The professional counselor can describe the similarities and differences between spirituality and religion, including the basic beliefs of various spiritual systems, major world religions, agnosticism, and atheism.

For more information on the ASERVIC Spiritual Competencies, visit the ASERVIC Website.

Visit these websites for more information on the American Counseling Association or the Virginia Counselor’s Association.

Competency One

The first ASERVIC spiritual competency addresses the helping professional’s knowledge and understanding. Before the professional can help others, he or she must first have a basic understanding of the worldviews of others.

The professional counselor can describe the similarities and differences between spirituality and religion…”

ASERVIC Spiritual Competency One

The requirements outlined in this first competency – differentiating between spirituality and religion, and understanding the basic beliefs of others – enable helping professionals to “get their feet wet”. By no means is this competency comprehensive, but it does provide a starting place for the helping professional to begin his or her journey to spiritual competency in counseling.

Defining Spirituality and Religion

ASERVIC defines spirituality as the identification of values and life meaning beyond the self or material existence. Through the process of identifying that which is more comprehensive from the self, individuals can discover significance for their lives.

In contrast, religion is the way that an individual might use to manifest his or her spirituality. It is an organized means of expression. Some individuals might choose not to align with a particular religion, but this does not negate their sense of spirituality.


ASERVIC and VA-ASERVIC do not promote or align with a particular religion, but instead promote the exploration of the client’s spirituality and/or religion in whichever manner the client chooses. ASERVIC and VA-ASERVIC choose to value spirituality and religion due to evidence suggesting the impact of spirituality and religion on the wellbeing of the client.

The helping professional must have a working knowledge of the various spiritual worldviews and religions to be able to adequately promote the client’s individuality and sense of self. Without a knowledge of the client’s spirituality or religion, the helping professional negates a significant part of the client as an individual and cannot help the person holistically.

Working with Clients

When working with clients, the helping professional must consider the current client’s individual worldview. While the helping professional is responsible to pursue learning opportunities and obtain a basic knowledge of various spiritual views and religions, the helping professional must also be careful not to impose this background research on the current client.

Each client will have a unique understanding of their spirituality and/or religion. The helping professional must combine his or her understanding of spirituality and religion with that of the client to promote client welfare.

Moreover, the helping professional must do background research first. Before working with clients, the helping professional must pursue the basic knowledge and understanding of spirituality and religion, as per the first ASERVIC competency. Without this understanding, the client cannot be understood holistically.

What Steps Have You Taken?

Per anecdotal research in 2019, VA-ASERVIC has found that many counselors are both unaware of the ASERVIC Spiritual Competencies, and do not believe that they have adequate understanding of how to help the client spiritually, due to inexperience or lack of formal training.

What trainings or opportunities have you pursued to meet ASERVIC Competency One?

  • Can you explain the difference between spirituality and religion?
  • Can you identify basic ideas of various spiritual practices or religious beliefs of your clients?

If not, check out some of these resources from the American Counseling Association or get involved with ASERVIC or VA-ASERVIC via membership and events.

More from VA-ASERVIC:

ASERVIC Competencies Series: Competency 13

This week, we discuss competency 13, which addresses the specific techniques used within the counseling session. Previously, we have discussed the counselor’s limitations, attitude of acceptance, clinician’s choice of language, recognizing spiritual themes, intake, and diagnosis, but today we get to the meat of the spirituality subject – counseling techniques.

ASERVIC Competencies Series: Competency 12

As we discussed in previous weeks, the client’s spiritual and religious beliefs can directly impact the pieces of the counseling process, such as the intake session, counseling rapport, and diagnosis. ASERVIC Competency 12 addresses how the client’s spiritual and religious beliefs should also affect the goals that the client wants to address.


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