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Sacred Moments in Therapy

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In the latest issue of Spirituality in Clinical Practice (SCP), clinical psychologist Kenneth Pargament, who researches the relationship of spirituality, stress, and psychological well-being at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, explores “sacred moments” in therapy. Pargament’s research is the first attempt to empirically analyze the spiritual nature of the relationship between client and therapist, which is often referred to as the therapeutic alliance. As Pargament writes, “One key element of an effective therapeutic alliance may involve the spiritual character of the relationship between provider and client.”

In Pargament’s study of more than 500 clients and their therapists, he found that more than half of therapists described the important moments in treatment as being sacred. Furthermore, these sacred moments were associated with therapeutic gains to the client, and they were perceived to strengthen the therapeutic alliance. In a separate article in the same issue of SCP, psychologist Jon Allen, editor of the Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, comments on Pargament’s study, calling it “groundbreaking as a starting point for a highly promising line of future research.” However, Allen critiques Pargament’s research for not going far enough; Allen proposes that instead of viewing the spirituality as a key element of the therapeutic alliance, perhaps it should be view as central to the alliance itself.

The issue also features two case studies by psychologist Lynne E Vanderpot of the University of Aberdeen, exploring the relationship between spirituality and psychiatric medication. In the first study, Vanderpot reports on the case of Joan, who began seeing visions of Jesus as a teenager and was diagnosed as bipolar in her mid-20s. Once in therapy and receiving medication, Joan began to question the authenticity of her religious experiences, which she felt were essential to her sense of wholeness. The second study exams the case of Anne, a Catholic Sister of Mercy, who works as a hospital chaplain. Anne is in her mid-50s, and she has struggled with depression for her entire adult life. With medication, Anne’s depression has become manageable, but she feels that she cannot live up to the expectations of the religious community, which expects her to be able to rise above depression without medication.

To read these articles and many others, please visit Spirituality in Clinical Practice.

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