Faith has long had a contentious relationship with mental health, especially from the side of clinical practitioners. The mental health field itself is not a particularly strong religious incorporation though we know it is important for clients and so counselors need to wrestle with how they plan to practice with integrating spirituality. It is our believe that faith has a place in the clinical counseling session and Christian practices, when done ethically, can promote change and healing.
So how do you know when it is appropriate to bring spiritual practices into session. There are definitely wrong ways: you need to make sure you are at a place you can provide those services well and you need to accurately assess the client even wants these services. We want to share with you a set of tools to make this happen from Holly Oxhandler and many of the staff at Baylor University. You can find all of them here.
Are you ready to integrate spirituality into practice?
Before we even get to the conversation of how to integrate spirituality or if the client is comfortable with it, you need to evaluate if you are ready. The Religious/Spiritually Integrated Practice Assessment Scale evaluates the counselor’s self-efficacy, attitudes, perceived feasibility, behaviors, and overall orientation to faith and mental health. Separately, they also have a tool for Christian social workers specifically to assess this called Social Workers’ Integration of their Faith-Christian Scale. Take this assessment before even continuing.
Make sure you have a wholistic assessment.
There is no assessment here from Holly, but we encourage the conversation to start with your intake assessment and ask them what spirituality they hold to. You may want to go deeper if they give you a specific example, asking where they go to worship, if they have supports within their faith tradition, and how important is it to incorporate it into their practice. From here, we may want to do a further screener with them.
Identifying if spiritual should be incorporated into counseling.
Within counseling, it is always best to ask permission. Whether you are wanting to challenge a core belief (positive or negative), encourage support networks, invite a client’s loved one into session, or other changes to the practice, we should seek permission in many of these events. Incorporating spiritual is the same thing. The Religious/Spiritually Integrated Practice Assessment Scale – Client Attitudes helps identify just this, noting similar questions to the assessment counselors previously took, but from the frame of mind for the client to dictate. The assessment is not long and can help the client better decide if they need to incorporate this or if you as a counselor simply get a release of information for the pastor to coordinate care and leave the mental health treatment in session. (We know many clients do not want others to know about their mental health. Treatment is a process and so work at the pace of the client and their desires)
Begin to integrate faith
If the client is agreeable and you are at a place to integrate faith practices, then it is time to do so. If you are unsure where to start, we recommend the 99 Self-Care Techniques for Christians as a good first step to know what clients are already doing, what they are interested in doing, and a coping skill list to chose from.