God in Therapy: The Unofficial Interviewee Poll
(We wanted to change the name of this post to the Unofficial Response but there are some tech challenges so please note: This is NOT really a poll).
It is We feel very blessed here at Psych Central. We have an amazing opportunity to read your comments and speak with some of the most fascinating people on the web.
How do we get such interesting interviewees? Sometimes we ask someone we know. Other times we contact someone whose book we read or web site we liked. But often, we post advertisements on a variety of top publicity engines.
To get interviewees for our ongoing God in Therapy series we posted three ads describing the nature of the series and asked for responses from psychiatrists, licensed mental health counselors, psychologists, social workers and other mental health professionals as well as patients and families.
In two of the ads we were specific—we wrote that we were more interested in God (and religion), than in just general spirituality (we goofed up the first ad and forgot to mention that). We also specifically said we were interested in non PC viewpoints—and explained that so much has already been written on Buddhism and Zen and Tao in therapy that we were really looking for something less mainstream. Of course, if they had a novel view, we would consider interviewing them.
Our average response rate for all three engines combined is usually around 60. We got 234 responses within 24 hours of placing the ads! The response was ridiculous! It seems that everyone has something to say about God in therapy. It took a long time just to review the emails and look at people’s web sites. Obviously we couldn’t interview everyone.
As we talked about the response we realized that the process of choosing interviewees was pretty interesting–and so were their emails asking to be interviewed! So we decided to share some of what we found.
In emails from respondents the content ranged from the incredibly honest and sublime:
I was invigorated by your query and the subject matter: honest discourse about God. I am someone for whom faith and my own personal spiritual journey has informed much of my personal background and flavored much of my psychotherapy practice–even in the absence of dialogue we share our faith with those we interact with, in action, in philosophy, and in our approach to psychotherapy. As humans our “self” does inform our work and as a therapist I know that even when I am being as “tabla rasa” as is necessary for objectivity I am still subjective in my humanity.
My own history with trauma & PTSD brought me to a very existential and Victor Frankel inspired place searching for meaning. I believe this is the course of much of traumatic experience and trauma leaves people believing in nothing, often, but searching for something to grasp onto–they yearn for faith in some definition.
So do I bring God into the therapy room? I believe I bring God everywhere, and conversely God brings me everywhere I have gone. I have provided therapy for persons of every faith those of no faith and I believe what I bring into the room always meets the patient where they are.
(Excerpts from a powerful email by Florida therapist and yoga teacher Teresa Bennett Pasquale, LCSW, RYT http://www.embodymentalhealth.com/)
To the moving:
Where do I begin? After I quit my third therapist, I began to suspect that my problem wasn’t my mental health but my spiritual health. I started to ask a lot of questions. Finally, a new therapist said it sounded like I was having an existential crisis and that perhaps I should take a good hard look at the religion I was raised in, but until that point, had ignored. I will forever be grateful to him for pointing out the obvious. I am now a member of a church and community and instead of going around in circles pitying myself for my hard life, yes, I had it hard, I devote myself to family and community. I also spend my Saturdays volunteering and even helped victims of Katrina rebuild.
(Jacko, a former patient who gave us permission to use his nickname)
To the outrageous (we paraphrase, anonymously):
Demons are really the cause of mental illness and I treat patients accordingly.
A licensed therapist on the East Coast
To the annoyed (again, we are paraphrasing, anonymously—but we got two like this):
Richard, I am sorry but God DOES NOT belong in therapy. Only a STUPID THERAPIST would allow this kind of myth to infect their patients. I am sorry, but you WILL HAVE TO CHANGE YOUR TOPIC.
A licensed therapist.
After we completed one very in-depth interview with a counselor he refused to allow us to post the interview (what a shame—it was wonderful!). The reason? We (respectfully), disagreed with his point of view about God in therapy and offered readers a sentence or two on our perspective in our questions and comments. We were really surprised when he asked us to rewrite our words and make them agree with his or else delete the question entirely—or not print the interview! Ouch! We spent a lot of time constructing the questions and editing the interview but we agreed not to print it. I guess bloggers are a prickly bunch and get used to not being censored. Long live the First Amendment.
We got nine emails from mental health professionals who said that it was okay if their patients wanted to talk about God if it helped them feel better but each of these emails overtly stated or implied that they themselves viewed God as sort of benign myth like the tooth fairy.
We got four emails from patients who reported, in essence, that their therapists were not respectful of their Christianity, and two from patients—one a Christian and one a practicing Jew—who said that their therapists were very accepting of their religion.
Of the 44 respondents with Jewish sounding last names, only one mentioned Judaism. 37 wrote that they were Buddhists, Taoists or practiced other combinations of Eastern thought and spirituality. Two mentioned that they were atheists and would encourage their patients to seek to discuss religion or God elsewhere. Four mentioned nothing about their own beliefs at all but said they would respect their patients’ beliefs, as did the majority of all respondents.
Three Mormons responded to our advertisement. We chose to interview Julie Hanks simply because she was so warm and kind—this came across quite strongly in her emails.
We also chose to interview Wendy Young because she too had a lot to share on the subject and was simply warm, wonderful and compassionate.
One Catholic priest responded—he is a possible future interviewee.
A few Evangelical Christians responded—and all their emails showed they were quite sincere about respecting their patients’ religious choices. Two of them said they told their patients their own religious views right up front because they were used to being rejected if people found out later on. They also mentioned that although they didn’t push their patients to talk about God, if the patient brought the topic up, they did their best to maintain professional neutrality.
Only one writer referred to Islam, and only very briefly, as part of a list of religious topics.
We also got one email from someone that seemed like he was trying to sell us his consulting services. Sounded like a really nice guy!
Next it’s YOUR turn to be polled! Get ready for the God in Therapy Series: The Readers’ Poll coming soon.
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2010). God in Therapy: The Unofficial Interviewee Poll. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 10, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/therapy-soup/2010/07/god-in-therapy-the-unofficial-interviewee-poll/