220.127.116.11 Interventions involving clergy
A common reference for the scholarship that looks at faith-based interventions involving clergy is the understanding that religious personnel, the discourses they use and their responses to communities can both contribute to the continuation of the problem of domestic violence and serve as a positive influence in efforts to address the problem. While the level of awareness and preparedness among clergy to respond to domestic violence has improved in the past decades, problems and challenges remain. The existing evidence suggests the need for more customised, theology-specific training for clergy and for building more religious-secular equitable collaborations.
A literature review conducted by Shannon-Lewya and Dull published in 2005 that looked at how Christian clergy in the US can be a resource to victims of domestic violence found that clergy have different levels of understanding and preparedness, and that often their understanding of theology and exegesis could hinder them from responding to victims in ways that minimise the risk of being abused. The authors cited studies with American Protestant clergy, which found that the involved clergy still upheld hierarchical understandings of gender relations by bestowing husbands’ authority over wives, which could contribute to a tolerance of women’s abuse in marriage. Other beliefs, such as that suffering is virtuous or that marriage is sacred and indissoluble were also identified as exacerbating or contributing to an ambiance of tolerance and unresponsiveness to situations of DV / IPV.
An article by Levitt and Ware published in 2006 examined the perspectives of religious leaders from Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions on marriage, divorce and IPV, finding that there were tensions between the perceived sacredness of marriage and the need for divorce in cases of domestic violence. Moreover, the article reported that while the majority of the interviewed clergy held the men responsible for most of the abuse, they still placed some responsibility on women either for inciting the situation or for staying in the relationship, which could overall contribute to an insufficient level of responsiveness to victims.
Studies that examine clergy perceptions and responses to domestic violence in their congregations generally recognise shortfalls in their preparedness and the need for more training. For example, the study by Brade and Bent-Goodley (2009), which involved Protestant religious leaders, found that clergy perceived the problem of domestic violence to be salient in their communities and held that additional training and resources on domestic violence were needed. The study seemed to imply that partnerships between social workers and clergy were needed to achieve a more adequate response. Along similar lines, a study by Moon and Shim (2010) that examined nine protestant pastors’ perceptions of and responses to IPV found that pastors tried to support victims and even couples together and would not hesitate to support divorce if necessary. The analysis of the interviews evidenced that many participants’ hesitation to speak about IPV was related to their feeling unprepared to respond to the problem with confidence, for example, due to lacking training or resources.
A study by Sisselman-Borgia and Bonanno (2017), in turn, examined Rabbis’ opinions about and responses to domestic violence. As in an aforementioned study, the participants were very willing to help, but felt unequipped to provide appropriate counselling support. A 2019 study by Gezinski et al. on the lived experiences of IPV victims who approached their religious leaders for guidance in a community of Latter-Day Saints, found again that generally pastors were unprepared to respond to IPV in an informed manner, placing faith first and limiting their support to prayer and to encouraging church attendance. The study highlighted the need for comprehensive training for religious leaders, education that recognises the impacts of trauma and that teaches religious leaders practical, trauma-informed approaches for addressing IPV. A more recent study by Shaw et al. (2020) that explored Black female clergy's role as responders to IPV among Black women in their congregation in the USA found that female clergy considered it their responsibility to care for domestic violence victims and sought to provide holistic, culturally-sensitive support. However, they felt that they had limited support from the wider Church they affiliated with and limited external resources to rely on.
Similar results emerged in studies with migrant populations. A study by Behnke, Ames and Hancock (2012) examined 28 US Latino church lay clergy and pastors’ beliefs about domestic violence and their reactions to three domestic violence vignettes to explore how they might react. Their responses included actions such as providing counselling to both victims and perpetrators, offering spiritual guidance, suggesting legal action, referring victims to other community services to protect them from risks and providing job-related advice. While many responses were constructive and genuinely concerned, other suggestions for action evidenced the clergy’s limited familiarity with safeguarding risks, as seen wanting to advise a perpetrator while still living with the abused party.
