Deciding What Belongs: How Psychotherapists in Aotearoa New Zealand Attend to Religion and/or Spirituality

Florence, Helen Jane
Tudor, Keith
McKenzie-Green, Barbara
Item type
Degree name
Doctor of Philosophy
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Auckland University of Technology

Since the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, declared religion to be an illusory refuge for those who could not face the realities of existence, the relationship between psychotherapy and religion and/or spirituality (RS) has been an uneasy one. However, many psychotherapeutic theories, with a range of positions regarding the function of RS in human existence, have evolved since this fraught beginning. The last 30 years has seen an exponential increase in publications concerning RS in psychotherapy. Client need for attention to this matter has been widely demonstrated, and it is now generally accepted that a person’s RS perspective is an aspect of their cultural experience and expression. With increasing global migration, cultural variety and complexity has become a societal norm. Although some similar studies have been conducted in other cultural contexts, there has been no enquiry into how psychotherapists are working with RS within psychotherapy in the bicultural context of Aotearoa New Zealand (ANZ).

This knowledge gap provided the rationale for this study which aimed to uncover all that was involved in how psychotherapists in ANZ attended to RS in the therapeutic process. In order to achieve this aim, the methodology of grounded dimensional analysis, a second generation grounded theory, was utilised, since it provided the most fitting approach for a topic of such complexity. Data gathered by purposive and theoretical sampling from 28 psychotherapist participants over 33 interviews were analysed using constant comparative analysis. A substantive theory of deciding what belongs was constructed, comprising three main theoretical categories: engaging, encountering challenge and negotiating challenge actions. Consequential professional and personal outcomes of expanding practice, maintaining the status quo and presenting as legitimate were also derived. Deciding what belongs was an iterative process, with consequences feeding back into the process at engaging, in a continuous cycle.

This study was significant since it found that it was participants, i.e. the psychotherapists themselves, who decided what belonged at all stages of the process of attending to RS in therapeutic engagement. The need for psychotherapist resourcing was demonstrated, resourcing which includes awareness of the impact of therapists own RS perspectives on clinical practice. The iterative nature of the process suggests that, with increased resourcing, the potential exists for more expansive outcomes.

Psychotherapy , Religion , Spirituality , Grounded theory , Grounded dimensional analysis , Therapeutic process
Publisher's version
Rights statement