Thursday, September 20, 2012
Wellness Matters: Sense of spirituality can be powerful force in fostering emotional health
By Blake L. Jones
Access Wellness Group
“I’m not allowed to talk about God in therapy, right?”
It was one of my most discouraging times as a professor. After teaching a mental assessment class one evening at the University of Kentucky, a student sheepishly approached me and said, “Dr. Jones, I want to tell you a secret.” The “secret” she had kept hidden was not some history of abuse or that she needed drug abuse treatment. It was that she was a Christian and that she was afraid this would interfere with her ability to function as a therapist. She questioned her Christianity often, and tried to make sense of the chaotic world in which she lived. “How can I help one of my clients if I have questions about my own faith?,” she said.
After discussing boundary issues (i.e., not forcing your own spiritual beliefs down a client’s throat, not referring a client to your own church for help), we talked about how her belief in a Higher Power could be a huge benefit to others who also are struggling with God. A recent study suggests that 70 percent of Americans believe in God (Kosmin and Keysar, 2008. “American Religious Identification Study”).
The concepts of “God” and “spiritual beliefs” have a multitude of meanings in our melting pot of society, but I have witnessed many clients over the years access their spiritual belief system (and the wider supports of a church, temple or synagogue) to help them get through depression, addiction or infidelity. Of course, many of them are also helped by medication and traditional psychotherapies, but it has taught me that a person’s sense of spirituality can be a powerful force in helping them change.
It’s interesting to me that my clients feel very open in talking about their sex lives, suicidal behaviors and illicit drug use, but they feel the need to apologize when the subject of spiritual beliefs comes up. As with my student, I find this a sad commentary on my own chosen field of clinical social work. Therapy should be the one place where it’s OK to talk about EVERY aspect of yourself.
My own spiritual journey took me from growing up in a family of eight—my dad was a traveling Baptist preacher—to becoming a Quaker for 10 years, to now being a part of a progressive Baptist church. I use the word “journey” because it has certainly been that for me, just as it often is in the lives of my clients.
I am lucky to work with other therapists at Access Wellness Group who value their client’s expressions of spirituality. We also respect clients who have NO spiritual background or beliefs. Going into therapy is a serious decision; if you are in therapy or contemplating seeing a therapist—and are a person of faith—I encourage you to have a conversation with your therapist about how the subject will be handled.
It’s “holistic” treatment at its best.
Blake Jones, MSW, LCSW, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical social worker at Access Wellness Group, a Lexington-based group providing counseling and addiction treatment services to individuals, families and Employee Assistance Program client companies. Jones specializes in couples counseling, men’s issues and work-related problems. He is a graduate of Berea College and the University of Kentucky. Jones, who lives in Woodford County with his wife of 17 years and their two sons, is also a singer-songwriter.