Professional counselors must consider the entirety of the human experience with clients, an experience that includes spirituality.

Leaving spirituality out of the counseling process does a disservice to the client, say Tracey Robert and Virginia Kelly, licensed professional counselors (LPCs) and co-editors of Critical Incidents in IBranding-Box_Critical-Incidentsntegrating Spirituality into Counseling.

A separate concept from religion, Robert and Kelly define spirituality as “the pursuit of meaning and purpose in life, often individual to clients, including the influence of their belief system and worldview and their values as they face the challenges of life events.”

“Wellness, a foundational construct of the counseling profession, places spirituality at the person’s core. Ignoring this domain can result in a lack of understanding of the client’s worldview and an insensitivity to multicultural issues. Both can be detrimental to the counseling effort,” write Robert and Kelly in the book’s introduction. “In counseling, as in many disciplines, the only constant is change. The counseling field has evolved in recent years to accommodate clients’ changing needs and increasingly has recognized the important role the spiritual domain can play in meeting them.”

Robert and Kelly’s book, published this year by the American Counseling Association, provides cases and examples of ways to incorporate spirituality into counseling, from working through grief and loss to eating disorders and career counseling. The books final section delves into spiritual interventions that can be used in counseling, including meditation, group work and prayer.



Q+A: Critical Incidents in Integrating Spirituality into Counseling

Responses by co-editors Tracey E. Robert and Virginia A. Kelly


What do you hope counselors take away from the book about this topic?

With the growing recognition of the importance of the spiritual domain, there has been an increased need for training materials and strategies for integrating this topic into counseling. Our hope is that counselors will find this casebook a useful tool for a holistic approach to the counseling process and training future counselors.


The Association of Spiritual, Ethical and Religious Values in Counseling (ASERVIC) developed competencies on spirituality and counseling in the 1990s. What would you want an experienced, veteran counselor — one who may have completed grad school before the ‘90s — to know about this topic?

Our hope is that any professional counselor will be familiar with the most updated ASERVIC competencies. These competencies have been endorsed by ACA and serve as the standard for integration of spirituality and religion into professional practice.

An experienced, veteran counselor needs to adhere to the same ethical (code) that suggests recognition of the importance of the spiritual domain.


In your opinion, what makes professional counselors a “good fit” for integrating spirituality into therapy? What unique skills do they bring to the table?

Our (counselor’s) emphasis on a developmental perspective and a wellness model makes our profession a good fit for inclusion of spirituality into counseling. Jane Myers’ model of wellness has spirituality at its center.

The key skill would be the focus on the relationship that includes the whole person and examines the client’s worldview.


What advice would you give a counselor who is not spiritual or religious themselves about working with spiritual or religious clients — and vice-versa?

The same advice I would give a counselor to work with diverse clients whose worldview differs from their own: This is part of being multiculturally competent and constitutes professional ethical practice.


The Pew Research Center recently released data that shows a growing number of Americans, especially young adults, do not identify with any organized religion. Do you think this will affect the work counselors do? (If so, how?) Is there anything you would want counselors to keep in mind about this?

No I don’t think this will affect our work. We have distinguished spirituality from religion by defining them separately and then we focus on the client’s worldview. It requires that counselors are able to assess the client’s spiritual/religious values and to address them in counseling if they choose to.

But with more young adults not having an organized religious connection, we may see alternative connections to spiritual practices filling the need for community.


What makes you, personally, interested in this topic?

We have both been interested in this topic for a long time. Tracey’s interest was influenced by her work as a career counselor when clients were seeking meaning and purpose in life. Ginny’s scholarly interest emerged from her research in the treatment of substance abuse and addictions that has always incorporated a spiritual component.


What prompted you to collaborate to create this book? What made you want to include case studies?

Both of us have had a scholarly interest in spirituality and counseling. Ginny (Kelly) had edited Critical Incidents in Addictions Counseling (published by ACA in 2005) and suggested that this format has served as a valuable resource in several counseling arenas (e.g., school counseling, group counseling, addictions counseling). We decided to collaborate on a similar project related to spirituality. Tracey (Robert) then took the lead on the project.




Critical Incidents in Integrating Spirituality into Counseling is available from the American Counseling Association bookstore at or by calling 800-422-2648 x 222




About the editors

Tracey E. Robert is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and associate professor and director of clinical training in the Counselor Education Department at Fairfield University in Connecticut. She is current president of the North Atlantic Regional Association for Counselor Education and Supervision and a past president of the Association of Spiritual, Ethical and Religious Values in Counseling (ASERVIC), a division of the American Counseling Association.

Virginia A. Kelly is also an LPC and associate professor in the Counselor Education Department at Fairfield University. She is past president of the International Association of Addictions and Offender Counseling (IAAOC), a division of the American Counseling Association, as well as the North Atlantic Regional Association for Counselor Education and Supervision.





Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at


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