Hands down, the most common request I receive from any client is to provide faith based psychotherapy services. If you are wondering what this means, continue reading.
In this post, I will go over what faith-based therapy can look like in practice and answer some of the questions people tend to have about it! The answers may clear up common misunderstandings about this therapeutic approach.
So, shall we take a leap of faith? (that was terrible, #sorrynotsorry)
Re-thinking What Therapy Can Offer
Many of us assume therapists offer a secular (non-religious) understanding of the world by default.
Where does this come from?
Since the days of Freud, Western understanding of mental health and wellness have been biased against faith beliefs.
Even in modern times, the notion that mental healthcare should include a religious or spiritual component is a controversial one.
It's important to note that a secular perspective may be exactly what some clients are seeking from their therapist, and there is nothing wrong with that at all!
A Different Perspective
Some of us may wish to see a therapist who shares their beliefs, relates to their worldview, and easily understands what guides their moral values and decision-making.
This can be even more true if you are concerned about having to self-censor your beliefs to avoid being judged or stereotyped.
Therapy can be a difficult experience if you are constantly worried about what your therapist is thinking about you!
It's important to note that most therapists do NOT treat religious and spiritual beliefs as a ‘symptom’ of a problem. Rather, therapists aim to respect their clients’ beliefs and integrate them into the process of therapy.
But, have you ever wondered what faith-based therapists actually do? Or what role religious beliefs and spirituality have in therapy?
Glad you asked.
What Is Faith-Based Therapy?
Faith-based therapy is not drastically different from regular therapy!
Like other therapeutic approaches, it touches on helping clients cope with mental health issues, addictions, life challenges, grief and many other concerns. Similar to other forms of therapy, faith-based therapy can also be used to guide clients who are looking for deeper meaning, purpose, connection, and appreciation in life.
What distinguishes faith-based therapy from regular therapy is how the client and therapist incorporate the client's religious and spiritual beliefs into this therapeutic process.
This looks different for every client. Here are two common dynamics in faith-based therapy:
It's enough for the client to know that the therapist shares an understanding of their beliefs
There is a level of comfort in knowing that the therapist will be familiar with phrases, ideas, and values that the client might otherwise have to explain.
In this dynamic, the client may not be necessarily looking for 'spiritual counselling' and the areas of concern don't have to be related to religion.
The shared identity or beliefs between the therapist and client create a comfort zone and a bridge of understanding.
Sometimes you just need someone who gets it. You know?
The client either interprets emotional and life challenges through the lens of their faith system OR their main concerns are rooted in their beliefs
This dynamic also entirely depends on the unique relationship between the therapist and client.
How does this work? Well, it may look like:
- Exploring the personal meaning of life challenges through the lens of faith
- Processing changes and evolution of clients’ spiritual beliefs and the impact of these changes on their identity and relationships
- Discussing how mental health issues affect spiritual practices
- Drawing on the strength clients find in their beliefs to cope with challenges
Story Time With Sarah
To illustrate this a bit more clearly, I'lll draw from my experience of providing faith-based therapy to a hypothetical Muslim client.
This client is experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Lately, she is struggling to get out of bed and finding it difficult to fulfill her daily prayers. The thought of getting up and performing the motions seems impossible. Fulfilling her prayers is a cornerstone of the way she practices her faith. Feeling incapable of doing this is causing her a lot of distress and worsening her mental health.
A faith-based therapist can approach this client's concerns in a number of ways by:
- Addressing and helping her challenge any shaming or dismissing experiences she may have had
- Validating the intensity of her emotions and the helplessness she is feeling
- Processing her conceptualization of God
- Addressing forgiveness within a faith based context
The Therapeutic Relationship Comes First
Religion and spirituality are deeply personal.
Therapy is also a highly personal experience that we co-create with someone else. This process involves building trust and then sharing what is personal, and sometimes, sacred.
The biggest predictor of any change in therapy is the therapeutic bond between a client and therapist. A shared identity and belief system can be an important factor in fostering this therapeutic bond.
However it is important to keep in mind that while it may be a bridge, it is certainly not a short cut. A therapist who shares a client's beliefs does not automatically have a stronger therapeutic alliance with them!
A solid therapeutic bond takes a lot more than this common ground to develop. A good therapist will understand that building a strong relationship is always a priority, no matter which therapeutic approach they are practicing.
Your Burning Questions
We went ahead and answered some of the common questions people have about faith-based therapy.
If we've missed something, or these answers don't satisfy you curiosity please feel free to email me!
Will My Therapist Be A Religious Figure?
Not necessarily so! Most therapists who practice faith-based therapy are mental health professionals such as psychotherapists, social workers, and psychologists.
The answer to this also depends on the setting you are seeking therapy in. If you are looking for therapy or counselling at a place of worship, it is possible that a religious leader will take this on.
However, many places of worship now have designated mental health services for the communities they serve. Here you may be able to work with a clinical therapist offering faith-based psychotherapy.
Does A Faith-Based Therapist Offer Only This One Type Of Therapy?
This answer will depend on the therapist you ask! In general, the vast majority of therapists are trained in several modalities and use flexible approaches that borrow a thing or or two from many different types of therapy.
This means that even if your therapist can offer faith-based therapy, it does not mean that you are receiving faith-based therapy by default.
There will always be a conversation guided by the client's interest and needs. Trust me, engaging in faith-based therapy is something you are a full participant in!
What If I am Not A Religious Or Spiritual Person?
You don’t need to be a religious person to benefit from faith-based therapy, if that is what you choose! Faith-based therapy will add another layer of context between you and your therapist. Sometimes this added context can even help your therapist understand why you are not religious.
During the assessment phase at the beginning of therapy, a therapist may ask if religious and spiritual beliefs are a part of your life. This is a great time to express your interest in a faith-based approach while discussing any qualms you may have about whether it applies to you.
Will Anyone Try and Convert Me Or Encourage Me To Be More Or Less Religious or Spiritual?
No one will try and convert you!
Faith-based therapy is an approach people take to work with a therapist who will honour their belief system the way it is. If your experience with a therapist is coercive or manipulative in any way (faith-based therapy or not), it is not advisable to stay in that situation.
If your goal includes changing/enhancing aspects of your religious and spiritual practice, faith-based therapy can address this. However, the client is the one that informs the therapist of this.
A therapist will not impose an agenda on the client.
What If My Problems Are Not Related To My Beliefs?
Those who hold religious and spiritual beliefs do not necessarily conceptualize their problems in a religious or spiritual manner. How faith-based therapy is incorporated into the therapeutic process will look different for everyone!
If I Hold Religious or Spiritual Beliefs, Can Secular Therapy Work For Me?
Your therapist will always strive to understand and respect your worldview, regardless of their own beliefs. Moreover, mental health professionals are trained in traditional therapy approaches, which in the West, tend to be secular.
Therapy that is not faith-based can be effective as well, depending on the unique therapeutic bond with the therapist and several other factors. It is too simplistic to say that either faith-based or secular therapy will ‘work’ for you or not.
Of course, finding a therapist who honours all the pieces that make up who you are can go a long way in building trust and comfort. This is an important factor in how effective you may perceive the therapy to be!
Before You Go
We hope that this post helped you understand how faith-based therapy actually works in practice. Having the option to choose this approach makes therapy a more inclusive and holistic experience.
When we consider the deeply personal relationship many of us have with our beliefs, creating space for them and drawing strength from them in therapy can be a wonderful experience.
Let’s ponder for a moment. What would faith-based therapy look like for you?
Leave a comment below or flip me an email, you know I would love to hear from you!
Until next time!