I’m in a marriage and family therapy master’s program, and I hope to go onto a PhD program next year. At my internship, I have several religious clients. Since I am an atheist, I can’t help but be a little unnerved by my clients’ religious tendencies. Sometimes I worry if my clients would even come back to see me if they knew that I am an atheist. I often think about how Harris and Dawkins suggested that people who are moderately religious make it seem like faith is a virtue and, therefore, make it safe for other people who use faith as a reason to do/believe terrible things. Anywho, here’s my question: is it my responsibility, as a therapist, to encourage my religious clients to use their faith as a resource if they may benefit from it, or should I never support a person’s religiosity? Last week, I suggested to one of my religious clients to continue “talking to God”. I felt really weird about saying that, but she is paying to come see me to open up in a safe environment and to improve her quality of life, so I thought maybe I should just use her faith as a resource. What do you all think?
The situation is a bit sticky. Not all religions are equal relative to either the amount of comfort (C) they provide or the the amount of human spirit destroying abusiveness (HSDA) they mete out. For example:
Unitarian Universalism: Perahaps 99% C and 1% HSDA.
Catholicism: 40% C 60% HSDA depending on the priest & locale
Mormonism: 20% C 80% HSDA
Scientology: 5% C 95% HSDA
Islam: 0 to 30% C, and 70 to 100% HSDA depending on the location & group
Religion is a natural phenomenon. Not gods are the same. So when you use the word god you have to also consider which god you’re telling them to return to. The Mormon God, who dislikes adolescent masturbation, premarital sex, and homosexuality while at the same time allowing his founding prophets to sleep with 14 and 15 year old girls and with the wives of other men? The Islamic God, who delights in endless torching of his detractors? The Scientologist god who’s a hostile crazy alien who really likes the money of movie stars and who also likes to lock up his followers in “Sea Org” camps? The Catholic God, who allows his priests to rape children en masse? Or, the Unitarian God, who is really a god you get to define any way you wish - love, sex, nature, the Universe, whatever… So there is a huge difference.
Helping someone out of their abusive faith can be a tricky operation. But when a person is being held down by and abused by their religion I believe it’s our duty to help them.
For your research you could listen to the past conferences of the Exmormon Foundation:
Related links about recovery from Mormonism & the problems with Islam:
I think you really should be honest with your clients so to speak. They’re paying you to essentially be their friend. If their god is a light and fluffy bunny, sex, love, Nature, or the Universe, then maybe it’s ok to tell them to pray to their god. But if their god is an angry bastard who needs to be destroyed at all costs, then maybe it would be best to suggest an alternative approach. And, the fact that the Enlightenment happened & the fact that humans have for the first time found out our true place in the Universe only via science and not via religion should in my view fall into the mix prominently.
Maybe Bill Gardiner, who reportedly works as a counselor and who appeared in Bill Maher’s Religulous film could provide more ideas for you: http://exmormonfoundation.org/media-contacts.html