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Spirituality Application in Family Therapy Research Paper



Many different studies have been conducted to determine the considerations and possible applications of spirituality in family therapy. The world is home to many spiritual beliefs that are perpetuated by different religious practices.

Spirituality is a term that refers “to the ultimate or immaterial reality, an inner path that guides a person into to discover and understand the essence of their being or the deepest values and meanings by which people live” (Franklin & Lockwood, 2009, p. 33). Spirituality can be exercised through “practices such as contemplation mediation and prayer”; practices that are intended to develop an individual’s inner life (Franklin & Lockwood, 2009, p. 33).

Researches conducted regarding spirituality and religions indicate that these two continue to form an important part of society (Rootes, Jankowski, & Sandage, 2010). There is vast evidence indicating that spirituality through religion continues to form an important aspect of family and marital stability whereby more spiritual families are found to be more stable (Anderson, 2009). Thus the inclusion of spirituality in family therapy is thought to have a positive impact on the outcome of the therapeutic process. This paper seeks to review, summarize and integrate current research and literature concerning the application of spirituality in family therapy and then propose research that will extend work in the use and influence of spirituality in family therapy.

Spirituality and family

According to Walsh spirituality forms the basic bonds that hold family members together and throughout life, a mutual influence is seen between family life and spirituality (2010). Important spiritual beliefs play a role in strengthening members of a family. Any positive spiritual experiences that are shared by the family result in increased faith among the members. On the other hand unfavorable, complicated spiritual convictions can wound family “members, their spirits, and their relationships, and as a result, those who are injured are seen to turn away from their family and faith” (Walsh, 2010, p. 333).

Families form basic units in the community or society in which common directions in life are established. Based on the culture and the traditional beliefs that are passed from one generation to another each family establishes its spirituality. Major events that take place in the family may result in the strengthening or establishment of new directions. Many studies indicate that when individuals get married, the vows that they exchange are spiritual. It has further been established that spouses who are similar in religious affiliation, beliefs, and practices report greater personal well-being and relationship satisfaction, less conflict, and a lower likelihood of divorce than those who differ (Batson & Schonrade, 1991).

The connection between therapy and spirituality through theories

According to Marterella & Brock for a long time, family therapy was delinked from spiritual matters, however, this has changed as a result of evidence that is explained through several theories (2008). Pioneers of family therapy such as Virginia Satir and Gregory Bateson carried out extensive studies on the connection between spirituality and family therapy (Rivett & Street, 2001). The model of therapy proposed by Satir emphasized health and spirit and how spirituality had the potential of initiating a healing process. More recent studies have created anew understanding of the connection between spirituality and family therapy (Marterella & Brock, 2008).

The concept of social constructionism has been extensively applied by therapists to establish how spiritual matters can affect therapy (Franklin & Lockwood, 2009). Thus, models have been developed by different scholars to establish a possible link between spirituality and therapy. Connections between spirituality and therapy are often explained through models that attempt to relate spirituality and psychology. The first dimension can be identified as an instrumental connection (Lopez, 1991).

This connection is approached by different clinical practices that do not include the spiritual beliefs that are held by the therapist. Thus Instrumental connection uses the spiritual beliefs of the patient to design the therapeutic approach.

For this approach to work effectively, the therapist is usually required to orient him/herself to the patient’s spiritual beliefs (Shults & Sandage, 2006). The instrumental connection is more common in secular therapists who lack a strong spiritual perspective and thus favorably orient towards the patient’s spiritual beliefs (Rootes, Jankowski, & Sandage, 2010). The instrumental connection can be used to offer therapy through the following strategies: Ethnosenstive strategy, where the therapist usually explores particular themes with a family regarding its beliefs and how the beliefs can be used to influence therapeutic practice (Franklin & Lockwood, 2009).

This often includes the role of religion such as the church attended by the family in solving issues such as family conflicts; secondly, the instrumental connection can use the pragmatic use of spiritual beliefs strategy where the therapist may discuss with the family on how “grace” could be embodied and create a metaphor for the therapy in terms of the working “grace” (Franklin & Lockwood, 2009, p. 45). In this case, the therapist assists the family to see that individuals can be agents of grace; thirdly, the instrumental connection could be applied using the family religious practices strategy whereby prayers are mainly used to provide the family with the guidance and strength required to deal with problems they may be facing (Wendel, 2003).

The second approach is referred to as the metaphysical connection (Batson & Schonrade, 1991). Using this approach, the spiritual notions are applied to family therapy. When explicit, the metaphysical connections are seen to incorporate the therapist’s own spiritual beliefs. Most metaphysical approaches usually orient towards the therapist’s beliefs (Graham, McDonald, & Klaassen, 2008). Most therapists with a strong spiritual perspective often use the metaphysical approach as opposed to the instrumental approach.

The metaphysical approach is based on the philosophy of the human condition (Hodge, 2005). Thus family therapists often attempt to adapt to ideas of spiritual nature and establish ways of incorporating them into therapeutic thinking. Many studies indicate that there is a link between the human system and the natural system and this link might be explained by spiritualism. Therapy models that utilize the metaphysical approach view human nature as being part of a larger system and acknowledge that change has a natural, organic momentum (Hodge, 2005).

