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Reflection on the Churchill framework

By Dr Heather Churchill

For the last twenty-five years, my passion has been to proclaim the benefits and the complexities of integrating Christian faith with counselling and psychotherapy, when appropriate. As I look back over the years, I believe two key difficulties have strengthened this passion. The first difficulty has been the significant resistance I have personally experienced by some within the counselling profession, to any notion of integrating Christian faith into counselling practice. An early example of this resistance was when, as a novice therapist, I was told by my first clinical supervisor that any faith issues that were raised by my clients (several of whom professed to have a Christian faith) were not to be discussed or explored in therapy; the rationale being that faith issues were for the clergy; psychological issues were for therapists. At the time, I accepted my supervisor’s advice, although I found it disturbing and challenging, not least because I viewed (and continue to view) my faith in ontological terms, that is, I consider it to be a vital part of who I am. I also considered this to be potentially true for some of my clients. Therefore, even at this early stage of my career, I felt that to ignore a client’s struggle over their faith issues in counselling, was a denial of the whole person (see Jenkins, 2011). In addition, as my counselling practice developed, I found that many of my Christian clients’ faith issues were entangled with their psychological difficulties, making the separation of Christian faith and therapy very challenging.

In addition to the above, as the years progressed, I became increasingly aware of numerous studies that demonstrated when Christians seek counselling, many actively seek faith based (Christian) counselling (Aten & Hernandez, 2004; Aten & Leach, 2009; Worthington et al., 2009; McMinn et al., 2010; Greenidge & Baker, 2012; Scott, 2013) and furthermore, there was evidence that the use of faith/religious/spiritual interventions in therapy often led to an improvement in the Christian clients’ psychological and spiritual functioning (for example, see Captari et al., 2018).

At the same time however, I was mindful of research that showed therapists can often lack confidence and/or feel ill equipped to address a client’s faith, religious and spiritual issues when these are raised by the client during therapy (Post & Wade, 2009; Woodhouse & Hogan, 2020; Hunt, 2022). This issue led me, in 2021 as part of my doctoral studies, to turn my attention to developing a Competence Framework which would specifically assist Christian counsellors to work ethically, empathically and competently with Christian clients when their  faith/religious/spiritual concerns emerged during clinical practice. This Framework was published by the Association of Christians in Counselling and Linked Professions in 2021 (Churchill, 2021) and is available as a resource at https: // › the Churchill Framework.

Following the publication of the Framework, I admit have been quite overwhelmed by the amount of positive feedback I have received, both from colleagues, current and former students, fellow counselling practitioners and other counselling bodies.  I was particularly pleased with the response from other counselling bodies, not least because whilst the framework was developed with Christian therapists in mind, one of my further aims as I developed the Framework was that it would encourage therapists of all faiths, or none, to remain open to, and respond with respect, when working with a clients’ religious/spiritual concerns, just as they would with any other issue of difference, diversity or different cultural identity (see Walker et al., 2004; Aten & Leach, 2009; Hook et al., 2012). Furthermore, my desire was that the Framework would facilitate a constructive interfaith dialogue and it is for this reason that I have deliberately left out of the Framework any mention of the word ‘Christian’.

To conclude, the Core Competence Framework contain 27 core competences that fall naturally into four key domains: Relational Communication, Knowledge and Skills, Self-awareness and Reflective Practice, and Supervision. My hope is that Christian therapists and therapists of all faiths, or none, will find the framework a valuable and helpful resource.


Aten, J. D. & Hernandez, B. C. (2004) Addressing Religion in Clinical Supervision: A Model. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. 41(2) pp. 152–160.

Aten, J. D. & Leach, M. M. (2009) A Primer on Spirituality and Mental Health. In: Aten, J. D. & Leach, M. M. (eds.) Spirituality and the therapeutic process: A comprehensive resource from intake to termination. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. pp. 9-25.

Captari, L. E., Hook, J.N., Hoyt, W., Davis, D.E., McElroy-Heltzel, W.E. & Worthington, E.L. (2018) Integrating clients’ religion and spirituality within psychotherapy: A comprehensive meta‐analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 74(11) pp. 1938–1951.

Churchill, H. (2021) The Churchill Framework: A Core Competence Framework when working with a Client’s Religious/Spiritual Issues in Clinical Practice. Accord. (Spring 2021) 110 pp. 21-27.

Greenidge, S. & Baker, M. (2012) Why do committed Christian clients seek counselling with Christian therapists?  Counselling Psychology Quarterly. 25(3) pp. 211–222.

Hook, J. N., Worthington, E. L., Jr. & Davis, D. E. (2012) Religion and spirituality in counseling. In: Fouad, N. A. (ed.) APA handbook of counseling psychology, Vol. 2: Practice, interventions, and applications. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association (APA handbooks in psychology®), pp. 417–432.

Hunt, J (2022) Ignoring Religion is a form of cultural imperialism. Therapy Today. September 2022, pp. 34-36.

Jenkins, C. (2011) When Clients’ Spirituality Is Denied in Therapy. In: West, W. (ed.) Exploring Therapy, Spirituality and Healing. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan Publishers. pp. 28-47.

McMinn, M. R., Staley, R.C., Webb, K.C & Seegobin, W. (2010) Just what is Christian counseling anyway? Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.   41(5) pp. 391–397.

Post, B. C. & Wade, N. G. (2009) Religion and spirituality in psychotherapy: a practice-friendly review of research. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 65(2) pp. 131–146.

Scott, A. (2013) An exploration of the experience of Christian counsellors in their work with both Christian and non-Christian clients, with particular reference to aspects of cultural transition. Counselling & Psychotherapy Research. 13(4) pp. 272–281.

Walker, D., Gorsuch, R. & Tan, S. (2004) Therapists’ Integration of Religion and Spirituality in Counseling: A Meta-Analysis. Counseling and Values. 49(1) pp. 69-80.

Woodhouse, R. & Hogan, K.F. (2020) Out on the edge of my comfort: Trainee counsellor/psychotherapists’ experiences of spirituality in therapy—A qualitative exploration. Counselling & Psychotherapy Research. 20 (1) pp. 173–181.

Worthington, E. L., Jr., Sandage, S.J., Davis, D.E., Hook, J.N., Miller, A.J., Hall, E.L. & Hall, T.W. (2009) Training therapists to address spiritual concerns in clinical practice and research. In: Aten, J. D. & Leach, M. M. (eds) Spirituality and the therapeutic process: A comprehensive resource from intake to termination. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. pp. 267–292.