A survey conducted by Choi (2015) with 152 Korean American Protestant clergy in their congregations found that the majority of respondents reported providing counselling support to IPV victims, although one third reported they had never referred IPV victims to additional / external resources. Only 16% felt prepared to respond to domestic violence in their communities, which evidenced the need for more training for clergy to understand how domestic violence manifests in their specific cultural context and how it might be addressed. Another study by Choi and Cramer (2016) this time with Korean American lay men and women recruited from Protestant Korean Churches evidenced expectations in the community for the Churches to play a central role in addressing domestic violence. The authors also importantly noted that participants’ understandings of theology in migrant contexts could reflect influences from the host society’s religious tradition (in this case, evangelical Protestantism) and not always or necessarily the effect of the home 'culture.'
One of the few studies that took place outside of the US was completed by Petersen (2009), who explored the challenges experienced by selected clergy within the Anglican Church of South Africa in dealing with domestic violence. The study found that the clergy felt that they lacked training in addressing real-life domestic violence situations and clear theological guidelines on how to respond to prevalent patriarchal practices or beliefs in their society that contributed to the problem. In another paper, Kassas, Abdelnour and Makhoul (2020) conducted in-depth interviews with 13 male religious leaders from various religious denominations in Lebanon. In line with studies from more tradition-oriented religious societies, the authors found that the religious leaders were very much involved in addressing family-related problems in their communities and that providing the clergy with proper counselling training and information on referral options could become part of an effective society-wide response to domestic violence.
In a paper published in 2016, Le Roux et al. presented a synthesis of primary data and findings from studies conducted in six African countries and Myanmar focussing on faith leadership and models of partnership with other sectors in addressing domestic violence. The studies had been funded by UK Aid via DFID, the UK government, Tearfund and World Vision and involved primarily Christian communities. Some of the key findings included: communities’ own recognition for the role that faith and religious leaders should play in addressing gender-related issues, the difficulty for faith leaders to separate religious teachings from cultural standards, and the tendency of religious leaders to interpret sacred texts in a rigid manner that could be conducive to the problem and its continuation. A cited study from DRC, for example, found that members of faith communities felt compelled to comply with religious leaders and their positions, such as regarding hitting one’s wife or sleeping with her when she did not want to. This motivation was also strong with those who did not belong to these faith communities, evidencing the influence that religious leaders have in shaping public attitudes more generally. The overall evidence suggested that people did not consider faith leaders to be well-disposed or equipped to respond effectively to victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). The paper noted the need for multi-level engagement and integration and equipping clergy with theological knowledge to move towards interpretations that promote gender justice. However, any such engagement and support for clergy would need to be sustained over time to ensure personal change and move beyond approaches based on a mere assimilation of information.
In another study published in 2017, Le Roux and Bowers-Du Toit drew on data collected during a scoping study on the role of faith communities and organisations in the prevention and response to sexual and gender based violence. The review included academic and gray literature, as well as organisational reports, research reports, internal evaluations, manuals, and pamphlets and was accompanied by 20 key stakeholder interviews and an electronic survey involving faith and gender-based violence (GBV) specialists around the world. The findings from the consultations emphasised the faith leaders’ complicity within the continuation of patriarchal traditions, leading to the misinterpretation of sacred texts, the double role of religion in serving as a support and healing system for victims but also making them vulnerable as a result of certain misplaced beliefs about how a ‘good’ religious person should respond to abuse, and the clergy’s disbelief or lack of awareness of the extent of GBV in their communities. However, the overall evidence confirmed that clergy are often willing to address the problem, but they may feel unequipped to do so and may need continuous training and support to be effective.
Examples and effectiveness
The literature on clergy-centred interventions that address DV is substantial. The public health and international development sectors also include numerous examples of faith-based and clergy-centred approaches implemented at community level. Most assessments of such programmes are qualitative, with a visible dearth of studies that sought to evaluate programme effectiveness using more quantitative methodologies, such as randomised controlled trials.
