Counseling Today letter to the editor on religious diversity and sexual identity

Several weeks ago, I wrote about an article on religion and sexual identity that was published in the April 2007 issue of the American Counseling Association’s monthly newsletter, Counseling Today. The article was titled “Strange Bedfellows? Spirituality meets sexual identity in the counseling office.” I felt the article was one-sided in that no options were offered for same-sex attracted clients who have believe homosexual behavior to be wrong. In response, I co-wrote a letter to the editor of Counseling Today (with Rob Gerst, former Arkansas Counseling Association president) that was published in the July issue. The letter is as follows:

To the editor:

In the April, 2007 issue, pastoral psychotherapist, Stacy Notaras Murphy published an article titled “Strange Bedfellows?: Spirituality and sexual identity in the counseling office.” The article examines how some people deal with conflicts between religious beliefs and sexual identity. The author correctly notes:

Most counselors agree that sexual identity is a major aspect of personality development. While more in the field are recognizing that spiritual identity informs personality development as well, the intersection of the two hasn’t received much attention. But the connections may seem more natural when both are considered under the umbrella of multicultural competency.

I certainly agree that training programs outside of religious institutions rarely help counselors understand the role of religious values in integrating a sexual identity. Although the Murphy article helped raised the issue, we believe this article was unnecessarily incomplete in its treatment of religiously based conflicts with homosexuality.

Counselors are often confused about how to work ethically and helpfully with clients for whom sexual identity issues and religious faith are important and/or in conflict. The relevant ACA divisions have little specific to say about these matters. The AGLBIC competencies do not mention religion or provide any guidance for handling religious conflicts in counseling. On the other hand, the ASERVIC competencies provide general guidance, especially the following:

Competency 7 – The professional counselor can assess the relevance of the religious and/or spiritual domains in the client’s therapeutic issues.

Competency 8 – The professional counselor is sensitive to and receptive of religious and/or spiritual themes in the counseling process as befits the expressed preference of each client.

Competency 9 – The professional counselor uses a clients’ religious and/or spiritual beliefs in the pursuit of the clients’ therapeutic goals as befits the clients’ expressed preference.

In competencies 7-9, religious beliefs are viewed as relevant to clients’ therapeutic goals and should reflect clients’ expressed preference. However, the Murphy article provided no reference to situations where same-sex attracted clients religious beliefs remain traditional. The article noted the potential conflict between religious views and homosexuality but gave no instances of how counselors might work with clients who do not shift to a gay affirming religious stance.

This avoidance of traditional religious views was made even more obvious by the list of “Sprituality-based Resources” in the article. Only one group listed, Courage for Catholics, promotes traditional church teaching on sexuality. No other group was listed to support clients who affiliate with religious groups who disapprove of homosexual behavior. Why the omission?

The ASERVIC competencies do not call on counselors to endorse or impose a brand of religiousity for clients, rather they say to use “a clients’ religious and/or spiritual beliefs in the pursuit of the clients’ therapeutic goals as befits the clients’ expressed preference.” What if a client’s expressed preference is for a religious view that is not represented by any group on that list? Then what?

Is the ACA open to clients who are traditionally minded? Open to evangelicals, orthodox Jews, Latter Day Saints, traditional Catholics, etc.? In an article preferenced by a reference to multicultural competence, it was stunning to see the ostracism of these religious and value viewpoints.

We call on the ACA to create a task force composed of scholars and clinicians representing the spectrum of viewpoints to craft substantial guidance for counselors working with clients who experience religious conflicts over their sexuality.

Sincerely,

Warren Throckmorton, PhD

Past president, American Mental Health Counselors Association

Robert Gerst, MS, LPC

Past president, Arkansas Counseling Association

Although I am concerned that the APA task force might also minimize religious diversity, at least there is some effort to address religious conflicts within that association. If any counselors are reading this blog and want to join my call for an ACA task force to help counselors address the points I raised above, please contact me at ewthrockmorton@gcc.edu.

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  • Caroline

    Dr Throckmorton – I am a counselor in training and I agree that religious beliefs are not well respected in my program. In my program, religion is looked at as little more than superstition that we have to help clients overcome.

  • jag

    “I felt the article was one-sided in that no options were offered for same-sex attracted clients who have believe homosexual behavior to be wrong.”

    What I found interesting is how you worded this. Why not state that you did not see “clients with same-sex attraction who find conflicts with their faith” represented? Why say the word “wrong,” and why find it so important that you want to see an already stigmatized group (who many christians already see as “wrong”) see themselves that way?

    I wonder if you would be so inspired to write if the article only represented those who found conflicts with their faith and same-sex attractions?

    How about writing about reconciling congregations and the psychological impact on gay/lesbian clients of finding accepting faith communities?

    So many opportunities to support individuals…why take the low road? Leave it to Exodus, they’re sinking anyway…why drag yourself into the mud with them?

  • jag

    Caroline –

    I’m sorry that you have found this in your training…it was not my experience as a doctor of clinical psychology. I am an active member of a reconciling congregation that is open to every person, regardless of orientation…and I find no conflict.

    Religion, in my graduate training, was a point of brief focus…knowing your client’s faith was seen as important (and I did not attend a christian graduate program), and we were encouraged to explore major religions and write on the integration of psychology and faith.

    I’m sorry it seems your school has not progressed…but my schooling was years ago…

    best of luck.

  • Eddy

    JAG–

    Is your church open to every person, regardless of orientation…and regardless of whether they believe homosexual behavior is sin or not?

  • Timothy Kincaid

    Eddy,

    I attend a church that would probably best be described as a “gay church”. Yet it is open to every person, regardless of orientation (there are several straight folks who come) and regardless of whether they believe homosexual behavior is sin or not (I think some do).