“Ask a Latter-day Saint Therapist…” Beware of Therapist Bias

“Ask a Latter-day Saint Therapist…” Beware of Therapist Bias May 8, 2019
I speak of the issue of religious bias clouding therapists’ perspectives on a regular basis. In fact, I’m asked to present about this topic for ethics presentations on a regular basis in University training programs as well as mental health conferences. Glad to be able to share another therapist’s perspectives on the same topic. The LDS Living article he speaks of is problematic on many levels. Please be a critical thinker when you seek professional services. It can be very comforting to see someone from your own background… you share common language, you sense that your values will be respected and you are working within your tribe. And yet, practitioners from religious backgrounds should not be imposing their religious ideas and doctrinal interpretations on to the work they do with you. They should be curious about your religious perspectives, ask about spiritual practices you find helpful and make plenty of safe room for people in their room to have very different interpretations than what they hold personally. This is what we focus on at the Mormon Mental Health Association.
Also, if you haven’t already… check out Daniel’s facebook group. It’s one of the best ones out there that talk about sexuality in comprehensive, informed, sex-positive ways within the intersection of LDS faith and religious practice.
Today’s guest post is written by Daniel A. Burgess.   Opinions shared on guest posts may not completely reflect the positions of the blog’s author. 
Daniel A. Burgess, MA, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in sexuality and relationships. He has also worked as a consultant in Silicon Valley, as well as volunteered within the community in various roles.  Daniel is a blogger, speaker, and author of upcoming“Divine Sexuality”. He also runs an engaging and informative Facebook group discussing marriage and sexuality in the faith, “Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages”.
Imagine for a moment. You walk into your doctors office experiencing abdominal pain. After some empathetic listening, the doctor proceeds to pull out the Doctrine and Covenants and reads section 89 and encourages you recommit to the word of wisdom and promises: 
“And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;
And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;
And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.
And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.”
The doctor sends you on your way without an additional assessment, but reschedules to follow up on your worthiness and commitment to section 89. 
I believe most people would identify this doctors behavior as negligent/malpractice. However, when it comes to therapy, this is exactly what many LDS therapist do, as in the case with this recent article gaining popularity. 
Including principles of ones faith in therapeutic treatment has been shown as supportive in mental health treatment. BUT replacing sound therapy with faith is as dangerous as the negligent doctor above. Ironically, this article is a perfect example of how the philosophies of man are mingled with scripture. Its difficult to determine if the author is speaking as a “bishop” or as a therapist. 
I believe the popularity of the article is driven by a cultural familiarity, not sound therapeutic advice. This is not to say I disagree with everything in the article. However, when its promoted as a “Ask a Latter-day Saint Therapist”, I would expect to hear sound therapeutic guidance, not a “pray it away” toxic religious cultural rhetoric.

Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST can be reached at natashaparker.org and runs an online practice, Symmetry Solutions, which focuses on helping families and individuals with faith concerns, sexuality and mental health. She hosts the Mormon Mental Health and Mormon Sex Info Podcasts, is the current past-president of the Mormon Mental Health Association and runs a sex education program, Sex Talk with Natasha. She has over 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.

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