In a 2009 paper, Danielson et al. presented the Set Free Ministries programme, a comprehensive faith-centred domestic violence programme initiated by four women attending Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois, who found the need to address domestic violence in their congregation and to support female victims of childhood abuse. The programme focused on providing mothers with support in the context of domestic violence, although it recognised the need to work also with perpetrators in order to reduce the likelihood of intergenerational violence. In its implementation, the programme incorporated faith-based healing through prayer, the Bible, support from the wider community and referral to other community resources. In terms of prevention, the programme included the provision of training to families and pastors to help develop healthy individual identities and relationships. Direct services provided by the programme included operating a hotline crisis response line, conducting risk assessments for the women seeking support, planning for the women’s physical, spiritual and emotional safety, operating a women’s recovery support group, holding individual counselling sessions and offering social support at court hearings.
The Religion and Violence e-Learning (RAVE) programme could be considered another such intervention. RAVE was established as an innovative online platform for the delivery of DV training and resources for clergy and congregations developed on the basis of many years of research by the authors and their colleagues at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. According to its creators, the RAVE website has served as an online training venue for religious leaders, and others working in domestic violence responses publishing training materials that are adapted to the needs of clergy, social workers, affected individuals and other interest groups. Another aim of the RAVE programme has been to promote more partnerships between secular and religious stakeholders for a more effective response to domestic violence.
In a 2014 article, Hancock, Ames and Behnke described a project designed to stimulate and support appropriate responses to family violence in rural immigrant churches in the USA. The project team implemented a community-based participatory research approach by involving relevant stakeholders and by proceeding in culturally-relevant ways. In order to achieve this cultural sensitivity the programme sought to promote women’s protection without undermining the traditional position of the father and husband in the community, which required developing a biblically-informed approach that held men accountable of the abuse and encouraged behavioural change on men’s part. As a way of assessing this intervention, the authors conducted a post-test data collection that enquired about the pastors’ learning before and after the intervention. The survey indicated that most of the pastors had been receptive to the content and planned to incorporate it into their church work, but some felt that they needed more training on how to speak to and help abused women. This implied that following up the intervention with continuing support for pastors would be needed to contribute to more effective outcomes.
In another paper, Kim and Menzie (2015) presented and reviewed Shimtuh, a Korean domestic violence and sexual assault programme located in the San Francisco Bay area, and its collaborative models with secular organisations. The programme reached primarily Christian and Buddhist communities and comprised direct services and advocacy for women and children affected by domestic violence, and community organising and engagement to change norms that contributed to the problem and its continuation. Among other activities, the programme delivered a two-day annual domestic violence training to faith leaders, which was bilingual and culturally adapted. Leveraging on their role as social change agents, Shimtuh organised the clergy to participate in campaigns to end domestic violence. Over the 12 years that Shimtuh had been operating, the models of collaborating with faith leaders and institutions shifted from Outreach, Training and technical assistance to Community organising campaign and Shared leadership. These models reflected Shimtuh’s commitment to engage religious stakeholders in an active manner and see them take on the leadership in their communities to prevent and to address domestic violence. What appears to have worked particularly well in this programme is the flexibility of Shimtuh to adapt to the evolving relationship with faith leaders and faith-based institutions and to learn from each phase of the collaboration.
A paper by Stennis et al. also published in 2015 described, in turn, the development of the S.T.A.R.T.© Education and Intervention Model, a religiously-sensitive and spiritually-based, multi-dimensional intimate partner violence education and intervention model involving the African American faith community. START stands for Shatter the Silence, Talk About It, Alert the Public, Refer, and Train self and others, which reflects the programme’s work process to educate African American communities about domestic violence and to actively prevent and address the problem. The programme was designed both to respect and consider religious and cultural traditions and to be consistent with NASW Code of Ethics and CSWE mandates on cultural competence. The model was assessed using a post-training focus group format, which asked participants about the model’s ease, implementation and usefulness. Generally, comments and evaluation received were positive, with participants appreciating the religious diversity addressed, the culturally-sensitive content and the ease of using this model for other related topics, such as sexual exploitation.
