Peteet: What is the Place of Clinicians' Spiritual Commitments in Psychotherapy?

April 18, 2014

J Relig Health. 2013 Dec 31. 

What is the Place of Clinicians' Religious or Spiritual Commitments in Psychotherapy? A Virtues-Based Perspective.

Peteet JR.



Value neutrality in psychotherapy is widely acknowledged to be a myth, and a majority of US physicians report that their religious faith influences their practice. Most attention to therapists' religious and spiritual commitments has focused on ethical boundaries, transference/countertransference dynamics and questions about how to relate religious and psychological truth. No consensus exists about the legitimate place in psychotherapy of clinicians' differing value commitments. Therapists' virtues are vitally important in psychotherapy, not least in the relational and aspirational process by which the patient identifies with the therapist as they engage together in confronting obstacles which the patient has been unable to surmount alone. Among the individual and cultural factors that shape a therapist's virtues are spiritual traditions, which encourage preferred or characteristic virtues. Arguably, these include for Jews, communal responsibility and critical thought; for Christians, love and grace; for Muslims, reverence and obedience; for Buddhists, equanimity and compassion; for Hindus, appreciation of Dharma and Karma; and for secularists, respect for scientific evidence and intelligibility. These have differing implications for treatment, as illustrated through the use of a hypothetical case. Attention to differing spiritual and religious virtues in a pluralistic culture offers opportunities for creative dialogue, collaborative teaching and interdisciplinary research.

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