Instructor embraces the gift of counseling with faith
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Historically, tension separates psychology and religion. But today there is more understanding of the value of integrating faith in mental health counseling, said Dr. Laurie Tone.
“Now it’s encouraged, the blending of this for the enhancement of the whole person. We cannot separate the physical, emotional and spiritual. Each part affects the other,” said Tone, an adjunct counseling instructor in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Grand Canyon University.
Spirituality is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders cultural formations section.
“Grand Canyon University has been a leader in helping this integrating,” she said, while leading a webinar, “The Integration of Faith in Clinical Counseling Practice,” on June 25.
Studies have shown that faith is important to clients for coping with many problems. But it is often tiptoed around in secular settings. Yet noting spiritual symptoms can be as important as physical and mental, such as a loss of hope or, in religious references, “the dark night of the soul,” Tone said.
Treatment can be helped with Christianity’s focus on the eternal, knowing that “this too shall pass.”
“It can help us through some tough times,” she said.
Many are in those tough times. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused fear, anxiety and isolation.
“Therapists are struggling, and their clients are struggling. We are all in this together,” she said. “But Jesus was a good example. He prayed in solitude. Trust God through this. Even though the world is changing, God does not change.”
She said Jesus was a role model for counselors, more so in relationships than religion. He sat with the oppressed and suffering. He didn’t bring in his own agenda but had grace and compassion and “met people where they were at. … He made things understandable. He didn’t use big, fancy words.”
He asked, “What would you like me to do for you?” and “How can I help?”
“Those are powerful counseling words,” Tone said. “How can we help those who feel like everything feels dead and bring them life?”
That hit Jacqueline Webster, Program Manager in CHSS.
“… Listen as Christ did to help guide clients through their reality,” she said. “Both clients and mental health professionals are dealing with the realities of COVID-19, and Dr. Tone did a great job with her discussion of addressing the related fear, anxiety and uncertainty that people are experiencing.”
Counselors can bring their innate beliefs and prayer to sessions and not keep them in the waiting room. But to address faith openly with clients takes an understanding of different religious beliefs and an intake assessment of whether clients are comfortable with religion in their therapy.
Some clients may welcome a discussion of spirituality but it’s not suitable for their therapy because a toxic faith experience can cause them fear, guilt or anxiety, Tone said.
Ethical standards apply here, but the medical credo of “Do no harm,” is instead for Christians “First do good,” she said.
It’s important for therapists not to impose their beliefs on others, but if they are open to it, the hope in the story of restoration and eternity can be part of the larger picture of healing mind, body and spirit.
“All of us desire to have someone understand us,” Tone said, and counselors have the important job of humbly sitting with a client to offer them “the blessing of being heard. I believe God allows us to use that gift and also use all the science we need.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.