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Secular Therapy – What it is and Who can Benefit

I should probably start by saying that most therapy – unless otherwise specified – is or at least should be secular in nature.  The term “secular” simply refers to “attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis”.  Practices and theories for psychotherapy are rooted in evidence-based practices, so as I already suggested, therapy for mental health issues starts off with the assumption that it is secular in nature unless marketed as otherwise (Example: A trained therapist who identifies as a Christian Counselor and who works with this population by combining spiritual/religious elements into the treatment process, might make this clear when speaking to potential clients and that’s perfectly fine.)  We therapists, however, are trained to meet clients where they are.  We understand that we won’t always work with clients who share a similar worldview as it relates to religious beliefs, values, political affiliation, etc.  This means that if a therapist is serving someone who has a different worldview, the goal should be neutrality – understanding the client’s goals and helping them meet those goals in order to thrive without attempting to influence their values or beliefs.  From my experience, most therapists are great at this. This generally makes it possible to get good care and therapy regardless of a therapist’s own worldview. Their worldview, after all, is not the focus and it may never be necessary to know.  Because of this, when seeking therapy, it’s generally not important to know where a therapist stands in terms of their own values or beliefs.

Some people seeking therapy, however, feel that an important part of finding the “right fit” when it comes to selecting a therapist, involves finding someone they can relate to on some basic levels.  Examples include: An individual from the LGBTQ community seeking help from someone in the same community or a woman specifically seeking therapy from a female therapist for women-specific issues.  Similarly, there are people who – for one reason or another – are looking for secular therapy from a Secular Therapist.  Below is a list of some of the reasons why someone might feel it necessary to seek secular therapy.

1) Religious Deconversion – Someone who has left or who is in the process of leaving the faith of their upbringing might seek secular therapy to work through some of the difficulties associated with leaving that faith.

2) Nonreligious worldview – An individual who doesn’t identify with any particular set or religious beliefs might seek secular therapy, not for religious issues, but because they want to ensure that no elements of religion or spirituality enter the process.

3) Questioning religion – Someone who is questioning their religious beliefs may seek secular therapy to be able to explore their questions in a neutral place without influence of a particular set of values.  They may be concerned that counseling with a spiritual emphasis will influence the direction of the journey, even if it’s probably the case that any good therapist (religious or not) will facilitate growth and movement without inserting their own desires. It should be noted that with secular therapy, as with any other therapy, the goal is to help individuals figure out what works for them.

4) Nonreligious and seeking meaning/purpose – Secular therapy can help nonreligious people explore internal/external sources of meaning and purpose in a different kind of way that might be proposed from a spiritual or religious perspective. This is an especially important thing to sort out for those who were previously religious and who now have to find a different way of framing the world, meaning, their purpose, and mortality.

5) Those seeking an alternative to traditional substance use/abuse treatment models – There is a large emphasis on using the AA/NA traditional 12 step model in most treatment programs.  The higher power concept and spiritual elements associated with this model of recovery can be off-putting for those who do not believe in God.  Aside from individual secular counseling services, support can be found in secular groups such as SMART Recovery or SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety).

6) Just about anybody else – Even those who consider themselves religious/spiritual can benefit from secular therapy unless they are specifically seeking spiritual counsel or an approach that includes religious aspects or interventions.  That being said, a religious person working with a secular therapist should not be discouraged from talking about or practicing spirituality if this is an integral part of their life.

If you’re seeking secular counseling or have any questions, feel free to send us a message.  You can also call or text 727-258-5231.

We work with individuals from varying backgrounds and beliefs and are privileged to be a part of your journey towards positive growth and change.  We offer confidential counseling services in a relaxed and non-judgmental setting.

Joel Schmidt, MA, LMHC




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