Article Review: Prayer as a Counseling Intervention

Prayer as a Counseling Intervention

Mental health practitioners are continuously considering the pivotal role spirituality should play in their field, especially in therapies. Consequently, more spiritual interventions, especially prayer, are now being used in counseling more frequently than ever. However, expectations of Christian clients concerning prayer in counseling have not been exhaustively explored by any particular research. A statistical survey of therapists and their first-time Christian clients to determine the clients’ expectations and the therapists’ practices and beliefs showed a very interesting trend. Just to cast some light on the nature of the survey, and the methods employed, it is worth mentioning that the analysis used include, testing samples with unequal and skewed variances, one-way variance analysis, simple linear regression, Fisher’s exact tests, and Pearson correlations. These indicated that eighty two percent of clients preferred that the subject of prayer be introduced by their therapists. They had a strong desire for audible prayer in their counseling sessions and hoped strongly that their therapists would include it. They also wanted their counselors to pray for them, even outside the counseling sessions. The statistics also indicated that as opposed to liberals, religious conservatives harbored higher expectations for prayer (Weld & Eriksen 2007). More obviously, clients who had undergone Christian counseling before had higher expectations for prayer than those who had never had any, as this paper proceeds to support.

Over time, the importance of spirituality in counseling has been recognized, and as such, appreciated. A good percentage of mental health professionals attach great value to personal prayer and appreciate the relevance of spirituality, even at a personal level. In fact, most practitioners claim some form of religious affiliation. For the same reason, perhaps, they consider spirituality to be an integral part of other people’s well-being, including that of their clients. As a matter of fact, the most frequently used form of spiritual intervention by counselors affiliated to Christianity is prayer. For some reasons too, counselors who have not subscribed to the Christian faith also incorporate prayer in their practice within secular settings (Weld & Eriksen, 2007). Even more interestingly, such service providers believe that saying a prayer for a client is relevant, necessary and appropriate, although, most still hold a conflicting view.

It is also the wish of most clients to have their spirituality or religion incorporated within the counseling context. This could be attributed to the fact that most people believe in the existence of a Supreme Being: God. In particular, Christian clients strongly expect the inclusion of prayer in their counseling sessions. It is important to build the much needed therapeutic bond between client and counselor for maximum positive results. Therefore, the client’s expectations should be taken into consideration at all times. However, to understand this and rightly choose to include prayer in counseling would require good evaluation and examination of such methods for inclusion. Core to such an examination is to determine client expectations on prayer inclusion, although currently there is no research in this respect (Weld & Eriksen, 2007). The survey highlighted above makes up for such a lack by primarily surveying Christian clients’ preferences concerning prayer in the counseling context. It also attempts to determine whether therapist factors have a relation with client expectations by surveying the subjects with regard to their beliefs and practices.

Psychology and religion have been, historically, mutually independent disciplines, with each relying on conflicting theoretical assumptions.  However, this has now changed since spiritual issues have become a subject of interest within mental health circles. Studies have shown that people’s mental health is linked to their spirituality and that effective psychotherapy is directly influenced by the client’s spirituality.

Upon reading this article, I reflected deeply on the issues contained therein. It had not occurred to me before that, for instance, successful psychotherapy would be greatly dictated by the client’s spirituality, and the way the therapist would handle that. But how true is this? Can it be related to real life experiences?

One without any religious affiliation would find this hard to connect and relate to a counseling context, but it is more true than false. Spiritually-guided therapy can be indeed interesting, as the beauty of it all is achieved by creating that experience of a third presence in the room, a situation where both the client and the therapist experience the presence of God in the room. If the therapist and the client are both religious, it is even more fruitful, especially if they have that willingness to interact in a religious manner. This creates trust and the therapeutic alliance that yields maximum positive results. Besides, if the counselor is sensitive to a possible role of religion, central or otherwise in a client’s life, then he or she is better positioned to evaluate and provide a wide range of solutions. It is indeed a chief therapeutic accommodation to connect a client with the variable of spirituality in their lives.

Nevertheless, treatments that are spiritually and religiously guided need careful consideration, especially if the client is not used to them. Failure to do this could scare them; instill in them a sense of fear that could worsen their situation. It is, therefore, important that therapists evaluate the importance of religion to them at a personal level, both as a medium and tool of preventing personal roadblocks. When that is done, then techniques like use of prayer, spiritual journaling, and use of biblical texts in reinforcing healthy emotional and mental habits would be most effective.

The information learnt here could be applied effectively in a potential counseling setting. For instance, if a client, or more correctly a patient, came to me with a problem, say they have been experiencing a series of misfortunes and their heart is heavy, I would incorporate this spiritual aspect that emerges in this article. But for best results, I must first seek to understand them as regards their spiritual or religious background. I would ask them if they do pray or not, and if they find it helpful. I would then ask what they think their relationship with God is like, and if they think they know what He wants them to do from that moment onwards. That would help in leading them to talk about their personal experience with God. From the sum of that conversation, I would be able to make an inference on what role religion plays in their life and its impact.

This initial assessment would be specifically helpful since such a client would be perceiving religion negatively. Maybe they believe in an angry God because of the misfortunes that have befallen them. In such a case, I shall then be able to act decisively, so that my therapy does not make the client’s emotional crisis worse. I would talk to them and share with them content that does not bring out punitive images of God. They could be harboring anger and self-pity in their hearts, thus talking to them about the normalcy of what they could be going through would help ease pressure and tension. I would then emphasize on the power of prayer and give illustrations from the Bible of people who prayed tirelessly, even when their prayers seemed to go unanswered. I would encourage them and tell them God’s timing is the best. I would then pray with them and advise them to pray continuously after they are gone. Booking an appointment with them would be part of my follow-up to find out how they are fairing on, creating another chance to assist them further.

In conclusion, the fact that most Christian clients prefer incorporation of prayer as a counseling intervention cannot be disputed. It would only be advantageous to all involved parties if this were done in practice.

References

Weld, C., & Eriksen, K. (January 01, 2007). Christian Clients’ Preferences Regarding Prayer as a Counseling Intervention. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 35, 4, 328-341.

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