Spirituality and Counseling

Michael DeVries, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist on the staff of Olive Branch Associates

In his famous monograph, The Future of an Illusion, Freud wrote, “the greater the number of men to whom the treasures of knowledge become accessible, the more widespread is the falling away of religious belief—at first only from its obsolete and objectionable trappings, but later from it’s fundamental postulates as well.” Freud’s claim that knowledge and religious belief are fundamentally in opposition and ultimately religion must give way to scientific knowledge has long influenced the field of counseling and psychotherapy.

From the side of religion many religiously committed persons have harbored deep suspicions regarding the claims of psychotherapy to “heal the soul”. Particularly in orthodox religious communities committed believers have avoided psychological counseling based on perception of professional counseling as dismissive or at the very least seeking to undermine the power of religious authority, belief and practice. Paired with a powerful culture of individualism and self-sufficiency that dictates all life problems should be resolved through individual effort many spiritually committed persons afflicted with emotional and behavioral problems have refused to seek professional counseling despite the availability of effective treatment.

From the side of professional counseling therapists often have emphasized the toxic effect on well-being of many religious beliefs and practices. Other therapists may neglect to address spiritual concerns raised by clients caught in the midst of difficult life transitions, emotional struggles or relationship conflicts. As a consequence the positive role religion and spirituality can play in facing life challenges can be overlooked or dismissed.

Thankfully the adversarial relationship between religion and professional counseling has largely disappeared. Today clergy and professional counselors respect and support the role each profession plays in the lives of persons who struggle with psychological dysfunction and distress. Clergy acknowledge the need for specialized counseling services and refer individuals, couples and families to professional counselors. In a similar manner professional counselors increasingly recognize the vital role spirituality plays in coping with traumatic life events, emotional suffering, and interpersonal conflict. Furthermore the stigma religious persons once attached to seeking help for life problems through professional counseling has declined along with greater transparency and public recognition that counseling really does provide helpful support and treatment.

At Olive Branch Counseling Associates the importance of spirituality is affirmed and supported as a significant resource and avenue for recovery, growth and healing. Spiritual issues are addressed in counseling to the degree clients wish to address them in the context of their goals for treatment. At Olive Branch spirituality and counseling techniques are integrated in service of each client’s journey toward growth and well-being.

Freud’s assertion that religion and psychology are mortal enemies has been proven false. Professional counseling and spirituality are not opposed but instead have become partners in helping address the life problems arising in the lives of religiously committed individuals, couples and families.

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