16 Spiritual and Religious Competencies for Psychologists


By Cassandra Vieten (Institute of Noetic Sciences and California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute); Ron Pilato ;Kenneth I. Pargament (Bowling Green State University); Shelley Scammell (Institute for Spirituality and Psychology); Ingrid Ammondson (Institute of Noetic Sciences); David Lukoff (Sofia University)




It is clear from polls of the general public that religion and spirituality are important in most people’s lives. In addition, the spiritual and religious landscape is becoming increasingly diverse, with nearly a fifth of people unaffiliated with a religion, and increasing numbers of people identifying themselves as spiritual, but not religious. Religion and spirituality have been empirically linked to a number of psychological health and well-being outcomes, and there is evidence that clients would prefer to have their spirituality and religion addressed in psychotherapy. However, most often, religious and spiritual issues are not discussed in psychotherapy, nor are they included in assessment or treatment planning.

Not Just Religious, but Spiritual


There is a need not only for religious competencies, but also for spiritual competencies. Although the words have historically often been used interchangeably, spirituality and religion are increasingly being viewed as distinct yet overlapping constructs (Kapuscinski & Masters, 2010; Piedmont, Ciarrochi, DyLiacco, & Williams, 2009; Schlehofer, Omoto, & Adelman, 2008; Zinnbauer et al., 1997). Though the term spirituality is notably missing from the APA Ethical Principles for Psychologists and Code of Conduct (2010), in 2011 the APA Division 36 Psychology of Religion was renamed the Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, and their journal is titled the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (Piedmont, 2009).

Pargament (2007) has defined spirituality as “. . . the journey people take to discover and realize their essential selves and higher order aspirations” (p. 58), or a “search for the sacred” (Pargament, 2007, p. 52), whereas religion has been defined as “the search for significance that occurs within the context of established institutions that are designed to facilitate spirituality” (Pargament, Mahoney, Exline, Jones, & Shafranske, 2013, p. 15).

Hill et al. (2000) define spirituality as thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to concern about, a search for, or a striving for understanding and relatedness to the transcendent. Spirituality has also been defined as an individual’s internal orientation toward a transcendent reality that binds all things into a unitive harmony (DyLiacco, Piedmont, MurraySwank, Rodgerson, & Sherman, 2009). Kapuscinski and Masters (2010) found that “communion with the sacred, or a search for the sacred” (p. 194) was included in 67% of studies that provided a definition of spirituality. The word sacred most commonly referred to God or to the transcendent, and the authors propose that this focus is what differentiates spirituality from other psychological constructs such as meaning, purpose, or wisdom.

Spiritual and Religious Competence as a Form of Multicultural Competenceaware-1207669_960_720.jpg

Three basic activities of multicultural competence are as follows: (1) to engage in the process of becoming aware of one’s own assumptions about human behavior, values, biases, preconceived notions, personal limitations, and so forth; (2) to attempt to understand the worldview of culturally different clients without judgment; (3) to implement relevant, and sensitive intervention strategies with culturally different clients (Arredondo et al., 1996; Sue,1998). These capacities clearly extend to cultural differences involving religion and spirituality.



Both quantitative ratings and qualitative feedback informed the revision of provisional items. This process resulted in the following 16 proposed spiritual and religious competencies for psychologists, three in the area of Attitudes, seven in the area of Knowledge, and six in the area of Skills.


1) Psychologists demonstrate empathy, respect, and appreciation for clients from diverse spiritual, religious, or secular backgrounds and affiliations.


4) Psychologists know that many diverse forms of spirituality and/or religion exist, and explore spiritual and/or religious beliefs, communities, and practices that are important to their clients.    


11) Psychologists are able to conduct empathic and effective psychotherapy with clients from diverse spiritual and/or religious backgrounds, affiliations, and levels of involvement.

To read all 16 competencies and see the full article, click here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: