Psychologists have a very unique job in that they are often the people responsible for guiding others toward resolution in life. There is a sharing of private information by patients that must be honored by the Ethical Code of Conduct set by the American Psychological Association. Deviating from these guidelines can result in trouble for the therapist, which is why it is important to understand where issues like religion and spirituality fit within the ethical confines of the guidelines. Religion and spirituality do not yet fit into regular medical practices and procedures, which makes the topic of the issue an additional challenge in regard to the dynamic between the therapist and the client. Not only is the client’s personal beliefs something that must be honored, but also the beliefs of the therapists must remain respectfully confined when giving advice to the client. Understanding what is acceptable and unacceptable between a therapist and the client is a starting point for how to manage religion and spirituality in a therapy setting.
Culture and World View
It is helpful for a therapist to be familiar with the cultures and world views of the patients they work with in order to help connect with and understand how to counsel the individual. According to Camphina Bacote, cultural competence has five key traits that one must acquire, which are 1) cultural awareness, 2) cultural knowledge, 3) cultural skill, 4) cultural encounters, and 5) cultural desires (Lever, 2011, p. 562). The way this translates to the psychologist’s specialty is to understand things about various cultures that will enable them to understand various scenarios where knowledge of cultural difference would help in aiding the client towards the goal. For example, if the therapist has a client who is from the Middle East and practices Islam, then it is wise that they know some basic belief systems of the culture. If the client were to be a woman who is feeling frustrated in her marriage, knowing about the traditions and practices common to the Muslim culture would help the therapist to better understand the client’s problems.
In terms of the communication process that will take place between the counselor and patient, knowledge of their religious beliefs is important to understand what to say or not say with the patient. Going back to the example of the patient being a Muslim woman, who may be struggling with the idea that her husband would like to marry another woman in their native country. The counselor who is working with her should know that in Islamic tradition, men are able to marry more than one woman. Without this knowledge the professional may say something that could be insulting to or make the client feel negatively about the therapy. Instead of allowing their own cultural beliefs on polygamy to influence their guidance, they should work towards counseling the individual with the Muslim practices in mind. This recognition of religious practice is especially important in situations like this as to not insult the client by saying the wrong thing because one’s own opinion and lack of cultural awareness may get in the way.
“Failure to attend to each client’s religious and spiritual beliefs and practices may overlook essential elements of who they are as people, and as has been mentioned previously, it may also overlook contributing factors to why they are seeking out mental health treatment and potential” (Barnett, 2016, p.6). In the case of treating the Muslim woman who is struggling to accept an aspect that in her marriage that is normal to their religious practices is a key element in why she is seeking therapy. If out of ignorance the counselor condemns her husband’s decision due to ignorance, then there is an ethical issue in the way that the counseling will take place. After all, the intention is not the lead people astray, but to help them reach a healthy place of healing and understanding on what is best for the individual.
The assessment is the place to gather as much information from the client as possible. By doing this, the counselor can pre-screen and be aware of possible areas of religious, spiritual, or cultural practices that would heavily influence the course of the therapy sessions. According to American Psychological Association (2016), “Psychologists base the opinions contained in their recommendations, reports and diagnostic or evaluative statements, including forensic testimony, on information and techniques sufficient to substantiate their findings” (APA, “Assessment,” 2016). Under the Assessment section of the “Ethical Principle of Psychologist and Code of Conduct, the emphasis of the importance in the intake of information upon the initial visit is critical to the knowledge that the counselor will gain in his or her decision-making process.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Lastly, the diagnosis and treatment options for the client may at times be based on their religious or spiritual beliefs, which is why the ethical importance of knowledge in this way is crucial to patient care. When the professional is working with solutions and options to present the client during therapy, it is important that spiritual practices are not omitted because treatment in a holistic manner is what is best (Polzer Casarez & Engebretson, 2012, p. 2101). Needless to say, by informing oneself, the professional will be ethical responsible to gain knowledge about their client’s religious beliefs. Going back to the example used regarding the Muslim woman who is struggling with a religious practice that is common to her culture, the course of treatment options in her case require some background knowledge on Islam to appropriately handle the guidance ethically.
After reviewing the various aspects of the importance of ethical practices regarding the religious and spiritual beliefs of the client to be considered in course of treatment, one can better understand the relevance. In a heavily diverse world that we live in, knowledge of these types of things are ways to provide the best of care to the patient. If the duty of the psychologist from an ethical perspective, is to provide the best possible care, then awareness of the important belief systems they carry are key factors to optimal treatment.
American Psychological Association (APA). (2016). Ethical Principle of Psychologist and Code
of Conduct. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx
Barnett, J. E. (2016). Are religion and spirituality of relevance in psychotherapy? Spirituality in
Clinical Practice, 3(1), 5-9. Retrieved from
Leever, M. G. (2011). Cultural competence: Reflections on patient autonomy and patient good.
Nursing Ethics, 18(4), 560-70. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0969733011405936
Polzer Casarez, R. L., & Engebretson, J. C. (2012). Ethical issues of incorporating spiritual care
into clinical practice. Journal Of Clinical Nursing, 21(15/16), 2099-2107 9p. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2702.2012.04168.x