In 2017, Choi et al. presented the process of developing an online IPV intervention curriculum for Korean American clergy to increase their capacity to address the issue in their congregations. Upon completion of each module, study participants were invited to take an online survey. The module comprised of three components the first of which covered IPV definitions and why faith matters in addressing the problem; a second looking closely at Korean cultural values surrounding the family and marriage and roadblocks within religious beliefs and practice; and a third dedicated to building bridges with victims and responding to situations of domestic violence with sensitivity and safety concerns in mind. The overall survey feedback on the three-month pilot that was implemented was positive, with participants making suggestions for improving the content by including specific examples of clergy responding to victims of domestic violence. Participants also commented that the module ought to give more attention to the changes men experience when they move in the host society, such as them feeling that their traditional roles are questioned and trying to reaffirm those in the Church. The feedback also suggested the need to incorporate a list of referral services and more legal information on domestic violence and related options.
In 2019, Choi et al. presented an evaluation of the Korean Clergy for Healthy Families programme. The authors conducted a randomised controlled trial to assess the effects of the module. Participants were Korean American faith leaders in a South-eastern state of the USA, with n=27 being randomised to the intervention group and n=28 to the control group. The analysis was based on a baseline and a three-month follow-up assessment completed by the participants. The statistical analysis showed that the intervention group significantly improved their knowledge of resources and presented enhanced attitudes against IPV at the three-month follow-up. Overall, the participants found the online module helpful and convenient, although the authors acknowledged that additional clinical trials would be necessary including a larger number of participants and addressing some of the design limitations of the trial.
In 2018, Drumm et al. conducted a study that directly sought to address the gap in the research concerning the effectiveness of pastor training for spouse abuse response. The authors reported the findings from an IPV training project in which 104 Seventh-Day Adventist pastors received a four-hour training in responding effectively to IPV disclosure. Like other programmes discussed, this also aimed to improve the pastors’ understandings of IPV, knowledge of available resources and services supporting victims and their preparedness to intervene to prevent or address the issue in their communities. The assessment approach used included a pre-test, a post-test and a one-year follow up questionnaire, which found that pastors generally increased their knowledge of the dynamics of IPV in intimate relationships and available resources and services and were more likely to show initiative to address the problem within their congregations. An important insight was the tendency of participants to forget the training content, which pointed to the need for on-going learning. Moreover, the results pointed to a low likelihood of clergy teaching publicly in a sermon about domestic violence, which the authors suggested could have an important effect in discouraging IPV in the community.
More recently, Bernardi and Steyn (2020) presented results from a gender inclusive Christian-based intervention in South Africa. The authors relied on extensive established evidence that faith related to lower levels of delinquency and crimes, anticipating that a faith-based approach could help to curtail or prevent IPV. In contrast to the historically mainstreamed Duluth model that considered patriarchal hierarchies to be the main cause of female DV / IPV, this programme placed cardinal emphasis on trauma healing recognising that abusers often had been abused or seen abuse in their early lives and had experienced traumatic events triggering or contributing to emotional arousal such as depression and anxiety contributing to their abusiveness. For example, prayer was used as an effective emotion regulation, while the understanding that no persona is unacceptable to God was used to foster self-acceptance. The pilot study was evaluated on the basis of a single-group pre-posttest and follow-up quasi-experimental design. The study participants were six male and female court-referred perpetrators of IPV aged between 36 and 47. The authors used the DASS21 questionnaire to assess typical dysphoria and sadness, physiological arousal and fear, as well as states of tension and stress. Overall, all the scores went down, but not all were statistically significant. The score for depression was statistically significant pre-posttest and the decrease in stress was statistically significant post-follow-up and pre-post-follow-up. The study suggested that the Christian-based approach used by the programme could succeed in reducing risk factors conducive to IPV and should be examined further.
