Faith-based living. We all grow up with certain values, morals, religious beliefs, and traditions that were instilled by our environments and families. This is especially true here in western Pennsylvania where family values are an integral part of our lives. However, there also comes a time when these beliefs are questioned. Those are the times we come face-to-face with grief and loss, social issues, political ideology, job loss, and other tough situations. What then? What if what we believed all our lives is not matching up with our experiences. Or what if there is a disconnect between what we have always believed? Or what friends and society are telling us? Such questioning can hinder our enjoyment in life, lead to fractured relationships with family, and leave us feeling lost and empty.

What is New in Faith-Based Approaches?

In the last decade or so, the mental health field has recognized the need for professionals to be educated in addressing spiritual elements with clients; most graduate schools now even include curricula on integrating faith within counseling. This is in light of research showing the high percentage of individuals adhering to a faith perspective, as well as studies suggesting a positive correlation between psychological well-being and active religious faith.

Unfortunately, some clients may have experienced counselors who have viewed his or her faith as part of the problem, or even as a symptom of a larger issue. This perspective can lead to an individual feeling misunderstood, patronized, and demoralized – if this has happened to you in the past, we hope that you will consider giving counseling another try! In comparison, the faith-based counselor should view faith as part of the whole person, as well as a conviction that is to be respected and incorporated into overall treatment.

Your Sessions are Tailored to You

Furthermore, rest assured that spiritual practices, such as prayer or the use of scripture, will not be explicitly utilized unless you as the client specifically request it. Rather, the faith-based counselor often utilizes techniques and approaches common to secular psychotherapy practices, such as cognitive and behavioral techniques, but alongside the recognition of faith and spirituality. This is most often referred to as an integrative approach – one in which all aspects of a person are considered.

What about Inter-Faith Situations?

A possible question that one may have is in reference to family counseling. What if your family is interfaith? This type of family is one in which multiple religions are held. An example could be a mom and a dad who adhere to different faith perspectives. How do they raise their children? How do they present them with the option of deciding for themselves the faith with which they most align? The counselor who is trained in spiritual and faith-based treatment will work diligently to respect both views and incorporate treatment that is tailored to the distinctive and complex family.

To begin, the assessment process will focus on gaining an understanding of how the family system wishes the unit to function in regard to their differing faiths. Then, treatment planning will be a mutual process between the family unit and therapist so as to best serve and assist the unique needs of the family system. Just as in individual counseling, the therapist’s personal views will not interfere with the specific needs and wishes of the family as a whole.

Another concern is whether their counselor’s faith and values will influence the treatment they ultimately receive. They may even be concerned that such values may infringe upon their right to receive fair, unbiased, and non-judgmental treatment. Rest assured that the counselor’s personal values will not dictate the type of treatment you receive; rather, you will be an active part of the treatment planning and goal-setting process. As such, you will be part of a collaborative effort that assures you receive the type of service that is most applicable to you and the values that are integral to your life.

How Do You Approach Pastors and Clergy?

Speaking with pastors and clergy can be helpful when seeking answers and clarity. But there are times when it may be difficult to be open and honest. Especially with a person who is familiar with your background and family. Perhaps you have even had negative experiences with church or church members in the past. These situations often leave individuals feeling disenfranchised, disconnected, and possibly even confused about their beliefs. In such circumstances, it may be helpful to process these experiences with a trained counselor. Especially one who understands the intricacies and practices related to churches. Not to mention their structure and how they function.

What Faith-Based Approach Can Mental Health Professionals Offer?

Another consideration that must be made is the training of a clergy member. They often have an extensive background in theology and ministry-related training. But they may not have the important psychological perspective that is frequently required for effective understanding and treatment. Thankfully, the integrative approach is an increasingly utilized method. This approach is effective in incorporating both schools of thought into holistic mental health treatment.

Professionals recognize that issues surrounding faith and religion are valid and important. That they deserve contemplation and processing. But, too, often are pushed to the back burner because day-to-day life gets in the way. Consider taking the time to pursue answers and solutions. Because your peace of mind and hope for the future is important!
A faith-based approach to counseling can be helpful in a variety of circumstances, such as:

  • Questioning your religious beliefs
  • Struggling with forgiveness
  • Unsure of your purpose and meaning in life
  • Wishing to have a counselor with a similar background and beliefs
  • Struggling with how to instill faith values in your children

If any of these circumstances, questions, or situations apply to you, consider scheduling a session with a therapist who is educated in both psychological and faith issues – we can provide a safe, nonjudgmental space to wrestle through these tough emotions, beliefs, and decisions.

* This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a medical professional for advice.

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