(In preparation for this discussion question, make sure to read the course materials for Modules/Weeks 5–6: McMinn chapters 3–6, and lectures weeks 5–6)
Discussion Question: The lectures in the Reading & Study folder as well as McMinn discussed guidelines for the use of prayer and Scripture in your counseling. However, the course materials also suggested some “cautions” or possible negative impacts when using these spiritual interventions. Read the following case and discuss the following questions. What guidelines from the lectures/McMinn apply to this case? What would you proactively do? What would you not do in using prayer and Scripture with Danielle? From the course materials, what are the most important points to keep in mind when counseling clients like this?
Danielle was the product of a highly chaotic home in which the mother was addicted to drugs and abused alcohol on a daily basis. The four children in the home were removed by Child Protective Services and placed in foster care; Danielle was five at the time of foster care placement. She never knew her father. The foster family was “religious” and took Danielle and her 5 foster-siblings to church each Sunday. At home, the foster father had little emotional interaction with the children—Danielle would later say that he was “in it just for the money.” The foster mother seemed overwhelmed with the responsibility of the children and would use excessive corporal punishment for slight infractions. During the beatings, the foster mother would recite verses such as Ephesians 6:1 and then would require the children to memorize passages that seemed to justify the harsh treatment. Danielle, now in middle school, was referred to the Christian social services agency where you are a therapist. She has exhibited both verbal and physical outbursts at school. You are eager to show Danielle that God loves her and can help her with her problems. For her part, Danielle seems pretty disinterested in “religion.”
Finally, although this case refers to a “Christian” social services agency, also briefly review what you can and cannot do if this were a public services setting, with regard to expressing your beliefs and faith.
Replies: In your responses to at least 2 classmates, ELIMINATE simple “I agree” statements, but rather identify what you might disagree with in your classmates’ response. Where might your classmates have strengthened their points? What else could they have added in their suggestions to Danielle’s case?
Danielle’s remark about being less than interested in religion is probably due to the fact that her foster mother twists the Scriptures to suit her physical abuse of the children. I couldn’t imagine wanting to learn more about a God that condones beating children! However, knowing what I do of God, this idea is completely asinine. I would explain this to Danielle and see if I could get her to agree to incorporate Scripture and Biblical meditation into our sessions. I would pray for Danielle silently during session or after the session was complete. As learned in our reading, Scripture can be (and should be) used to build a healthy sense of self, a healthy sense of need, and healthy relationships (Brewer, n.d.) Through Scriptural references, Danielle would be able to see a more positive foundational world view, one of hope and not fear or condemnation from a loving God. However, it would be important for me to keep my humility in check and to not be overbearing or make her feel as if she were hearing a sermon. As an integration of Scripture and CBT, I would use Scriptural verses and positive affirmations in meditation to help Danielle change her faulty thinking both of herself and God the Father. Adversely, it would be imperative for me to ask Danielle why she is acting out at school even though my assumption would be that the abuse she has sustained has affected the emotional functioning of her brain development. Making Danielle feel as if I am empathetic to her situation is extremely important since she probably has little trust for authority figures because of her care giver’s abuse and foster dad’s negligence. Just as Danielle’s foster mother made her memorize Scriptures concerning the ‘validity’ of the abuse, I would have Danielle memorize and reflect on verses concerning the significance of children to our Heavenly Father. Like Matthew 18:6 that says, If anyone causes one of these little ones-those who believe in Me- to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea or Psalm 127:3, Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from Him.
I would coordinate with Danielle’s school teachers to assist with the problem behaviors and make sure that progress was being made or create a new treatment plan if behaviors continued to be negative. I would also coordinate with the school counselor to ensure that Danielle had someone she could go and talk to if her emotions became too much on a given day. I would meet with the appropriate staff to set up and 504 plan for Danielle. I would request family meetings with Danielle’s foster mother. If she refused and the corporal punishment continued, I would file a report for physical abuse with the Department of Children’s Services. Even though it is extremely unacceptable, I feel as if foster mom is crying out for help in her own way by over-punishing the children and would benefit from therapy. On the other hand, Danielle and her siblings’ well being is top priority.
If neither Danielle nor her foster mother were accepting of a spiritual aspect to therapy, I would use CBT and the METAMORPH grid, without the spiritual component, in therapy for Danielle. I would refer the foster mother to parenting training classes to help her see that her behavior is detrimental to the emotional and physical development of the children. It is critical for foster mom to know the consequences of her actions in order to change her behavior (Brewer, n.d.). Repeated physical abuse to children can cause toxic stress. “The defining aspects of toxic stress are thus that it is severe and chronic and that the child does not have an adult to help her or him regulate her or his stress response and choose appropriate behavioral responses” (Gershoff, 2016). Since Danielle’s brain structure has already been altered by her consistent fight or flight responses, behavioral modification and regulation of emotions will be part of her treatment plan in therapy.
Brewer, G., & Peters, C. (n.d.). COUN 506, Week 5, Lectures 1 & 2. Week 6, Lecture 1: The Bible in Christian Counseling & Prayer and the Christian Counselor. [PowerPoint]. Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Online.
Gershoff, E.T. (2016). Should parents’ physical punishment of children be considered a source of toxic stress that affects brain development?. Family Relations, Vol. 65, Issue 1. Pps. 151-162. DOI: 10.1111/fare.12177.
The issue of incorporating religion in therapy has influenced numerous studies evaluating the positive effects of such techniques. However, the incorporation of the spiritual problems in counseling has, in some instances, encountered resistance. Some clients could he holding a negative perspective towards the doctrine and religious individuals. In the case scenario, Danielle grew up in a chaotic and secular setting and was adopted in a highly spiritual foster home. The character now depicts challenging behavior because of her verbal and physical outbursts at school. One of the factors that could contribute to such trends is the confusion the occurred because of being transferred or growing up in significantly different environments. The harsh experiences of the foster home could have contributed to the loss of interest in religion because she perceived it as a punitive tool instead of a mechanism for promoting healing.
Although some clients may hold stereotypical perspectives towards religion, it is hard to deny the critical position of doctrine within the counseling contexts. The theoretical perspective or orientation of clients could determine whether they explore the issues of religion and spirituality during the counseling sessions. According to Passmore (2003), psychodynamic therapists advise against the mention of God or religion during therapy. They argue that such an approach would disrupt the ability of patients to develop adequate personal beliefs and representations of God. Conversely, the cognitive-behavioral therapists advocate the mention and discussion of spirituality in counseling to increase the wellness and health outcomes of clients.
The best approach for handling non-religious clients would be implicit integration, where the counselor does not initiate conversations about doctrine. However, the therapist discusses such issues if the client rises or wishes to address them. The primary objective of the counselor would be the promotion of the patient’s wellbeing and the implementation of customized interventions that would promote quick recovery. Therefore, it would be advisable to avoid the conversations leading to religious discourses to increase the confidence and trust with the client (Ross, Kennedy, & Macnab, 2015). Over time, the therapist could help the client to explore the issues of religion and their spirituality as they become more open and willing to discuss such matters. Therapists should be aware of their clients’ values through different techniques, such as formal assessments and observation during the regular counseling process. This approach would enable therapists to guide the clients to explore their meanings regarding religion and spirituality instead of dwelling on generalizations and assumptions that are based on subjective evaluation of doctrine.
Passmore, N. L. (2003). Religious issues in counselling: are Australian psychologists “dragging the chain”? Australian Psychologist, 38(3), 183-192.
Ross, J. J., Kennedy, G. A., & Macnab, F. (2015). The effectiveness of spiritual/religious interventions in psychotherapy and counselling. A Review of the Recent Literature. Melbourne.