Agnostic Humanist In The South, On Mental Health

Back to square one.

I was a practicing and fully-dedicated Catholic until my Junior or Senior year of high school when I took my first steps into other Christian churches. For the next 10’ish years I would enter a lot of churches, I’d meet several Buddhists, I’d read a lot of books and I’d join a lot of bible studies. I even got full-on baptized in a pool in front of a large Southern Baptist congregation. All in a search for something I fell like I just couldn’t find. I kept doubting my religions selections no matter what they were.

And then, sometime in my late 20s I allowed myself to give up the search for a church or even for religion and I have not – for one second – doubted that decision. I spent the 10 years prior doubting every church I joined, “No…this is just not right for me…” but when I stopped joining churches? I stopped doubting. That was the exact right decision for me and I’ve never looked back. Kim without religion and church is a much better Kim for a ton of reasons that I’ve written about on this blog repeatedly.

I tell you all of this to make sure you believe me when I say: I do not need – or want – religion in my life.

And I tell you that so that you’ll understand why I’m already breaking up with my therapist after 2 sessions.

At the “evaluation” session (the first one, where I lied) there was one question I strongly answered with confidence and unwavering conviction:

“Do you actively belong to any religion or strongly hold religious beliefs?”
“No, except that I strongly believe in NO religion. At least not for me. I have no problem with religion for other people, but I very confidently subscribe to something I refer to as ‘secular humanism.'”

That was probably the ONLY question I answered confidently the whole day.

Fast-forward to session two when we’re talking about the challenges of some change related to food and I can’t even remember what it was exactly, but I remember I was fidgeting with my pen and notebook and I was fighting back tears as we were talking and then…BAM…

“Well, this is where a lot of people turn to faith…faith in whatever God or higher power you subscribe to. I’m not sure where you are now but I know you grew up Catholic so…”

I remembering that stopped the urge to cry DEAD in it’s tracks and I said, “Yeah…Nope. Not for me at all. I’m all for religion for other people but not at all for me.”

I allowed it to pass, thinking maybe she had forgotten the original interview. Although, for me, that’s a HUGE thing to forget. My anti-religion stance should stand out like one of those flags they put on my file at my OB/GYN that indicates: THIS GIRL HAS A SHIT-TON OF MISCARRIAGES. My flag at the therapist office should say, “NO RELIGION” to separate me from the masses.

I let it slide although suddenly I started noticing religions themed books on her shelf and I started feeling very uncomfortable.

Then we started talking about forgiveness v/s reconciliation and I REALLY enjoyed where this was going and I was getting teary again and then…BAM…

“This is where, for a lot of people and for me for sure, Grace comes in. I couldn’t forgive without the Grace of God to help me…”

And I was out. I mentally checked out for the last 10 minutes and found myself torn between being A) Super-angry that this therapist could not offer me any help outside of religion and B) Super-upset I was going to have to start looking again.

I went out to my car and cried a bit because – OH MY GOD – searching for a therapist was SO HARD. And I was hurt because I’m 100% certain there are ways to counsel someone through their grief and their sadness without God and yet, here I was, basically ONLY being given God as an option 2 days before the anniversary of my Dad’s death.

Here’s the thing. Had she talked about meditation or yoga or peaceful hikes in the woods I would have been ALL OVER THAT. I’m very much supportive of using the spiritual nature of the world to achieve peace from grief. Just don’t stick “God” in there and don’t make it sound like the only way I’ll be able to forgive is with the help of that God.

I – of course – let Twitter in on the drama and Twitter did not let me down in validating my anger/hurt. I was especially happy that several people were Christians and still did NOT want God as part of their therapy. And many were getting therapy actively where God was not even brought up and it is THEIR RELIGION. So, obviously I should be able to be counseled without God.

I don’t know. I like her. And if I made a friend who suffered like I do but also was Christian? I’d totally recommend them to her. She has valuable experience but when her first two proposals for solutions (and really, the ONLY proposals for solutions she made) required a belief in something I don’t believe in? Totally not going to work at all.

