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Soul Secrets in Plain Sight: Attuning to the Task Within the Task, in Psychology’s Dance with the Sacred

Roberts, L. (2017). Soul Secrets in Plain Sight: Attuning to the Task Within the Task, in Psychology’s Dance with the Sacred. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


The incorporation of religion and spirituality in psychotherapy has been a long-standing debate. Using in-depth qualitative interviews, this study aimed to explore psychological counsellors’ experiences of how they respond to clients’ religious and spiritual issues and the process by which they manage these responses. Researchers have mostly focussed on what psychological practitioners do to work with their client’s religious beliefs, but not on how psychological practitioners interpret their own therapeutic responses and how the meaning they attribute to these interpretations affects the process of managing their own responses. Grounded theory was used to analyse data from thirteen practicing psychological counsellors, in the UK, with varying religious and spiritual affiliations and an average of 15 practice years. Four main categories emerged from the data: Attunement, Seeing What Is Heard; Boundaried Distancing, Seeing But Not Perceiving; Impasse Distancing, Hearing But Not Seeing; Closing the Gap in Understanding and Working Through Dilemmas To Attunement. One core category surrounded all of the categories: Spanning the Gulf Between ‘Doing’ and ‘Being’, Self-reflection as Integral to Therapists’ Responses. The complex categories related to one another in a way that demonstrated how working with clients who have a similar outlook on religion to themselves, or not, existential questions can emerge which can disrupt beliefs previously accepted by the practitioner. When reflective and attuned, practitioners are motivated to ‘be’ with their clients and sometimes have to acknowledge their own inabilities and limitations. Some practitioners working with clients religious beliefs readily grappled with their own existential uncertainty, using their own experiences as a means to deepen their therapeutic contact with their client and cultivating an openness to the ineffable. Distancing strategies, such as “bracketing” were also, implicitly used, often unrecognized because practitioners had explicit preferred professional identities they wanted to maintain, with an emphasis on doing evidence-based therapy regardless of how well this fitted the client’s presenting issue. A theoretical account was developed to explain this process. Findings are discussed further in relation to the importance of practitioner competence, self-awareness, training, supervision as it relates to religion and spirituality. Recommendations for the practice of counselling psychology focus on how practitioners can manage religious therapeutic misattunement, by acknowledging their own doubts and fears and opening themselves to the quest for deep attunement between therapist and client.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
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