Interview With Mark R. McMinn About Spiritually Oriented Interventions for Counseling and Psychotherapy

In this video, recorded at the 2011 APA Convention in Washington, DC, author Mark R. McMinn talks about his book, Spiritually Oriented Interventions for Counseling and Psychotherapy. (5 minutes, 32 seconds)


Interviewer [Female voice]: How would you define a spiritually oriented approach to working with a client? What makes it different?

Mark McMinn: Well, in spiritually oriented psychotherapy we are trying to help the client who experiences that he or she is part of something bigger than himself or herself. So the idea of spirituality is, "I belong to someone or something bigger than me." So in spiritually oriented psychotherapy, it's a therapy that takes advantage of that sense of belongingness, spirituality, some search for the numinous, that which is bigger than me. So what we do in spiritually oriented psychotherapy is we find ways to make that part of the conversation, to make that part of what happens inside psychotherapy.

Interviewer: What are the benefits for the client of this kind of approach?

Mark McMinn: I think there are a number of benefits — one simply is relevance. If we look at the data in terms of the American public, what we see is that most people have some sort of religious and spiritual values that they hold to. It's interesting that when I've been part of a number of studies recently that showed discrepancy on this, but psychologists tend not to be as religious as the general public. So one of the benefits of thinking about training in spiritually and religiously oriented therapy is we at least then are relevant to the sorts of concerns and experiences that clients have when they come into our office.

I think another one is simply cultural context. If we think about clients in their cultural context we need to recognize that they have spiritual and religious values that they're bringing with them to psychotherapy. And people of all different ethnicities will have different values culturally and religiously and spiritually, and it's important for us to consider those when we actually sit down and work with a client.

I think also simply rapport is important. Sometimes if you're working with a client who may or may not want to trust you immediately and you find that they're open and they're interested in talking about their experiences of spirituality and religious faith, and the client finds that the psychotherapist is open to this, there can sometimes be a real building of rapport, an establishing of trust that might not be there otherwise.

Interviewer: Can you describe one or two specific techniques that promote meaning making with clients?

Mark McMinn: Meaning making turns out to be a very important part of psychotherapy. There's a sense in which all of us want to understand the larger story that we're living in. It's not just about me, it's not just about the story I'm living, but it's the story of how life itself works. And so meaning making occurs in psychotherapy when we start thinking about these grander stories that people are living, that they're a part of, beyond just themselves.

There's a chapter in the spiritually oriented psychotherapy book by two colleagues who have done a wonderful job looking at meaning making in psychotherapy, Jeanne Slattery and Crystal Park. And what they do in that chapter is they explore this notion of global meaning making, which is sort of the big stories we tell about how life works, and specific situations. And what often happens in psychotherapy is that we have bit of a clash, a dissonance between the big stories, the global meaning making, and the specific situations that a client might find him or herself in.

So, for example, let's say I am a client who is experiencing anger at God and yet my grand story, my meta-narrative, might have taught me along the way that I'm not supposed to experience anger at God. So what are we going to do then in psychotherapy when we have this dissonance between what the client is experiencing, a specific situation, and that global sense that this is not something I'm supposed to feel? Well, psychotherapy then often involves bringing out that dissonance, talking about the difference between the global system and the specific experience, helping the client come to some place of resolution to be able to modify his or her spiritual experience or his or her current emotional experience in order to come to a place of some consistency and growth in those areas of conflict in the larger situational meanings in life.

Interviewer: Can you say a little bit about promoting forgiveness as a religious or spiritual intervention?

Mark McMinn: There have been over 1,000 empirical studies now on the effects of forgiveness in psychotherapy. And it's interesting, because really forgiveness comes out of religious traditions. Initially there was some resistance on the part of psychotherapists because, what are we doing? Are we bringing in a religious technique into psychotherapy? But the empirical data has been so strong, showing that it can help people find a sense of peace in their life that we simply can't ignore it.

Sometimes forgiveness is used in a psychotherapy setting without reference to religion or spirituality, and very often it is used with reference to religion and spiritually because many clients have spiritual values that they want to be considered. So finding some sense of peace, of releasing the anger, of wishing an offender well instead of harm can be something that really helps a person move on, move forward with life and help accomplish other psychotherapeutic goals in the process.