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Spiritual Counseling & The Plain-Vanilla Viewpoint

Sometimes people, including psychologists and social workers, believe that they have an unbiased, base-line or “plain vanilla” point of view. It can be very difficult for someone who aligns with the prevailing societal point of view (whether secular or religious, depending on the prevailing culture) to understand that this is an actual viewpoint and not a kind of neutral baseline.

There are some beliefs that we assume are universal truths, when, in fact, they are not. We believe in reality. But, depending on your pov, reality can be understood in radically different ways. The past decade saw a kind of exposé of research science in several areas, especially but not only, the social sciences.

Significant numbers of research studies have been shown to be biased, poorly controlled, and openly faked. In one report, over 75 percent of a group of 100 social science studies couldn’t be replicated. Nearly every type of psychology has had its research fails. Case in point is that the DSM changes over time–completely eliminating some diagnoses. In other words, the reality is being described and understood differently over time, all the time.

The backlash over fake studies has faded into the background, and we continue to diagnose, explain, prescribe, treat, and describe mental illness in the language of these studies, often, sometimes with the broken pieces intact, perhaps for lack of a better alternative, or no alternative at all. Yes, we still rely on the studies.

PsychCentral’s Dr. John Grohol explains the pervasive nature of the problem of bias. But if we’re honest, we’re all biased. It’s especially difficult in the social sciences to conduct an ethical study or be an effective, compassionate therapist, unless we readily admit this. Each and every one of us has a world view, a bias.

When it comes to patients, they have world views (and biases) too. Often (not always) the closer the therapist’s and patient’s world views align, the better. When it comes to religious and spiritual viewpoints, this is accepted in many government and non-government agencies, which is why there are tracts of treatment in addiction facilities, for example, for people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds.

Because there are no plain vanilla belief systems, it can be helpful in any case for a therapy client to either have a therapist who shares their religious/spiritual pov or even to have a spiritual adviser work together with a therapist, and in point of fact, this is being done all across the United States as well as some other countries.

In most states in the U.S., ordained ministers, priests, and rabbis are even legally allowed to do counseling within certain limits. Although many are not licensed professionals, pastoral counselors can be helpful in cases where (serious) psychological problems are not present but spiritual or moral difficulties are being encountered.

Pastoral counselors are ethically obligated to refer people with mental illness or addictions to skilled professionals unless they themselves have had additional training and are licensed to provide care. This doesn’t mean they always do. This can be for a variety of reasons, but often, it’s simply because they don’ realize that the person seeking their help has a mental illness.  They aren’t able to assess or evaluate whether or not the individual has a mental illness because they haven’t been trained.

Sometimes those with ordination seek degrees in psychology or mental health and can provide well-rounded psychotherapy as well as spiritual guidance. In certain instances, a patient may want a spiritual advisor and a psychotherapist to work with them concurrently. A bonus to working with a pastoral counselor is that many don’t charge for their services—any payment they receive might come from their religious organization, church, synagogue, or mosque.

It’s important that therapists respect their patients’ deeply held spiritual/religious beliefs, but it can be extremely difficult for them to understand what this entails, unless they align with those beliefs themselves, get training in this area, or work together with a pastoral counselor.



Spiritual Counseling & The Plain-Vanilla Viewpoint

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2019). Spiritual Counseling & The Plain-Vanilla Viewpoint. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 Mar 2019
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