Episode 47 How to use Spirituality in Counseling with Alissa Schneider

Jan 26, 2022

How do you introduce faith into counseling with clients? Why should you be mindful of the content that you consume? What happens when faith does not quell pain?

MEET ALISSA SCHNEIDER

Alissa Schneider is a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in helping people struggling with anxiety, OCD, and eating disorders. She uses an integrative approach with her clients while being very compassionate, and she integrates faith into the counseling sessions should her client desire it. She wants to help people who are struggling with chronic issues that are getting in the way of living a full life, and her aim is to help clients live a life of meaning.

Visit Alissa’s website, contact them at (561) 449-2478

Connect with her on LinkedIn.

FREEBIE: Access and read Alissa’s free ebook and more!

IN THIS PODCAST:

  • Introducing faith into counseling
  • Encourage clients to work with positivity
  • Faith and thoughts
  • Faith and difficulty

Introducing faith into counseling

Include questions about faith and religion on the informed consent form that clients sign at the beginning of treatment.

If they say, “yes, I’m a Christian” or “I have this particular viewpoint” then I will go deeper into that in the sessions with them and ask them questions about their faith and what that looks like for them. (Alissa Schneider)

You can ask your clients about their faith but allow your clients to lead the conversation about their religious beliefs.

Open-ended questions can be helpful conversation starters and are more ethical than outright claims or statements.

Encourage clients to work with positivity

In therapy and counseling, encourage clients to look for and create positivity. This does not mean that you should pretend that everything is okay. Instead, look for the good rather than taking in the bad unchecked.

You can be mindful of what you listen to, what you watch, and who you speak to. Being aware of the content that you expose yourself to is important.

You have to ask yourself in the moment how that is impacting you. Is this something that is improving [your] relationships with others? What are [you] feeding your brain? … we hold onto a lot of things, and it affects us subconsciously. (Alissa Schneider)

Faith and thoughts

There is a difference between active thinking and automatic thinking.

Automatic thoughts can feel difficult to control and they are products of your subconscious. Do not try to control them specifically, but you can change them through mindfulness and intentional work.

On the other hand, active thoughts are the ones you create. You can create active thoughts in response to automatic thoughts as an effort to “reprogram” your brain.

It is easier to be more intentional about what kind of thoughts we’re bringing in more actively, and I think that’s where we have the power, and our clients have the power … that can help to bring meaning into our [lives] and positively impact our relationships. (Alissa Schneider)

Bringing faith into your thinking can help keep you aligned with creating positive, active thoughts instead of being stuck in an automatic cycle.

Faith and difficulty

Most people use prayer to try and change or fix something, but that does not work. The human experience is to move through difficult things with the ability and capacity to get from one side to the other.

Prayer helps you move through your life, but it does not take away your struggles. Prayer brings you strength to overcome them.

This life is going to have pain, it is going to have suffering, but how can we bring faith into that … a lot of people pray for their suffering to go away, and I think naturally we want more pleasure than pain in our lives … but we are going to experience pain. (Alissa Schneider)

People can bring pleasure and joy into the midst of pain while they overcome it and lean on their faith to give them the strength to get past their pain.

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Resources Mentioned And Useful Links:

Visit Alissa’s website and contact them at (561) 449-2478

Connect with her on LinkedIn.

FREEBIE: Access and read Alissa’s free ebook and more!

Listen to the Am I OK podcast.

How to market your practice when you offer multiple modalities with Joanna Sapir

Practice of the Practice Podcast Network

Transcript

[CHRIS McDONALD]

The Holistic Counseling Podcast is part of the Practice of the Practice network, a network of podcasts seeking to help you market and grow your business and yourself. To hear other podcasts like Behind the Bite, Full of Shift and Impact Driven Leader, go to www.practiceofthepractice.com/network.

Welcome to the Holistic Counseling Podcast, where you discover diverse wellness modalities, advice on growing your integrative practice, and grow confidence in being your unique self. I'm your host, Chris McDonald. I'm so glad you're here for the journey.2

Welcome to today's episode of the Holistic Counseling Podcast. I'm your host, Chris McDonald. I am happy to bring you today's guest that addresses the topic of spirituality and faith within holistic counseling. Have you ever thought about tapping into the spiritual side of clients to help them with healing, or have you been worried about how to do this ethically? What's the best way to help clients use faith during difficult times in their lives? Today's guest is going to address all of this and so much more.

