Psy-Q: Should therapists bring up spirituality with clients?


For Gabrielle Juliano-Villani, LCSW, owner and psychotherapist at Colorado In-Home Counseling, the answer is “yes” – at least on some level.

“I always ask clients about their spirituality and religion,” she says. “It’s part of my intake process since I like to know as much as possible about my client’s life. I believe that their entire environment or ‘system’ has an impact on their functioning, and I like to get an overall view, including religion.”

While Juliano-Villani stresses that while she is not a faith-based therapist, she does like to help patients draw on their religious backgrounds and beliefs to provide comfort and support, especially during difficult times.

“I feel that leaving out someone’s religion is leaving out a piece of their life and, for me, I like to be able to understand the whole picture. It can be a heated topic, but I feel that can be a wonderful place to explore deeper in therapy, or even an opportunity to role-play how to utilize coping skills or healthy communication skills,” she adds.

Professional Resources

  • Here’s what the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) says about ethics. While religion is not named, they do support that “Social workers treat each person in a caring and respectful fashion, mindful of individual differences and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers promote clients’ socially responsible self-determination.”
  • The Americal Psychological Association publishes a regular handbook for psychologists on religion and spirituality, discussed by Dr. Kenneth Pargament a few years back, and their Society for the Psychology of Spirituality and Religion addresses this topic regularly.
  • In its Commentary on Ethics & Practice, the American Psychiatric Association notes this about spirituality: “psychiatric patients may be especially vulnerable to undue influences and the psychiatrist should be sensitive and careful that his/her conduct does not physically, sexually, psychologically, spiritually or financially exploit or harm the patient,” and this about religion: “In a rapidly evolving and diverse field such as psychiatry, competent practice is influenced by advances in a variety of disciplines, including the behavioral, social, and biological sciences, and by religion, and the complex social and economic contexts of practice.”

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Last Updated: Apr 22, 2021