Spiritual Psychologists: What they do and how to become one

Spiritual psychologists infuse spirituality into their research and/ or clinical practice. They may conduct psychotherapy, either as private practitioners or as employees of organizations.

The New York Times profiled a graduate student at an ivy league university who was incorporating a Buddhist singing bowl, deep breathing, and visualization in his work with homeless individuals. Click here to view this piece.

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There is indeed a place for spirituality and religion in the social services.
Spirituality can be mildly controversial in a scientific field, but universities and professional organizations have stepped forward as guides. By perusing Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, one can see the latest research: everything from reducing burnout in Catholic clergy members to examining the relationship between spirituality and subjective measures of well-being (http://www.apadivisions.org/division-36/publications/journals/index.aspx).

One resource students will want to become familiar with early on is Division 36 of the American Psychological Association, the Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (http://www.apa.org/about/division/div36.aspx).

Spiritual Psychologist Education and Training

A student who is interested in incorporating spirituality in his or her clinical practice will not necessarily enroll in a program that is labeled “spiritual psychology”. Spirituality may be offered as a sub-specialty, but even this is not a requirement. It is sufficient to pick a program where some of the faculty have spirituality as an area of interest.

Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers a variety of Master’s in Psychology programs modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology, General Psychology, GeroPsychology, Health Psychology, Human Factors Psychology, Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Life Coaching. Three Bachelor’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Click here to learn about GCU and their programs.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers online Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Click here to learn about SNHU and their programs.

Click Here to learn more about psychology education options based on your current educational attainment.

Division 36 has compiled a list of graduate programs that include some focus on spirituality and religion. The list can be viewed by clicking here.

Many of these are clinical psychology programs. A prospective student can see which faculty members are interested in spiritual research or clinical training and where their interests lie (for example, clergy-psychology collaboration or integrating spirituality into community-based intervention and recovery). It is generally recommended that a student who is interested in a narrow branch of psychology pick a school where more than one faculty member is available as a mentor.

Licensing and Credentialing of Spiritual Psychologists

Licensure as a psychologist and/or endorsement to deliver health services often rests on having an APA-accredited degree or one that is deemed equivalent; the APA only accredits counseling, clinical, and school psychology programs. Thus a psychologist who wants to carry out psychotherapeutic interventions generally needs education that is in one of these fields (broadly defined). There are, however, an almost unlimited number of areas to focus one’s scholarship. The dissertation is one opportunity. Post-graduate practice also provides a psychology candidate with an opportunity to develop specialized competencies.
Scholars who are interested in research or policy development often face fewer constraints when it comes to selecting educational programs.

Distinguishing Oneself in the Field

Members of the Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, like members of other divisions of the APA, have the opportunity to attain “fellow” status by distinguishing themselves in the field.

Undergraduate and graduate students can apply for the prestigious research award through Division 36 (http://www.apadivisions.org/division-36/awards/student/index.aspx). Additional competitions are open to early career scholars.

The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) does not offer a certification in spiritual psychology, but practitioners can be certified in their primary practice or specialty area, for example, clinical psychology.

BLS Salary Statistics

The salary of spiritual psychologists will vary depending on practice area and work setting. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists a mean 2012 wage of $72,220 for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193031.htm) and $86,380 for those whose work lay outside the health service and organizational arenas (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193031.htm).

It’s not uncommon for professional organizations to conduct member surveys and report salaries that are a little higher than those reported by the BLS. The APA conducted a salary survey in 2010 that further delineated salary by practice area (http://www.apa.org/workforce/publications/09-salaries). The APA reported average salary for research positions at $80,500 and for clinical psychology positions at $87,015.