Counselling and Spirituality

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The Faculty of Human Sciences at Saint Paul University offers graduate programs leading to a graduate diploma in Couple Counselling and Spirituality and to a master’s (MA) and doctoral (PhD) degrees in Counselling and Spirituality, all of which are conferred jointly by the Senates of Saint Paul University and the University of Ottawa under the terms of the federation agreement between them.

Program Description

The PhD program prepares counselors specialized in spirituality, who are also scholar/researchers, for careers as clinicians as well as university professors and researchers.

Students will specialize in one of three fields: issues relating to special populations within society, existential and spiritual issues in counselling, and counselling in multi-faith and cross-cultural settings. These fields are described below.

Special Populations. The unique spiritual, social, and mental health needs of special populations are studied from a multidisciplinary perspective. Systemic issues related to special populations include but are not limited to the following: the challenges facing people who are homeless, people living in poverty, victims of abuse and trauma, women diagnosed with breast cancer.

Existential and Spiritual Issues in Counselling. This field addresses clients’ search for meaning and purpose in their lives. Spiritual and existential issues in counselling surface when people try to make sense of their lives, especially during moments of existential crises, trauma, major loss, death, sickness and life transitions.

Counselling in Multi-faith and Cross-cultural Settings. To respond to the personal and social needs, values and goals of diverse cultural and religious groups in Canada, counsellors must understand these cultures and their spirituality.

Objectives of the program

The goal of this program is to educate counsellors specialized in spirituality who are also researchers capable of independent and collaborative research. As researchers, they will be able to contribute to the knowledge base that informs counselling and spirituality.

Graduates from the PhD program will be prepared to:

  • Demonstrate in-depth knowledge of one of the three fields mentioned above;
  • Design and conduct research that contributes to the advancement of the discipline of Counselling and Spirituality;
  • Practice as counselor with a specialization in spirituality.

The program is offered in English and in French.

In accordance with the University of Ottawa regulation, assignments, examinations, research papers and theses can be produced in either English or French.

Admission to the graduate programs in counselling and spirituality is governed by the “General Regulations” of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (FGPS).

Applications to the PhD program are evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • A master’s degree in a related discipline such as counselling, spirituality, practical theology, health care, psychology, social work, pastoral studies or a discipline judged equivalent to these, with a minimum overall average of 75% (B+);
  • Completion of at least one course in each of the following: research methods, professional ethics, psychopathology and treatment, theory of counselling, spirituality and religion;
  • Completion of at least three undergraduate courses in the area of spirituality and religion and one graduate course such as IPA5134, or IPA5144. Depending on the candidate’s background the Admissions Committee may require additional courses prior to admission such as IPA6120, IPA6108, IPA5106, and IPA5131;
  • A good academic performance and research potential as shown by official transcripts, major research paper, master’s thesis, research reports, publications in peer-reviewed journals, abstracts, presentations, etc. The admission dossier must include a written description in the form of a basic outline of the proposed research project;
  • At least 120 hours of supervised direct, face-to-face, contact with clients;
  • Successful completion of an admission interview with the Admissions Committee. The factors evaluated at this interview will include the relevance of the candidate’s proposed research topic, the candidate’s previous experience, the capacity of the candidate to succeed in doctoral-level studies, personal aptitude and interpersonal skills, and the availability of appropriate core faculty to direct their research;
  • Three confidential letters of recommendation, including at least one addressing clinical skills and one addressing academic strengths from a professor who has known the applicant and is familiar with the candidate’s work;
  • A statement of purpose indicating the interests, career goals, research focus, and other factors relevant to the proposed research area;
  • Identification of two potential thesis supervisors, ranked in order of preference, who must be members of the program and of the FGPS.

Language requirement

All applicants must be able to understand, speak and write proficiently in either English or French and must have a passive knowledge (ability to read and understand university level texts) of the other language. Applicants whose first language is neither English nor French must provide proof of proficiency in one or the other. The list of acceptable tests is indicated in the “Admission” section of the General Regulations of the FGPS.

Transfer from Master’s to PhD Program

Students in a master’s program who have achieved an 80% (A-) average in their last two years of undergraduate studies may be allowed to transfer to the PhD program without being required to write a master’s thesis provided they meet the following conditions:

  • Completion of 5 graduate courses (15 credits) with a grade of A- or better in each;
  • Satisfactory progress in the research program;
  • Written recommendation from the supervisor and the thesis advisory committee;
  • Approval by the graduate studies committee.

The transfer must take place within sixteen months of initial registration in the master’s. Following transfer, all the requirements of the doctoral program must be met.

Some additional documents, and in some cases specific forms, are required. For more information, please see the page Step 4: Gather the documents needed for the assessment of your application.

