Religion has been shown to be a stabilizing factor for mental well-being. Research has demonstrated that people who have religious beliefs tend to have better mental health, physical health, and more satisfying relationships than those who do not have any religious beliefs. Religious individuals who seek therapy may look specifically for a therapist who is of their religious affiliation; however, many choose to work with secular therapists in order to receive an unbiased assessment of their psychological state. Because of this, it is important to understand how religious clients view the treatment they receive from secular therapists. Carrie L. Cragun of the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology at the University of Albany in New York was curious to find out if religious individuals held negative or positive opinions of secular therapists and the treatment they provided.
Cragun recently reviewed assessments from 11 Christian individuals who had received therapy from secular therapists. She evaluated whether the clients reported their experiences as positive or negative and how religion influenced their reports. Cragun found that the majority of the clients reported positive experiences from the secular therapists. This was most often the result of working with a therapist who was open and willing to discuss religious beliefs. The therapists who were judgmental and less inclusive with respect to faith were seen as providing a negative therapeutic experience. However, when therapists explained that they were unqualified to discuss their client’s religion, the clients respected that response and still rated the overall experience as positive.
Religious beliefs play a significant role in the lives of many clients. This study demonstrates that many individuals do not feel comfortable initiating discussions about this important topic to therapists. “Results suggest that creating safety for clients to discuss their religious identity and beliefs could begin on intake,” Cragun said. “Therapists could ask about clients’ coping methods or specifically about religion and spirituality.” Providing an environment in which a client feels fully accepted regardless of religious devotion or ambiguity will set the stage for full disclosure in other areas. Cragun believes that the best place for this to start is when students are studying to become therapists. Learning about the importance of multicultural issues and how to integrate these issues into therapy will allow therapists to be more inclusive of clients from every ethnic and religious background.
Cragun, C. L., Friedlander, M. L. (2012). Experiences of Christian clients in secular psychotherapy: A mixed-methods investigation. Journal of Counseling Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028283
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