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Religion in Counseling Running Head: HOW RELIGION IS IMPORTANT IN COUNSELING

How Religion is Important in Counseling Maritha Keukens Terrell Western New Mexico University Gallup Graduate Studies Center

Religion in Counseling Abstract

This article reviews data from secondary and primary research sources on the impact religion has on adolescent behavior and in particular risk behavior. There is a positive correlation between religious activity and commitment and safer, healthier, more constructive lifestyles for adolescents. In addition, research has shown that religion is a resource for coping with stress for adolescents, and adults. These findings on the importance of religion have implications for the counseling education and profession. Researchers recommend implementing a spiritual course in the counseling education, and address spiritual and religious issues sensitively with clients in the counseling profession.

Religion in Counseling How Religion is Important in Counseling

According to Richards and Bergin (1997), spirituality is an emerging trend in counseling and represents an important dimension to diversity and multiculturalism. Pate and Miller-Bondi (1995) believe that spirituality and religion represent a multi-cultural diversity consideration, based on Ingersolls concept that spirituality becomes an organismic, developmental dimension and religion a culturally flavored framework that helps develop the organismic spiritual potential (Ingersoll, 1995, p.12). Religion provides a framework in which spirituality can be expressed. Richards and Bergin (1997) regard religion as an important force in all phases of the counseling process. According to Richards and Bergin (1997) and Shafranske (1996), many clients indicate that they cannot be effectively helped in counseling unless their spiritual issues are sensitively and capable addressed. Recently more studies are conducted on the psychosocial influences of religion on the physical and emotional health and behavior of youth and adults in the United States (Regnerus, Smith & Fritsch, 2003). Religion is an important identity formation element in the adolescent development phase, as early adolescents negotiate changes in social, cognitive, and physical development (Blos, 1962; Fowler, 1991). Research about religion as a coping resource can be very useful when counseling adolescents. For example, studies indicate an inverse relationship between religiousness and certain forms of delinquent behavior (e.g., Donahue & Benson, 1995). This article reviews data from secondary and primary research sources on the impact religion has on adolescent behavior and in particular risk behavior. Then I will show how religion could be a resource for coping with stress for adolescents, and in conclusion, I will

Religion in Counseling address the consequences this issue of religion may have for the counseling education and profession. The Impact of Religion on Adolescent Behavior We know relatively little about the religious lives of American adolescents. Social scientific knowledge about the religious affiliation, activities and attitudes of American youth is impoverished. The problem is a simple lack of interest and attention, and failing to put useful religious questions on many good surveys of youth (Smith, Denton, Faris, & Regnerus, 2002). Of 18 of the best national surveys of youth, Smith, Denton, Faris, and Regnerus (2002) investigated 12 contained a mere three religious questions. Only three high quality, nationally

representive surveys of adolescents included six or more questions about religion. These surveys are: (a) Monitoring the Future from 1996; (b) Survey of Adolescent Health, 1995; and The Survey of Parents and Youth from 1998. For the purpose of their study Smith, Denton, Faris, and Regnerus (2002) focused on American youth in the standard teenage years, between ages of 13 and 18. All data were weighted to be nationally representative. Smith, Denton, Faris, and Regnerus (2002) used these three surveys to describe first the most basic task in mapping the American adolescent religious participation: religious affiliation and participation. Adolescent Religious Affiliation and Participation Smith, Denton, Faris, and Regnerus (2002) found the following observations: The majority of American youth are religious in so far they affiliate with some religious group or tradition. Nearly one-quarter are Catholic and Baptist each. The remaining half is spread thinly across a large variety of different traditions and denominations. Only 13 percent in 1995 say they have no religion. The majority of church-attending youth claim they go to

