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The Cultural, Spiritual, Psychological and Ethical Implications of Prayer in Therapy among the Igbo People in Nigeria

Uchenna Kalu Agwu1, Joyzy Pius Egunjobi, Ph.D., Dr. AD1,2
1Department of Counseling Psychology, Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Nairobi, Kenya
2Psycho-Spiritual Institute of Lux Terra Leadership Foundation, Nairobi, Kenya
Received: 10 January 2023; Revised: 26 January 2023; Accepted: 01 February 2023; Published: 23 February 2023

Abstract: -Spirituality is becoming an increasingly important aspect of therapy, with prayer, mindfulness, forgiveness, compassion and other spiritual interventions being the choice for therapists. While the controversial nature of including prayer in therapy requires careful consideration of ethical issues, there is no doubt that within the African setting, prayer is used as an intervention in many therapy and mental health domains. Thus, the objective of this qualitative study was to address the cultural, spiritual and psychological implications of the use of prayer during therapy, its multicultural sensitivity, and values among the Igbo people in Nigeria. The study adopted a phenomenological design with a sample size of 15 respondents obtained using convenient sampling. The findings of the study reveal that prayer forms an integral component in the practice of therapy. Although prayer may not heal all physical or mental ailments, it can improve the quality of life and how a person sees his/her personal condition. The study therefore recommends that to improve the care of clients, therapists should develop a patient-centered, spiritually sensitive form of therapy in which religious issues are addressed gently and appropriately with dignity, respect, and integrity.

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Keywords: Prayer, Culture, Spirituality, Psychology, Ethics, Therapy

I. Background

Spirituality has increasingly become a consideration for mental health practitioners. As a result, spiritual interventions, including prayer, are now more frequently used in therapy (Weld & Eriksen, 2007a). The use of prayer in therapy can be transformational and promote psychological well-being, but it can be problematic and requires good supervision. Therapists do not feel free to explore their practice of prayer because of fear: of not being understood; of being judged; of losing respect and credibility; of being thought of as transgressing; of exposure by the supervisor; of how the supervisor will treat the disclosure; and of condemnation and dismissal of something that is important and precious to the counsellor (Gubi, 2007). The central implication for supervision is the need to create a culture of openness and a collaborative working alliance where all aspects of the counselling process can be explored with appropriate theoretical consideration and personal challenge, and where the supervisee feels accepted, able and open to exploring all aspects of the work with the supervisor. This prevents unethical practice, protects the client, and enables consistency of work.

In the United Kingdom, a study by Joshi et al., (2015) identified that non-medical influences on perception of mental ill-health treatment were more common. Since the UK has a diverse population, consisting of a wide range of spiritual and cultural beliefs, clinicians should strive to understand all different viewpoints in order to develop a better rapport with families. Also, using the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey (n = 1714), Levin (2016) investigated the prevalence and religious indicators of healing prayer use among adults in the United States. The survey included five indicators: (a) prayed for self (lifetime prevalence 78.8%); (b) prayed for others (87.4%); (c) asked for prayer (54.1%); (d) laying on of hands (26.1%); and (e) participated in a prayer group (53%).
However, prayer in an African society is regarded as a central point and the most revered custom in the society. Its forms the community’s bond, because it brings people together as one family, one community and one society under the supreme leadership and aid of the Supreme Being (God). Prayer acts as a channel of communication between the people and God or the gods. This channel has specific agents who aid in the work of communication and they are commonly known in many African communities as prophets, prophetess, priests, and priestess among other local names. These agents bring the community together to worship and communicate to their creator and also convey messages from the creator to the people (Singh & Bhagwan, 2020).

In South Africa, a study by van der Watt et al (2020) suggests that psychotherapists treat a wide range of health-related problems and culture-bound syndromes considered non-responsive to Western medicine with prayers. Participants described similar experiences regarding the three steps of becoming a traditional healer and treating clients with mental illness using herbs (90%), candles (82%), and prayer (78%). The majority of participants stated that they treated both mentally and physically ill clients; however, those participants who self-identified as spiritualists were more likely to report that they treated mental illness. Therefore, prayers become the focal point of the day-to-day life of the African people. This is clearly seen, because the communities’ most