To see the rest of the God in Therapy series, click here.
It’s the 21st century. You can talk about—and do—it all. Infidelity, sexuality, violence. Drugs, suicide, gambling. Perjury, double-standards, politicizing. Hey, even taxes are a hot topic. However… if you want to talk about God or “do” religion, well, just about everybody’s knee jerks. Sometimes it seems that we don’t so much have a culture of freedom of religion as freedom from religion.
Therapy culture is no exception. And, with very good reason, in many cases. In therapy, the therapist must do his or her best to not (implicitly or explicitly) force his or her morality or religious viewpoint on the patient. The general rule is to avoid instigating any discussion of codes of conduct or sets of beliefs that don’t reflect the mores of a purely secular-cultural way of life. (This is nearly impossible for mere mortals to do in totality, by the way).
Still, this doesn’t mean that the therapist cannot have his or her own deeply held religious and moral beliefs and viewpoints. And it doesn’t mean that basic morality, such as preventing someone from committing a violent or self-destructive act, can’t come into play in therapy. It can and should.
But there is a blurred line—so blurred as to be a hazy, foggy mess—between a therapist not bringing his moral or religious viewpoints into therapy overtly, and not having them. By the very nature of their being, deeply held beliefs color each and every therapeutic choice he makes.
The ability to relate to people from “where they’re at” is helpful, and is a skill that can be cultivated. And, with practice, this strong learning towards non-judgmentalism can be implemented much of the time. Still, we contend that our moral/religious/spiritual outlook is so much an integral part of who we are that there is truly no such thing as a “blank-slate viewpoint”—we aren’t, after all, robots or computers.
In fact, if we are honest, we’ll acknowledge that secularism, too, is a moral/religious/spiritual outlook. Non-religion, like religion, has its own system of weights and measures, its own values, its own set of deeply held beliefs. Secularism isn’t, as some believe, a plain-vanilla blank slate. Atheism is as much a part of a person’s worldview, impossible to prevent from filtering into one’s every thought, word, action, as is Christianity, Judaism, Islam or any other religion.
When comparing one’s beliefs with someone else’s, we naturally think that we are the ones who are free from bias—(that “we” includes you and me by the way)! It is very challenging to step back and see that our beliefs are utterly interwoven into the fabric of our being, especially if we are convinced by majority viewpoints or passionate minority viewpoints, that our particular way of thinking is the only one that is free from bias.
If we value being bias-free (and that is a whole other topic—because that may not be the most desirable state), and we want to be really honest, we are obligated to examine our knees very carefully when they start to twitch.
Here’s one story: Author and PsychCentral blogger Therese Borchard frequently writes about her Catholic faith and how her relationship with God has profoundly helped her. Yet upon recommending her books to someone who we felt would find comfort in reading them, we were told, “Oh, you recommended her to me because she believes in God.” Actually, we recommended her for her honesty, her commitment to her family, her willingness to share her life with others, her bravery, and many other reasons. We personally hold quite different beliefs about God, and don’t agree with her on several fundamentals—but that doesn’t mean we don’t find her work valuable.
On the flip side, we haven’t yet been in the situation where we’ve recommended a book and the recipient says, “Oh, you recommended that book because the author is an atheist.”
Another thought worthy of trembling-knee examination: More than a handful of therapists openly speak about incorporating Buddhism, Taoism, Yoga* and other eastern religions and spiritual philosophies and practices into their therapy methods. Many offer up suggestions based on these religions and philosophies. Why are some sets of beliefs given a pass and allowed to be openly suggested to patients but not others? That’s an invitation for you all to share your comments, by the way!
Also, going back to an earlier question: Is a lack of bias even always desirable? If a set of beliefs is to have real meaning, does this mean we have to praise beliefs that openly contradict ours? We have invited therapists, patients, and others to discuss these topics with us in this new Therapy Soup series, “God and Therapy”. Over the next few weeks we will post interviews and discussions.
We want to open up a serious conversation where everyone can be honest, even if that means being politically incorrect. We touched on this subject in our first book, Therapy Revolution (now finally available in Kindle), and we’re also addressing this in our next book).
Let’s talk about God and Therapy–we invite your comments!
We are in the process of interviewing therapists and patients about this topic. Next: Interview with Michigan-based therapist Wendy Young, coming soon.
*Here we refer to Yoga as the general name for several physical and meditation practices that were developed as a part of Hindu worship and currently regarded in India, though not by most American proponents, as still being an integral part of that religion.
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Last reviewed: 3 Jun 2010