Religion in Counseling 5 religious services not only because their family makes them, but also because they themselves want to. The number of adolescents within the Christian tradition has been gradually declining over the last two and a half decade. The number reporting none for religion has increased by 5%. In addition, adolescents are gradually becoming more religiously pluralistic: the number other religion category has grown between 1976 and 1995 by 5%. About half of American adolescents regularly participate in religious organizations in the form of religious service attendance and participation in religious youth groups. On the other hand, about half of the American youth is not religious active. Other findings are that religious participation declines with age, and that adolescent girls are somewhat more active then boys. While youth of all races can be found in almost every religious group, certain traditions compromise much higher proportions of African-Americans, Hispanic, and Asian youth, who tend to cluster in specific religious groups. The religious participation varies somewhat by region: Southern youth are most religiously involved, followed by youth from the midwest and west. Adolescents in the northeast participate in religion the least. Religion and Adolescent Behavior An essay review of the literature on the effects of religious commitment on adolescent behavior by Jeynes (2001) and two extensive studies by Smith and Faris (2002), reveal that religion positively relates to higher educational outcome, to higher participation in constructive activities, to higher self-esteem and positive attitudes about life; and to a lower incidence of risk behaviors.

Religion in Counseling Jeynes (2001) in his review found that over the last decade an increasingly number of scientist have begun to consider seriously the ameliorative effects that the practice of religious faith might have in addressing moral and educational decline since the 1960s. Religion and educational performance. According to Jeynes (2001) review, research has consistently shown that students from religious private schools outperform their counterparts in public schools in virtually every measure of academic achievement (Lee & Bryk, 1993).

Richard Koubek (1984) found that among Christian Evangelic high school students there was a positive correlation between the extend of a students religious commitment and academic achievement. According to William Sander (1996) those two factors: (a) the religious commitment of the student, and (b) the religious orientation of the school, explains why children from religious schools outperform the general school population. Religion and minority students. In spite of the limitation of most recent research, Jeynes (1999; 2001) found, using the 1992 National Educational Longitudal Study data set, interesting data in understanding the relationship between religiosity and minority students achievement. Religiously committed African-American and Hispanic students outperformed their less religious counterparts. Furthermore, African-American and Hispanic students who were religiously committed, and who came from intact families, did as well academically as white students. Reasons for religious commitment and positive educational outcome. Social scientist suggest the following reasons why religious commitment impact educational outcome in a positive way: (1) religious people have the tendency to abstain from

Religion in Counseling 7 behaviors regarded as undisciplined and harmful to academic achievement; (2) religious work ethic; and (3) religion gives people an internal locus of control. Effects of Religious Commitment on Risk Behavior Jeynes (2001) found a number of studies that indicate that religiously committed adolescents are less likely to become involved in drug and alcohol abuse (Bahr, 1993; Brownfield and Sorensen, 1991; Cochran (1993), and less likely to engage in sexual behavior and become pregnant while still teenagers (Lock & Vincent, 1995; Beck, 1991; Miller & Olson, 1988). One study by Smith and Faris (2002), using data from the Monitoring of the Future Survey from 1996, focused on religion and American adolescent delinquency, risk behaviors and constructive social activities. They found that religion among U.S. adolescents is positively related to participation in constructive youth activities, and those who participate seem to be less likely to participate in delinquent and risk behaviors. Substance abuse. Religious 12th graders are less likely then their non-religious counterparts to smoke cigarettes and less likely to smoke at early ages. Religious high school seniors are less likely to have ever tried any kind of drug, including hard drug. Religious 12th graders are less likely to drink alcohol and more likely postpone their first time getting drunk. When they do drink, high school seniors are significantly less likely to drink alcohol until they are drunk, and go to bars significantly less often. School problems, danger and violence. Religious 12th graders tend to behave better at school, and are less likely to sent to detention, skip school or be suspended or expelled. Religious high school seniors are less likely