In a more recent paper, Davis et al. (2020) presented the approach of ‘The Men’s Group’ (TMG) led by the St. Pius V parish in a predominantly Hispanic area in Chicago, Illinois in the US. Their analysis relied on a detailed study of programme-related archival material and semi-structured interviews with parish leaders, administrators and staff in English and focus group discussions with new and senior group participants in Spanish. The study showed that, contrary to widespread practice, the pastor of the parish had often addressed the issue of domestic violence in public sermons. The study also showed that the TMG did not actively recruit participants but that existing members referred new members to the group, who joined by their own decision-making. Moreover, the group operated under flexible principles, respecting the different circumstances of the participants and creating a safe space for them to share what led them to the group in the first place. The programme proved effective as a result of being culturally-focused, spirituality-based and encouraging participants to support each other beyond the group and to engage in service-oriented volunteering activities. The interviews suggested that group members particularly appreciated the peer support they received as part of the group.
Other clergy-centred approaches to address domestic violence have been implemented by international organisations and non-governmental entities within the public health and international development sectors, which have not been integrated with the literature reviewed above. In a 2016 paper, for example, De Roure and Capraro presented the experience of Christian Aid working with ‘progressive’ Christian churches and faith-based organisations to promote gender justice in Brazil. The authors described experiences of practical service delivery, advocacy, and pastoral care to address violence affecting women in São Paulo and in the Amazon region. The article proposed that international organisations such as Christian Aid should acknowledge locally resourceful faith-based providers and should aim to support them in advocacy to achieve political and social change. To demonstrate this potential, the paper presented the work of two of Christian Aid’s partner organisations, Koinonia and SADD (Anglican Service of Diakonia and Development). The first organisation, Koinonia, had established the Faith Network Supporting Women Victims of Violence in the city of São Paulo in order to engage and enable faith communities to address violence affecting women. The work of the organisation included building the capacity of faith leaders, providing women with information of available public services, and working with communities to raise awareness and with municipalities to inform policy-making. SADD, in turn, implemented the ‘Church Preventing Gender-based Violence’ project to provide biblical, theological and advocacy resources to address violence affecting women offering social, pastoral and material support to women fleeing domestic violence. The authors reported that the regular work of SADD with clergy and non-ordained religious leaders gradually led the latter to engage more directly with the issue, incorporating it in sermons and responding better to victims and survivors. Given an increasing salience of religious identity in policy-making, especially around gender issues, the paper stressed the need for faith-inclusive approaches and employing theology to denounce violence affecting women.
In another 2016 paper, Petersen presented a study from South Africa that reflected on the work of the South African Faith and Family Institute (SAFFI), a multi-faith non-profit organisation established in 2008 to address the faith dimensions of violence against women (VAW) in the country. The paper discussed feminist approaches to VAW, which the author argued had been historically influenced by white feminists’ interests and had not paid sufficient attention to the context-specific needs of South Africa and many women’s faith-oriented lives. SAFFI was established in order to advance in the country a coordinated, multi-sectoral and culturally competent approach to addressing domestic violence. The means included providing resources to clergy to support victims/survivors and to hold perpetrators accountable, employing theology-informed discourse to counter ‘patriarchal traditions’ conducive to women’s abuse and using scripture to encourage mutually supportive and fulfilling models of marriage. In its approach, SAFFI employed a theoretical framework drawing from the concept of Ubuntu and the Human Development theory, ultimately aiming to advance the dignity of the human being. One of the programme’s main achievements was its inter-faith character, bringing together clergy from faith traditions that would not otherwise communicate with each other. Moreover, the programme’s respectful engagement with clergy had reportedly brought many to reflect on their own practices and discourses and even to open up about challenges in their own family lives.
