Mental disorders, emotional problems, and relationship problems are experienced by theists and atheists alike. I have received many letters to the “Ask Richard” column from atheists who have sought counseling for such difficulties, but the counselors they went to started telling them to “get right with God,” or similar religious nonsense. They had not advertised themselves as “pastoral” or “religious” counselors, but gave the impression that they are simply mainstream psychology-based therapists. Then once the sessions had started, they began to inject their religious beliefs into the therapeutic relationship, implying or overtly stating that the root of the client’s problem was his/her lack of belief in a god.
To a nonreligious client who has had painful experiences at the hands of religious people, or who has lost relationships due to bigotry against atheists, this is a very harmful betrayal of the trust they give to their counselor. Many never try to find another therapist, and so they don’t get the assistance that might help them resolve their conflicts faster and more thoroughly. If depression or addiction is one of their challenges, this could be downright dangerous.
The way I was educated and trained, a therapist behaving this way is seriously breaching his/her professional ethics. Sadly, some seem to think that their religion is outside of their professional commitment to being meticulously respectful with vulnerable people who place their trust in them.
Another problem is that many therapists are nonreligious but are reluctant to advertise specifically as such because they could lose business even from clients who are not specifically looking for religious counseling. They can also be ostracized by their colleagues or their friends. They need a discreet and reliable way to find secular clients as much as the clients need a discreet and reliable way to find secular counselors.
So last March I was very excited to be asked by Dr. Darrel Ray to join the therapist evaluation team of his fledgling Secular Therapist Project, an outgrowth of Recovering from Religion. It is an online database and referral service for mental health professionals who use evidence-based methodologies, not New Age mumbo jumbo, and who are thoroughly secular in their practice. It helps clients find therapists in their area who are suitable for their needs.
After nine months we have now vetted and approved 100 therapists, and we have 1,058 registered clients. Our goal for 2013 is to have 200 therapists on our list.
But ultimately we need several hundred, even a few thousand. Although our providers are scattered across the US, Canada and the UK, there are still many areas where the distance is too far for clients to go for face-to-face counseling. Several of our providers offer “distance counseling” via telephone, instant messaging, or video chat, but this is not always appealing or appropriate for some clients’ needs.
If you know of any licensed mental health provider, whether they are Family Therapists, Social Workers, Mental Health Counselors, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, or several other variations who would be appropriate for our referral list, please let them know about this valuable resource for the atheist community.