Religion in Counseling 8 to enjoy danger or to take risks, have fewer violent incidents among youth, are less likely to get into problems with police, and less likely to commit a variety of crimes. Constructive activities. Religious 12th graders are more likely to volunteer in their community and to participate in student government than their non-religious peers. They also play sports or exercise significant more often. Religion and life attitude and self-image. In their study on Religion and Life Attitude and Self-Image, Smith and Faris (2002) found that religious adolescents have significantly higher self-esteem and hold more positive attitude about life then their less religious or non-religious peers. They are significant more likely to: have positive attitudes toward themselves; enjoy life as much as anyone; feel like their lives are useful; feel hopeful about their futures; feel satisfied with their lives; feel like they have something of which to be proud; feel good to be alive; feel like life is meaningful, and enjoy being in school. Religious participation and network closure. In a separate study by Smith (2003), the author suggest that religion may exert positive, constructive influences in the lives of American youth through nine distinct but connected and potentially mutually reinforcing factors: (1) moral directiveness, (2) spiritual experiences, (3) role models, (4) community and leadership, (5) coping skills, (6) cultural capital, (7) social capital, (8) network closure, and (9) extra-community links. Smith (2003) used the national Survey on Parents and Youth (1998-1999) data to examine the relationship between religious participation and network closure. His findings supported the hypothesis that participation in American religious congregations increases

Religion in Counseling network closure between the parents of youth and their childrens friends, their childrens friends parents, and their childrens teachers. Smith (2003) found that the more religiously involved American youth and their parents are, the higher levels of network closure they exhibit in their social relationships, and those parents who do not attend church or synagogue regularly and whose children who do not participate in a youth group invariably were the least likely to know their childrens friends names, to know and speak with their friends parents, or to know their childrens teachers name or have met or spoken with them. Smith and Faris (2002) find that all before mentioned relationships are statistically significant even after controlling for race, age, sex, rural versus urban residence, number of siblings, whether the mother works, and the male presence of a father or male guardian in the household. In sum, regular religious service attendance, high subjective importance of faith and many years spent in participation in religious youth groups are clearly associated with safer, healthier, more constructive lifestyles for U.S. adolescents. Religion as a Coping Resource We have determined that religion contributes to higher educational achievement and to

physical and emotional health and behavior of youth, and prevents certain forms of risk behavior. Little research has done however about religion as a coping resource. Even fewer information is available about the role religion can play in adolescent counseling. I found one study that addresses religion as a source of coping among 75 Jewish adolescents (6th, 7th and 8th graders). A study conducted by Dubow, Pargament, Kenneth, Boxer and Tarakeshwar (1999), examined the degree to which religion is perceived by these adolescents as a source of stress and as a source of coping. Religious stressors and religious coping strategies were positively related

Religion in Counseling 10 to several measures of Jewish identity. For more information on religion as a coping resource, we have to look at data found on adult coping. Based on interviews with rabbis and religious educators, and the Brief Religious Coping Strategies Scale for Children reviewed for Jewish children, Dubow et al. (1999) choose 17 items representing both positive (e.g. I pray for Gods love and care; I try to do Mitzvoth -good deeds) and negative coping strategies (e.g. I get mad at God; I wonder if God cares about me). The results of the study by Dubow et al. (1999) revealed a 3-factor solution (accounting for 58% of variance): (1) Seeking Gods direction and support; (2) Seeking Jewish cultural and social support; and (3) Expressions of spiritual struggle. Individual structured interviews in which the students listed religious and non-religious coping strategies, yielded two more coping strategies: (a) Thinking about God, and (b) Simply accepting ones religion. The overall results showed that increased feelings of connectness to religion and culture might heighten the salience of religious stress factors. The positive connectness to ones religion is associated with the use of religious coping strategies perceived to be helpful in stressful situations (Dubow et al., 1999). Dubow et al. (1999) suggest that researchers, educators and clinicians should be aware of the impact religion can have on the developmental task of adolescents. The emergence of greater abstract thinking abilities enhances adolescents capacity for understanding the role of religion in their lives. Dubow et al. (1999) suggest that the concept of religion could be a new valuable tool in counseling adolescents. Other studies with adults shows that religious commitment can enable people to deal with traumatic loss such as a loved one (Palmer & Noble, 1986) and to handle stressful events in general (Seligman, 1991). Researchers have also shown a strong relationship between religious

