Encountering the Sacred in Psychotherapy

How to Talk with People about Their Spiritual Lives

James L. Griffith and Melissa Elliott Griffith

HardcoverPaperbacke-bookprint + e-book
October 19, 2001
ISBN 9781572307018
Price: $85.00 $72.25
320 Pages
Size: 6" x 9"
July 29, 2003
ISBN 9781572309388
Price: $40.00 $34.00
320 Pages
Size: 6" x 9"
January 19, 2012
ePub ?
Price: $40.00 $34.00
320 Pages
print + e-book
Paperback + e-Book (ePub) ?
Price: $80.00 $44.00
320 Pages

Drawing on narrative, postmodern, and other therapeutic perspectives, this book guides therapists in exploring the creative and healing possibilities in clients' spiritual and religious experience. Vivid personal accounts and dialogues bring to life the ways spirituality may influence the stories told in therapy, the language and metaphors used, and the meanings brought to key relationships and events. Applications are discussed for a wide variety of clinical situations, including helping people resolve relationship problems, manage psychiatric symptoms, and cope with medical illnesses.

“While the topic of integrating psychotherapy and spirituality has been widely examined for many years, few texts have provided the detailed theoretical rationale, practical techniques, and case studies found in James and Melissa Griffith's Encountering the Sacred in Psychotherapy ....The authors have a gentle, respectful manner of inviting clients to explore spiritual matters. They view psychotherapy itself as a sacred encounter, assuming that spiritual matters will surface when the practitioner listens with an open heart....This book would be of interest not only to psychotherapists but also to a general audience interested in the intersection of religion, illness, and health....The numerous examples of questions to use in exploring various aspects of spirituality will be of practical value to psychotherapists of various orientations. The many clinical examples interspersed throughout the book are its strength.”

Journal of Religion, Disability, and Health

“James L. Griffith and Melissa Elliott Griffith have written a thoughtful, balanced, and often creative work describing not only how to talk about spirituality but also, perhaps more importantly, how to think about and listen to the spiritual dimension of people's lives.”

Psychiatric Services

“Remarkable....The authors write very well, and the book is filled with countless real-world case studies and even some transcripts of counseling sessions that are quite interesting in their own right, not to mention the role they play in illustrating the authors' general themes.”

Research News and Opportunities in Science and Theology

“The very style of presentation of the subject matter awakens the reader's sensitivity to the spiritual elements in psychotherapy and to when and with whom it is appropriate to enter into the spiritual domain.”

Pastoral Sciences

“Once again, as they did with The Body Speaks, James Griffith and Melissa Elliot Griffith have opened a domain—this time, spirituality and religious experience—to their particular blend of gentle, curious, and loving inquiry. Rich clinical vignettes are used to illustrate how spirituality and religious experience can contribute to meaning-making in therapy, guiding therapists in making key distinctions and opening up their own conversations with clients. Never preachy, always engaging, this book will be of use to beginning and advanced clinicians in all of the helping professions.”

—Kaethe Weingarten, PhD, Harvard Medical School and The Witnessing Project, The Family Institute of Cambridge

“This is an important book. Through it, therapists will witness intimate and sacred conversations that will open their hearts and work to new possibilities. The authors' therapy is exquisitely respectful, their writing fascinating and accessible, and their ideas inspiring and practical for therapists of all disciplines and approaches. This book illuminates not one path but many to take in talking meaningfully with people about the spiritual and religious dimensions of their lives.”

—Jill Freedman, MSW, Evanston Family Therapy Center

“Freud ushered God out of the therapy room in his search for a scientific psychotherapy. However, leaving religious and spiritual discussions out of our work means that we ignore vital parts of many people's lives. This book suggests that we don't need to remain God-phobic, nor must we become clergy, in order to bring people's spiritual beliefs into therapy. Griffith and Griffith illustrate how spiritual beliefs and experiences can be resources for healing in a wide range of contexts: recovery from abuse, trying to solve relationship dilemmas, coping with chronic pain and illness, and even making the decision to take medication for emotional illness. At the same time, the authors do not shy away from the hard questions....How can a therapist work with people whose beliefs present obstacles to cure? What can we do when belief is used to justify cruelty or abuse? This book strikes a deep chord because it gives voice to something that many of us know has been missing from psychotherapy. This is a book every therapist needs to read.”

—Eric E. McCollum, PhD, Marriage and Family Therapy Program, Virginia Tech University

“Having spent 35 years caring for persons with progressive, incurable, and fatal illnesses, my double calling as physician and priest has made me see each patient's personal stories of faith as a privileged revelation. James and Melissa Elliott Griffith have now brought this inquiry to a new level of sophistication and art. Showing how people in pain become more alive as we elicit their sacred stories, this book helps the empathic reader learn how to ask the right questions at the right time. Today's doctors and therapists—harassed by the for-profit obsession that now degrades the people who seek our help—will find in this book a powerful antidote to restore the possibility of stellar care delivery.”

—Ned H. Cassem, SJ, MD, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School.

Table of Contents

1. New Ways of Hearing Sacred Stories

2. Opening the Door

3. Metaphor and Spirituality

4. Stories of Spiritual Experience

5. Conversations between Person and God

6. Spiritual and Religious Beliefs

7. Rituals, Ceremonies, and Spiritual Practices

8. The Community in Spirituality

9. When Spirituality Turns Destructive

10. Living beyond Medical and Psychiatric Illnesses

About the Authors

James L. Griffith, MD, is Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology at The George Washington University Medical Center, where he directs the psychiatry residency training program and the consultation-liaison psychiatry service.

Melissa Elliott Griffith, CNS, LMFT, serves on the psychiatry clinical faculty at The George Washington University Medical Center and practices psychotherapy in Vienna, Virginia.

They are both affiliated with the Center for Multicultural Human Services in Falls Church, Virginia.


Psychotherapists and counselors; students in a range of mental health disciplines.

Serves as a text in graduate-level counseling and psychotherapy courses.

Course Use

Serves as a text in graduate-level counseling and psychotherapy courses.