With the pervasive anxiety due to our current cultural climate, many experts predict that mental illness will be the next pandemic. Mental health therapy can be helpful to address both everyday difficulties, as well as mental disorders, but many people don’t know how to find a good therapist, or what to look for. The majority of licensed mental health professionals are well trained to treat depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and can help with relationship issues and life transitions. Some may specialize in treatments for specific issues, like trauma or eating disorders, and may specifically work with children, couples, or families, for example. Regardless of the professional’s personal beliefs or religious background, an ethical and competent professional should respect your beliefs and be willing to work within your worldview.
However, when your presenting problem is related to marriage or gender roles, you may be interested in finding an egalitarian therapist. You may worry that a Christian counselor will have a complementarian background and give relationship advice that is inconsistent with your beliefs about gender equality. On the other hand, a therapist who is not Christian may not understand your faith and its importance in your marriage. Some clients prefer to see a therapist that shares their religious background and will approach couples therapy from an egalitarian perspective.
As a psychologist and a psychology professor, I am passionate about working with clients from diverse worldviews, while practicing ethically and respecting differences. If you are considering looking for a therapist, it is important to find someone who will be a good fit and honor your religious and egalitarian beliefs.
(1) What is a therapist?
First, a brief introduction to the different types of therapists. While the terms “therapist” and “counselor” may be used interchangeably, there are different types of mental health professionals. While the titles of and requirements for each of these licensed professionals may vary from state to state, these are a few general guidelines.
- Licensed Clinical Psychologists have a doctorate degree (PhD or PsyD). They tend to have the most training in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses, and may be able to offer other services, such as psychological testing. Psychologists should not be confused with psychiatrists, who are medical doctors (MD) that prescribe psychiatric medication, but less frequently conduct therapy.
- Licensed Professional Counselors (name varies by state) typically hold a master’s degree (MA or MS). Licensed counselors can work in a variety of settings to provide counseling.
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) also typically hold a master’s degree. Their training focuses more on working with couples and families from a systems perspective, but they also counsel individuals.
- Licensed Social Workers (LCSW or LMSW) hold a master’s degree in social work. While not all social workers provide therapy, clinical social workers are trained to do so.
If you are looking for a therapist and see that they are “licensed,” regardless of the license they hold, you can feel confident that they have received advanced training and education and are held to high ethical standards. The specialty of the therapist often matters more than their degree or license.
On the other hand, “Biblical counselors” or “Christian counselors” may not have a professional license or formal training. You are more likely to find these helpers working in a church or faith-based setting. These types of counselors cannot diagnose and treat mental illnesses. They may be more likely to give advice on spiritual matters or provide biblical guidance.
(2) How do I find a therapist?
Here are some suggestions for ways to find a professional therapist:
- Use CBE’s Find a Counselor page on our website.
- Contact your employee assistance program if you have one. They may offer a few free sessions with a licensed professional.
- Check with your insurance if you wish to use this as payment.
- Ask your primary care provider for a referral.
- Ask your church if any of its members are professional therapists or if they have recommendations.
- Ask friends for referrals.
- Use Psychology Today, a database of all different types of mental health professionals, to search for ones in your area. You can search for therapists by their gender, specialties, problems they treat, years of experience, or treatment approach. Many therapists who are Christian will list “faith-based counseling” or “spiritual issues” as some of their specialties.
(3) How do I figure out if a therapist is the right one for me?
When you locate a few options for therapists, don’t hesitate to ask them some questions over the phone to see if they are a good fit for you. Ask them about their degree and license, where they went to school, their specialties, and therapeutic approach. If you want to incorporate faith into your treatment, ask if the therapist has training or experience in “religious and spiritual integration.” If it is important to you to have a therapist who is also Christian or egalitarian, you may ask about their religious background or beliefs about gender roles. However, don’t immediately discount a therapist if they are different than you, or if they do not divulge their personal beliefs. What is more important is that they respect your beliefs and are willing to discuss them in treatment at your request. Instead, share your concerns and why you are seeking therapy, and explain how this relates to your egalitarian beliefs about gender roles. A well-trained, ethical, and competent therapist should respect and work within your worldview and faith system.
Once you meet with your therapist, make sure you feel comfortable, safe, and accepted. A good therapist will strive to listen and understand you, gently challenge you, and help you set and reach your goals. Often it can take a couple of sessions to find out if a therapist is a good fit for you. As professionals, therapists should be open to your feedback and questions if their approach does not feel helpful to you. However, if you feel judged for your egalitarian beliefs, completely misunderstood, or like the therapist is pushing their beliefs onto you, you have the right to seek help elsewhere.
Fortunately, most professionals are caring and nonjudgmental people who are in the mental health field to help people and make a difference. Don’t stop searching for help until you find someone who respects you and your beliefs.
Editor’s Note: As the pandemic continues, many of us are experiencing increased stress and changes to our lives that affect our marriages and families. Read Camden’s article, “Love in the Time of Coronavirus: Tips for Egalitarian Marriages and Families in a Pandemic” for ideas on how to find balance.