Ethical Issues for the Integration of Religion and Spirituality in Therapy

Topics: Religion, Philosophy, Spirituality Pages: 5 (1308 words) Published: September 22, 2014
Ethical Issues for the Integration of Religion and Spirituality in Therapy


Religion plays an important role in the lives of many people, and in such cases, religious principles and beliefs influence all aspects of their lives. With the increasing interest in spirituality in the community, the intersection of psychological services, religion and spirituality is likely to be a growth area in psychology (Plante, 2007). However, working with clients around religion and spirituality issues does present potential ethical challenges.

Integrating spiritual and religious dimensions of clients' lives into their treatment requires consummate professionalism and the highest quality of knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Psychologists who use or are thinking about using religious and spiritual therapies should be confident that these therapies are efficient for the religious/spiritual clients. They also need to remain alert to potential ethical violations when working with their clients. The American Psychological Association's (APA) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (hereinafter referred to as the Ethics Code) (2010) provides some useful standards to help navigate this path.

Keywords: religion, spirituality, ethics, competence, multiple relationships, informed consent, integrity, respect.  
Ethical Issues for the Integration of Religion and Spirituality in Therapy


Fisher (2012) explains the characteristics of integrating religion in therapy on a secular-theistic continuum and describes several areas of potential ethical concerns for practitioners. The following sections highlight those ethical challenges that transpire between both ends of the continuum.

Integrity issues: Blurred boundaries and multiple relationships

There are instances of registered psychologists providing psychological services who are also members of the clergy and religious orders, raising the potential for multiple relationships (Principle C: Integrity and Standard 3.05, Multiple Relationships). In such cases it is advisable that psychologists do not provide psychological services to people to whom they are also providing spiritual/religious guidance. Clients will be less likely to confuse the two roles, or have misplaced expectations of the psychologist.

Where clients are aware of a psychologist's religious affiliation, it is crucial that the boundary between the two roles is clearly communicated. Clients need to know the limits to confidentiality for that situation (Standard 4.05, Disclosures and Standard 3.06, Conflict of Interest). For example, if a client spoke to a psychologist believing that the seal of confession applied, he or she may be shocked to find that a psychologist hearing about child abuse could be obliged to report the client under law.

Respect issues: Spiritual and religious bias

Deeply held religious beliefs, or agnostic or atheist views, may form part of a psychologist's world view. However when working with clients, it is important the beliefs do not interfere with the psychologist's primary role, which is to place the wellbeing of the client as paramount (Principle D: Justice and Principle E: Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity; Standard 2.06, Personal Problems and Conflicts, and 3.01, Unfair Discrimination).

For example, an atheist psychologist who strongly believes that religion is a way of avoiding responsibility for one's life may advise a client to abandon their use of prayer when overcoming grief, amounting to the psychologist imposing their own world view and not respecting that of the client.

Competence issues: Membership of a faith tradition does not make one an expert

Although there is a growing interest in the recent years in researches about religion and spirituality, there is a gap between the researchers’ interest and clinical practice. There is a lack of accredited training programs for therapists in the use of spirituality in...

References: Barnett, J. E., & Johnson, W. (2011). Integrating Spirituality and Religion Into Psychotherapy: Persistent Dilemmas, Ethical Issues, and a Proposed Decision-Making Process. Ethics & Behavior, 21(2), 147-164. doi:10.1080/10508422.2011.551471
Fisher, C. B. (2012). Decoding the Ethics Code: A Practical Guide for Psychologists, Updated Second Edition. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc.
Gonsiorek, J. C., Richards, P., Pargament, K. I., & McMinn, M. R. (2009). Ethical challenges and opportunities at the edge: Incorporating spirituality and religion into psychotherapy. Professional Psychology: Research And Practice, 40(4), 385-395. doi:10.1037/a0016488
Plante, T. G. (2007). Integrating spirituality and psychotherapy: Ethical issues and principles to consider. Journal Of Clinical Psychology, 63(9), 891-902. doi:10.1002/jclp.20383
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