Finding A Freethinking
Mental Health Professional
[name withheld]

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <>
To: [name withheld]
Subject: Re: Freethinker Psychologist/Psychiatrist
Date: Wednesday, May 16, 2001 1:27 AM

This is a very strange request, and I can see how placing this requirement on a professional (or even asking about it) could cause you many problems both in finding the right professional and in getting along with one even if she or he meets your criteria. As long as you stay away from "specialty" counseling (particularly anything having anything remotely to do with "recovery" or any of the other victim-based outlooks) I don't see how this could be a problem except for those rare flukes that just happen to slip through. My recommendation has always been to look specifically for a generic, all-purpose, one-size-fits-all counselor who is skilled in the entire battery of counseling and psychological disciplines and whose specialty is only to try to determine which one(s) will work for a particular patient.

That said, I will offer some suggestions and toy with some ideas. Understand that much of this involves speculation, along with a few if-then situations that may or may not apply to you. Please understand that these are speculations on my part and nothing more.

For a counselor to lay his or her personal religious trip on a client or patient is probably unethical by law, so you might want to talk to your state Board if you've had some problems along these lines. They should at least give you the names of anybody who has had complaints along these lines, or, at minimum, tell you if a specific individual has generated such complaints. The Board of Medical or Psychiatric Examiners would give you a referral to the proper professional group which governs the behavior of the licensed professionals that you're dealing with.

Many Evangelical Christian sects own counseling centers that offer what they call "Christian counseling." This is a specialty that helps people who are Christians deal with some of the problems that are unique to Christianity. They also can reassure that the counselor will not undermine the Christian beliefs of the patient (like more than one did to me while I was a Christian -- thankfully!).

Of course, these centers tend to be very loose when it comes to providing services to low-income people who are not Christians. This is where we see potential trouble with the center exploiting the situation to advertise the religion, but then, you get what you pay for, don't you? Ideally, I would prefer any state-or county-funded center over any church-funded center, but I must admit that the medical office financed by our Ecumenical group single-handedly saved my life and did not charge me a penny -- and never went further than to once recommend that I read William James to get a perspective on the origins Twelve Step movement (a natural and pretty benign suggestion, if you ask me).

If the counselor does not lay her or his trip on you, what's the problem? Why would a Mormon automobile mechanic be any less skilled or honest than an atheistic one? The professionals who have helped me the most have been religious, but did not lay their trip on me, and respected (for the most part) my choice of atheism. And the one who did me the most harm happens to have been an atheist. Quacks represent all persuasions, I'm afraid.

For the counselor to express concern over your atheism once is natural and to be expected; if this expression of concern continues, though, you might have a problem on your hands. But, if your problem involves or includes an unreasonable abhorrence toward religious people, I would hope that even an atheistic counselor (who agrees with the gist of your sentiments, though not necessarily with the degree) would focus on helping you overcome that one.

I'm not suggesting anything along these lines, but really have nothing to work with. So feel I must make several suggestions in a "shotgun" approach in the hope that at least one of them is appropriate.

Psychiatry is the profession with probably the highest incidence of atheists. You might do well with a straight-up shrink, and then, if you determine that she or he is on the up-and-square, ask for a referral. Psychiatry is an extremely tough field, and those who manage to stick with it for long do so only because they have been able to overcome many personal prejudices and other personal situations that most other people couldn't help but to bring to work with us.

Counselors who practice Rational-Emotive-Behavioral Therapy, who still adhere to the Albert Ellis school (rather than the newfangled Evangelical Christian rip-off of Ellis's techniques), tend to be atheistic because Ellis was always openly and unashamedly atheistic, going so far as to call religiosity a mental illness. So it's easy to see how very few religious people would even be attracted to his school of thought. However, they also tend to favor REBT over other methods, and frankly (as I mentioned above), I would prefer someone whose practice involves figuring out which of all the various methods will work for you. Finding an openly atheistic REBT counselor would be as easy as dropping a dime to Ellis's Institute of REBT in New York. Somebody at the Thomas S. Szasz Center in Syracuse might also be able to help.

Another thing would be to contact the local hospital that has a psych ward and talk with the director there. Explain that you just don't trust (whatever) and that you realize that this is an unorthodox request but your back's against the wall and you would like a special referral just this once. Be aware that if I were on the other end of the line, I would think long and hard before honoring such a request. Again, letting the counselor know that you specifically seek an atheistic professional could cause problems for your working relationship.

A back-door way would be to hang at the local Humanist or Atheist group, get to know the members there, and see if anybody there has a practice. Then call and make an appointment without mentioning that you got the name via the Humanist group (as this could be a conflict of interest). If you were desperate, this would be one way to do it, but I absolutely don't recommend it to the point where were I in your position, I'd prefer taking my chances over using this method.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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