The Spirit of Psychology
Scott Richards strives to make a spiritual difference in counseling and psychology
Scott Richards, a professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Special Education, has spent the past 20 years of his career striving to give spirituality a place in psychotherapy and counseling. As part of the nation’s policy on the separation of church and state, counseling is, in general, conducted as a scientific rather than a religious practice. “When people seek out mental health counseling, they are often fearful that their religious beliefs won’t be respected,” Richards explained. “Because of this, some people choose not to seek counseling when they would benefit from it. We think it’s important to give the option of going to more spiritually sensitive counseling.”
With this goal, Richards has helped organize the Consortium for Spiritually Centered Psychology and Education, with the intention of finding a place for spirituality in psychology and education. The Consortium will sponsor specific events about these topics during the next couple of years. For example, on November 15th and 16th, 2012, a collaborative think tank will be held to bring psychology practitioners and researchers together to explore possible ways to bring spirituality into mainstream health care. The plan is to establish collaborative arrangements between BYU faculty with scholars at other universities and mental health facilities in order to develop a more adequate evidence base about counseling based on spirituality. “We want to develop spiritually oriented psychological approaches that people have confidence in, and we want them to be grounded in facts,” said Richards.
Attendees at the think tank will be researchers and practitioners coming from a variety of institutions including BYU-Idaho, Columbia University, Boston University, Iowa State University, Bethel University, University of North Texas, as well as a variety of mental health treatment centers. The think tank participants will bring a wide range of experiences and ideas to share. This variety is appropriate for the topic because, according to Richards, understanding diversity is an important aspect in bringing spirituality into psychology. “Religion and spirituality are a type of diversity,” he commented. “As Americans we have a lot of respect for various forms of diversity, but religion and spirituality have been somewhat neglected. We have more religious diversity than any other kind of diversity in our country, and we want to help people feel safe talking about it.”
This work is in part a continuation of the legacy of Allen Bergin, a groundbreaking clinical psychologist, researcher, author, and BYU faculty member known for his work on the integration of psychotherapy and religion. Bergin was Richards’ mentor, encouraging Richards as a young student to pursue his interest in psychology and religion. When the two first met in 1979, Bergin invited Richards to assist in his research, on which they worked together for four years. Since then, the two have co-authored several books published by the American Psychological Association, some as recently as 2005. Their collaboration was influential towards raising far-reaching awareness and interest for the subject, to which Richards and colleagues continue to contribute.
Thursday, November 15, all students and faculty in the mental health and counseling professions are invited to attend a number of public presentations by think tank members at the BYU Conference Center about bringing spiritually oriented psychotherapies into the health care mainstream.
October 16, 2012