Spirituality and Therapy: Five Benefits of Spiritually Integrated Therapy

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The two preceding articles in this three-part series recognized the resurgence of spirituality in therapy, identified a need for psychotherapists trained in spiritual and religious competencies, provided tips on how to find a licensed clinician who is right for you, and explored three domains of spiritual wellness.  This third and final article will address five potential benefits of spiritually integrated therapy.

I recently listened to both a psychologist’s lecture on integrated healthcare, and a book on parenting written by a world renowned researcher/therapist who devoted her career to understanding guilt, shame, vulnerability and whole-hearted living.  Both scholars spoke of spirituality as being a resilience factor.  This got me thinking about how spiritually integrated therapy may serve some of my clients, so I came up with a list of five potential benefits of spiritually integrated therapy:

  1. Enhancing Protective Factors: A so-called “protective factor” is anything a person incorporates into their life which effectively decreases the likelihood of harm.  You can think of it as the opposite of a “risk factor.”  A growing body of research has shown that spiritual health and positive religious practices can in fact serve as a protective factor for a wide variety of issues across populations (i.e. hazardous substance use, suicidality, self-harm, eating disorders, etc.).  In therapy, exploring how spiritual practice can serve as a protective factor may be beneficial.
  2. Increasing Stress Resilience: Those who manage stress effectively have incorporated resilience practices into their regular lifestyle.  Spiritually integrated psychotherapy recognizes spiritual health as an essential component of whole and complete living.  Therapy may explicitly discuss spiritual or religious coping strategies the client uses to solve problems, elicit a sense of meaningfulness to stressful life events, and/or learn skills to “weather the storm” in a profoundly purposeful way.  A common element among various faith traditions is an active willingness to practice non-judgmental acceptance.  Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) suggests stress-resiliency is enhanced as we actively challenge our experiential avoidance of unpleasant emotions (i.e. anxiety, fear, pain) by engaging in value-based action while accepting that meaningful living does not begin when discomfort ends… it begins now.
  3. Using Culturally Relevant Language: I have found that clients who demonstrate high levels of religiosity, or those who have been brought up within highly religious cultures, naturally use spiritual or religiously framed language when discussing both problems and potential solutions.  I believe if both therapist and client are able to enter one another’s world with shared respect and a curious exploration of culturally relevant language shaping our reality, truly meaningful and healing dialogue may result.   The therapist is not required to be of the same faith tradition, but rather to embody an enthusiasm and willingness to engage with a client’s narrative involving spiritual or religious concepts.  Daniel Pals offers a thought provoking statement wherein, “religion is not a malady that psychoanalysis alone can cure; it is a therapy that psychoanalysis cannot provide” (2006, p. 296).
  4. Emphasizing Gratitude: Engaging in service-oriented, spiritual, or value-based, practice helps us challenge the problem-saturated stories which control our lives and inhibit healthy change. When we unduly focus our attention on the negative, or worry about failing, we invite a lot of unnecessary suffering into our life.  Spiritually integrated therapy combines well established therapeutic techniques with a client’s unparalleled motivation to live a purposeful life.  Spiritual health can provide a context to explore practicing gratitude.
  5. Effectively Processing Faith Crisis: Clients affected by issues related to religious or spiritual discord may benefit from a therapeutic environment embracing an integrated clinical focus on faith.  With over ten years of university education and experience studying human behavior, there is one trait I have found among all forms of suffering and conflict… inflexibility.  Spiritually integrated psychotherapy respectfully recognizes sacred belief while simultaneously challenging what clinical psychologist Dr. Kenneth Pargament calls “spiritual inflexibility” (2007).

In conclusion, for those whom spirituality or religiosity is a relevant component in their life, spiritually integrated psychotherapy may offer some unique benefits.

To read the previous articles in this series, visit the Family Wellness section of

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Written by Daniel Colver, M.A., LMFT

Daniel Colver is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) at the Spanish Fork Center for Couples and Families, and is completing his Doctor of Behavior Health (DBH – Clinical Track) degree from Arizona State University. His research and clinical interests include individual/couple/family therapy, systems theory, behavioral health innovation, religious studies, and existentialism. Daniel lives in beautiful Utah with his lovely wife, daughter, two dogs, and his motorcycle.