Clarification on Inclusivity: A Response to Colm O’Doherty

by Pat Comerford

I welcome Colm’s comments, included in this edition, on my article “A Humanistic Approach to Spirituality: Inclusivity” (Comerford, 2015b), as I do IAHIP’s invitation to respond.

To respond and perhaps clarify: I presented a humanistic viewpoint (secular and inclusive) of spirituality and this is different to the faith-based perspective (religious and exclusive) on spirituality. Contrary to Colm’s opinion, I consider acknowledging difference is not being exclusive.

The Abrahamaic religions and their corresponding orthodox theology and spirituality do not embrace fully the humanistic value of unconditional positive regard for clients’ personal choices, lifestyle, and sense of equality. I cited examples of exclusion in the “particular” areas of abortion, same sex relationships and gender variance (2015b: 24; bold type added).

I accept that there are faith-based therapists who choose to live by their subscribed-to theology and the consonant set of religious tenets. As Colm rightly pointed out, I can confirm and accept that this is the lifestyle choice of faith-based therapists, irrespective of whether or not I approve. I did write sincerely, that with regard to the difference between the humanistic and faith-based practices that “it is important to acknowledge and welcome this difference in professional approaches” (2015b: 27; bold type added).

The humanistic psychotherapist will engage with clients who make their decisions based on their religious beliefs. I did point to the possibility of the humanistic psychotherapist’s own bias about religiously-shaped spirituality, “as that would interrupt their capacity to be present to the client” (2015b: 27). Failure to recognise and address this kind of bias, through supervision and personal therapy, does mean the humanistic psychotherapist is then being exclusive in their spirituality. This is a potential bias that I am alert to in my work as a supervisor.

In my relationship with clients it is my practice to always be clear what my ‘precepts’ are in terms of my humanistic philosophy and orientation. Clients then know that I have a non-religious viewpoint of spirituality. Being open to and accepting their questioning about my professional approach is important to me.

If I might take a couple of paragraphs, I would like to rephrase my beliefs about sharing my precepts. As I read Colm’s response, I wondered if they were misunderstood not just by him, but by other readers too.

I choose to relate in this way since Carl Rogers recommended “being transparent” (as cited in Comerford, 2015b: 28). I know that when I am being transparent in the here-and-now relationship with clients about my humanistic orientation, I am being open and thereby naturally inclusive (Comerford, 2015a). By being transparent, I am saying to clients that I welcome and accept their questions and challenges about my precepts as a non-religious humanistic psychotherapist. Transparency necessitates me being congruent, real, genuine, and integrated in each moment of my relationship with all clients. This way of being is my greatest “personal resource” (2015b: 28).

To increase the experience of equality in my relationship with clients, it is a fundamental right for them to ‘check out my precepts’. I have found that this “way of being” with clients empowers them with the choice of whether or not they want to work with me (2015b: 28). When there are differences between us, then that presents us both with the opportunity to explore if we can negotiate these differences to have a relationship with each other. I agree with Colm that it is not my role to check out the client’s precepts to see “if those of the other match mine” (O’Doherty, 2016: 82). It was not my intention to communicate otherwise.

Recognising these differences between us both helps the relationship to be authentic and clients to feel “affirmed” (O’Doherty, 2016: 82). It also nurtures a safe space and a real relationship from which clients have the possibility for change and growth.

Pat Comerford is an IAHIP accredited psychotherapist and supervisor in private practice.

Comerford, P. (2015a). Emotion in the ‘here-and-now’. Inside Out, 75, 37‒48.

Comerford, P. (2015b). A humanistic approach to spirituality: Inclusivity. Inside Out, 77, 19‒29.

O’Doherty, C. (2016). A response to Pat Comerford’s “A humanistic approach to spirituality: Inclusivity”. Inside Out, 78, 81‒83.