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Centre for Diversity in Counselling and Psychotherapy
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Friday, April 4, 2008

A Symposium on Spirituality, Diversity and Psychotherapy


Keynote Speaker  |  Symposium Schedule

The University of Toronto's Centre for Diversity in Counselling and Psychotherapy is pleased to announce a special symposium on Spirituality, Diversity, and Psychotherapy.

Although the relationship between psychology and spirituality has historically been characterized by wariness, skepticism, or outright animosity, increasing numbers of scholars and psychotherapists have recently been calling for an integration of spirituality into counselling psychology. Special issues of the Journal of Clinical Psychology (October 2007) and Mental Health, Religion, and Culture (March 2005) have been dedicated to spirituality and psychotherapy. The Toronto symposium will attempt to be part of this conversation by focusing on diversity, spirituality, and psychotherapy.

The symposium is hoping to consider questions such as:

• Is spirituality gendered?
• Can GLBTQ spirituality sit comfortably with Christian counselling?
• Is there a place for a particular ethnic spirituality in therapy?
• How can ‘prayer’ be part of psychotherapy?
• What are the particular ways in which clients with disabilities experience spirituality?
• Is there a feminist approach to spirituality and psychotherapy?
• How is spirituality developed and practiced outside of religious frameworks?
And many others.



Keynote Speaker

Dr. Mary A. Fukuyama

The keynote speaker for this symposium is Dr. Mary A. Fukuyama (University of Florida), co-author of Integrating Spirituality into Multicultural Counseling. In addition to her keynote address, Dr. Fukuyama will lead a Clinical Applications workshop which will offer conference participants the opportunity to discuss case studies involving spirituality-related issues.


To read the abstract for Dr. Fukuyama’s keynote address, please click here.

For more information about Dr. Fukuyama, please consult the University of Florida website:



Symposium Schedule


9:00 to 9:30 Registration

9:30 Welcome by Dr. Marilyn Laiken, Chair of the Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology, and Introduction by Dr. Roy Moodley and Karen Ross

9:45 to 10:30 Keynote Address: Integrating Spirituality into Psychotherapy: Multicultural Perspectives (Dr. Mary A. Fukuyama)

10:30 to 11:00 Coffee Break

11:00 to 12:30 Sessions

Parallel Sessions A

My Countertransference with Religious Patients
(Dr. Ruth Lijtmaer)

Culturally-Grounded Approaches in Aboriginal Mental Health: Exploring the Role of Spirituality
(Olga Oulanova)

 Parallel Sessions B

Spirituality & Healing: Echoes from African Canadian Women
(Dr. Njoki Nathani Wane)

Dimensions of Spirituality in North American Aboriginal/Indigenous Cultures Pre-Contact to 21st Century
(Anne M. Solomon)

12:30 to 1:30 Lunch

1:30 to 3:00 Sessions

Parallel Sessions A

Spirituality among Immigrant Children Adjusting to Adverse Life Events
(Dr. Farah Nanji)

The Use of Spirituality in Psychotherapy with Refugees
(Regine King, Manuela Popovici, & Dr. Eunjung Lee)

Parallel Sessions B

The Awakening of Consciousness Through Psychosynthesis
(Dr. Sandy Greer)

Psycho-Spiritual Methodologies: Practices of Transformation
(Donna Quance)

3:00 to 4:30 Clinical Applications
Edna Aryee will present a case study based on her research, outlined here.

4:30 Closing Remarks
Dr. Roy Moodley


Integrating Spirituality into Psychotherapy: Multicultural Perspectives
Mary A. Fukuyama, PhD
University of Florida

Mental health professionals need to understand diverse religious and spiritual worldviews and how spiritual issues are expressed and addressed in psychotherapy. Spirituality may be broadly defined as including diverse expressions, such as dealing with “ultimate” concerns, relationship with transcendent power, search for meaning, wholeness, and breath or chi energy. Examples of related topics include: understanding the spiritual journey, spiritual worldviews and developmental models of spirituality, synergy of multiculturalism and spirituality, spirituality and health, science and religion, healthy and unhealthy expressions of spirituality, and therapy issues, such as making meaning of suffering or death. Various spiritual interventions and ethical concerns will be discussed in the context of recently developed multicultural and spiritual counseling competencies.

