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Humility: Integrating Contemplative Spirituality into Counseling

Don Davis & Cirleen DeBlaere

A Psychology Course and Syllabus on "Humility"

Associate Professor of Psychology, Georgia State University
August 1, 2016

This is a course description and syllabus developed from our 2016 course development grant competition. See below for a downloadable syllabus.

Eastern spirituality has exerted considerable influence on counseling and psychology. This course is a practical introduction to integrating spirituality in counseling, with a particular focus on assessing and adapting contemplative activities to Christian clients. Moreover, we also consider how to adapt contemplative practices to spiritual, but not religious or non-religious individuals. Our approach is based on a recently proposed model of cultural humility in counseling. The course applies the model to humility regarding spiritual identity.

Humility involves having an accurate view of oneself, including limits in one’s awareness, knowledge, and skills for working with diverse groups. In addition, humility involves the ability to regulate egotism and cultivate an other-oriented stance, especially when relationships are strained by one’s identity and loyalty to cultural groups. Humility enhances the ability of a counselor to work with diverse clients, particularly across strong identify differences such as religious/spiritual commitment. Although it may seem ironic to “work on” one’s humility, the virtue of humility is an organizing theme of this course.

The course includes didactic, experiential, and dialogue elements. The didactic portion will focus on interdisciplinary (including psychology, history, religious studies) readings and content designed to provide some background and context for the experiential activities. The experiential component will involve several guest speakers who identify as Christian, but prioritize contemplative practice in their spiritual work. To provide a contrast, we will also visit several spiritual communities outside the Christian tradition. This relational experience will deepen students’ understanding of the complexity of spiritual narratives, history and commitment, and offer students the opportunity to explore their own spiritual/religious identities in a context that invites empathy for other traditions. The dialogue portion will involve several conversations in preparation, during, and after the experiential component. The inention of these conversations is to try to gain a deeper understanding of the worldview and experience of groups with different religious/spiritual perspectives from one’s own. This may involve groups from a different religion or subgroups within one’s own religion. We will also focus on implications for one’s professional work and have several self-directed assignments designed to help you consolidate personal and professional growth. What follows is an overview of the logic of the course.

After a general orientation, the second class provides a general argument for the importance of effectively working with spirituality in counseling. Religion/spirituality is an important aspect of identity for many clients, but many counselors feel uncomfortable with their ability to effectively explore and incorporate religion/spirituality into their clinical work. The third and fourth classes provide a general overview of the (a) influence of eastern spirituality within psychology and (b) various strains of contemplative practice within the Christian tradition. Classes five through nine describe a model of cultural humility regarding spirituality, apply this model to assessment of spirituality, provide practical training in a variety of contemplative activities that can be used in counseling, and learn to adapt the presentation of these activities to increase acceptability in Christians as well as other clients. Classes ten through twelve involve dialogue with three different spiritual leaders. We provide practical training in how to form collaborative relationships with clergy. Engaging with another culture can be a powerful way to gain perspective regarding the strengths and limits of one’s perspective— a “fish out of water” experience. Humility involves the ability and freedom to focus deeply on the other. Thus, it can accelerate counselors’ ability to form a therapeutic alliance, and develop a greater sense of empathy for the perspective and experience of religiously different individuals. The final two classes involve presentations of course projects.

Click here to download the syllabus for Humility: Integrating Contemplative Spirituality into Counseling

Course Readings

Merritt, K. (2015). The Zen Christian: Faith and Meditation: The Spiritual, Physical, and Psychological Benefits of Christian Meditation. Kent Merritt.

Merton, T. (1998). The seven storey mountain. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Rohr, R. (2003). Everything belongs: The gift of contemplative prayer. New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company.

Rohr, R. (2011). Falling upward: A spirituality for the two halves of life. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Rohr, R. (2009). The naked now: Learning to see as the mystics see. New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company.

Kapstein, M. T. (2013). Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction (Vol. 373). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Rinpoche, S. (2009). The Tibetan book of living and dying. New York, NY: Harper Collins. Singer, M. (2007). The untethered soul: The journey beyond yourself. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Tift, T. (2015). Already Free: Buddhism Meets Psychotherapy on the Path of Liberation.Louisville, CO: Sounds True.

XIV Bstan-ʼdzin-rgya, D. L., & Jinpa, T. (1995). The world of Tibetan Buddhism: An overview of its philosophy and practice. Somerville, MA: Simon and Schuster.