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Forum #3: Sample Post on the Topic of Prayer
by, Dr. Brian Campbell

McMinn’s (2011) textbook includes a wealth of information relevant to the question of whether or not to use prayer in counseling.  When considering the case of Mary, I would not automatically open our first session with audible prayer.  Although prayer has been shown to promote health (McMinn, 2011, p. 90), provide an improved sense of well-being (p. 80), relieve emotional discomfort (p. 80), and provide a sense of purpose and satisfaction in life (p. 80), I would be keenly aware that there are many cautions and considerations that must be carefully weighed when considering the use of prayer in counseling (McMinn, 2011). 

Although, as a Christian counselor, I might feel obliged to pray out loud with each and every client, I now know that audible prayer is not always necessary or appropriate with every client (McMinn, 2011, p. 79).  Prayer can be misused in counseling (p. 90); therefore, its use must be carefully monitored (p. 90).  Given the severity of Mary’s case, there are a number of risks and possible harmful effects that might result from praying out loud with Mary during our first session, or even subsequent sessions (McMinn, 2011).

For example, given Mary’s tentative diagnosis of DID, praying out loud with her could be potentially psychologically harmful; as McMinn (2011, p. 93) points out, praying out loud with deeply disturbed individuals “could be destructive and harmful to the fragile psychological state of the patient and to the treatment relationship” (p. 93).  Given the severity of Mary’s case, and the background information available, there are many other cautions that would need to be considered before using audible prayer (McMinn, 2011). 

For example, using audible prayer with Mary could introduce a fear that I, the counselor, might judge her, and even blame her, for father’s sexual abuse (McMinn, 2011, p. 94); after all, her own mother may have blamed Mary in order to justify her husband’s abuse of their daughter.   Audible prayer might also make Mary feel “unspiritual” (p. 94) or even sinful, and cause her to refrain from “exploring meaningful issues in counseling” (p. 94).  In addition, praying aloud with Mary might make the “client/counselor” relationship excessively close (p. 98) and introduce a level of interpersonal intimacy (p. 94) that could be especially problematic given Mary’s history of sexual abuse.  Finally, I would be especially cautious using audible prayer with Mary because it may promote a sense of dependency on me as the therapist (p. 98).  Bottom line, using routine audible prayer with Mary might introduce “significant risk and [provide] minimal benefits to the counseling relationship” (p. 93).

For the reasons given above, I would carefully consider “other ways” (McMinn, 2011, p. 82) of integrating prayer into my treatment of Mary.  For example, before Mary entered the treatment room, I would pray silently for myself, and for Mary.  As McMinn (2011, p. 83) points out, silent prayer can have many benefits to the therapist and help him/her deal with the difficult and often stressful task of counseling (p. 83).  Throughout our initial session, and probably beyond, I would pray for Mary silently without disclosing the fact that I was praying for her (pp. 82-83).  I would also pray during pauses in the conversation in order to help maintain a spiritual focus during our counseling sessions (p. 83).

In addition to silently praying inside our counseling sessions, I would also pray for Mary--and for myself--outside our counseling sessions (for example, periodically throughout the week during my own devotional times).  Praying outside our sessions for myself, would help provide me with the spiritual resources I might need (McMinn, 2011, p. 91), as I seek God’s direction for working with such a severe case of abuse.  It would also help me maintain a “ministry focus” in my counseling and carefully consider spiritual as well as emotional healing (p. 84).  Finally, praying for Mary outside the counseling sessions would be entirely consistent with my “spiritual obligation,” as a Christian, to pray faithfully for those in my care (p. 91).

As treatment progress, I might also consider encouraging Mary to pray, on her own, at home-- outside the counseling session (McMinn, p. 83). For example, I might consider recommending a devotional book (p. 92) to her that would include “contemplative prayer” (Malony, as cited in McMinn, p. 83).  In this way, I could introduce the “discipline of prayer” without encountering the possible “dangers and pitfalls” associated with audible in-session prayer (McMinn, 2011).

In the final analysis, I would need to carefully consider which forms of prayer to use with Mary (McMinn, 2011, p. 79), rather than automatically assume that as a Christian counselor I am obligated to pray out loud with every single client I counsel.  I would take into account McMinn’s somewhat controversial conclusion that “in-session prayer introduces significant risk and minimal benefits to the counseling relationship” (p. 93).  I would also be keenly aware that there has been virtually no empirical/scientific research conducted on the efficacy of praying out loud with clients during counseling sessions (p. 82).

