What is a Spiritual Counselor?
Explore careers in spiritual counseling
For many people, a spiritual crisis is a life crisis, requiring the help of a spiritual counselor who can show them where to look for answers – answers that help them move forward, perhaps to the next level of awareness or consciousness.
Spirituality is an integral part of many lives, but for many, their spirituality never grew beyond the shell of their childhood religions. Over the years it may have become a source of extreme unhappiness - leaving them with a damaged sense of self-worth and self-esteem rather than an evolving sense of God, and a deeper appreciation of life beyond physical and material values.
Helping belief systems evolve
Many individuals want to move beyond their childhood concepts of religion, yet grow spiritually within the context of their established beliefs and practices. Most churches, synagogues, and mosques have counselors who work with members of their congregations, using appropriate doctrine or scriptural references to help with problems. It’s comforting for some individuals to stay within the structure of their religions while searching for spiritual answers.
Counselors often find that unconscious childhood beliefs actively constrict adult perspectives, stifling rather than promoting healthy spirituality. Additionally, spiritual issues that arise in adulthood require greater maturity, covering topics such as parenting, financial responsibility, and leadership. In discussing these important issues and providing more meaningful information based on spiritual experience, counselors help clients develop more mature perspectives, - forming their own beliefs of God, their own understanding of spirituality, and their own sense of purpose.
Clients often find scriptural practices inspiring. Prayer, retreats, confession, and other kinds of rituals, such as the laying on of hands - all invoke the presence of a higher power. The request for divine intervention in providing strength and healing is common in many religious communities, and positive shifts in consciousness or behavior are attributed to God's benevolence.
Spiritual crises often manifest as psychological problems. The American Psychological Association reports that over 60% of adults in therapy used religious or spiritual terminology in describing their complaints. A common question among those in a spiritual crisis is: “Does my life have a purpose?” The fact that clients often acknowledge a benign relationship with a higher power indicates that they would like a spiritual answer – an answer that tells them that they are important and there is a reason for their existence.
Spiritual counselors understand the imperative of enabling clients to realize the full significance of their lives. This process is called self-realization and is not intended to change individuals as much as it is to let them appreciate their many abilities, talents, and strengths. Along the way clients learn to drop self-judgment, focus on developing themselves, and begin to see themselves differently.
In time, and with the help of their counselors, clients learn to have a new understanding and respect for the complexity of their beings - they begin to see that they have some measure of control over the content of their lives. Encouraged, self-exploration helps clients set new goals, develop a more reverent lifestyle, and learn their reason for living.
Non-denominational spiritual therapy
Frequently, spiritual therapists are nondenominational and serve a clientele that is not affiliated with any specific religion. Although these counselors might have some theological training, their education in psychology requires them to know many spiritual paths. Again, the counselor uses standard therapeutic practices such a talk therapy as well as alternative techniques that focus on going within to help clients uncover their value and belief systems.
Meditation, visualization, guided imagery, and hypnosis are all ways of enabling clients to explore their inner selves. While some techniques, such as meditation, are practices that unfold over time, others such as guided imagery get to the heart of an issue more quickly. With each session, progress is checked to determine if new information is being successfully integrated.
How spiritual counselors work
In general, spiritual counselors work with clients on a short-term basis - typically fewer than 10 or 15 sessions. In cases where a counselor and client are part of the same religious community, a counselor might have more occasions to observe and interact with the client outside their sessions, providing greater consistency and support.
In addition to a spiritual evaluation, spiritual counselors also make psychological assessments of their clients to determine their overall mental health and competency, and to gauge progress. Knowledge of traditional psychological approaches helps inform counselors' awareness of symptoms that mask mental health disorders. Spiritual counselors often become aware of these disorders and other serious health issues, helping clients get needed treatment.
The counselor must be an active listener, engaging clients in discussions, and watching for symptomatic behaviors. As a client tells his or her story, the counselor must determine the source and the intensity of the client's spiritual and emotional pain. This information enables the counselor to determine therapies that will be most helpful, often integrating traditional therapies such as group therapy with spiritual ones such as prayer and contemplation.
Spiritual counselors in the community
Spiritual counselors also work in places outside of churches and established religious organizations. Many corporations have spiritual counselors on staff to advise employees. Retirement homes, senior activity centers as well as many hospital and rehabilitation facilities offer spiritual counseling, knowing the importance of well-being to their residents.
Within most communities, spiritual counselors are found assisting in the network of relief agencies that help people in difficult situations. Those who are struggling with poverty, homelessness, unemployment, or abuse and neglect, find renewed hope not only through spiritual means, but also though suggestions about job contacts, emergency family assistance, legal assistance, food banks, and resources that help with other immediate needs.
The senior population is the fastest growing segment of most communities, requiring more attention from counselors. While retirement simplifies life in some ways, in others it brings up all kinds of new “older age” issues and adjustments.
Counselors also work with populations who are disabled with physical health limitations, mental health restraints, or addiction problems. Many work with young adults, others with children, and some counselors choose to work in hospices bringing peace and dignity to end-of-life situations. In all cases, spiritual counselors provide comfort and direction to specific segments of the community.
If you desire to help individuals with many of life’s challenges, and appreciate a spiritual focus in the resolution of workplace stressors, family life, career decisions, relationship issues, and personal growth concerns, consider spiritual counseling.
Spiritual counselors must have a master's degree in most states to practice, and certain licensing requirements might also apply. Contact schools offering psychology degree programs to learn more about entering the field of Spiritual Psychology.