Barriers to the use of spirituality in therapy

The link between spirituality and family therapy has always been a controversial subject (Graham, McDonald, & Klaassen, 2008). The culture of therapy that is based on western scientific training has made it difficult for spirituality to be incorporated (Helmeke & Bischof, 2007). This is more clearly seen when the positions held by pioneer therapists are reviewed. For instance, Freud who can be regarded as one of the early therapists often pointed out that matters of religion were comparative to neurosis and thus should be treated as a problem in the course of therapy (Walsh, 2010). It is possible that this kind of attitude influenced family therapists’ doubt and uncertainty towards religion and by association, spirituality (Thomas, 1998).

The repressive concepts that are fronted by religion and spirituality create another bottleneck for the application of spirituality in family therapy. Spirituality and religion can be associated with extreme judgments, guidelines, and values that can impede the therapist’s quest to create a free healing environment (Walsh, 2010). Lastly, the greatest impediment to the application of spirituality in family therapy is the wide application of scientific methods to evaluate family therapy. Thus for family therapy to qualify itself as a scientific process it has to separate from anything that cannot be regarded as science such as religion and spirituality (Marterella & Brock, 2008). In the scientific arena religion and spirituality have typically been associated with biased, judgmental methods that should not be applied in therapy (Keller, 1993).

Identification of ways through which spirituality can be effectively incorporated in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) training

Despite a growing interest in spirituality by family and marriage therapists, not much has been done regarding the development of appropriate training methods that can guarantee a systematic application of spirituality in the practice. As things are now, matters concerning religion and spirituality are inadequately captured in the marriage and family therapy (MFT) training programs. It may be observed that psychotherapists, trainees, and clinicians do value spiritual matters a lot as far as their own lives are concerned. However, most of them do not readily apply this information in the course of clinical practice.

Many different studies have concluded that a lack of proper education is the most probable cause of therapists’ reluctance and discomfort in addressing and integrating religion and spirituality in therapy (Batson & Schonrade, 1991). Thus ways should be established through which training programs and their supervisors can include the discussions of spirituality as part of the larger consideration of the multicultural and diversity issues for clients and therapists (Shults & Sandage, 2006).

If this is established, then a systematic approach based on the different theories could be established to assist therapists to offer services that are sensitive in a respectful manner that will facilitate the achievement of therapeutic goals. Thus, the importance of family therapy will not only be underscored by the ability to recognize one’s personal beliefs, attitudes, and biases and the way they impact therapeutic relationships but also how they can be used effectively to enhance therapy.


The research study aims at establishing the most effective ways through which spirituality could be incorporated as part of the marriage and family therapy (MFT) training programs (Lopez, 1991). The study well explores the diverse cultural backgrounds of therapists and their clientele base given developing a general training program that can enhance the application of spirituality in family therapy.


The research will apply a qualitative approach where different methods will be developed and tested to select the most appropriate and effective technique. The different approaches to be used will be based on the spirituality and family therapy theories formulated by different scholars (Hodge, 2005). The suitability of a given program to be applied will be evaluated using responses from program supervisors and trainees. Specific outcomes in clinical practice may also be used as an assessment tool. However, its application is limited due to the long period required. Responses from program supervisors and trainees will be collected using the Likert’s questionnaire to facilitate appropriate statistical analysis (Hodge, 2005).

Reference list

Anderson, H. (2009). A spirituality for family living. New York: Guilford Press.

Batson, D., & Schonrade, P. (1991). Measuring religion as quest. Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion , 30:430-447.

Franklin, B., & Lockwood, T. (2009). Spirituality and religion: Implications for therapy with African American families. New York : Guilford Press.

Graham, D., McDonald, M., & Klaassen, W. (2008). A phenomenal analysis of spiritual seeking: Listening to quester voices. The international Journal for the Psychology of Religion , 146-163.

Helmeke, K., & Bischof, G. (2007). Couple Therapy and Spirituality and Religion: State of the Art. New York: Haworth Press, Inc.

Hodge, D. (2005). Spiritual Assessment in Marital and Family therapy: A methodological Framework for Selecting from among six Qualitative assessment tools. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy , 31(4) : 341-356.

Keller, J. (1993). Spirituality and Family Therapy: Spiritual Beliefs, Myths, and Metaphors. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy , 19(2) 137-148.

Lopez, F. (1991). Patterns of Family conflict and their relation to college student adjustment. Journal of Counnselling and Development , (69) 257 -263.

Marterella, M., & Brock, L. (2008). Religion and Spirituality as a Resource in Marital and Family Therapy. Journal of family psychotherapy , 19(4): 330-346.

Rivett, M., & Street, E. (2001). Connections and Themes of Spirituality in Family Therapy. Fam Proc , 40: 459-467.

Rootes, K., Jankowski, P., & Sandage, S. (2010). Bowen Family System Theory and Spirituality: Exploring the Relationship Between Triangulation and Religious Questing. Cintemp Farm Ther , 32:89-101.

Shults, L., & Sandage, J. (2006). Transforming Spirituality;Integrating theology and psychology. Grand Rapids : Baker Academic.

Thomas, A. (1998). Understanding Culture and Worldview in Family Systems: Use of the Multicultural Genogram. The family journal , 6: 24-34.

Walsh, F. (2010). Spiritual Diversity: Multifaith Persepectives in Family Therapy. Fam Proc , 49:330-348.

Wendel, R. (2003). Lived religion and family therapy: What does spirituality have to do with it? Family process , (42):165-179.

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