Alissa Schneider is a licensed mental health counselor, specializing in helping people struggling with anxiety OCD and eating disorders. She uses an integrative approach with her clients while being very compassionate, and she integrates faith into counseling sessions when this is a desire of her client. she wants to help people who are struggling with chronic issues that are getting in the way of living a full life and her aim is to help clients live a life of meaning and for them to have true freedom. Welcome to the podcast. Alissa.

[ALISSA SCHNEIDER]

Thank you so much, Chris. Thanks for having me.

[CHRIS]

Can you tell my listeners more about yourself and your work?

[ALISSA]

rted my practice part-time in:

[CHRIS]

So tell me about your journey with using faith in counseling. So is that something you've always used?

[ALISSA]

Yes, so it's definitely something that has come up since the beginning with my clients. I think that for clients, even that aren't, they don't have like a religious background or something that they're actively practicing, I think that it still kind of comes up, which is really interesting. So I think that I've used it less intentionally, maybe in the past and now I'm developing more skills and doing more training in that area. So I'm doing it, I would say more intentionally now with the clients that of course give their consent to have that as part of the counseling process.

[CHRIS]

You mentioned consent, so how do you introduce any kind of spiritual beliefs or faith, any of that? Because I think a lot of therapists out there might be hesitant to do that.

[ALISSA]

I think there's a difference between pushing your own, we have to be careful not to push our own belief system.

[CHRIS]

That would be unethical.

[ALISSA]

Yes. So we don't want to do that, but yes, there are ethical concerns. So of course I have it on my informed consent and I ask clients to fill a lot of question if they have a religious or spiritual practice and if they want that as part of the counseling process. Then if they say yes, I'm a Christian or I have this part particular viewpoint, then I will go deeper into that in the sessions with them and ask them questions about their faith and what that looks like for them.

I think for me, like there's, again, it goes back to that distinction of letting them kind of lead the conversation. I think that is really ethical, asking them about their faith, asking them how do they use their faith, how is their faith helpful to them or where are they struggling at with their faith, I think kind of open ended questions can be really helpful and also be ethical as well to help us not push our own belief systems onto the client.

[CHRIS]

I think coming from that acceptance too, that whatever they believe is ok, that to be part of it too. You mentioned too, that one thing you want to talk about was how do you help people come up with positive affirmations and positive thoughts? So how do you do that?

[ALISSA]

That's a great question. I think that with positive thinking, what I really like to focus on is to help clients bring in positive into their lives and make it intentional instead of being reactive. I know one thing that we are going to talk about is coping mechanisms or ways of coping related to faith. This is very related, I think, to this idea of positive thinking. So I kind of view some coping mechanisms as being sort of reactive and I think there's a slight distinction there between making a coping skill reactive versus using something that brings meaning to your life, helps you to think more positively. It's more about making it intentional. So I think with the whole positive thinking thing, we have to even consider what we're exposing ourselves or what our clients are exposing themselves to on a consistent basis as well. Like even movies or TV shows and stuff. I don't know if you know much about like the highly sensitive person, but ---

[CHRIS]

Yes, definitely. I was on Lisa Lewi's podcast. I know you have an episode coming out too.

[ALISSA]

Yes.

[CHRIS]

Am I Ok? Podcast, we give her a shout up.

[ALISSA]

Yes, and I think I consider myself as highly sensitive. I score pretty high on the highly sensitive questionnaire and everything. It's not all just based on a questionnaire but I see it in my life too. But I think that for people that are highly sensitive, especially, or if you're a really empathetic person, your client is really empathetic I think that that kind of person needs to even be more careful about what they're exposing themselves to. I notice like if I watch certain things my heart rate will increase or like if I watch a sad movie that can impact me for days later. I just saw this really great movie in the theater and it was so sad and it was a lot about like mental health and stuff. It was really powerful, I liked the movie, but I was so sad

[CHRIS]

Too Close to home, right? Too much like our work.

[ALISSA]

Oh my gosh, yes. It just like so deeply impacted me for the rest of the night and maybe even into the next day too. But yes, I think that we have to be careful about those things and our clients have to be careful about that. So it's like bringing in intentionally that are positive. And I think faith can play a big role in that. As a Christian, I try to intentionally bring in some Bible verses that are uplifting to me. I have to ask myself how I want to spend my time. Do I want to spend my time watching a dramatic reality TV show? Is that something that's going to be good for my brain or am I better served like focusing on something that will improve my positive thinking? So I think it's about ---

[CHRIS]

That's a great question though. How am I spending my time? How do I want to spend my time?

