Prayer in Counselling and Psychotherapy
Peter Madsen Gubi
Jessica Kingsley Publishers (2008) (pp223) £ 18.99
ISBN 978-1-84310-519-0 (paperback)
by Uta Blohm
This book offers fascinating information about the use of prayer in the world of counselling and psychotherapy; it is based on the author’s qualitative research – interviews for the most part – and summaries of existing literature on the subject.
While more than fifty percent of BACP accredited counsellors and psychotherapists use prayer as part of their practice, they do not necessarily invoke prayer as an intervention during a session. Thirty-seven percent reported praying quietly for guidance during a session and others have used prayer as a source of personal strength or as an intercession on behalf of a client; only six percent said that they had on occasion used prayer as a psychotherapeutic intervention. These are just some figures Gubi provides from his research but he is truly inspiring when he discusses questions of human relatedness and the spiritual dimension in the counselling relationship.
The book includes a wide range of examples on how prayer influences counselling practice and discusses in great detail its benefits and dangers as a therapeutic intervention. For example, as a feminist theologian, I was struck by comments on the use of ritual; some feminist theologians have emphasised the importance of ritual in order to deal with the loss of a child during pregnancy or a miscarriage and my own research provided evidence that Anglican women priests, other Christian female ministers and women rabbis have, on occasion, been involved in creating rituals for life cycle events that particularly – but not exclusively – affect women (Blohm, 2006). This book advises that while ritual may be helpful when dealing with loss, it carries the risk of providing people with false hope for final closure or serving to discourage them from talking about their loss.
I agree with the author that psychotherapy has at its origin spiritual roots and many people who previously may have felt drawn to ministry are now seeking psychotherapy training instead. The Jewish and Christian roots of major psychotherapeutic schools are in my view obvious to anyone familiar with these traditions. Nevertheless, the fact that psychotherapy’s founding fathers and mothers had often turned their back on their religious roots impacts on the profession to this day; research suggests that practitioners who do use prayer often decide not to bring this to supervision because they feel that it goes against the culture of what is accepted in psychotherapy circles. This is worrying since prayer like any other intervention can be very destructive when used without peer review. Even though Gubi’s interviewees on the whole appeared to be very thoughtful in their practice there were examples when I found the use of prayer inappropriate.
When working in Christian ministry I have always been cautious about the use of prayer in pastoral situations; I feel when praying with people it is important to ensure that they feel comfortable. In my own view, using prayer to send messages to other people rather than a deity is inappropriate and I therefore felt very uncomfortable when I read that some counsellors do just that. During my pastoral training course in a hospital setting I learned that prayer, performed with sensitivity and sincerity, may sometimes indeed be helpful and welcome and this book quotes research on the benefits of prayer for general well being. This should not be taken to mean that prayer offers instant healing, rather that it can enable people to live their lives from a new perspective.
Having read Gubi’s book, I am still not convinced that I will use prayer when working as a counsellor or psychotherapist in a secular setting. In a pastoral capacity, however, I will continue to pray with people. Interestingly, the author has not used prayer as part of his practice even though he respects the integrity of those counsellors who do.
This book is important for anyone who uses prayer as an intervention and for supervisors and people working in training. It is vital to create an atmosphere in training and supervision where practitioners feel free to discuss issues of spirituality and religious practice in their work. Even though predominantly Christian, the book is a worthwhile read for anyone involved in pastoral care in a religious setting as it highlights the dangers and benefits involved in using prayer as a pastoral tool.