Atheist therapists?
February 27, 2009 11:44 AM   Subscribe

How to find an atheist-friendly therapist?

No, I don't beleive in God(s) or crystals or feng shui and I don't much believe in therapy either. But I have been having some depression and anxiety issues that I want to at least try to fix. I know Christian doctors and dentists have that little fish by their names in the yellow pages but what about atheists? Is that something you can ask over the phone? I don't have time to shop around too much during work hours.

I have nothing against religious people, but I have had several bad experiences with therapists (and even job counselors) talking about religion or spirituality as a way to solve things and that just isn't going to work.

I am in my late 30s with good health insurance in the NE US if it matters.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Seriously, any ethical, properly qualified therapist who doesn't explicitly advertise themselves as a religious counselor ought to be completely fine with your atheism.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:58 AM on February 27, 2009

Sure, I don't see why you couldn't ask over the phone (or at least bring it up in the first "getting acquainted/goals for therapy" session, though I understand it's preferable in terms of time/efficiency to get it clear from the get-go). Just say that it's crucial for you to be in a therapeutic environment in which your atheism is respected.

If that doesn't get you anywhere, I wonder if contacting a group like the Center for Inquiry (list of regional centers here) or American Atheists might help. Perhaps they keep a database of therapists who are atheist/agnostic, or might know of a related professional organization.
posted by scody at 12:02 PM on February 27, 2009

I have never heard of any licensed therapist espousing religion as a solution to anyone's problems. Ever. As a matter of fact, I'm looking in the phone book for therapists right now and not one has an Icthys by their name, nor any religious branding of any kind.

I'm not saying they're not out there, but you either must have had some seriously bad luck or misinterpreted what they were saying. For instance, if you complain about feeling isolated, a lot of therapists will advise involving yourself in community activities - a lot of which may be church related, since that's just the nature of American culture. Such a suggestion could be interpreted as "join a church it will solve all your problems."

Either way, just let them know you're an atheist up front and try a new one if they're not to your liking.
posted by Willie0248 at 12:12 PM on February 27, 2009

Most therapists maintain some sort of website and/or can be contacted by email. I would suggest asking them via email if they include religion in the therapy they provide. I've seen quite a few therapists advertise themselves as religious-based, and I always assumed that the ones who didn't advertise that way did not do therapy that way - but it can't hurt to ask. A good therapist will give you a strong idea of what therapy will be like with them via email or in your first meeting with them, and you should be able to flesh them out. Unfortunately, not all therapists are the same and it may take some footwork to find one that will work for you. However, there are sure to be plenty that are atheist friendly in your geographic area. One resource that worked great for me in finding therapists is
posted by Evanstruth at 12:14 PM on February 27, 2009

I have never heard of any licensed therapist espousing religion as a solution to anyone's problems. Ever.

Ha! Try getting therapy as a student at Indiana University. Christ almighty. I hope it was just at the university, but given my experience, I'd screen any Bible Belt therapist pretty carefully before committing.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:27 PM on February 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

When I was a teenager and went to family counseling, our therapist was Christian and her methodology was Christian and everything was Christian, Christian, Christian. I don't know how my family found her.

When I sought counseling on my own, I have never run into that problem. I have no idea whether my current therapist is Christian or anything else, and she does not have a problem with my atheism (and believe me, it comes up a lot as I work through the issues surrounding being raised in an uber-Christian environment).

Point being, I think you have to work extra hard to find the kind of therapist who imposes religion on their practice, rather than the other way around.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 12:31 PM on February 27, 2009

You should expect of any decent therapist that they meet you where your needs are, though you may have to give them an opportunity to find out what you are and are not comfortable with. It will be a new relationship for both of you and, early on, you may need to communicate about it as much as about the subject you want to work on.
That said, therapy is a lot about learning new habits to replace old ones that no longer work for you. Your being open to finding new ways and ideas is presumably what brings you to therapy, and it might be to your advantage to try on some new ways, even if only temporarily, to see how they feel in practice. Start with the ones that feel least foreign, and then see how far you can be willing to expand your present comfort zone to find a new one. It's a little like shopping for shoes or a coat - trying them on doesn't commit you buying!
posted by TruncatedTiller at 12:55 PM on February 27, 2009

Agreeing with others. While there are certainly therapists out there who most likely let their beliefs interfere with their client's needs, they are in the minority. Therapy - at least the kind of therapy practiced by ethical therapists - is about the client and the client's needs. (And some people need religious-oriented therapy, so I should note that I don't have a problem there so long as it's clear from the beginning that that is what's happening. The reverse of this question - a devout Christian getting therapy from an atheist who refused to acknowledge the client's beliefs - would be as bad.)
You can and should simply ask the question when you first contact the therapist. Don't wait until the first session - you're just wasting your time and the therapist's. Ask directly, "By the way. I've had some negative experiences in the past with therapy that was very Christian-oriented, and as I don't believe in Christianity, it wasn't helpful. What is your philosophy on this?"
The only way that therapy can be the least bit effective is if there is open, honest communication between the therapist and client right from the beginning. If you don't feel comfortable enough to ask, then you aren't likely to get anywhere with that person long-term. If the therapist can't be honest enough to answer, then the same applies.
So just ask.
posted by robhuddles at 1:01 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have never heard of any licensed therapist espousing religion as a solution to anyone's problems

You possibly aren't familiar enough with therapy, as there are plenty of therapists who are faith-based. There are also therapists who are able to draw on their religious faith to help clients who prefer that, but who know how to abstain from it when working with clients who don't want it. I have tried therapy and it never occured to me to ask for someone who was atheist, because religion was not an issue.

A well-trained, ethical therapist does not have to be atheist in order to be a good therapist to an atheist client. However, if atheism is a major part of the client's identity, I can understand that client seeking a therapist who embraces atheism as well.
posted by Piscean at 1:02 PM on February 27, 2009

I'd ask over the phone if they had a problem with atheists. It's a reasonable question to ask if people who base their answers on faith have been a problem for you before. But yeah, in general there are shrinks who can base their answers to you without referring to religion if they so desire.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:06 PM on February 27, 2009

Not to jump on the naivety dogpile, but ...
I have never heard of any licensed therapist espousing religion as a solution to anyone's problems. Ever.

Willie0248, get out more. I've been advised to pray, "explore my faith", and all sorts of other faith-based nonsense by 3 out of 4 therapists.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:31 PM on February 27, 2009

If it comes up, just tell your therapist you're an atheist. You're supposed to be honest, remember? If it's the deciding factor, say it straight away, even over the phone when you're making the first appointment.

If their response isn't something like, "Oh, well, there are secular alternatives such as...," I would be very surprised. Remember, you're paying them. They want you to keep doing that.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:07 PM on February 27, 2009

I just wanted to chime in and note that there's a big difference between religion and spirituality. Atheists can certainly benefit from therapies that most anyone would label "spiritual." In particular, meditation can be both entirely secular and also spiritual. There can also be a therapeutic aspect to rituals of all sorts. I don't know what you experienced previously, and I don't want to presume anything, but if that distinction hadn't occurred to you, I thought it might be helpful to mention it.
posted by Nonce at 5:15 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you are in central MA on the 495 loop drop me a mail and I'll give you a good reference. I hunted through a few therapists, but the one tha Isettled on never brought up religion or spirituality after a few cursory (and standard) questions. I'm sure if I had identified myself as spiritual, she would have incorporated some aspect of spirituality into my therapy, but since I didn't, it never came up.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:33 PM on February 27, 2009

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