Today we interview Julie Hanks a psychotherapist with perhaps an unfamiliar twist to many of our readers. She is a talented singer-songwriter (Gladys Knight recorded one of her songs), a television personality… and a practicing Mormon. Though many of her clients are Mormons and seek her out for that very reason, many are not. Julie has a unique ability to relate to people that is at once warm and loving, and non-judgmental.

Welcome, Julie. We think most Americans are familiar only with a stereotype of Mormons and Mormonism. It’s possible that many of us are rather limited only because we don’t know any Mormons.  We may be slightly familiar with figures like the Osmonds and Mitt Romney on the one hand and sensational reports of some extremists, on the other.

We’re the first to say our own view may be somewhat limited due to lack of exposure and we don’t want to fall guilty of stereotyping, so can you reflect a bit on Mormon culture in general?  

Unfortunately, much of the media coverage on “Mormon” extremists, like Warren Jeffs for example, aren’t actually even Mormon and in no way represent Mormon culture or lifestyle.

Most practicing Mormon’s are fiercely dedicated to taking care of their families. They also generously donate time and resources, are conscientious community members, and genuinely trying to make the world better.

What does being a Mormon bring to your practice as a psychotherapist?

Being Mormon helps me to understand how a client’s spiritual beliefs and their emotional health are intertwined. I understand the importance for many clients of going to a therapist who will respect their religious beliefs and practices and not undermine them during the psychotherapeutic process.

Because of my spiritual beliefs I have a frame around the therapeutic relationship that allows me to view every person I work with as a valuable child of God, and as my spiritual brother or sister. It adds to the sacredness of the therapeutic relationship and the honor of helping my clients to navigate the deepest parts of their soul.

Where did you study? Were there any conflicts between your curriculum and your religion?

I received my MSW at the University of Utah. Yes, there were definitely things that were taught that I personally didn’t agree with. It was ironic that in my program the values of tolerance and acceptance of all faiths, cultures, and lifestyles were professed and yet there was some bashing of the religious majority. I found that odd.

Actually, we have heard instances of intolerance. And, we’re sorry to say, have even heard, from students, about the “bashing” you mention. Apparently this does occur in some academic programs, which when you think about it is rather shocking. In our opinion, an absolute prerequisite of being in the field is having a healthy respect for people’s sincere spiritual and religious beliefs.

I have and continue to work successfully with clients of all backgrounds and lifestyles. While I have strong religious convictions for my own life I don’t have an agenda for my clients in terms religious or spiritual participation.  Client’s self-determination is of utmost value to me and I meet each client where they are in their life.

Does talk about God tend to be frequent when you work with religious patients?

God is frequently a topic with religious clients, but only to the extent that God impacts their life, their emotional state, and their relationships.

Clients who have unresolved issue with authority figures, particularly with father figures, tend to transfer those issues onto their relationship with deity. If their father was critical and aloof they may experience God in a similar way. One of the most healing parts of therapy is when clients begin to experience God as a separate being from their flawed father figures which opens up new possibilities for spiritual connections.

That is a very valuable insight and one which we strongly agree with. Do you consider prayer an appropriate topic to explore or participate in during therapy sessions? Why or why not?

Prayer is an appropriate topic to discuss in therapy sessions if it part of a client’s practice and belief system. Often, religious clients who’ve previously connected to God through prayer stop praying as they work through shame, guilt, or worthlessness. I have suggested to religious clients that they challenge their feelings of worthlessness by continuing to talk to God even though they believe God doesn’t wants to hear from them.

I have participated in prayer during a therapy session once in 18 years of practice, at a client’s request.

Thank you sharing your insights about your faith and therapy, Julie. You really gave us food for thought. To see more entries in the God in Therapy series, click here!

Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW, BCD is a psychotherapist specializing in women’s mental health, couples counseling, and is the owner and Clinical Director of Wasatch Family Therapy, LLC in Salt Lake City, UT. Utahns also know Julie as a favorite media contributor on NBC affiliate KSL TV’s morning show Studio 5, a relationship columnist for Wasatch Woman Magazine, and a former host of KJZZ TV’s Home Team. In addition to her therapy practice, Julie is an award-winning inspirational singer/songwriter recording recorded hundreds of songs and represent her process of integrating her faith into life’s challenges. Most notably, Gladys Knight recorded Julie’s song “Mercy’s Arms” on her Grammy nominated CD Many Different Roads.

You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.