I’ve landed on that slide in Candyland that makes you go ALL THE WAY BACK to the beginning. Here’s to adding a new question to my screening process, “Will this therapist be able to help me if I don’t subscribe to a religion?”

18 thoughts on “Back to square one.”

  1. You are a better person that I am…I would have been out of there the first time. Religion is not a coping mechanism. Yeah, I’m a Christian, but nope, God and faith is not going to stop my anxiety attack. Remember that it’s about you and not the therapist…so don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions right back during that first visit. And honestly, you are paying him/her not to judge you…so be honest and if they are judging you, it is not the right person.

  2. Wow…

    Beyond being a minister I’m also a community chaplain, a grief counselor, you know the sort of person who is present when there has been a tragedy. During that time there is no God talk unless the person I am present for wants it. It is mostly heart talk, grief talk…how can this therapist be present to you or anyone else if she hasn’t listened to you at all? It’s sounds like like like the session was more about themselves than you…I am so sorry that happened to you. That should never happen.

  3. If perchance you do go back for one more visit (while you look for another therapist), be sure to remind her right off the bat your stance.
    Perhaps she doesn’t understand that when you say “no religion” that you don’t mean “no organized religion”? My partner says religion is not for him, but he does sort of believe in a higher power. Reading what you said you wrote, I wonder if saying that you are an atheist might have made a difference. If I hadn’t been reading your blog so long, I would have assumed that you meant no organized religion, that you had some kind of personal faith/spirituality, but not one that subscribed to mainstream church or religion.
    But maybe that clarification could help shake her out of her rut, and make her actually BE in the present for YOU, personally, not just “there” for one of her many clients. Just my @$$vice and musings. I could be wrong, of course.
    I’m sure you’ll find the perfect counselor for you.

  4. I’m sorry, that does really stink. I agree that shouldn’t have happened. Like some of the commenters above, I also wonder if it might be worth just one more shot at explicitly telling her you do not want to talk about God or religion or higher powers or anything. You shouldn’t have to do that, but if you’ve already started clicking it might be a relationship that could work in the longer run. If nothing else, I think you should definitely tell her why you are leaving her services, so maybe she will learn a different way of interacting with people and not hurt someone or turn them off the way she did to you. :/ Hang in there, and good luck. I don’t envy you going back to the process of having to find a new therapist; I know that is such a daunting thing. Let us know if we can help!!

  5. I am sorry that happened to you! It is so hard to find a counselor and to open yourself up to someone. To have it not work and have to start over is disheartening. Maybe ask the next place if they are secular or if they have someone who can do secular counseling before you let them start their whole process. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but I used to work for my county in mental health and we had a section called Counseling Services that offered counseling to county residents on a sliding fee scale (and billed insurance). The counselors there were secular since it was a county service. Maybe your town or county has something similar.

  6. That is not a good therapist. I’ve done quite a bit of therapy. One of my therapist had a Master’s in Divinity and never brought up God. Find someone else. It often takes a few tries to find the right one. I’m sorry that happened to you.

  7. You were absolutely right to leave. Not because she’s Christian, but because she’s NOT LISTENING when you keep saying “no thanks, not for me” and maybe not a very good therapist at all if religion is all she can push on people. Good luck finding a decent therapist who can help you and, you know, knows how to listen.

  8. Oh, ugh! I’m so sorry. If she doesn’t know that her patients may not be helped by what helps her … like when the neurologist I was seeing for migraines, who also had migraines himself, got seriously into hiking and found he had fewer headaches, so he started telling me that if I would only exercise more, and OUTDOORS, my headaches would be better. Dude, it does not work that way! (That was the end of my seeing him.)

    There is no one answer for everyone, and you will find a therapist who is a good fit, but it sucks that you have to look again. Hang in there.