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My Countertransference with Religious Patients
Ruth Lijtmaer, PhD
Contemporary Center for Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, Faileigh Dickinson University
Madison, New Jersey, USA

Transference and countertransference require additional considerations when dealing with religious patients. Reference is made to patients who have beliefs in God, whatever form. Such patients challenge the clinical experience and self-knowledge of the analyst because the determinants of normal and pathological religious experience, and their meaning in therapy, are less well understood. What is more significant is the complexity of factors that contribute to resistance and countertransference reactions to spiritual and religious issues by clinicians. Therapists may have negative attitudes toward religion due to personal experience, may have a limited grasp of religious thought, or may fear confronting their own anxieties in the process of helping patients with basic existential issues such as illness, aging, and mortality. Patients’ verbal material laden with metaphors or folkloristic themes suggests the need to examine the interactions in terms of the level and quality of object relations and the representations that characterize such content. The patient’s use of language and metaphor are among the subtle factors involved in the creation of an ambiance conducive to projective identification and other countertransference reactions. In this presentation, vignettes of religious and spiritual patients will provide examples of countertransference conflicts, particularly envy since the therapist is an atheist.

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Culturally-grounded approaches in Aboriginal mental health: Exploring the role of spirituality
Olga Oulanova, BA
OISE/University of Toronto

In recent times there has been resurgence in the use of traditional healing among Canadian Aboriginal communities. This revival is in part a response to the failure of the mental healthcare system to adequately meet the needs of indigenous peoples. Some professionals have proactively addressed these drawbacks by routinely integrating indigenous ways of helping into conventional counseling. Through qualitative interviews with mental health professionals who carry out such integration, this study aimed to explore their experiences and thereby describe their integrative efforts. A model that illustrates the dynamics of this integration will be presented and two main findings pertaining to the role of spirituality in participants’ work will be discussed: first, the role of spiritual experiences as critical influences on the interviewees’ path to becoming helpers, and second, the importance of attending to clients’ spiritual needs in successful integrative efforts. Broader implications of integrating culturally-grounded and spiritually-based helping approaches into the mainstream mental healthcare system will also be addressed.

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Spirituality & Healing: Echoes from African Canadian Women
Njoki Nathani Wane, PhD
OISE/University of Toronto

Our grandparents introduced to us a healing legacy left to them by their Ancestors. These ancestral healing practices are grounded on spiritual guidance embodied in Creator, the giver of life, harmony, balance, cosmic order, peace, and healing. This spiritual guidance is embodied both with the Creator and in the Great Mother Earth spirit and culture giver, who represents truth, balance, harmony, law, and cosmic order (Wane, 2002). I base my presentation on the philosophy of Maat, which is a personification of the fundamental order of the universe. In this presentation, I turn to the ancient wisdom of the indigenous peoples of Africa: spiritual healing and in particular, the essence of time, relations and quality of life, all signified in one single philosophy – KARMA – that is represented in the 7 laws of Maat. The presentation examines the remnants of the various African indigenous spiritual ways of healing relationships, communities, families and personal emotional wellbeing. I center this presentation on one question: What causes disharmony in our relationships and in our lives? My presentation is based on ongoing research on Black Canadian Feminist theorizing among women of African ancestry living in Canada. In this presentation, I highlight the various forms of resistance among women as they strive to guard the remnants of indigenous healing practices that they have utilized as coping strategies.

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Dimensions of Spirituality in North American Aboriginal/Indigenous Cultures Pre-Contact to 21st Century
Anne M. Solomon, MSW
OISE/University of Toronto

The ancient traditions of Original Peoples of North America have spiritual methods, knowledge and practices that predate organized religions. This presentation will demonstrate how we continue to maintain and practice our spirituality outside religious frameworks. Participants will have opportunity to participate through ceremony and they will learn how we Original Peoples have sustained ourselves through our spiritual practices in spite of the atrocities suffered at the hands of organized religions of the past and present day. Our Aankoobjiganag hold us responsible and accountable to continue to carry ourselves in a spiritual manner such that all of our known and unknown universe is sustained for our Aankoobjiganag - the Seven Generations to come.

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Spirituality among Immigrant Children Adjusting to Adverse Life Events
Farah Nanji, PhD
University of Alberta (Alumni)

Children of immigrant families face several adverse life events that may disrupt childhood functioning and increase their risk for psychological maladjustment. Notably, these populations have not exhibited higher rates of emotional distress than their non-immigrant counterparts. Research suggests that a critical and natural source of strength and resilience for immigrant families is spirituality and religiosity. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore immigrant children’s conceptions of spiritual and divine forces and the role this plays in their explanations for and adjustment to adverse life events. Six immigrant children ages 4 through 6 years and their parent(s) who self-identified spirituality and/or religion as a source of influence in family life were invited to participate. Children participated in a semi-structured interviews consisting of open-ended questions and non-verbal play strategies designed to elicit their understandings of spirituality and how these understandings impacted their health. Results are presented from the child’s own perspective and reveal that each participant has a notion of spirituality that is unique, detailed and elaborate and cannot be explained by their religious or cultural upbringings. Results further convey that each child’s spiritual philosophy significantly informs and influences their worldview, particularly their healing and coping attempts. Exploring children’s unique perspectives of spirituality and the role this plays in their own healing process may support the utilization of this process in the overall understanding and treatment of children’s health.