The following requirements must be met:

  • Six compulsory graduate course of 3 credits each: IPA8101, IPA8102, IPA8103, IPA8104, IPA8105; IPA8106;
  • Completion of a minimum of 1500 hours of clinical practicum, with at least 250 hours within Saint Paul University: IPA8201 and IPA8202;
  • Comprehensive examination (IPA9998);
  • Presentation and defence of a thesis (IPA9999) based on original research carried out under the direct supervision of a faculty member in the Faculty of Human Sciences and the FGPS. The thesis can be either a monograph or a series of articles prepared for publication in scholarly journals (See the FGPS guide: “Preparing a Thesis or a Research Paper: A Guide for Graduate Students and Supervisors.”).

Comprehensive exam

The comprehensive examination, which has a written and an oral component, allows students to demonstrate the depth and breadth of knowledge gained from course work, and their ability to integrate concepts, principles and theories, and apply these to counselling and spirituality. In addition, the comprehensive exam provides students with the opportunity to defend their written work orally.

The procedures for the Comprehensive exam are available on the program website.

The evaluation of the written and oral exam is on a Satisfactory/Not Satisfactory basis.

A student who fails the comprehensive examination has the right to one retake. A second failure leads to compulsory withdrawal from the program.

Thesis proposal

The proposal and ethics approval must be completed before data collection can commence.

Minimum Standards

The passing grade in all courses is C+. Students who fail two courses (equivalent to 6 credits), the thesis proposal, the comprehensive exam or whose progress is deemed unsatisfactory must withdraw from the program.


All students must complete a minimum of six sessions of full-time registration.

Duration of the Program

The requirements of the program are usually fulfilled within four years. The maximum time permitted is six years from the date of initial registration.

Thesis Advisory Committee

The Thesis Advisory Committee is formed during the first session of registration in the program. It is composed of the thesis supervisor and two additional faculty members. At least two members of the Committee must be from the Faculty of Human Sciences.


Study of qualitative and hermeneutical methods as these are used in the social sciences and in theological study of spirituality. Comparative study of one or more Christian spiritual traditions and one or more spiritual traditions within other religions and secular culture to increase understanding and practice of spirituality. The course is designed to highlight the role of spirituality in the emotional well-being and adjustment of individuals. This course will treat the question of personal and spiritual growth. The importance of spiritual practices and the overall relationship of spirituality to the counselling process will also be considered.


This course examines counselling in a culturally pluralistic spiritual and religious context. It examines the possibility of mutuality and dialogue using a comparative religions approach from social science and theological perspectives. The theory and practice proposed focuses on the differing spiritual and secular humanist journeys of the counsellor and the client, and the possibility of meeting in difference. Topics covered include: the impact of enculturation, intercultural identity, inter-religious dialogue, intercultural competence on both parties; the ways in which intercultural competence and intercultural growth contribute to spiritual growth. The course enables counsellors and their clients to assess the extent to which spiritual values, beliefs and practices are an asset or a liability for clients in reaching their counselling goals.


This course treats issues related to the needs and social status of certain special populations. Accumulated data on group characteristics and challenges facing some special populations, such as those who are aged or those who are homeless, are critically reviewed. Membership in some social groups may involve loss of social privileges, as well as diminished access to mental and health care resources. Students explore issues related to the unique spiritual and mental health needs of these groups, their social circumstances, and the implications for service provision. Growing problems concerning assessment, intervention, and the increased barriers to services are examined from the point of view of community approaches to research and intervention. The role of counsellors working with persons with unique needs, individually or at the community level, will be addressed.


This course explores meaning-of-life issues often presented by clients in a variety of contexts, including, but not limited to, the quest for increased well-being, existential crises, life transitions, loss and death, end-of-life, and trauma. Qualitative methods of data collection and analysis are critically reviewed to gain insight into the meaning participants give to their lived experience, the meaning they place on events, processes, perceptions and into the ways in which they connect these meanings to the social world around them. A variety of religious, spiritual and secular humanist sources of and responses to existential issues are treated.


The focus of this course is the critical analysis and discussion of the challenges that counsellors face in choosing and applying qualitative and quantitative methods to spirituality. In-depth study of design pitfalls that arise from the complexity and unpredictability of working with human subjects given the multi-cultural complexity of pluralistic societies. Potential topics include sampling issues, measurement issues, and special analytic techniques.


Guest lecturers will select readings and lead seminars related to relevant research topics such as proposal writing, conceptual frameworks, ethics, methods and procedures, and statistical analysis. Students must write an annotated bibliography and prepare a plan for their comprehensive exam. In addition, they must write a paper and do an oral presentation designed to facilitate their work around the thesis proposal. Evaluation by the seminar coordinator.


The internal clinical practicum takes place in the Saint Paul University Counselling Centre. The goal of the practicum is to put into practice the theoretical knowledge of counselling and spirituality. Supervisors will specify the goals, objectives and syllabus of practicum. They will use observation, debriefing, peer review, written and oral feedback, and direct intervention and observation, to instruct and evaluate students. Minimum number of hours: 250. Graded S/NS.


Clinical practice in an external location that must be approved by the program director. Graded S/NS. Students complete a minimum of 1500 hours of supervised training, internal and external practicum combined.


