‘You Don’t Have to Carry it Alone’: Christian Clients’ Experiences of Praying in Therapy
By: Megan England
Supervisor: Dr. Derrick Klaassen
Second Reader: Dr. Sheryl Reimer-Kirkham
External Examiner: Dr. Peter Gubi, University of Chester, Chester, UK
Exam Chair: Dr. Bart Begalka
This study sought to understand Christian clients’ experiences of praying in therapy. Within counselling psychology, there is little research in this area, which may reflect the fact that praying in therapy is often regarded as ethically contentious. It is, however, possible that clients may experience prayer as beneficial and healing. This thesis, thus, seeks to fill a gap in the literature by asking clients about their experiences. The question that guided this research was, what are Christian clients’ lived experiences of praying in therapy sessions? A hermeneutic phenomenological approach to research (van Manen, 1990, 2014) was used to garner an in-depth understanding of the meaning of praying in therapy. Five Christian women were interviewed about their experiences (seven descriptions shared). From the descriptions participants gave, eight themes emerged: (1) seeking support through life’s valleys; (2) therapist guidance and support; (3) following and participating in prayer; (4) the sanctuary of prayer; (5) acknowledging and encountering the Light; (6) letting go and leaning on God; (7) clarity through prayer; and (8) walking into a new day. Significantly, all participants shared that praying with their therapist was part of their path to healing, especially as they encountered their therapist and God in prayer. Unlike the instrumental focus of prayer in the extent psychological literature, participants emphasized the relational and spiritual dimensions of prayer in their experiences. These findings support that praying can be meaningful and facilitate client healing in therapy when done with care. The findings also point to the fact that research and theory, within psychology, need to move beyond instrumental understandings of prayer.