Integrating Spirituality Into Mental Health Care

May 5, 2022
Cassandra Vieten, PhD

IONS Senior Fellow and Past President Cassandra Vieten at UC San Diego is collaborating with investigators at five other universities to increase and expand training in spiritual and religious competencies across mental health professions. Right now, psychologists, social workers, marriage family therapists, and counselors typically receive little to no training in spirituality or religion as they relate to mental health. However, hundreds of studies show that these are very important aspects of multicultural diversity, as well as psychologically relevant domains of functioning, for most people.

Changing the Mental Health Field

The Spiritual and Religious Competencies Project, a $5.1M collaborative project funded by the John Templeton Foundation, seeks to ethically and effectively integrate spiritual and religious competencies into mental health training at the graduate level. The overall project, led by Joe Currier at the University of South Alabama, consists of four subprojects:

  • The first, led by Michelle Pearce at the University of Maryland Baltimore, focuses on fostering spiritual competency training in graduate coursework (see more below).
  • The second is led by Jesse Fox at Stetson University and is increasing research on methods for including training in mental health care clinics by funding 12-15 projects that will be completed in the next two years. 
  • The third, led by Holly Oxhandler and Clay Polson at Baylor University entails a national survey of faculty in graduate training programs to find out how they think training should happen.
  • The fourth sub-project, led by IONS Senior Fellow Cassandra Vieten, is taking a systems change approach to make spiritual and religious competency training routine across mental health care professions.

As is often the case, the competencies developed by Vieten and colleagues were launched at the Institute of Noetic Sciences! IONS led the way in this research, culminating in this recent groundbreaking paper in psychology’s flagship journal American Psychologist.

Funding Opportunity!

Are you a faculty member or instructor at a graduate program training mental health professionals?? Dr. Ken Pargament and Dr. Michelle Pearce have developed an online training to train mental health professionals in how to address spirituality and religion in mental health care as part of the first sub-project. There is currently an open request for proposals for any faculty at a master’s or doctoral training program in psychology, counseling, marriage & family therapy, or social work. Investigators are offering a $40,000 stipend to integrate standardized spirituality competency coursework into a required clinical course. More information and the application can be found here or visit

It’s becoming clear that competent mental health clinicians need not, and should not, shy away from the religious and spiritual domains of people’s lives. Helping clients utilize their spiritual and religious beliefs and practices as resources for their mental and emotional well-being should reduce suffering and enhance well-being for the millions who seek help from mental health professionals each year.

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