In my own worldview of faith in God through Christianity, I’ve had people come up to me and ask “Can you be a Christian and also go to therapy?” “Isn’t that what God is for?” Sometimes, these questions can hurt those who are going through personal challenges that are not so easily explained. In the question itself, a divide between faith and psychotherapy is presented, rather than a bond. Why can’t it be both? If you are religious and interested in seeing a therapist, I’d like you to know that faith and therapy are not mutually exclusive!
Something to consider: one in five people suffer from depression. Whether you’re sitting in a small group, at church, or laughing with friends on Friday night, the odds are very realistic that you or a friend in your circle is presently suffering emotional pain. Even if someone appears happy, sociable and capable, internal conflict has the ability to touch people of every background and status. With that consideration in mind, know that it happens in ministry too. Pastors, missionaries, and youth leaders are people who also need to know how to handle difficult emotions and navigate life in a way that supports mental wellbeing. Here are some common myths that need to be addressed and debunked!
Myth #1: You don’t need a therapist, you just need Jesus and God’s Word:
When people of faith believe that only God should be the healer of the mind and soul, the misconception behind their worry is that therapy is a rejection of God and that a therapist might become a replacement. If prayer and God’s Word are not sufficiently comforting or healing them, looking for additional support outside of that may be equated with spiritual failure. It presents a conflicting belief in the individual having to “choose” a “preferred” form of healing.
Alternatively: Therapy is a supplement or Complement to religion, not a replacement:
I have no doubt that God can work through and with the medical providers you seek out. The same way God can guide the learned hand of a surgeon, I believe he uses therapists similarly. Grief Recovery Institute Executive Director Russell Friedman recommends people of faith see therapy and similar methods as additional coping tools for managing their emotions, especially during times of grief and hardship. If you look at most instances of healing in Scripture, someone had to step out in faith and take action to go somewhere, see someone or ask for something. It doesn’t have to be a choice “over” God, but it can be seen as God working through that and with you in the healing process!
Myth #2: People will find out & judge me:
In some religious communities, people worry and fear that if their community or family members discover they are seeing a therapist or choose to begin therapy, they will be seen as “crazy” and their lives will change for the worse. For example, some Orthodox Jewish individuals live in communities where people fear admitting they have problems. If people in these communities learn someone they know is in therapy or deals with a mental illness, they might spread the knowledge around. This can make people feel as if they are ruining prospects for their future within the community and are bringing shame and dishonor on their families. This stigma is similar in other close communities such as small Christian or Muslim towns.
Alternatively: You are not weak or judged. God works through everything & everyone, including therapists:
Just like God uses skilled doctors to help us heal from physical wounds, God uses professionals to help us heal our nervous system and process memories that once wounded you, so that you’re free to sleep, rest and access all parts of your heart and your story. What counselors do is invite people into the story that God is writing in the person’s life. I believe I can join in with you and witness God do some pretty remarkable things! So to think that there’s some general truth that counselors are somehow taking the place of God not only diminishes God, but really makes counseling something that it’s not.
Myth #3: Any therapist will be too liberal, secular, or too conservative:
There can be a worry that the therapist they wind up with is too liberal and will criticize or attempt to change their religious values and beliefs.
Alternatively: Therapy is about hope, collaboration, reflection, and relationship:
We are not here to tell you what to do or what to believe in. At the end of the day, our job is to be a hope-peddler. Seeing a therapist is sitting with someone who knows that God is working and that any movement out of the quicksand is going to be because we hope. We are here to facilitate, understand, and have a conversation about your thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and circumstances that surrounded a belief or an event.
Division No More
If you believe in God, that means you believe he created your body and your mind. Therapy is an opportunity to meld your mind and faith, allowing both to become stronger rather than divided. What I discovered working with religious people, (even those outside my own faith), is that coming to terms and knowing ourselves to the fullest extent possible only deepens our faith all the more. It is being able to hold both together without feeling the need or pressure to choose one or the other. I believe that God gave us this symphony of emotions and layers of brain activity. Both of our wisdom and faith can be served by knowing them more!
If you’ve ever felt even a small polarization between your life’s many issues and your faith, or if you’ve been directly discouraged from seeking out a professional counselor, I sincerely hope these few perspectives I’ve shared can be helpful. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’d happily discuss any unique barriers you have with you in hopes of outlining a path toward greater self-knowledge that will potentially deepen your relationship with God. Book an appointment with me by calling or clicking our web link!
Written by therapist Tina Choi