Managing Religious Conflict within Psychotherapy
This paper discusses the relationship of religion and psychology within the setting of interpersonal dynamic psychotherapy. It raises the question of whether and to what extent religion should be included in a therapeutic setting. Varying perspectives on this issue are reviewed, followed by an examination of the consequences of addressing religion within therapy. Several examples are offered of potential pit falls a therapist may encounter in this situation as well as suggestions for minimizing the likelihood of these occurrences. Two models are included which provide frameworks for assessing the degree in which a person an individual client may be religious. These models can be used in tandem and are helpful to the therapist in determining whether religion should be addressed with a particular client. They are also helpful in indicating whether their patients’ religion is connected to their mental health, as well as how the therapist should adjust their approach accordingly. Conflict can arise, when the values and beliefs of one’s religion run contrary to those which are developed in a therapeutic setting. Although the purpose and the goals of therapy and religion are often aligned, their methods for achieving this are often incongruent, particularly when questions of morality and sin arise. In this paper, I aim to understand the nature of the kinds of resistance a therapist may encounter in these types of settings and explore tactics which allow the therapist to remain relatively neutral about their own particular biases, as well prevent the patient’s religious bias from interfering with their own progress. The second group of problems revolve around the therapist having only a very limited understanding their patients religion, which may restrict the therapist capacity for understanding a patient who has based much of their life’s choices on their faith. For example, each religious division in the Christian faith has a particular kind of religious reasoning, which is usually drawn from different bible texts. It may be difficult to understand the reasoning of a patient without having this knowledge beforehand, and the therapist may be unable to accurately assess the significance of certain behaviors or customs. The third set of problems has to do with a lack of strategies for approaching the first two sets. It is only recently that mental health programs have begun to incorporate a religious diversity course into their curriculum. Often, the patient’s beliefs are so ingrained and complex, that if a therapist tries to breach a certain defense which is linked with a religious position using argument or logic, another religious position is already in place to reinforce the first. Another problem can arise when a patient feels the therapist has given them an unpleasant interpretation of something, will quickly fall back on the fact that the therapist does not share their religious values. Several suggestions are made by Spero (1981) on how to avoid developing negative counter-transference: The therapist needs to learn to distinguish between mature and immature religious belief systems.
The therapist must be willing to analyze personal religious beliefs and attitudes objectively and independently.
The therapist must develop a nonanxious, nonfamilial approach toward working with religiously similar clients.
The therapist must learn to distinguish between true commitment to religious values and such expression used as a defense to avoid
warranted exploration of religious material.
5. The therapist should focus specifically on
those areas of belief that have therapeutic
value, and he or she needs to remember that
the client's beliefs themselves are not the focus
Some patients, however, benefit from...