[ALISSA]

I think it's about intentionality instead of reactivity or just doing the status quo.

[CHRIS]

So really, I guess it's really tuning in like, what do I want right now?

[ALISSA]

Yes.

[CHRIS]

What would help me? Because I wonder too, if part of that could be your intuition to really listen, well, what would be helpful for me and see what comes up?

[ALISSA]

I think that sometimes our clients and us, we get stuck in these patterns and we just do it because we've always been doing it. Like I've always watched The Bachelorette or The Bachelor or whatever. I used to watch that by the way, a long time ago.

[CHRIS]

Sometimes that's fun.

[ALISSA]

But you have to ask yourself, I think in the moment, how that's impacting you. Is this something that's improving my relationships with others? What am I feeding my brain? I think that we hold on to a lot of things and it affects us subconsciously. I don't even think, I don't think that we often think about that and so we just expose ourselves like, oh, everybody else is watching this. Or I've always watched it, so I'm going to continue to do it. I think that we just need to step back and ask ourselves, oh, how do I, when I watch the show or when I listen to this radio station or when I read this blog? How is that actually affecting me? Or podcasting, too. Yes. I love podcasts and that's probably why I'm on one and why you have one. So we have to ask ourselves how these things are impacting us.

[CHRIS]

So why is it so hard to control our thoughts and can faith help with this?

[ALISSA]

I think that there's, when I work with my clients, I make the distinction between like active thinking and automatic thinking. I think there's a big difference between those two things. Automatic thoughts to me are really hard to control and I think that is like a drawback of like some forms of therapy. I think a lot of counselors are CBT trained, but I think that could be like counselors and clients sometimes get the message that they need to control all their thoughts. I think that the more that we try to control those thoughts, that they can become our focus, they feel like there's something that we need to control.

Then there's automatic thoughts and then there's more active thoughts. If I want to think about a zebra right now, I can manifest that image in my mind, which is how I would define more like active thinking. So I think that's definitely something to think about and an important distinction, but it's easy to be more intentional, easier to be more intentional about what kind of thoughts we're bringing in more actively. And I think that's where we have the power and our clients have the power to really bring in those thoughts intentionally, purposefully, and that can really help to create meaning in our life. I think it can positively impact our relationships. And for clients that are interested in having faith as part of the counseling process faith can be a really strong, powerful thing to bring in and can provide, I think the client with a lot of meaning in their life too.

[CHRIS]

Yes. You mentioned your more of the Christian perspective. So if you get clients from other perspectives, I know we talked a little bit about this before we hit record, so are you able to bring any spirituality in with them as well?

[ALISSA]

Yes, I ask clients like how their faith, how they use their faith in their life, what their belief systems are. So it's definitely more of like exploration. I think that I do with some other clients and that may, if someone is really strong in their faith, that might mean finding a counselor who has like a very similar background or faith perspective as what they do, because that might be a better fit for them than someone like me. I've worked with clients that are Christian and Jewish, and I know more about those faiths. I'm a Christian myself. So I understand more of where the client is coming from. And if they feel like that their faith is deeply impacting their life or how they want to live their life, then I think that sometimes clients would be best served if they have a clinician that's really more well versed in their specific faith background.

[CHRIS]

So what about if someone's agnostic or atheist?

[ALISSA]

So it's interesting, like, even with clients that don't have a belief system or they don't have faith, like that still, I think naturally kind of comes up. A lot of times, like those clients might have been like had trauma related to religion and ---

[CHRIS]

I've seen that too.

[ALISSA]

Yes, and that can be something that's really important to explore. I think that we can't just like leave that off the table just because they're agnostic or atheist even. Just because they don't have a specific faith, currently that doesn't mean that it's not important to explore in the counseling sessions.

[CHRIS]

So it sounds like exploring, you just ask a lot of open questions and see where they are.

[ALISSA]

Yes, definitely. I think that I let that lead our conversation. I also ask like, ok, so you have this belief system, but how do you feel like it's serving you in your life or what importance does that have in your life? How is it impacting you? That can be another really interesting conversation too.

[CHRIS]

I bet that could lead to more deeper conversations.

[ALISSA]

Definitely.

