Religion and Spirituality


I include two articles here, as an introduction to a large, rich, and important discussion:     WKM

1) Am I a "Christian Counselor," or a counselor who is also a  "Christian"?

2) Professional Counseling from a Deep Spiritual Orientation.


 Am I a "Christian Counselor", or a counselor who is also a  "Christian"?

Religion & Spirituality are both a part and not a part of the psychotherapeutic art.  I am asked from time to time if I am a Christian Counselor.  My response generally is a "no."  I am a Christian, and I am a counselor.  And inside me, the two are very well integrated.  But on the outside the distinction is necessary to preserve the integrity of each, and to avoid what can easily become "fuzzy thinking" and even "fuzzy therapy."

Let me say here, that my thinking on these matters is the same regardless of the spiritual tradition of the individual.  However, since my own spiritual orientation is Christian, I will use that tradition as the primary reference in what follows.

I am not the "Christian Counselor" who counsels specifically from the text and tradition of a particular religious orientation – the kind of counseling available in a number of church-based counseling services.  And I have found that some of these counselors can be very effective and insightful - in cases where we have shared a particular client, and through the collegiality of shared local professional fellowship.  Also I may advise some clients to seek out this kind of practitioner.

For me, the psychotherapeutic discipline has an intrinsic integrity of its own.  In my clinical practice I speak the language, and work the discipline of this integrity.  For specifically religious clients, I will draw parallels from within their religious tradition, for this can be very helpful and comforting.  And such parallels are very important to my life as well.

The great mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) once noted "The difference between the myths and the fairy tales, is that in the myths, the gods are named."  When I heard him say that many years ago, it became a key to my own thinking of the relationship between my work as a psychotherapist and my background as an Episcopal clergyman.

So, to summarize (and over-simplify) my own thinking, I will say it this way:  The difference between psychotherapy and religion is that in religion, God is named, and the language that speaks of things Christian (the language of the Church, especially at worship) reflects this knowledge.  That is the essence of "theology" and it's sister "liturgy".

I have been trained in the language and work of theology.  I have four years of graduate school training and many years of pastoring that attest to that.  I have also been trained in the language and work of psychotherapy.  I have schooling, certification and experience in this as well.  The nature of the work is much the same - that is, the health and growth of the "soul" (Greek: psyche - the root meaning in "psychology") in the context of the greater world (creation).

At the popular levels (where most people live), the confusing of the language can cause damage to each discipline (and much confusion of thought for many individuals).  That is why I am very careful how I speak of my Christian background when talking of my clinical work, and vice versa.

Perhaps that which makes me a good analyst and a good Priest, is my ability to speak and understand different languages - each with their integrity and experience.  (This was a particular gift from my undergraduate work at the University of Iowa.)  I think it makes me a good marriage counselor as well.  My work involves "translating" to and for each party.  But that does not mean that the two then "blend" or synthesize.  No, it's the richness and integrity of the difference that makes the difference.  Or as the French say, "vive la difference!"

Let me add a final note that takes this matter to a different level.  As each discipline transcends into higher orders, which the religious call the realm of the mystical - the language of each is transcended and a unifying mystical vision becomes an experience that unites both.   This is also true when various religions ascend to their mystical richness.  The differences disappear.  Psychological literature (at least that which I enjoy reading) speaks of the same experience. - the transcendent fullness of humanity and all creation - at which point language also becomes transcendent, and our question itself disappears as a mere cloud of fine dust before the presence of a great illumination.

 William K. McDonald
 January 8, 2007


Professional Counseling from a Deep Spiritual Orientation

A Philosophy Statement

I believe that each human being is born with an inherent purpose for his or her life.  And that purpose is a gift for the greater community as well.  Sometimes one's purpose can be a testament to the enduring quality of the human spirit, and the rich resources of the human psyche (soul).

All psychotherapy is by nature soul work - working with the deep parts of the human personality to wrestle forth the fuller meaning of what it means to be human.  Some would say it means to become "a real person."

At times it is the crises of our life, whether specific or subtle, that lead us to the depths of our humanity, and fuller flowering of the human spirit.  The process of psychotherapy is an intentional psychological journey.  It is for many the closest approximation in our culture to the ancient spiritual quest embodied within the world's great religions and ancient cultures.  It is the nature of the human condition that we often arise to our best and highest self through struggle and crisis.  The best of psychotherapy is not to just fix, but to grow and mature.

In my [now almost 40] years of clinical practice I have had the privilege to see my clients become richer human beings - the kind of men and women who make this world a richer place in which to live together.

Perhaps I may serve you in this high work and purpose as well – whether briefly to resolve a particular crisis or for a longer term to deal with the depth of the psyche (the soul) for greater maturity and richness of purpose.

William K. McDonald
June 4, 2003