Dr. Carmen Inoa Vazquez is a Springer Publishing author whose title, Grief Therapy with Latinos: Integrating Culture for Clinicians, addresses culturally specific and diverse narratives of loss in order to illustrate cultural revelations in the grief process and the clinical assessment of denial and spirituality. Dr. Vazquez takes a moment to discuss spirituality and religion and their role in the grieving process, and she offers advice on how to remain culturally sensitive when supporting patients through difficult times of loss.

Spirituality and religion often serve as a bridge that helps grievers move from feelings of desolation after the loss of a loved one, to a meaningful continuation of their life. Religion refers to an organized institutionalized belief system with a set of practices and a faith community, while spirituality embraces human experience that involves personal beliefs and practices. Both of these concepts can be present in a griever and, although not adopted by all individuals, they can regularly surface during grief and be closely related to cultural variations.

The relationship of spirituality and religion with culture is an important component for clinicians to understand, particularly when feelings of grief are complicated or unresolved due to difficulties adapting to a new culture which can vary for members of a family. It is during these instances that the clinician must use competency, which indicates an awareness of existing cultural differences closely related to religion and spirituality, and the clinician must include questions that assess these values and beliefs during initial intake and throughout the treatment.

Many clinicians feel uncomfortable including spirituality and religious topics during grief therapy and tend to avoid them, particularly when there are variations in beliefs that can clash with their own values. Ethically speaking, it is highly recommended that clinicians differentiate and understand their own feelings from those of the patient. This is particularly important when a clinician has unresolved feelings toward spirituality or religion, which can then hinder the therapeutic process and the necessary exploration leading to a proper resolution of the grief.

It is recognized that it is not possible to be familiar with all aspects of people from diverse populations, and in this respect it may be useful to become familiar with existing literature, consult with colleagues, and most importantly, recognize that there are important differences that need to be addressed during grief therapy in order to serve patients from a diverse population in a competent manner. For example, the book, Grief Therapy with Latinos: Integrating Culture for Clinicians, by Dr. Dinelia Rose and myself addresses the application of specific interventions in a culturally appropriate manner, including the importance of language in grief therapy, psychology, and counseling with a Latino population.

In sum, it is important that clinicians wear different cultural lenses when working with individual grievers from a diverse background. One way to achieve this task is to address grief from a cultural angle through:

1)      Gaining awareness of patient needs and recognizing that they may experience multiple narratives, including both religious and spiritual beliefs, which may give different meaning to their loss and grief.

2)      Understanding that religious beliefs can also create a great deal of discomfort in patients, ranging from guilt for being angry with God, to despair for not previously attending  to these areas of their lives.

3)      Exploring the multiple narratives and the disruptions a client has experienced as a result of previous losses that may relate to their spiritual and religious beliefs and may include loss of early support, disruptive attachments, and early separations related to their experience in a new cultural setting.

Can you think of other ways culture and spirituality could influence the grieving process? What reminders or thoughts have helped you cope with loss? Share your thoughts and suggestions below.

To read more by Springer Publishing author Dr. Carmen Inoa Vazquez, check out her blog Cultural Talk.