Spirituality, Religion, and Ethics in Mental Health Therapy

Presented and developed by Brenda Butterfield, EdD, MSW, LMHC

Join us for a day of exploring what has been, until recently, a neglected and even shunned domain of client inquiry in clinical practice.  You’re invited to help bring our field into alignment with professional codes of ethics imploring us to provide culturally sensitive services.  Together we’ll learn about, discuss and experience ethical practices to assess and integrate clients' religious and spiritual beliefs and traditions into their mental health therapy.   

Many professional care providers, including mental health therapists, intentionally avoid topics of religion and spirituality in clinical practice. Attitudes of secular clinicians often range somewhere between what Garzon (2011) describes as a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude to one of outright disdain for the area of inquiry. Some therapists, however, converse openly with clients about their spiritual and/or religious beliefs.  They embrace this aspect of human identity as a cornerstone of the foundation for the work they do with clients.  Most would agree these therapists are few and far between, practicing behind closed doors.    Where do you fall on this continuum of attitude regarding spirituality and religion in mental health care? 

The field’s historical aversion to exploring this intimate domain of human identity is often explained by the antagonistic precedent set by many early leaders in psychology.  Freud viewed religious beliefs as “illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind” referring to clients’ beliefs as “obsessional neurosis” (Freud, Future of an Illusion, 1927/1961, p.30 and 43 respectively).  Other leading behaviorists like Skinner, Watson and Ellis also found little value in the study or practice of religion and spirituality. They marginalized clients with such views by describing them as less evolved, psychologically unstable and even delusional (e.g., Ellis, 1971; Freud, 1927/1961 as cited by Plante, 2007). 

Moreover, 20th century behaviorist psychology prided itself on being a “serious science” shying away from topics like religion and spirituality to “emphasize the rigorous scientific approach to both research and clinical practice” (Plante, 2007).

But times have changed. Psychology now recognizes religion and spirituality as important aspects of human diversity and this new awareness has influenced revisions to professional codes of ethics. According to Garzon, “the ethics codes of all professional mental-health organizations now include religion and spirituality as important components of culturally sensitive treatment” (2011). So why the gap in practice? 

If increasingly recognized as an important aspects of one’s culture, similar to gender identity and sexual orientation, and if ethically obligated to provide culturally sensitive services, why is it we still routinely avoid assessing this aspect of human identity into our clinical practice?  How can we work together to affect positive, ethical change in our field? One way is by allowing ourselves to explore and learn more about this dimension of being human.

“Dip your toe and ripple these still waters by joining us as we explore a variety of topics at the nexus of ethics, religion, spirituality and mental health therapy. Sound exciting? Stimulating? Even provocative? It’s sure to be all that and more as we construct knowledge together, boldly going where few secular clinicians ventured.  Together, we’ll learn about, discuss and experience ethical practices designed to respectfully access and integrate clients’ religious and spiritual beliefs and traditions into mental health therapy. According to Dr. Pargament, leading expert in the psychology of religion and spirituality, “There is, in short, good scientifically based reason to be more sensitive to religion and spirituality in clinical practice” (APA website, 2013).  

Learning Objectives 

  • Increase understanding of ethical implications for integrating/avoiding spirituality and religion in therapy
  • Increase self-awareness of personal beliefs and values regarding religion and spirituality
  • Learn about current trends in religious and spiritual practices in the US and worldwide 
  • Develop knowledge and understanding of research-based benefits for including religious and spiritual identity issues into mental health therapy
  • Explore, develop and increase knowledge of concepts including ethics, religion, spirituality, agnostic, atheist, humanist, etc. and the five major world religious practices
  • Learn about the role of religion and spirituality in mental and physical health as suggested by scientific research
  • Explore language and enhance vocabulary for discussing topics of religion and spirituality with clients
  • Develop knowledge and understanding about tools and the process for integrating religious and spiritual beliefs into assessment, treatment planning and service delivery

Continuing Education (CE) Information

6 CEs

6 Law and Ethics CEs.

Cascadia Training is a NBCC Approved Continuing Education Provider (Provider #: 6575.)  This workshop is also approved by the Washington State Office of Public Instruction as a "Washington State Approved Clock Hour Offering Workshop."

Brenda S. Butterfield, EdD, MSW, LMHC

Dr. Brenda S. Butterfield is founder of Our New Experience (ONE), LLC in Redmond, WA. She has been a mental health professional for over 30 years serving children, youth, families and communities in the US and abroad. In her clinical work, Dr. Butterfield uses an integrative, whole person perspective to support development of each human’s full potential. Knowing there are many paths to peace of mind, she uses a variety of therapeutic approaches anchored in mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy and other phenomenological self-care practices all supported by scientific data as effective.

In addition to individual and group therapy, Dr. Butterfield teaches Mindful meditation classes, facilitates retreats and presents a variety of seminars and professional development trainings for mental health practitioners and other caregivers locally and nationally.    


Prior to founding Our New Experience Dr. Butterfield was an award-winning faculty member of the Psychology Department at the University of Minnesota Duluth receiving multiple awards from students, colleagues, and community organizations for teaching excellence and leadership.  She has presented at national and international conferences and was invited to serve as a Guest Lecturer teaching psychology courses at the University of Birmingham in England in 2008. 

Dr. Butterfield is an innovative teacher in part due her unique educational background with degrees and in education, psychology and social work.  The nexus of her training combined with her wide array of clinical experience in child welfare, mental health, substance abuse, and higher education in the US, England, Africa and the Middle East is likely why clients and colleagues describe her work as “inspiring, authentic and transformative.”  

Dr. Butterfield earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 1989 a Masters in Social Work from the University of Washington in 1998 and a Doctorate Degree in Education from the University of Minnesota in 2014, specializing in the Psychology of Teaching and Learning.

Her professional work has always been challenging and rewarding but her greatest learning and satisfaction continues to come from being an adoptive and biological mom of two children. Lived experience has taught Dr. Butterfield about the necessity of developing an Essential-Self Care Practice by recognizing, surviving and eventually befriending mental illness in her own family. Her daily mindful practice continues to teach her how to recognize life’s challenges as invitations to develop her own full human potential.

More information about Dr. Butterfield is available at
http://ournewexperience.org/ and on the Psychology Today website https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/prof_detail.php?profid=226809&sid=1431460039.9327_26618&zipcode=98052&tr=ResultsName

Upcoming Dates and Registration

Date: Friday, January 25th, 2019
Time: 9:00am - 4:30pm

Cost: $159.00 USD

Campus: Nile Event Center, Nile Golf Course, Mount Lake Terrace, WA
Room:     Red Room
Map:       Directions to our campus location.
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