    

 

Students:

The scriptures marked below were utilized for the post given above.  I want you to be aware of the rich clinical information available to you in McMinn’s (2011) textbook.

 

Core Concepts on Prayer from McMinn’s Textbook

Prepared by, Dr. Brian Campbell

 

 

Asking the Right Question:  Should counselors pray with clients?  Ask: “Which forms of prayer should we use with which clients under which circumstances?” (p. 79).

No Scientific Evidence:  “To date, no empirical research has been reported on the effects of praying aloud during counseling sessions” (p. 82).

Pros versus Cons

Improved Sense of Well-Being:  “Prayer is associated with a subjective feeling of well-being” (p. 80).

More Purpose and Satisfaction:  People who pray often “tend to experience more purpose in life, marital satisfaction, religious satisfaction, and a general sense of well-being” (p. 80).

Greater Sense of Well-Being:  “Those who experience prayer as a deeply significant, even mystical, experience have a greater sense of well-being than others” (p. 80).

Relieves Physical and Emotional Discomfort:  “…prayer is used often [successfully] by those experiencing high levels of physical and emotional discomfort (p. 80).

Promotes Health: “Preliminary scientific evidence…supports the effectiveness of prayer in promoting health (p. 90).

Silent Prayer:  In addition to praying aloud, “prayer can be integrated into counseling in other ways” (p. 82). 

Silent Prayer: “Some counselors pray during sessions without disclosing their prayers to clients” (pp. 82-83)

Silent Prayer:  “Praying during pauses in the conversation is often a way not only to keep a spiritual focus in counseling but also to keep from impulsively filling silence with unnecessary words” (p. 83)

Benefits to Therapist:  “Silent prayer during counseling can also be used to sustain the counselor through difficult and stressful work” (p. 83).

  Outside the Session Prayer:  “Another way prayer can be used as part of therapy is by encouraging clients to pray outside of the counseling session” (p. 83).

Contemplative Prayer Outside Counseling Session:  “…a helpful addition to psychotherapy” (Malony, as cited in McMinn, p. 83).

Praying for Clients Outside the Counseling Session: “…we can assume that praying for clients outside of sessions helps counselors maintain a ministry focus and helps counseling clients in their spiritual and emotional healing” (p. 84).  “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

Petitionary Prayer:  “…where the counselor prays for the client, can help model the qualities of effective prayer” (p. 85).    “However, it can also introduce problems” (p. 85).

Petitionary Prayer:  “Occasional in-session prayers of petition can be helpful under some circumstances” (p. 93)

Petitionary Prayer:  “In-session prayer for those facing acute stress and grief reactions may often be helpful, and a prayer of thanksgiving can be a spontaneous act of worship in the midst of a significant breakthrough in counseling” (p. 93).

Counselor’s Intercessory Prayer:  Potential problem:  “…removes the obligation to petition God directly” (p. 86).  “If prayer is partnering with God, then direct personal petition is an important element of effective prayer” (p. 86).

 Contemplative Prayer: Positive Aspects: “...can open our spiritual eyes at the same time it can distract us from our human habits of egocentrism and self-absorption” (p. 87).

Meditation:  “…Christian meditation appears to provide significant benefits in reducing anxiety and anger” (p. 87).

Possible Drift into Heresy:  “…some people have not established careful theological boundaries for their understanding of prayer and meditation and have drifted into heresy” (p. 87).

Consider Your Theology and Psychology:  “Thus, counselors who use devotional meditation and prayer in therapy should carefully evaluate their methods from theological as well as psychological perspectives” (p. 87).

Spiritual Impacts:  “The capacity to experience God through prayer is the center of Christian spirituality” (p. 87).  “Prayer…ushers us into God’s presence” (p. 88).

Spiritual Impacts: “…prayer ushers us into perpetual communion with the father” (Foster, as cited in McMinn, pp. 87-88).

Limitations/Implications of Prayer During Counseling:  “…the transforming power of prayer cannot be fully experienced by praying at the beginning or end of a counseling session” (p. 89).  “Spiritually transformed prayer takes time and disciplined training” (p. 89).