Religion in Counseling 11 commitment and family stability (Call & Heaton, 1997). They found that if both spouses attend church regularly, the likelihood of divorce is reduced dramatically. The research report by Graham, Furr, Flowers, and Burke (2001) provide information from different studies. According to Pargament (1990), religion has been seen as providing resources for coping with situations that are perceived as harmful or threatening by affecting how individuals assess their situation and their ability to cope. Spilka, Shaver, and Kirkpatrick (1985) defined three roles that religion serves in the coping process: (a) it offers meaning to life, (b) it provides the individual with a greater sense of control over his/her situation, and (c) it builds self-esteem. Pargament (1990) found that religious institutions provide members with a sense of community. Other studies (e.g. Belavich, 1995) show that religion plays an important role in coping with stress, with prayer and faith in God cited as the most common coping resources. In a study by Graham, Furr, Flowers, and Burke (2001), thirty-five participants responded to open-ended questions from the Preventive Coping Resource Inventory and the Combative Coping Appraisal Inventory. This yielded nine themes: (a) Prayer (21 participants), (b) Solitary activities (11 participants), (c) Distraction from stressful situations (9 participants), (d) Relaxation/pampering activities (8 participants), (e) Management of stressful situations/put problems into perspective (7 participants), (f) Physical health/exercise (5 participants), (g) Belief in God (5 participants), (h) Christianity (3 participants), and (i) Family (3 participants). In my own survey I conducted with twenty graduate counseling and education students, I found that 85% (17 respondents) indicate that their religious beliefs gives them both help in coping with stressful situations and builds their self-esteem; 80% (16 respondents) say that their religious beliefs provides them with a greater sense of control over their lives, and 60% (12 respondents) indicate that it gives them a sense of belonging to a community (Terrell, 2005).

Religion in Counseling 12 Bergin et al. (1994) and Richards and Potts (1995) believe that individuals with a positive spiritual identity cope more efficiently on an interpersonal, emotional, and spiritual level. The authors have evidence that shows that religious individuals who receive support for their sense of worth and spiritual identity heal at a faster rate and are able to establish healthier lifestyles. Religion and Spirituality in Counseling A study by Kroll and Sheehan (1989) revealed that 90% of individuals living in the United States have a belief in God. This is consistent with the data from my survey, where 90% of the respondents indicated to have a belief in God. We also have seen that several studies have demonstrated that many individuals rely on their religious faith to cope with their problems. Graham, Furr, Flowers, and Burke (2001) indicated that based on these statistics, counselors are very likely to come into contact with clients who will bring their religious faith, spiritual beliefs, or both, into the counseling session. A survey conducted among counselors affiliated with the American Counselors Association showed that 64% of the counselors themselves have a belief in God and that 70% were involved in a religious organization (Kelly, 1995). Only recently has spirituality received increased attention in the counseling field and counselors training programs (Ingersoll, 1994). Counselor educators recognize the importance of addressing religion and spirituality in their courses (Kelly, 1994; Pate and Bondi, 1995); however, few educators have incorporated this in counseling curricula (Burke et al., 1999). A survey by Kelly (1994) of 341 counseling programs showed that only 25% of these programs included religion and spirituality as part of their course curricula.

Religion in Counseling 13 Religion and spirituality are not main themes in the counseling practices, and counselors may be reluctant to address these issues with the client (Kelly, 1994; Sansone, Kathain, & Rodenhauser, 1990; Shafranske & Malony, 1990), even though Chandler and Holden (1992) stress the importance of addressing the spiritual aspect in the counseling process when appropriate. The data in my survey show that 80% (16 respondents) agree that they base their work ethics and morals on their spiritual belief; 65% (13 respondents) openly express their moral values when appropriate with their students or clients, and 60% indicate that their spiritual belief is the very core when working with clients or students. However, when it comes to openly expressing spiritual values with clients or students, when appropriate, the data shows a different pattern. The graduate counseling and education students indicate that only 45% (9 students) agree with the statement When appropriate, I openly express spiritual values with students/clients. On the other hand, 40% disagrees. I can conclude that a large majority base their moral and ethical values on their religious beliefs, and express these moral values when appropriate. Spiritual values however, are not expresses in the profession by the majority of the respondents; 40% even objects to it (Terrell, 2005). Graham, Furr, Flowers, and Burke (2001) indicate that counseling students might not receive the knowledge and training needed to counsel clients who bring religious/spiritual issues into the counseling relationship. Religion as Curriculum in Counseling Education In a study by Graham, Furr, Flowers, and Burke (2001), the researchers wanted to address the need for an inclusion of a spirituality course in counseling curricula to help

