I was recently listening to a Kenyan couple’s podcast, and they had a therapist on to help them iron out some of their differences that had caused conflict. At some point, the therapist says something to the effect that couples are able to forgive because they have received forgiveness from God. This had me wondering, do heathens have the capacity to forgive or is this just something the heathen are completely unfamiliar with? What about people of other faiths? If a therapist’s religion can cloud something so small, something so human, so universal, in what other ways big and small can getting guidance from a religious therapist be detrimental? Here are some potential problems with seeing a religious therapist based on people’s experiences.
Overemphasis on prayer and scripture
Prayer and scripture are key in the lives of believers and religious therapists have been known to recommend prayer and scripture as part of their treatment plans. While this may be psychologically beneficial for believers, it is not for non-believers and can actually be pushy and uncomfortable. Therapy is often undertaken in response to a mental health condition, one problem with religious therapists is they don’t always see it as a health problem, sometimes seeing it as a spiritual problem which can severely hamper treatment. Mental health conditions are health problems and for treatment to be successful, it’s important that they are treated as such.
For religious people, every matter is viewed through their faith making them biased and unable to provide objective therapy. Different religious traditions take a moral stance on certain things and so it can be difficult for a religious therapist to separate their faith from their guidance. For example, religion often attaches stigma and shame to sex which can leak into the sessions. It may also be difficult for them to be helpful to people in the LGBTQIA+ community who in some religious traditions are considered sinners. Everything is viewed through a religious lens which can be detrimental and often laced with shame and guilt.
There’s a common belief that religious therapists may not have adequate training or education in psychological or therapeutic techniques which could lead to ineffective or harmful treatment. In many churches, for example, pastors and other leaders also function as therapists.
Limited treatment options
Because of the religious bias that religious therapists operate under, they offer a limited range of treatment options often falling back on religious-based practices. They also favour religious-based interventions over evidence-based practices.
Some religious therapists though are able to exercise professionalism, don’t push their beliefs on patients and actively rely on evidence-based research and standard practice over their religious beliefs. This is what prompts people to make a distinction between religious therapists and therapists who are religious. Religious therapists are the ones to be wary of.
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