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The Use of Spirituality in Psychotherapy with Refugees
Regine King (MEd), Manuela Popovici (MA, MSW), and Eunjung Lee (PhD)
University of Toronto, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work

The increased violence of the last few decades has created large waves of both internal and external population displacements throughout the world. The affected people experience multiples traumas and lack the familiar structures through which to process the losses they encounter before, during, and after the flight. Most importantly they start questioning the meaning of life as they struggle to settle in new places. In recent years, mental health professionals have been concerned with the psychological well-being of refugees. They have also recognized the importance of spirituality in helping survivors of violence to overcome their difficulties and empower them to redefine new meanings of life. However, clinicians have reported lacking adequate training and instruments that could help them integrate spirituality into practice. In order to fill this gap, this paper explores the literatures in mental health areas that have contributed to best clinical practices using spirituality. It also analyzes and identifies best practice approaches that can inform clinical work with refugees as well as future training of clinicians from different helping professions. Further, the paper will identify future avenues for research on spirituality and psychotherapy with refugees.

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The Awakening of Consciousness through Psychosynthesis
Sandy Greer, PhD
OISE/University of Toronto (Alumni)

This presentation will explore what is “spiritual psychology.” The paper will address the question why this approach for healing has been marginalized since its origins, both among psychotherapists and psychiatrists. Although the paper will acknowledge the respective frameworks of Carl G. Jung and Viktor E. Frankl, it will illuminate the example of a third, lesser known modality of spiritual psychology called psychosynthesis. Its founder, psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli (a contemporary of Jung, Frankl and Freud), was a pioneer in transpersonal psychology and his work is studied in a number of European universities and practiced internationally today. The phenomenon of what is “spiritual experience” – and more specifically, the occurrence of ontological or spiritual crisis – will also be described. Reference will be made to the unfolding of spiritual awareness that takes place outside the framework of institutionalized religions, not just through specific practices such as meditation, but also through those experiences which shift a seeker’s orientation to making meaning of life’s circumstances and life itself. The presenter will outline her own journey of transformation as a specific example for illustration, but also refer to some of her research that gives evidence of what is essential in growing closer to our human potential.

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Psycho-Spiritual Methodologies: Practices of Transformation
Donna Quance, MSW, MDiv
Toronto School of Theology, Trinity College, University of Toronto

In most spiritual paths, the “normal self,” the personality/ego structure, is seen to be at the surface and to be an obscuration to the “depth” – the dimension of spiritual knowing and experience. Psycho-spiritual methodologies support the client to digest the surface ego structure, and to open into an ever-deepening awareness and experience of themselves as the spiritual depth. A useful skill for the psychotherapist interested in assisting their client to bridge the surface and the depth will be the capacity to utilize and apply one or more of these transformational methodologies. Analyzing a psychological-spiritual methodology allows one to be clear about the way the methodology functions, and to begin to see that it is a practice, repeatedly bringing the depth into interface with the surface, in a logical and precise fashion.
This presentation will suggest for consideration that the components of psychological-spiritual methodologies that support the opening to the depth are
a) the active intentional use of a spiritual quality(ies)/dimension(s), and
b) the bringing of this spiritual quality/dimension into interface with
c) a particular part of the ego structure.
It will use as examples three transformational psycho-spiritual methodologies – Diamond Approach™, Internal Family Systems™, and The Journey™.

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CASE STUDY (Based on the research described below)
African Spirituality and Psychotherapy: A Case Study of Black Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Ontario
Edna Aryee (PhD Student, OISE/UT)

In the mid-1990s, medical advances dramatically altered the psychosocial experiences of women living with HIV/AIDS. Anecdotally, spiritual practices seemed to significantly influence the quality of life and coping strategies among these women, yet this area is highly understudied. This qualitative study examined African and European-Canadian women living with HIV/AIDS in Ontario to determine: a) the impact of spirituality on coping strategies and quality of life, and b) proactive strategies for improving that quality of life. Participants demonstrated remarkable strengths in confronting their psychosocial challenges. The study showed how the women managed and balanced their internalized stigma, developing personal inner strengths and exclusion with their survival strategies such as prayer. The thematic analysis indicated that despite the existing medical, governmental and community support, women living with HIV/AIDS nevertheless faced numerous daily psychosocial challenges. The women also lacked adequate or appropriate support from healthcare professionals and psychologists. An important outcome of the study is the transferability of the strengths and coping strategies of these women as a model for other women with HIV/AIDS in Africa and the world at large. The study revealed that there is the need to strengthen the capacity, resilience and leadership programs of women living with HIV/AIDS in Ontario. Programs and policy makers need to support the personal coping strategies of women living with HIV/AIDS. Findings have conceptual and methodological implications for future spirituality research on women living with HIV/AIDS.

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