In a more recent study (2020), Le Roux et al. presented an evaluation of a three-year intervention that addressed VAWG, and especially sexual violence, by engaging with communities of faith and their leaders in DRC. Two community surveys were conducted, one before and one after the intervention, in three health areas in Ituri Province in the DRC. At both baseline and endline, data was collected from male and female members of randomly selected households in 15 villages (five per health area) in which the intervention was being implemented. At baseline the sample comprised 751 respondents (387 women, 364 men) and at the endline 1,198 respondents (601 women, 597 men). The study showed significantly more equitable gender attitudes and less tolerance for IPV at the endline. Positive attitudinal change was not limited to those actively engaged within faith communities, with a positive shift being noted across the entire community around gender attitudes, rape myths and rape stigma scores. This again seemed to point to the influential role of religious discourse in shaping social attitudes and norms, affecting the wider society.
Challenges to faith-secular collaborations
One recurrent suggestion in the literature reviewed is the need for more collaborative approaches between secular and religious stakeholders and providers to achieve more effective responses. However, numerous factors were identified to stand in the way of fruitful partnerships.
In a 2010 paper, DeHart examined current and envisioned models of faith-secular collaboration, and the perceived role that such collaboration could play in the lives of crime victims. The paper presented findings from a descriptive needs assessment that preceded a national project to link faith-based organisations and victim service programmes in five high-crime neighbourhoods. Approximately 90 participants were interviewed, including faith leaders of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu background, victim service providers, and other professionals. The findings showed that collaboration was hindered by numerous factors, including differences in philosophies and misperceptions or stereotypes about each other that hindered constructive engagement with each other. The authors proposed that building mutual understanding of the sources of differences could help to overcome those. In addition, trainings addressing ethical standards, such as confidentiality and appropriate approaches, could help to address concerns about skills and approaches to bring the different stakeholders in alignment in terms of standards of good practice.
In a paper published in 2017, Le Roux and Loots explored how the faith versus secular binary had influenced how GBV interventions had been implemented within public health and international development. The authors drew insights from a scoping review conducted in 2015 funded by DFID that included 20 key informant interviews that were done with faith and GBV experts (eight men and 12 women) from 15 different international organisations, 13 identifying overtly as faith-based organisations (FBOs). The analysis established the existence of what the authors referred to as secularist biases in the post-secular era, which were identified as two of the main obstacles to a productive engagement with faith in GBV interventions. Interviewees, for example, spoke about their marginalisation in programmes involving secular actors or their general and consistent portrayal as negative actors. Others spoke about a widespread underlying view in the sector that faith is backwards, or the frequent instrumentalisation of religion just to tick a box with secular agencies with tools and resources used by faith organisations being appropriated or used by secular agencies in a non-equitable model of collaboration. According to the study, many admitted that some of this critique was not unwarranted, explaining that the clergy often taught through a cultural patriarchal lens that contributed to women’s abuse and that faith communities themselves could contribute to stigma and shame silencing the victims. It was reported that faith leaders could also hesitate to work with secular actors to address the problem together. In addition, clergy often faced difficulty in questioning fundamental beliefs upheld within the faith and often perceived suspiciously other religious traditions, which challenged collaborative approaches. In parallel, interviewees spoke about a perpetuated myth that secular approaches and discourses were neutral in contrast to what were often presented as biased or value-laden approaches employed by FBOs. In discussing the findings, the authors stressed the importance of overcoming the religion-secular binary as this not only alienated faith stakeholders, but also mistakenly represented faith actors as engaging only in ‘faith-related’ activities as defined by a very rigid, Eurocentric mainstream secular discourse.
