as ever, within the pages that follow that there isn’t a one-size fits all approach when it comes to working with spirituality and that a therapist is often called to apply discernment. If you’d like to write an article about your own approach (or on any other topic) then please do get in touch.
Amy McCormack, Editor