Templeton Foundation Grant to McKay School Professors Funds Preparations for Worldwide Research

P. Scott Richards and G. E. Kawika Allen will coordinate worldwide teams to research spiritually oriented psychology practice.

When seeking peace, Christians may turn to prayer and fasting. Hindus may engage in rituals related to their gods and traditions. Those embracing Islam may practice ritual prayer five times each day. All engage in forms of meditation and worship.

The John Templeton Foundation recently awarded a generous grant to P. Scott Richards and G. E. Kawika Allen, professors in the McKay School Department of Counseling Psychology and Special Education. The grant is helping them prepare to launch a worldwide collaborative investigation of psychotherapies oriented toward spiritual practices and concerns over the next three years.

The Templeton Foundation funds research in categories they designate as science and the big questions, character virtue development, individual freedom and free markets, exceptional cognitive talent and genius, and genetics. Richards and Allen’s project was chosen from over 200 letters of intent, which were narrowed to 10 finalists. Only a few of the finalists received funding.

“They are interested in our project because a lot of work has been done to develop treatments more sensitive to the religious beliefs of a person,” Richards said. “There is a huge proliferation of literature on how to incorporate religious beliefs, but not much research has been done to show the helpfulness of doing so.”

The project goal is twofold: to investigate which spiritually oriented treatments are being used and to verify their effectiveness. The funding awarded this year will help Richards and Allen prepare for the remaining three years of the project. After preparations are made, the Templeton Foundation will decide if the rest of the project will be funded. If the three-year collaborative project is funded, most of the grant money will be distributed as smaller grants so research can be conducted throughout the world.

“This project will include people from different cultures, including racial minority cultures,” Allen said. “It will allow ethnic minority groups to share what works for them in-session in terms of spiritually oriented psychotherapies.”

The ultimate goal of the research team is to further legitimize spiritual approaches to psychology. “It’s not uncommon to hear horror stories when professionals try to steer people away from their religion or their religious practices,” Richards said. “We want to help professionals learn to work with religiously devout people in a more competent and ethical way. We believe the great world religions are a rich source of ideas and insights about human beings that can lead to new theories, new research programs, and new and more effective therapeutic techniques and approaches. This project will enable us to investigate how the wisdom, values, and spiritual practices of the world’s great religious traditions improve the effectiveness of psychotherapy and other forms of mental health treatment.”

Richards and Allen are creating a website for the project to host the request for proposals and furnish resources for researchers. They are also creating an online psychotherapy assessment system that can be used to measure treatment evaluation.

The advisory committee that will determine which proposals to fund includes Richards, Allen, and other experts in the field of counseling psychology and the psychology of religion, such as Lisa Miller at Columbia University, Everett Worthington at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Steven Sandage at Boston University. Richards and Allen each plan on submitting their own research proposals, which will undergo the same review process as the others. In addition to doing their own research studies of Latter-day Saint psychotherapists and clients, Richards and Allen will act as the principal investigators of the entire project.

“The overall goal is to have 15–20 teams in different places around the world that are researching spiritually oriented approaches,” Richards said. The teams will consist of researchers, practitioners, and pastoral professionals. Richards explained, “The research will show what approaches are being used and how effective they are.”

Data will be collected over two years, and the findings will be presented at an international conference in 2019. The teams will submit progress reports and financial reports for administrative review. Part of the grant money will be allocated to students who work on the projects.

For more information about the project or instructions for submitting research proposals, contact Scott Richards, scott_richards@byu.edu.

Writer: Lindsey Williams

Contact: Cynthia Glad (801) 422-1922