Limitations of In-Session Prayer:  “For prayer to be an active agent for change in a client’s life, it must become part of a disciplined spiritual life outside the counseling office” (p. 89).

Prayer Homework:  “Counselors give homework for a variety of reasons, and prayer homework can be considered a legitimate assignment for many Christian clients” (p. 89).

Prayer Training:  “Sometimes prayer training can begin in the counseling session, especially when devotional meditation is used as an intervention for anxiety-related problems” (p. 89).

Sense of Need:  “Our sense of need propels us to meaningful prayer” (p. 90).

Not all Prayer is Effective: “But we must also realize that not all prayer is effective” (P. 90).

Carefully Monitoring of Prayer is Counseling is Required:  “Because prayer is a good thing that can be misused, its use in counseling warrants careful monitoring” (p. 90).

Possible Misuse of Prayer:  Some forms of prayer are always and important addition to effective counseling, and others can be easily misused and at times work against the goals of Christian counseling” (p. 90).

Praying Outside of Counseling for Clients: “What case could possibly be made against a counselor’s praying for clients outside of the counseling session?” (p. 91).  “…we have a spiritual obligation to pray faithfully for those in our care” (p. 91).

Praying Outside of Counseling: “Praying outside of sessions provides spiritual resources for counseling clients, while reminding counselors of the importance of humbly seeking God’s direction” (p. 91).

Devotional Meditation Assignments: “Devotional-meditation assignments outside of sessions can be helpful for many clients, especially those who are dealing with anxiety-or faith—related problems” (p. 92). 

Effectiveness of Devotional Meditation:  “Devotional meditation appears to be at least as effective as progressive muscle relaxation in reducing anxiety and anger and should be considered a legitimate alternative for Christian counselors” (p. 92).

Possible Harmful Effects of Prayer: “But praying in other situations can be harmful.  For example, praying with an actively schizophrenic or manic patient could be destructive and harmful to the fragile psychological state of the patient and to the treatment relationship” (p. 93).

Potential Risk: “…I believe routine in-session prayer introduces significant risk and minimal benefits to the counseling relationship” (p. 93).

Praying for Social Effect:  “…it is the type of praying that Jesus condemned” (p. 94).

Meaningless Repetition:  “…counselors who pray routinely with most or all of their clients fact a risk of praying words of meaningless repetition, as is common of prayers before meals” (p. 94).

Replaces Insight and Understanding:  Religious practices can be used as a defense against insight and self-understanding, as was the case for many of the religious leaders that Jesus criticized” (p. 94).

Weakens Accountability:  “Praying aloud in counseling sometimes weakens the clients’ sense of direct accountability to God” (p. 94).

Can Introduce Intimacy Between Counselor and Client:  “Praying together introduces a form of interpersonal intimacy that may not be wise in every counseling situation” (p. 94).

Can Introduce a Fear of Judgment:  “… Praying together inhibits some from disclosing important information” (p. 94).  “Because routine prayer may elevate counselors to spiritual-giant status in clients’ eyes, some will hesitate to discuss their struggles with sin, during a judgmental response” (p. 94).

Routine in-session Prayer can Make the Client Feel Unspiritual:  The client may have strong anger feelings toward God and question his/her faith.  If the counselor routinely prays, this could cause the client to hide these feelings during counseling.  As a result, he/she may not want to “explore meaningful issues in counseling” (p. 94).

Insensitive and/or Perfunctory Prayer:  “…can be spiritually and emotionally harmful” (p. 96).

Prayer May Make Client/Counselor Relationship Excessively Close:  “After an initial therapeutic bond is established, however, the counselor sometimes has to watch that the counseling relationship does not become excessively close” (p. 98). “… The counselor must maintain sole responsibility for keeping the relationship at an appropriate level of interpersonal intimacy” (p. 98). “When the counselor relationship appears to be getting too close, praying together in a session is usually not a good idea” (p. 98).

Prayer May Promote Dependency:  “Clients…inclined toward dependency may naturally look to their counselors for emotional and spiritual strength” (p. 98). 

Prayer May Draw More Attention to the Counselor Than to God:  “…when prayer draws more attention to the counselor or the client than to God, it misses the mark” (p. 98).