18.104.22.168 Faith-based approaches in counselling and psychological support
Faith and spirituality in psychological approaches
The integration of spiritual and religious parameters in psychological approaches has been gradual and heavily skewed to reflect the realities of industrialised western societies. According to Hodge (2005), this integration started to become more visible starting in 1985, with more counsellors becoming interested in knowing how to engage with spiritual parameters in their practice and the field of psychological counselling granting increasing attention to cultural competency in an effort to cater to clients from diverse religio-cultural traditions. Other motivations have included the clients’ own interest in having their spiritual or religious experiences incorporated in counselling sessions and new research evidence on the potential positive effects of religious beliefs on family and married life. Writing in 2005, Hodge noted that spiritual and religious parameters had not yet been well integrated in psychological and counselling education, leading him to produce a paper that presented six recently developed tools to integrate spirituality / religious beliefs in counselling. In presenting these approaches, the author followed the guidelines of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), recommending an initial assessment on the importance of spirituality and religious beliefs for the client. The assessment approaches were described as: spiritual histories, spiritual lifemaps, spiritual genograms, spiritual ecomaps and spiritual ecograms.
In a 2008 paper, Marterella and Brock spoke about the need for therapists to become more educated and confident to engage with spiritual and religious parameters in their counselling practice. The authors discussed the importance of therapists being able to engage productively with the religious beliefs of their clients, but also being able to challenge those beliefs that can be contrary to the objectives of the therapy, without disrespecting or questioning the importance of religious convictions in their clients’ lives. The authors referred to the particularly challenging task for therapists to not allow their own beliefs to interfere with a productive engagement with their clients’ religious beliefs and stressed the need for self-reflexivity. In the authors’ understanding cultural sensitivity should not be dissociated from religious beliefs since in many communities cultural and religious parameters intertwine and influence the identity of the individual in complex ways. The paper listed what were known techniques for incorporating religious parameters in therapy, including by use of spiritual genograms and spiritual ecomaps.
It is also notable that definitions of spirituality / religion have started to be diversified and have themselves increasingly become the subject of research. Most of the studies reviewed adopted different definitions for spirituality and religious belief, which were however linked. Generally speaking, spirituality has been conceptualised as a broader existential meaning and relationship to a higher power, while religious beliefs more directly with one’s faith and faith-driven practices. Hodge, for example, defined spirituality as an individual’s existential relationship to God / Ultimate Transcendence, seeing religion as flowing from spirituality and expressing this relationship in beliefs, forms and practices developed as a result of specific religious traditions. Marterella and Brock (2008) defined spirituality as “the human experience of discovering meaning, purpose, and values, which may or may not include the concept of a God or transcendent being” and religion as “the formal institutional contexts for spiritual beliefs and practices” (p. 64).
More recent studies have actually explored how those immediately involved have themselves defined and engaged with spirituality in their practice, recognising that there has been a diversity in understandings, especially across different geographies and cultural contexts. A study that looked at domestic violence practitioners’ own definitions of spirituality involving 12 countries found that the large majority (45 percent) spoke of spirituality in conjunction with the values of unity, peace, equity, unconditional love, forgiveness and letting go (Pandya, 2017). About a third spoke of spirituality in reference to mysticism and transcendence. Overall, the study found that practitioners from European countries, United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and Australia, Christians and those with higher spiritual openness tended to speak of spirituality in terms of mindfulness, peace and letting go in supporting domestic violence victims and survivors. On the other hand, practitioners from Asian and African countries placed emphasis on the role of spirituality in helping victims and survivors to let go and to achieve empowered reconciliation, where women negotiate space within a rights framework.
Faith-based approaches in counselling: exemplary programmes and effectiveness
In a 2003 paper, Ronel and Tim presented the Grace Therapy programme, a model for male batterers’ group therapy based on a 12-Step programme, which directly responded to historical barriers in treating male perpetrators of domestic violence, including a systematic emphasis being placed on the criminality of the perpetrator hindering a true commitment to treatment. Influenced by the model of Alcoholics Anonymous, the programme used spirituality language to achieve the men’s self-transformation by replacing self-centeredness with “God-centeredness” and by instilling within the male batterers a win-win principle of partnership that is based on unconditional giving. Spirituality was defined in this case “as the quest for God, as one understands God” (p. 65). The programme reportedly differs from cognitive, behavioural or other approaches in its assumptions, such that abuse is both a mental and spiritual imbalance, with the latter being understood as the self-centeredness or selfishness and the result of feeling powerless as a result of attempting to control what one cannot control. The authors explained, Faith in God was not a requirement to be part of the therapy, but a possible outcome as a sign of spiritual development. Like most available programmes, the Grace Therapy Programme used a group therapy approach informed by evidence that providing therapy in a group format fosters identification with other participants and the development of a cohesiveness in the group that can lead to productive results.
