Just going through some of my old notebooks and I found the one from my last IPO (Intensive Out-Patient Program) and I started to remember the struggle that I had with that councilor and some of her therapy techniques. I kind of laughed it off when I first started the group; however I remember that there was a few times that I had to remind her of one little thing about me.
I am an atheist.
When you first start a program, the paper work asks (usually) about your religious/spiritual preferences. I had clearly written: “I am an atheist, I would like to avoid any religious or spiritual based therapy”. So, of course, after the first time that I share anything I was given the Serenity Prayer as a therapeutic tool. I remember at the break I asked to speak with the therapist in her office and I explained why that wasn’t a good fit for me.
There were a few more “slips” and she apologized almost immediately. However, after reading my notebook and remembering this, I started to think if religion is really used in therapy. I know there are “Christian Councilors” and such, but do therapists use more religious devices in there practice? I would hope not, because the one thing that I have a low tolerance for is indoctrination. So, I decided to hop onto the Google and see what I could find.
There were a ton of articles on this subject and the short answer is that some therapists are taking into account their patient’s religious beliefs and some may be using some religious techniques in their sessions.
“Techniques include use of prayer during a session, ways to direct clients to pray, spiritual journaling, forgiveness protocols, using biblical texts to reinforce healthy mental and emotional habits and working to change punitive God images.”
Now, if the patient is asking for this type of assistance, then I get it; however if this is how a therapist is handling all of their patients, then I think that it’s a big issue. Simply for these reasons:
- Not everyone believes in a religion.
- Not everyone has the SAME religion.
- It’s unsolicited.
- I didn’t pay for a sermon.
Approximately 71% of the US claims to be Christian. While 6% belong to Non-Christian faiths (Jewish, Muslim…etc.) and approximately 23% are “Unaffiliated” (Athiest, Agnostic or Nothing in Particular).
Just focusing on items 1 & 2, this means that the therapist using these tools would need to be well versed in multiple belief-systems. This way they can handle anyone’s spiritual needs and be ready to tackle the tough questions that will arise when the religion can of worms is open. So, this is now part of the psych classes and is being offered as work-shops and papers are being published on this issue to bring every psychiatrist and therapist up to speed, right?
“Unfortunately, the large majority of practicing psychologists receive no training in religion and spirituality during their graduate and post-graduate education.”
This to me just opens the door to indoctrination. If the therapist is now going to use their religion or someone else’s religious techniques in their practice, then they are running the risk of indoctrinating their patients.
indoctrinate – verb (used with object), indoctrinated, indoctrinating.
to instruct in a doctrine, principle, ideology, etc., especially to imbue with a specific partisan or biased belief or point of view.
(Synonyms: brainwash, propagandize.)
This is horribly wrong (even though one well known therapy group has been getting away with it for decades – AA 12 Steps – http://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/twelve-steps-and-twelve-traditions) and really needs to be examined before these tools are used with patients. I mean, even the father of psychotherapy had very negative reviews of religion in general, so I am pretty sure he would highly object to it’s use in therapy.
Freud refers to religion as an illusion which is “perhaps the most important item in the psychical inventory of a civilization”. In his estimation, religion provides for defense against “the crushingly superior force of nature” and “the urge to rectify the shortcomings of civilization which made themselves painfully felt”. He concludes that all religious beliefs are “illusions and insusceptible of proof.”
“Religion is comparable to a childhood neurosis.” –Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, 1927
Neurosis (noun): a relatively mild mental illness that is not caused by organic disease, involving symptoms of stress (depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior, hypochondria) but not a radical loss of touch with reality.
My main point with this is that with this new movement to include religion in therapy, it should be something that YOU initiate and that YOU bring to the discussion and that you take in account that your therapist isn’t going to be an expert on your faith (You may want to seek out a faith-based councilor if that’s something that you want). I would only suggest that if your therapist suddenly starts trying to lead you in a drum circle, invokes the power of Odin, or brings out a keyboard to sing hymnals to cure your issues, that you may want to run like hell. Even if they do use some religious techniques, they still should be using a lot of science and medicine to address your issues.
I just know that I have fought off indoctrination in the therapy room and the doctor’s office a few times and it wasn’t fun and it usually ended the relationship between me and that person who I trusted to take care of me. I hope that you don’t have to go through that same frustration.
Thanks for reading.