Are you religious, or from a religious background? If so, you probably know from your own experiences that unless the therapist is very cautious, therapy and religion can be like oil and water. Many religious clients have told me they have had awful experiences with a not-religious therapist, or with a therapist from another faith. The most commonly cited negative experiences are:
- The therapist asked the client to explain at length about their religion, sometimes taking one or more full sessions.
- The therapist asked questions which put the client in a position where they felt they had to defend their religious beliefs.
- Therapist encouraged client to not be so religious, or to abandon their religious life entirely.
- Therapist made negative statements about the client's religious beliefs.
A therapist who is skilled and experienced working with clients who have strong religious beliefs doesn't do those things. Here's how I provide therapeutic support to my religious clients:
- By asking the client to briefly touch on how their religion provides support in their life.
- Encouraging the client to talk about what they think that I need to know about their religious beliefs in order to be helpful to them.
- Working with the client to consider any support system associated with their religion that may be helpful, if/when appropriate.
- Maintain open dialogue and encouraging feedback so clients can tell me if they feel misunderstood in any way.
- Make no assumptions about a client, their religion, and their way of life.
Here are some things that I NEVER do when working with religious clients:
- I never make assumptions about their religion.
- I never make assumptions about how religious customs and beliefs impact their everyday life.
- I never tell a client that they should abandon their religious beliefs, customs, or life.
- I never make negative statements about a client's religion.
To me, this is how an ethical therapist provides therapeutic support to a religious client. My approach is strengths based and positive in its roots, because as a religious person myself I know that religion and a religious community can bring tremendous support and comfort.
Whether you are new to therapy, or you decided to find a new therapist who both understands and won't make you feel uncomfortable and defensive about your way of life, I can help.