In another article, Ronel and Claridge (2003) presented how the Grace Therapy programme could be effective in treating substance abuse in male batterers of domestic violence as a means of reducing the severity and occurrence of the problem. The authors presented the programme that was implemented at the Tel Aviv Center for the Treatment of Domestic Violence involving over 300 men who had participated in on-going groups between 1994 and 1999. The men’s participation could last from weeks to years and many of the men suffered from substance abuse as well, allowing the current study. The authors mentioned that male batterers spoke of feeling powerless to control their circumstances and to manage their life, leading them to frustration and fostering their abusiveness. Recognising that they were never in full control and that others were not responsible for their powerlessness was identified as a vital step for participants to work towards recovery.
In a 2014 paper, Hook et al. presented a naturalistic study that examined the role and effects of religion in couple therapy. The study included 44 therapists and 68 couples entering couple therapy with religious couple therapists. Clients assessed six religious and nine non-religious techniques used in therapy, which were related to religious commitment and relationship satisfaction. The results showed that religious techniques were used in fewer than half of the sessions, which were related to the clients’ religious commitment. This was taken to mean that therapists were probably adapting to religious clients, taking into consideration the importance of religious beliefs in their clients’ lives. The study also reported that clients expressed improvements in relationship satisfaction overtime, which suggested that incorporating religious parameters in couple therapy was effective with this group of clients. One limitation of the study was that the therapists consulted identified as Christian, which meant that the study was less able to indicate what happens when there is a discrepancy between the therapist’s religious commitment (e.g. when a therapist identifies as secular) and a client’s religious commitment.
Receptiveness of faith-based counselling approaches and religious clients
A study that was published as early as 2001 by Ripley et al. presented results from a survey of demographics and religiosity with 211 US married Christian individuals. Denominations included Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Nondenominational, Assemblies of God, and Christian Missionary Alliance. The study used a quasi-experimental design to assess how religious values and high Christian beliefs relate to ratings of marital therapy situations. Participants were asked to rate four marital therapy situations: Christian therapy using Christian practices (e.g. prayer), Christian therapist using psychological techniques only, non-Christian therapist willing to use Christian techniques and non-Christian therapist using psychological techniques only. The study found that highly religious Christians received therapy different than Christians categorised as low to moderate in religiosity. Those with high Christian beliefs expressed a significant difference between the non-Christian therapist using psychological practices only (mean 1.88) and all other types of therapy (mean range: 4.33- 5.71), as well as between the non-Christian therapist (mean 3.12) and the Christian therapist (mean 5.09). The main implication of the study was that the use of religious techniques and the religiosity of the therapist may influence highly religious couples in their decision to engage in therapy.
In another study, Fowler et al. (2011) examined differences between shelter and faith-based service utilisation and satisfaction in a sample of 73 women residing at a domestic violence shelter in central Texas, US. In the case of this study, focus was placed on spirituality, with religiosity being subsumed within the former. Along the lines discussed earlier, spirituality was defined as pertaining to a way of being, an awareness of the transcendent, deeper meanings about life and an interaction with a higher power. Participants were asked to complete questionnaires in order to collect information regarding psychosocial characteristics, intimate partner abuse, spirituality, service utilization, and satisfaction. Overall, the study found that spirituality explained roughly 16% of the variance in domestic violence shelter service utilisation. Moreover, women survivors with higher levels of spirituality were less likely to utilize shelter services despite the IPA levels experienced. However, women survivors who reported more IPA experiences were less likely to report satisfaction with faith-based resources.