The Genesis Health Blog
Faith Based Counseling: Praying in Therapy
At Genesis Behavioral Health, we see it as our mission to show the love of God through compassionate and thorough mental health care. From the beginning, we have considered ourselves an extension of God’s care and hold ourselves to the standard of excellence in hopes of bringing healing to those who are struggling. Faith based counseling is one way we serve our clients and show the love of God, although the faith based approach is always optional for the patient.
Because we offer a faith based counseling service and have a faith based mission, we are interested in the spiritual life of our patients. For patients with an established faith practice, prayer is often an integral part of how they engage with their inner self, their mental health, and the world.
If you are a fellow mental health professional with your own faith practice, you may have wondered whether it would ever be appropriate to pray in session if the patient is open to it. What are the ethical concerns you need to consider before deciding whether to engage with willing patients in this way?
Here are a few things you should consider.
Is the patient comfortable with prayer?
Sometimes patients find their way to a faith based counseling center and need mental healthcare but don’t necessarily want to participate in prayer or engage with religion, which is appropriate and should be assessed for. The first thing you should ask yourself and your patient before introducing prayer to the session is: does prayer fit within my patient’s value system and would it benefit their mental health in counseling to have prayer in session?
Both you and your patient must feel comfortable and in a place of good ethics in order to pray in session. Our goal is never to bypass the values of the patient, but rather to mirror values that the patient possesses. Doing so can build trust between you and your patient and allow them to have autonomy over their therapy session. If a patient values prayer, then prayer in session could be an impactful tool for the two of you to use, perhaps allowing them to feel hope, comfort, awareness of their emotions, and encouragement as a result.
Is prayer in session ethical?
If you and your patient decide that prayer in session could be helpful, there are a number of steps you should take to ensure that the use of prayer in session is ethical.
Level of Competence
Strive to create an environment in which your client feels confident in your professional expertise. Helping clients understand their inner world and their relationships with others more completely shows them that you are a competent counselor, someone they can trust and receive help from. Clients can use the information you give them to make healthier, more authentic choices.
Prayer should only be used in ways that you feel competent. If you as a clinician don’t understand prayer and don’t have competence on how it can be utilized as a therapeutic skill, it might be best not to incorporate into your sessions in order not to cause harm.
Once a client has an understanding of your level of competence, they can trust that when you bring prayer into the session that you are doing so for their best interest and at their discretion.
What is your own theology of prayer?
How you view prayer personally will impact how you engage with it in session and thus impact the patient. How have you studied and implemented prayer in your own life? In what ways have you personally used prayer as a tool to better your mental health?
Understand that your patient’s view of prayer may be different from yours, and the way they engage in prayer in session may be different as well. Let the patient direct the specifics of how prayer will be used so that they can feel comfortable and their viewpoint is respected.
Infringing our own values on patients
To remain ethical, we should allow the patient to guide and direct the use of prayer in session, but we know that introducing prayer to session can create a conversation around the topic of prayer in which your own perspective may come into play.
In these situations, we always have to assess where the patient is mentally and spiritually, what they need from us, and whether any action we consider taking or suggestion we make could potentially cause harm to the patient. It’s important to think about how prayer could cause harm to the patient ahead of time so that you are prepared to direct the conversation accordingly.
How do we prevent harm? This will depend on the patient’s personal history with religion and prayer, whether they feel it gives them agency, and how they see themselves in relation to God or a higher power that they pray to, and what may cause harm will be specific to each patient.
Gaining informed consent for prayer in session
To remain ethical, you should always ask for consent before introducing prayer into a session, as well as understand the patient’s own perspective and history with prayer and religion. To do this, you should ask for informed consent.
To ensure that prayer is used ethically within a session, be sure to discuss it with your colleagues or a supervisor. And seek out trainings that specifically can address things like faith integration into clinical work to increase competency.
Are you hoping to refer a patient to Genesis Behavioral Health for TMS, psychiatry, or counseling? Read our referrals page and reach out to us via our contact page.
What does the bible say about prayer?
From our perspective as a Christian, faith based counseling center, we believe that prayer is essential to our faith practice and we believe in the use of the bible to direct our beliefs about prayer.
We see prayer mentioned in the bible countless times including instructions about how to pray, when to pray, and what to pray about.
Verses such as:
Matthew 6:6-13, (NIV translation)
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
1 Thessalonians 5:17, (NIV translation)
“Pray without ceasing.”
James 5:16, (NIV translation)
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
Matthew 11:28, (NIV translation)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
How can you incorporate prayer into therapy?
Because there are so many perspectives on prayer that patients may bring to the table during session, there are also a number of ways you can include prayer. We believe it is important to be creative in meeting the patient’s needs while letting them guide the depth and structure of the prayer.
Here are a number of ways you can include prayer in a therapy session.
- Ask your patient if you can pray with them.
- Use prayer for healing,
- Pray using a theme.
- Remind the patient of the spiritual-bio-psycho-social connection.
- Ask the patient to pray out loud. This helps the patient to be vulnerable in their faith and to speak their prayers aloud.
- Maybe don’t pray in session, but consider praying for them outside of session. Prayer can be simple, but powerful before or after a session. Maybe encourage the patient to pray before and after the session in their car.
- Use it as a tool for their own homework. Make it their own assignment.
Sometimes patients might be looking for deeper prayer, ministry, or church community. It’s important to consider that aspect of their well-being. Having a support system can be integral to their growth and health and a local church is one place they may experience that.
Consider having a list of resources on hand for patients who may want more spiritual support during their mental health journey. This may include links to databases like Church Finder where they can search a directory of churches, a list of youth groups or bible study groups that meet nearby with times, or ministries that may fit the patient’s demographic or needs.
Genesis Behavioral Health is a mental health center on a mission to spread human compassion, the science of psychiatry, and the love of God through excellent mental healthcare. To learn more about how you can refer patients to Genesis for psychiatric care or TMS therapy, take a look at our Professional Referrals page.
Referrals for Psychiatry or Counseling (individual, couples, and family) can be phoned in at 210-404-9696, faxed to 210-404-9466, or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.