Clinical Social Work Journal

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 164–173 | Cite as

A Dialogical Model for Engaging Spirituality in Therapy

  • Kelvin F. Mutter
  • Carlos M. Neves
Original Paper


This article addresses the issue of engaging client diversity in therapeutic practice by elaborating a dialogical model of engagement that is sensitive to and inclusive of the spiritual dimension in the therapeutic encounter. Drawing on Martin Buber’s writings on the ‘I–Thou’ relationship, the concept of intersubjectivity, research on spirituality in therapy, and the authors’ clinical experiences of collaboratively engaging the spiritual dimension in therapy, strategies of engagement are critically examined. Treatment benefits of practices that facilitate the inclusion of client spiritual values and beliefs in the therapeutic conversation are explored and potential therapeutic pitfalls are identified.


Diversity Faith Intersubjectivity Martin Buber Religion Spirituality 


  1. Anderson, D., & Worthen, D. (1997). Exploring a fourth dimension: Spirituality as a resource for the couple therapist. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 23(1), 3–12. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.1997.tb00227.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Aron, L. (1996). A meeting of minds: Mutuality in psychoanalysis. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.Google Scholar
  3. Atwood, G. E., & Stolorow, R. D. (1984). Structures of subjectivity: Explorations in psychoanalytic phenomenology. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  4. Baldwin, D. C. (1987). Some philosophical and psychological contributions to the use of self in therapy. In M. Baldwin & V. Satir (Eds.), The use of self in therapy (pp. 27–44). Binghampton, NY: The Haworth Press.Google Scholar
  5. Beitel, M., Genova, M., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Arnold, R., Avants, S. K., & Margolin, A. (2007). Reflections by inner-city drug users on a Buddhist-based spirituality-focused therapy: A qualitative study. The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 77(1), 1–9. doi: 10.1037/0002-9432.77.1.1.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Benjamin, J. (1990). An outline of intersubjectivity: The development of recognition. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 7(Supplement), 33–46. doi: 10.1037/h0085258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boszormenyi-Nagy, I., & Spark, G. M. (1984). Invisible loyalties. New York: Brunner/Mazel.Google Scholar
  8. Brenner, M. J., & Homonoff, E. (2004). Zen and clinical social work: A spiritual approach to practice. Families in Society, 85(2), 261–269.Google Scholar
  9. Buber, M. (1970). I and Thou. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.Google Scholar
  10. Carson, J. W., Carson, K. M., Gil, K. M., & Baucom, D. H. (2007). Self-expansion as a mediator of relationship improvements in a mindfulness intervention. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33(4), 517–528. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2007.00035.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Fishbane, M. D. (1998). I, thou and we: A dialogical approach to couples therapy. Journal of Marriage and Family Therapy, 24(1), 41–58. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.1998.tb01062.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Frame, M. W. (2000). The spiritual genogram in family therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 26(2), 211–216. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2000.tb00290.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Frankl, V. E. (1988). The will to meaning. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  14. Franklin, R. M. (2005). Healthy marriages in low-income African-American communities. Family Ministry, 19(3), 24–56.Google Scholar
  15. Greenberg, L. S., & Johnson, S. M. (1988). Emotionally focused therapy for couples. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  16. Grossman, F. K., Sorsoli, L., & Kia-Keating, M. (2006). A gale force wind: Meaning making by male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 76(4), 434–443. doi: 10.1037/0002-9432.76.4.434.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Gubi, P. M. (2004). Surveying the extent of, and attitudes towards, the use of prayer as a spiritual intervention among British mainstream counsellors. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 32(4), 461–476. doi: 10.1080/03069880412331303277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Heller, P. E., & Wood, B. (2000). The influence of religious and ethnic differences on marital intimacy: Intermarriage versus intramarriage. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 26(2), 241–252. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2000.tb00293.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Hodge, D. R. (2000). Spiritual ecomaps: A new diagrammatic tool for assessing marital and family spirituality. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 26(2), 217–228. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2000.tb00291.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Hodge, D. R. (2002). Equally devout, but do they speak the same language? Comparing the religious beliefs and practices of social workers and the general public. Families in Society, 83(5/6), 573–584.Google Scholar
  21. Hodge, D. R. (2004). Developing cultural competency with evangelical Christians. Families in Society, 85(2), 251–260.Google Scholar
  22. Hodge, D. R. (2006). Spiritually modified cognitive therapy: A review of the literature. Social Work, 51(2), 157–166.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Hodge, D. R., & Williams, T. R. (2002). Assessing African American spirituality with spiritual ecomaps. Families in Society, 83(5/6), 585–595.Google Scholar