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    AN says:

    I am so sorry this happened to you. I had a few therapists before, and I know how hard to find a therapist that suits you the best. My belief is very similar to yours. I knew my therapist was a Jewish. But, honestly, she NEVER even mentioned or asked about my religious belief. I told her what I believe, and we joked slightly how hard it is to find a good partner who believes in the similar fashion (because her kids were having a bit of tough time being Jewish in Alabama.) Honestly, she changed my life, and I can say she was the best therapist in Huntsville (I was recommended to her by another therapist friend). The only thing is that she did not take insurance from BCBS of Alabama… But, she truly is a wonderful therapist in Huntsville. Send me a message if you are interested.

  10. I think control is a big issue. People want to be in control. They are unable to let go or trust others to help. That is where the whole give it up to a higher power train of thought comes in. Trusting a higher power, as opposed to trusting your fallible mate or pia bff, just feels more ok because you are letting go to someone/thing more worthy.

    Personally, I feel this is a therapy technique and not really about God at all. It’s about letting go of the need to keep a stranglehold on control.

    All that to say, address the issue head on. Ask her why she is taking this route. Tell her why you are conflicted. Give her a chance to find something that works for you. If you are still at loggerheads, ask for a recommendation to a therapist better able to work in your belief system.

  11. Just wanted to say, you are not back at square one. You have learned that this is not the right therapist – not what you wanted to have learned, sure, but you are further ahead. You are on a long road and this was just one step, but you are further down than you were when you started. You are still moving forward, just like a trail run 🙂

    Just the fact that you are confronting the issue and working on it is a huge improvement over being at step one. This will be a long journey, but everyone here has your back.

  12. I am a Christian but I don’t attend church regularly now because (1) Over the years organized religion has turned me off, (2) I haven’t found a church that accepts me for me and fulfills my need to worship with like-minded people.

    I did go to church with my parents last Sunday for Easter. Mom asked and everyone politely obliged and went. But you know….I liked the theme of the sermon I heard: “I’m not religious, I just love Jesus”

    None of this directly answers your concerns. I believe your mental health and well-being doesn’t have to be tied to religion. As hard as it was….find a new therapist.

  13. I’m so sorry. I have no advice. I can see good things in going one more time to explain but I can also see that it might be best to just cut your losses and move on to someone else…it’s just what will make you feel the best about it. And I really like what one person said about this not being back to square one: you’ve learned a valuable lesson AND you’ve gotten over the hurdle of asking for help (to me that was the hardest part) so asking the next person for help will be that much easier. You’re still on the path to wellness!

  14. You do not owe the therapist anything, not even another visit back to explain yourself. You told her how you felt and she did not listen to you. Not cool. It is similar to when you go to the doctor and tell them, “Hey, I’m not cool with doing things this way,” and they go ahead and do it anyway. This is about protecting your core during one of your most vulnerable times. She violated that. She does not deserve an explanation. I’m proud of you for realizing this and standing up for your beliefs. You are making progress. Keep being awesome!

  15. One of the fundamental tenets of providing therapy: Start Where The Client Is. She flagrantly ignored this and dismissed who you are. Consider an LCSW or whatever the Alabama equivalent is.

  16. I took me a long time too to find the right place where I got legitimate help when I was a mess. Which I think is complete crap, because when you need help and you’re honestly asking for help, the last thing you need is someone being completely and utterly unhelpful.

    Don’t give up. Whatever you do, don’t give up.

  17. Man, how frustrating! I would absolutely start looking for someone new. It’s a little different, but it reminds of the time I posted on fb how absolutely terrified I am of tornados (grew up and still live in the south.) This was the morning after one had torn through the central part of our state, killing several and injuring dozens. In my post I mentioned that as a child, tornadoes were the first thing I realized my parents couldn’t protect me from. An acquaintance commented that while my parents couldn’t protect me, she knew of a God who could. Her comment made me so angry, even though I knew she meant well. Where was god the evening before? Were those who perished just not worthy of being saved? I feel it’s similar to thinking if you believe enough, God will just take away your anxiety! Or maybe your panic attacks are part of his almighty plan? I feel you are absolutely justified in finding someone new. Good luck with your search!

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