Analyse des méthodes qualitatives et herméneutiques utilisées en sciences sociales et dans l’étude théologique de la spiritualité. Étude comparée d’une ou de plusieurs traditions spirituelles au sein des religions chrétiennes et autres confessions religieuses ainsi que de la culture laïque, afin d’accroître la compréhension et la pratique de la spiritualité. Le cours est conçu de façon à mettre en lumière le rôle de la spiritualité dans le bien-être de l’individu sur le plan affectif. Ce cours traitera de la question de la croissance personnelle et spirituelle. On y abordera également l’importance des pratiques spirituelles et le lien entre spiritualité et processus de counselling dans son ensemble.


Ce cours aborde la pratique du counselling dans un contexte multiculturel et interconfessionnel. Il étudie la possibilité de la réciprocité et du dialogue utilisant une approche comparée des religions à partir des perspectives des sciences sociales et de la théologie. La théorie et la pratique proposées mettent l’accent sur la différence entre le cheminement du conseiller et celui du client dans les contextes spirituels et humanistes laïques, et sur la possibilité de rencontres dans la différence. Les sujets couverts incluent l’impact de l’inculturation, de l’identité interculturelle, du dialogue interconfessionnel et de la compétence interculturelle des deux parties en cause ; la manière selon laquelle la compétence et la croissance interculturelles contribuent au développement spirituel. Le cours permet aux conseillers et à leurs clients d’évaluer dans quelle mesure les valeurs spirituelles, les croyances et les pratiques sont un avantage ou un inconvénient pour les clients dans l’atteinte de leurs objectifs en counselling.


Ce cours traite des problèmes reliés aux besoins et au statut social de certains groupes spécifiques et de personnes marginalisées. Des données recueillies sur des caractéristiques de groupes et les défis auxquels font face certains groupes marginalisés (par exemple, les personnes âgées ou les sans-abri) seront analysées. L’appartenance à certains groupes sociaux peut entraîner la perte de privilèges sociaux de même qu’un accès limité aux ressources en soins de santé physique et mentale. Les étudiants exploreront les problèmes reliés aux besoins spécifiques en spiritualité et en santé mentale de ces personnes, leurs conditions sociales et les implications concernant l’obtention de services. Ils feront l’étude des problèmes croissants en rapport avec l’évaluation, l’intervention et l’accès aux services, et ce, du point de vue d’approches communautaires sur le plan de la recherche et de l’intervention. On abordera le rôle des conseillers qui travaillent soit avec des individus soit avec des groupes communautaires présentant des besoins particuliers.


Ce cours explore les enjeux reliés au sens de la vie que présentent souvent les clients dans des contextes divers – incluant, mais non limités à – un bien-être accru, des crises existentielles, des transitions de vie, des pertes, la mort, la fin de la vie et le trauma. Les méthodes qualitatives de la collecte des données et leur analyse seront examinées pour comprendre le sens accordé par les participants à leur expérience de vie, aux événements, processus et perceptions, afin de saisir la manière dont ils relient le sens de ces concepts à leur environnement social. Seront aussi abordées dans ce cours différentes sources et réponses religieuses, spirituelles et humanistes sur des questions existentielles.


Ce cours poursuit les objectifs d’analyser de manière critique et de discuter les défis que rencontre le conseiller dans le choix et l’application des méthodes qualitatives et quantitatives au regard des questions de spiritualité. Étude approfondie des défis à relever pour faire des recherches impliquant des sujets humains dans toute leur complexibilité et imprévisibilité vivant dans une société pluraliste et multiculturelle. Les thèmes possibles incluent l’échantillonnage, la mesure, les techniques spéciales d’analyse.


Des professeurs invités proposeront un choix de lectures et dirigeront des séminaires portant sur des sujets de recherches pertinents, tels que la rédaction de thèse, le cadre conceptuel de la recherche, l’éthique, les méthodes et procédures et l’analyse statistique. Les étudiants devront préparer une bibliographie annotée et un plan de travail en prévision de leur examen de synthèse. Ils devront aussi rédiger un travail ayant trait à leur projet de thèse et en faire une présentation orale. Évaluation par le coordonnateur du séminaire.


Le stage clinique interne se déroule au Centre de counselling de l’Université Saint-Paul. L’objectif du practicum est de mettre en pratique les connaissances théoriques du counselling et de la spiritualité. Les superviseurs cliniques définiront les buts, les objectifs et le plan du practicum. Ils utiliseront l’observation, le « debriefing », les commentaires des pairs, la rétroaction écrite et orale ainsi que les interventions et observations directes pour aider et évaluer les étudiants. Nombre minimum d’heures : 250. Noté S/NS.


Pratique clinique dans un centre externe qui doit être approuvé au préalable par la direction du programme. Noté S/NS. Les étudiants complètent un minimum de 1500 heures de practicum supervisé dans leurs stages cliniques interne et externe combinés.



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Telephone: 613-236-1393
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June 1 to August 14

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Information for future students

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