What Does It Mean that We Are Spiritually Integrated?

The Rev. Dr. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA

Executive Director and Director of Caring for Clergy and Congregations


At Samaritan, we constantly emphasize that we offer spiritually integrated psychotherapy. It’s at the core of almost everything we do. It’s foundational to our guiding vision: “For those who silently suffer with emotional, relational, or spiritual pain, we offer compassionate care that helps them heal, gives them hope, and allows them to change.” It’s what makes us stand out among all other counseling centers.

Still, what does it mean that we’re spiritually integrated? We walk a path between religious counseling that sometimes embraces a stringent, restrictive biblical and theological perspective, and secular counseling that often doesn’t know what spirituality really is.


Our therapists represent a variety of religious perspectives—Protestant, Catholic, Non-Denominational, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and other faiths; as well as a variety of ideological perspectives—conservative, moderate, and progressive. This variety enables us to help people engage their own traditions in ways that open them to God’s healing in and through therapy, without imposing a particular religious perspective. So, while we are open spiritually, we remain client-centered. We never use therapy as a conversion tool, nor force people to integrate spirituality into their therapy.

Our path isn’t an easy one because some would insist we adopt only their religious perspective, while others would want us to get rid of religious influences entirely. For us, excellence means being grounded in well-researched and proven therapeutic techniques, while also being spiritually open to something beyond ourselves that can heal minds, hearts, and relationships. It’s why we also offer life coaching and spiritual direction, in addition to therapy.

How do we walk this path? Let me give you an example. Last year I received a referral from a pastor who had previously sent a couple to a “Christian” therapist. The husband had been abusing the wife emotionally and physically. According to the pastor, the “Christian” therapist told the couple that the core of their problem was not being biblical enough. He said that the wife was not being obedient enough to the husband, which was causing friction, while the husband was not cherishing his wife enough, leading to his abuse. The therapist wanted to help her obey him better, while teaching him to cherish her more, which he hoped would stop the abuse. In the end the abuse continued because the “Christian” therapist didn’t protect her or deal with the abuse.


How do we walk this path? Let me give you an example. Last year I received a referral from a pastor who had previously sent a couple to a “Christian” therapist. The husband had been abusing the wife emotionally and physically. According to the pastor, the “Christian” therapist told the couple that the core of their problem was not being biblical enough. He said that the wife was not being obedient enough to the husband, which was causing friction, while the husband was not cherishing his wife enough, leading to his abuse. The therapist wanted to help her obey him better, while teaching him to cherish her more, which he hoped would stop the abuse. In the end the abuse continued because the “Christian” therapist didn’t protect her or deal with the abuse.

How are we different? We deal with the abuse, focusing on the safety of the wife and children, and helping her become stronger psychologically and spiritually to make better life decisions. We also make him fully aware that the abuse cannot continue, and he has to change and grow. In this case, safety and healing is more important than the marriage. I assured the pastor that our therapists are centered in what’s best for everyone involved in a way that leads to healing whether in the marriage or beyond it. The spiritual integration we might practice (in addition to the counseling) is asking the wife what God is seeking for her that can lead to safety and healing, which may or may not include staying in the marriage. For him it would be emphasizing anger management and life changes, which could include a deeper spiritual awareness leading to a transformation of his life, whether in the marriage or beyond it.


Another example: I was called by a Roman Catholic woman who had been seeing a secular therapist for what she called “life issues”—concerns that her life wasn’t fulfilling. She told me that she liked her therapist, but the therapist seemed particularly anti-Catholic; and that the therapist’s “spiritual” approach was limited to teaching mindfulness and meditation (both good practices, but not necessarily responsive to the client’s issues). I told her that our therapists are more likely to explore psychologically how she can find meaning and purpose in her life, while also tapping into a sense of God’s calling and her Catholic faith to see how it can guide her in enhancing a sense of meaning and purpose.

We recognize that religion and spirituality aren’t necessarily the same thing, but that everyone’s religious tradition has practices, insights, and opportunities that can help them grow personally, which leads to healing.