  24. Kelly, T. A., & Strupp, H. H. (1992). Patient and therapist values in psychotherapy: Perceived changes, assimilation, similarity and change. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 60(1), 34–40. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.60.1.34.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. MacMaster, S. A., Jones, J. L., Rasch, R. F. R., Crawford, S. L., Thompson, S., & Sanders, E. C. (2007). Evaluation of a faith-based culturally relevant program for African American substance users at risk for HIV in the Southern United States. Research on Social Work Practice, 17(2), 229–238. doi: 10.1177/1049731506296826.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Martinez, J. S., Smith, T. B., & Barlow, S. H. (2007). Spiritual interventions in psychotherapy: Evaluations by highly religious clients. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 63(10), 943–960. doi: 10.1002/jclp.20399.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. McCain, N. L., Gray, D. P., Elswick, R. K., Jr., Robins, J. W., Tuck, I., Walter, J. M., et al. (2008). A randomized clinical trial of alternative stress management interventions in persons with HIV infection. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76(3), 431–441. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.76.3.431.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. McCullough, M. E., & Worthington, E. L., Jr. (1995a). Promoting forgiveness: A comparison of two brief psychoeducational group interventions with a waiting list control. Counseling and Values, 40(1), 55–68.Google Scholar
  29. McCullough, M. E., & Worthington, E. L., Jr. (1995b). College students’ perceptions of a psychotherapist’s treatment of a religious issue: Partial replication and extension. Journal of Counseling and Development, 73(6), 626–634.Google Scholar
  30. McCullough, M. E., Worthington, E. L., Jr., Maxey, J., & Rachal, K. C. (1997). Gender in the context of supportive and challenging religious counseling interventions. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 44(1), 80–88. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.44.1.80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mitchell, S. A., & Black, M. J. (1995). Freud and beyond. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  32. Morrow, D., Worthington, E. L., Jr., & McCullough, M. E. (1993). Observers’ perceptions of a therapist’s treatment of a religious issue. Journal of Counseling and Development, 71(4), 452–456.Google Scholar
  33. Moules, N. J. (2000). Postmodernism and the sacred: Reclaiming connection in our greater-than-human worlds. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 26(2), 229–240. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2000.tb00292.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Natterson, J. M. (1991). Beyond countertransference: The therapist’s subjectivity in the therapeutic process. Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson.Google Scholar
  35. Pargament, K. I. (1999). The psychology of religion and spirituality? Yes and no. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 9(1), 3–16. doi: 10.1207/s15327582ijpr0901_2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pargament, K. I., Ishler, K., Dubow, E. F., Stanik, P., Rouiller, R., Crowe, P., et al. (1994). Methods of religious coping with the Gulf War: Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 33(4), 347–361. doi: 10.2307/1386494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pellebon, D. A., & Anderson, S. C. (1999). Understanding the life issues of spiritually-based clients. Families in Society, 79, 229–238.Google Scholar
  38. Pentz, M. (2005). Resilience among older adults with cancer and the importance of social support and spirituality-faith: “I don’t have time to die. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 44(3/4), 3–22. doi: 10.1300/J083v44n03_02.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Potts, K. (1994). Martin Buber’s “healing dialogue” in marital therapy: A case study. Journal of Pastoral Care, 48(4), 325–338.Google Scholar
  40. Ripley, J. S., & Worthington, E. L., Jr. (2002). Hope-focused and forgiveness-based group interventions to promote marital enrichment. Journal of Counseling and Development, 80(4), 452–463.Google Scholar
  41. Ripley, J. S., Worthington, E. L., Jr., & Berry, J. W. (2001). The effects of religiosity on preferences and expectations for marital therapy among married Christians. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 29(1), 39–58. doi: 10.1080/019261801750182405.Google Scholar
  42. Rogers, C. R. (1980). A way of becoming. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  43. Safran, J. D., & Muran, J. C. (2000). Negotiating the therapeutic alliance: A relational treatment guide. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  44. Satir, V. (1987). The therapist story. In M. Baldwin & V. Satir (Eds.), The use of self in therapy (pp. 45–52). Binghampton, NY: The Haworth Press.Google Scholar
  45. Satir, V., Banmen, J., Gerber, J., & Gomori, M. (1991). The Satir model: Family therapy and beyond. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books.Google Scholar
  46. Simon, G. (2003). Therapy without walls: Addressing religion in the consulting room. Psychotherapy Networker, March/April, 21.Google Scholar
  47. Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Adkins, A. D., Singh, J., & Singh, A. N. (2007). Mindfulness training assists individuals with moderate mental retardation to maintain their community placements. Behavior Modification, 31(6), 800–814. doi: 10.1177/0145445507300925.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Smith, T. B., Bartz, J., & Richards, P. S. (2007). Outcomes of religious and spiritual adaptations to psychotherapy: A meta-analytic review. Psychotherapy Research, 17(6), 643–655. doi: 10.1080/10503300701250347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Stern, D. (1985). The interpersonal world of the infant: A view from psychoanalysis and developmental psychology. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  50. Tarakeshwar, N., & Pargament, K. I. (2001). Religious coping in families of children with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 16(4), 247–259. doi: 10.1177/108835760101600408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wade, N. G., Worthington, E. L., Jr., & Vogel, D. L. (2007). Effectiveness of religiously tailored interventions in Christian therapy. Psychotherapy Research, 17(1), 91–105. doi: 10.1080/10503300500497388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Walker, D. F., Gorsuch, R. L., & Tan, S. Y. (2004). Therapists’ integration of religion and spirituality in counseling: A meta-analysis. Counseling and Values, 49, 69–80.Google Scholar
  53. Worthington, E. L., Jr., Dupont, P. D., Berry, J. T., & Duncan, L. A. (1988). Christian therapists’ and clients’ perceptions of religious psychotherapy in private and agency settings. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 16(3), 282–293.Google Scholar
  54. Yip, K.-S. (2005). Taoist concepts of mental health: Implications for social work practice with Chinese communities. Families in Society, 86(1), 35–45.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Family Counseling and Support ServicesGuelphCanada
  2. 2.Heritage SeminaryCambridgeCanada
  3. 3.GuelphCanada

Personalised recommendations