Religion in Counseling 14 counseling students become aware of their own beliefs about religion and spirituality and the impact of these beliefs on the counseling relationship. The sample consisted of students enrolled in counseling classes from a 60-hour CACREP-accredited masters level counseling program at a large southeastern university. Questionnaires were distributed to 148 students with 115 responding, resulting in a 78% response rate. In addition, thirty-five participants responded to the open-ended questions from the Combative Coping Appraisal Inventory and the Preventive Coping Resource Inventory. The results show that counseling students indicate more discomfort counseling clients who are at the extreme ends of religious/spiritual dimensions. Graham, Furr, Flowers, and Burke (2001) recommend to consider implementing discussions of this topic in counseling courses. These issues can also be addressed as diversity issues to develop awareness of diversity in religions and the spiritual dimensions of cultures other than Western culture. Findings in the study also suggest a need for counseling curricula to address the issues of discomfort of students with a religious affiliation who counsel clients who are hostile to religion. Graham, Furr, Flowers, and Burke (2001) found this especially important given that counseling professionals are identifying religion and spirituality as important components in their own lives and view religion and spirituality as important components of their clients well being. The study underscores that religion is an important component in coping with stress. Regarding the relationship between counseling students spiritual health and coping, a significant positive relationship exists, indicating that the more vital ones spiritual health is, the more numerous are the coping skills (Graham, Furr, Flowers, & Burke, 2001). Graham, Furr, Flowers, and Burke (2001) implicate that including a spiritual course in the counseling curricula might increase counseling students understanding of what constitutes

Religion in Counseling 15 spiritual health and clarify for counseling students how they can help clients draw from their own spiritual resources to cope with stress. In my own survey, I used the ten-item inventory Trust in Counselor Scale as developed by Richards and Davidson (1986) to measure the spiritual values in counseling. The respondents were asked to rate on a 7-point Likert scale how much their trust for a hypothetical counselor would be influenced if they found out the counselor had certain theistic or atheistic values. On this Trust in Counselor scale the majority of the respondents score on all five atheistic beliefs of the hypothized counselor with much less trust. The reverse is not true for more trust in the counselor on the five theistic items. The conclusion I tentatively can draw is that the respondents prefer and have trust in a counselor that has strong theistic values. It is appreciated if the counselor addresses spiritual values in counseling, although they do not necessarily need to be expressed very explicit. In addition, a counselor who is capable of being somewhat flexible or non-judgmental on worldly values is trusted more. Conclusion This review focused on adolescents and religion. Data show that religion is very important in preventing teenagers from varies forms of risk behavior, and that religion is a valuable recourse for coping with stressors in adolescent life. Religion is an important issue that should be addressed when counseling adolescents. This is also true for adults. My survey also revealed that religion plays an important role in coping with problems. Religious coping strategies and values are preferred by the respondents to be sensitively addressed by a counselor with theistic values and with respect for the individuals moral choices. Other studies support these findings.

Religion in Counseling 16 Graham, Furr, Flowers, and Burke (2001) suggest that counseling students, however, might not receive the knowledge and training needed to counsel clients who bring religious/spiritual issues into the counseling relationship. My survey revealed that a large percentage of the subjects even object to expressing spiritual values with clients or students. This conflicts with the results that religion is an important resource for coping with stress for the subjects, and with the subjects preference for a counselor who has theistic values. These results have implications that should be addressed in both the counseling education and the counseling profession. Graham, Furr, Flowers, and Burke (2001) suggest that including a spiritual course in the counseling curricula might increase counseling students understanding of what constitutes spiritual health and clarify for counseling students how they can help clients draw from their own spiritual resources to cope with stress. Further studies should be done to have a better understanding what students objections might be in addressing religious issues in counseling and how counseling students can be prepared to more comfortably address sensitive religious/spiritual issues with clients.


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