An Exploration of Counselors' Perceptions of Spirituality

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2004-11-23

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ABSTRACT

Title of Dissertation: AN EXPLORATION OF COUNSELORS' PERCEPTIONS OF SPIRITUALITY

Rita P. Smith, Doctor of Philosophy, 2004

Dissertation directed by: Dr. David Hershenson, Professor Emeritus, Department of Counseling and Personnel Services, University of Maryland, College Park

This purpose of this study is to examine counselors' age, gender, years of training, and level of spiritual well-being as related to their (1) attitude about the importance of spiritual issues, (2) comfort with addressing spiritual issues, (3) frequency of use of spiritual interventions in the treatment process, and (4) attitude toward the use of spiritual interventions in the treatment process with individuals from different ethnicities and serious and persistent mental illness diagnoses. Researchers suggest that attending to clients' spiritual issues is an important multicultural competency that has vital implications for the ethical delivery of mental health services, especially to those of different ethnicities and mental illness diagnoses. Research confirms that environment, family structure, and belief systems (political and spiritual) impact treatment issues.

Historically, the under-representation of spiritual issues in counselor training programs has resulted in a lack of sensitivity about these issues that has been passed from generation to generation of counselors.

Two hundred counselors from the American Rehabilitation Counselor Association and American Mental Health Counselor Association completed the General Attitude Scale (GAS), the Intervention Scale (IS), the Spiritual Well Being Scale (SWBS), and the Smith's Importance of Spirituality Scale (SISS). A short qualitative section consisting of open-ended phone interviews was conducted with five counselors asking them to speak about their feelings regarding the use of spirituality in the therapeutic process. Results indicated that older counselors who had higher levels of spiritual well- being tended to have more positive general attitudes about the importance of using spirituality in the treatment process with clients diagnosed with serious and persistent mental illness. Older counselors with higher levels of spiritual well-being and less experience in counseling delivery tended to be more comfortable with addressing spiritual issues, as well as had a higher frequency of use of religious and spiritual interventions in the treatment process. A difference was found in the importance counselors attached to the use of spiritual interventions in the treatment process with clients from different ethnicities and severe and persistent mental illness diagnoses. This study discusses implications of the results in relationship to prior research, future research, training, and practice.

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