Social workers are increasingly using their clients’ faith to help them in counseling, said Fonda Latham, executive director of the Samaritan Counseling Center in Tyler.
The Samaritan Counseling Center in Tyler is affiliated with the Samaritan Institute, a nonprofit which provides ecumenical faith-based counseling to uninsured patients who cannot afford the full cost, according to the Samaritan Institute website.
In an interview last year, the Rev. R. J. Ross, one of Samaritan Institute’s founders, cited a study showing that 81 percent of respondents want their counselor to help them integrate their values and faith into the counseling process and 66 percent prefer a counselor who is religious.
“It’s important for people to be able to talk within the context of their faith,” Ross said.
Mrs. Latham credits Dr. Diana Garland, dean of the School of Social Work at Baylor University, with making changes in the approach to social work taught at the university.
Many graduates of the program are Christians who consider counseling as a way to practice their faith, said Baylor alumna Sarah Hummel, a licensed clinical social worker at Tyler Counseling and Assessment and Hospice of East Texas.
She has o worked with children who are victims of physical and sexual abuse.
“My job sometimes takes me to some really dark places,” she said. “It’s something that’s really convicted me. As a Christian, especially, I believe that I am called to move toward those dark places, to not shy away from them and help people tackle those issues. When I was looking for a program, Baylor seemed to do that in a very ethical way.”
Mrs. Hummel acknowledges that some have raised concerns that social workers who earn degrees from Christian institutions are “just trying to make everyone Christian.” She says she doesn’t push her faith on anyone and uses the client’s own spirituality — whatever it may be — to help them cope.
Chantel Longino, who received her master’s degree from Baylor and works as a social worker at Meadow Lake Retirement Center, agrees.
“Faith is OK to talk about, but you shouldn’t push your faith on someone else,” she said. “But to ignore faith completely would be unethical.”
The idea of using a client’s faith as a tool is gaining acceptance outside of faith-based institutions, some educators say.
“Counseling should include all important elements of a person’s identity,” said Dr. Charles Barke, professor and chairperson of psychology and counseling at the University of Texas in Tyler. “It’s important for counselors and therapists to learn about the role faith plays in a new client’s life and how that might be a resource in their healing.”