[CHRIS]

So how can faith help clients move through difficult situations in their life?

[ALISSA]

I think faith can be really, really powerful to bring in to counseling. Then I think, like I said, I think it's hard to separate counseling and faith. It's something that's really important to explore with our clients and help them understand more about their faith and their role and its role in their life as well. I feel like there was a part of that question that I didn't totally answer.

[CHRIS]

I wonder how can you help them use faith? Is there certain things that you say to them or insights?

[ALISSA]

Yes, I like to help them discover how, what role faith plays in their life and then how can they apply faith into their struggle? So you're struggling with a lot of anxiety and so how can you bring faith even into the midst of that anxiety? I mentioned CBT. So I was kind of like CBT trained. I think a lot counselors are. But recently I've gotten more into doing things from like an acceptance in commitment therapy or Act frame of reference. So I think that's really powerful, but it's a mind shift for sure.

[ALISSA]

But Act is really about if you still have this struggle, if you're still having this anxiety, how can you bring in, how can you live a meaningful life, even in the midst of that? And that's really what I like to focus on with clients too. And for Christian clients there is, in any given situation at any given moment, there's the situation or there's what's occurring within you and around you. There's you as the person and then there's God. So I think it can be really powerful to explore, ok, so you're having this struggle. You're dealing with depression, or you're dealing with anxiety, how can you have a life of meaning and purpose even in the midst of that suffering?

[CHRIS]

Those are great questions. So what happens when faith doesn't change a situation or a difficulty?

[ALISSA]

Oh, that's a great question.

[CHRIS]

So much out of our control.

[ALISSA]

Yes, there is. What happens when faith doesn't change something, really? I think that a lot of people, even through prayer, they try to get something to change. I've done that in the past, myself too. I've been a Christian like for my whole life and I've prayed to God, "Ooh, just take away this anxiety. I don't want to feel this anxiety. I don't want to feel this sadness. I don't want to feel this grief. I don't want to suffer." And I think in this human life, we're constantly on this like never ending treadmill, hamster wheel of trying to get happiness and I think that there's some real downfalls to that. If we constantly are trying to go towards happiness, we're trying to go towards pleasure and we're trying to flee pain and flee suffering, I think that that can really lead to like exhaustion.

And at some point we have to get off that hamster wheel. I also think it leads to like a lack of of meaning in life as well. So I think it's about understanding that this life is going to have pain. We're going to have suffering, but how can we bring faith into that? Like I said, I think a lot of people pray for their suffering to go way. I think naturally we do want more pleasure than pain in our lives. I think that's part of like the human condition, that that's what we want.

But it's not, we're going to experience pain. It's to be expected. I think that we can bring in even like pleasure or joy into the midst of that pain. I even point out to clients a lot, like we have this term that we use. We will say I have mixed emotions. I have mixed emotions about this thing and why can't we have mixed emotions like anxiety and depression or anger but then we also have some peace, calm and joy in those moments too? So I like to point that out to clients.

[CHRIS]

That's true, because we all have those inside of us. And I don't think we can have suffering or happiness, without suffering. That there's going to be both in this lifetime and I guess finding some meaning and purpose with that too.

[ALISSA]

I think we tend to fixate on these so-called positive emotions as well. But really they're just emotions we. Might like having certain ones more than others, but at the end of the day, these are just emotions. Even something like anger, anger can be useful actually when we use it. Sometimes it can motivate us. Sometimes it can motivate our clients. Like if we need to set a boundary with someone else or we have like a lack of balance, our boss is keeping us at work too late or we're not getting home to spend time with our families and our loved ones, then anger can motivate us to set a boundary around that. So it can be really useful too. So these negative emotions sometimes I think that they serve a purpose. For me, I think that they're God given emotions, even the negative ones.

[CHRIS]

Yes. That's all part of the human experience. So how can faith be a coping mechanism?

[ALISSA]

I think that, to me, it goes back to bringing in faith intentionally and not doing it reactively. I think even prayer, so like prayer and meditation can definitely be so called coping mechanism, but maybe using prayer or meditation to change your own heart and not, I think that frequently we use prayer to try to change God's heart or try to change God's mind, but what about using prayer to maybe change our own selves? I think that can be really powerful when we're talking about coping mechanisms, but I like to use things ---

[CHRIS]

Or to change other people.

