Religious Psychotherapists

By Joseph, Newton | Free Inquiry, Summer 1993 | Go to article overview

Religious Psychotherapists


Joseph, Newton, Free Inquiry


I have a client who was seeing another therapist, who had to pray before her sessions with the therapist. I often wonder about psychotherapists who are religious and believe in and pray to an invisible god. It seems to me that a belief in a god and being an autonomous adult is a contradiction.

So when I read the brochure of the Fuller Theological Seminary, which has a Ph.D. and Psy.D. program in clinical psychology approved by the American Psychological Association, I wonder: How much credibility can they have to those who have some understanding and objectivity in comparative religion, mythology, and anthropology? The prerequisite to the seminary is that you be subjective, superstitious, a magical thinker, and a good compartmentalizer, so your intellect and your emotions never meet. (That is, you have to be a Christian and believe in Christianity's tenets.)

That psychotherapists pander feelings of guilt, shame, dependency, powerlessness, self-hate, and compliance to invisible and visible authority figures to their clients is reprehensible. It only proves one can have a degree in psychology and still be irrational, superstitious, and unaware of one's own conditioning.

I agree with Dr. Wendell Watters in his paper, "Christianity on Trial for Crimes Against Humanity." As Dr. Watters points out, Christianity's emphasis on the primacy of the human-to-god bond has made it extremely difficult for human beings to develop the supportive human-to-human bonds required for adaptive interpersonal and social functioning. He writes:

Christianity's promotion of infantile strategies for problem-solving compromises the natural human impulse to learn adult problem-solving strategies as part of the maturing process. . . . Christianity's reliance on the stimulation and exploitation of existential fear and guilt as strategies for gaining and wielding power produces low self-esteem in those individuals who are influenced by those strategies.

So the doctor to whom you go for help and healing is the one who keeps infecting you.

One reason therapists don't deal with the negative or pathogenic aspects of religion is that they are fearful of losing clients and income. Another reason is that many therapists are magical thinkers themselves. (By this I mean belief in ancient mythical gods, past lives, life after death, new age beliefs, etc.). So they might shy away from these subjects. They thereby avoid arousal in themselves of feelings of insecurity that would otherwise be produced by encountering persons who hold, and in due course express, contrary beliefs of a religious nature, thereby endangering their own defenses against the powerful underlying doubts deep within themselves.

I work with many fine therapists who do an excellent job, and people benefit by their experience. Some therapists are Catholics; some are born-again Christians; some rely on faith for their religious beliefs and everything in between. Now, as I said, they do help people (at least at some level of consciousness), but for me, they lack all credibility. I could never choose any of them as my therapist.

It has been my experience, being in supervision with many of them over the past twelve years, that they never, to my recollection, talk about the religious problems or conflicts of their clients. You can see why they would never question or challenge one's religious belief systems and promote what I see as a neurosis, and because of this, there is a certain amount of collusion limiting patients' level of consciousness. it's like helping people live better with their neuroses. …

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