Therapy and The Faith Community
Being sensitive to culture is an important ethical issue for therapists. Typically, when people think of culture, they usually think of ethnicity. Religion, which is a guiding force in many people’s lives, is usually overlooked. Even though, for some, this is a very important part of who they are, it doesn’t always make it into the therapy room.
I myself am a Christian. I know from my experiences in that community, that many religious folks seek therapists of their own faith or failing that, someone who is at least spiritual. In the past, the religious community didn’t often avail themselves to therapy services. Instead, they would turn to religious leaders. Many were afraid to seek therapy outside of their church. Fears included therapists who might try to discourage or counter their beliefs and values or being influenced to do something they might feel was wrong. In addition, mental illness was sometimes viewed as a matter of faith: if you were anxious or depressed there was something to repent of or you just needed to pray more and have greater faith.
Views are changing. While some clergy do have training as mental health counselors, many do not. More messages from religious leaders of compassion for those who suffer from a mental disorder as well as encouragement to seek help from a trained professional.
Some religious community members (of all faiths) suggest to consider the following when seeking therapy:
● Seek therapists who are trained to be accepting, compassionate, and respectful. If you find yourself working with someone who you feel is trying to subvert your beliefs, choose another therapist. (Although, I encourage you to let them know your concerns first.)
● If your faith is a major part of your life and who you are, let your therapist know. A good therapist will work within your belief system.
● Studies show that active involvement in a religious community can be a protective factor and an aid in improving mental health. With that kind of connection, include your therapist so they can help you call on the support of your community and faith.
In closing, I’d like to leave you with these words from a religious leader regarding mental health therapy.
“However bewildering this all may be, these afflictions [mental health issues] are some of the realities of mortal life, and there should be no more shame in acknowledging them than in acknowledging a battle with high blood pressure or the sudden appearance of a malignant tumor. … If things continue to be debilitating, seek the advice of reputable people with certified training, professional skills, and good values. Be honest with them about your history and your struggles.” ~ Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Oct. 2013. Quoted from this link.
See also “Religious Leaders Are Generating More Mental Health Education” March, 2018