Should Psychotherapy be Supportive of a Client’s Spiritual and Religious Practice?
It was not long ago that the founding fathers of clinical psychology took a harsh stance against religious practice and believed, at best, it was neutral and most likely negative for the mental health of their patients.
Freud described it as a neurotic activity meant to allay fears of daily life. Dr. Skinner believed it was merely superstitious behavior wrongly associated with pleasant or painful outcomes. Even Jung felt that modern religious practice was at odds with the true nature of spiritual inquiry and urged patients to get beyond their “culturally cluttered” views and embrace a more primitive essential view of spirituality.
A large body of research has developed over the last 50 years which undermines the original biases of the forefathers of clinical psychology. People who are involved in religious practice on a weekly basis tend to have longer marriages, happier dispositions, more social support, and a pro-social view of the world. Clients who exercise prayer, pursue forgiveness and engage in acts of charity tend to have lower levels of psychological distress and tend to recover more quickly from mental illness. These results do not mean that religious practice prevents mental illness, but they do seem to indicate that religious practice is an adaptive human activity which tends to improve the quality of life for people who practice their faith.
As a seasoned clinician of 30 years, I have been blessed to be trained in helping clients integrate their faith with their psychological issues; helping them to martial additional resources to both help their recovery and to stabilize their situation.
Some churches actively engage in helping people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders by providing support groups and pastoral counseling. There are times when my clients have been hurt and mistreated by religious institutions, but do not wish to abandon their faith. In such instances, it is important to have a therapist who understands when power is misused by a church but also respects a client’s deeply held spiritual values. My goal as a therapist in Lake Oswego is to honor your religious worldview and support system, while I help you understand and treat your mental anguish. Where there are ways your religious association can help you, I will encourage it; and if there are ways in which you have been hurt or misunderstood I will seek to support you.