[ALISSA]

Yes. We do that too. So even in the five older stories about Solomon who instead of praying for like riches or other things he prayed for wisdom from God and he was granted that. So yes, I think that prayer, sometimes we act like God is going to be like a genie in a bottle, but it's about maybe changing your own heart through that prayer. So I think it can be really powerful to bring in prayer and meditation as a so-called coping mechanism. I would say maybe like a calming or relaxation technique or mechanism, because I'm not a huge fan of the word coping skill, the term coping skill anymore.

[CHRIS]

What do you call it?

[ALISSA]

That's, to me, I'll use that term with clients, but I'll kind of explain myself a little bit more because I think that coping skills are reactive. When we say coping skills, clients I think oftentimes think that it is going to be reactive. They're going to use this coping mechanism, like deep breathing or meditation as a tool to fix their problem, which they view as the anxiety or depression, difficult emotions. They use it as being reactive and to try to change these things. But what about doing it anyway, because it's meaningful to you even if the suffering doesn't go away.

[CHRIS]

Oh, that's a great philosophy.

[ALISSA]

Thanks.

[CHRIS]

I'm kind of with that too, because I teach it as preventative, to build that inner resource, that inner resiliency. Because if we just band-aid approach it, just do my deep breathing when I'm anxious, then it's not really going to be integrated into our system and really going to go calm us down.

[ALISSA]

Yes. I think you said like using it as an inner resource but for clients you have faith. Like I can identify with the Christian faith as I've said. I think that we don't have to rely on an inner resource either.

[CHRIS]

That's true too.

[ALISSA]

So much bigger than ourselves. I think that could be really freeing and that's something that I explore with my Christian clients as well, if they wish to talk about their faith in the counseling process. You know, I explore that with them as well.

[CHRIS]

That makes a lot of sense. I think it is just finding that purpose too and looking at the deeper perspective on that for them considering that. So is there a time that it's ever unhealthy to use faith as a coping or, I know you don't like coping.

[ALISSA]

That's a term that we use in counseling, is coping skills. So I still use it, but I tend to expand upon it. But yes, I think there's clients that can definitely use it as genie in a bottle, trying to change their current experience. I think that can be unhealthy. Also it can get like clients with OCD, sometimes people can get kind of fixated on faith or having to do it in a really rigid way, like focusing more on the ritualistic side of faith versus, or ritualistic side of religion, I should say, versus faith and relationship with God. So I think that's a big difference too. That can be a sign that it's unhealthy, is that there's this like rigidity. There's like a rigid part of their behavior.

[CHRIS]

So what's a takeaway you could share today that could help listeners who might be just starting their holistic journey?

[ALISSA]

I think that it's really important to ask your what's important to you and if you are a Christian or you have faith asking yourself what is important when it comes to my faith and then taking action steps in that direction. So sometimes Christians talk about developing the fruits of the spirit. So how can I develop these fruits of the spirit in my life and what action steps can I take in that direction? What steps can I take today that support my values as a person and support me living a meaningful and purposeful life and also a life that is balanced? I think that's really important because even if we have the value of relationships and we focus all our attention on our energy on relationships and we kind of have this lack of balance between relationships and work, for example, then our financial security might suffer. Or we might get fired from a job. So I think it's important to have that balance in your life as well.

[CHRIS]

Yes, that's great. So what's the best way for listeners to find you and learn more about you?

[ALISSA]

So they can visit my website. It's floridachristiancounseling.com. There's some free resources and stuff on there too. They can also contact me via my website as well.

[CHRIS]

Excellent. We'll have that in the show notes as well.

[ALISSA]

Yay. Thank you.

[CHRIS]

Thank you so much, Alissa, for coming onto the podcast.

[ALISSA]

Thank you so much, Chris. I really appreciate you having me on,.

[CHRIS]

This is some great information that you brought out to us today.

[ALISSA]

Thank you.

[CHRIS]

Thank you so much today for my audience for listening. If you haven't joined yet, I have a Facebook group called the Holistic Counseling and Self Care Group where you can gain support, connection, and find more resources on adding holistic practices personally and professionally. This is Chris McDonald, sending each one of you much light and love. Until next time, take care.

If you're loving the show, will you rate review and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform? We just started this and that helps other people find this show. Also, if you're feeling uncertain about your modalities and you want to build your confidence to be your unique self, why don't you to join my free email course, Becoming a Holistic Counselor over at holisticcounselingpodcast.com.

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