Faith-Based Therapy: 'The danger is some of those are not regulated like non-religious therapy is.'
Debi Hake is a licensed professional counselor with the Marriage and Family Counseling Center in Columbia. One of her specialty areas is spiritual abuse and religious trauma.
She spoke about how religious trauma impacts how people navigate mental health care.
Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words.
Debi Hake: The dangerous side of religious environments, when it comes to mental health, is that there is no ownership or awareness of mental health typically.
Of course, there are outliers everywhere, but I think a lot of times those systems design themselves so that they are the source that you turn to. They are the source that can encompass and be all for a person.
And the danger with that is that mental health is often overlooked and excused or completely bypassed, and people's responses to even things like anxiety and depression are completely minimized, if not worse, because of the religious environments looking at that as either a sin or you are not doing something enough.
If you search for therapy, you know, if you're in a religious setting, and you search for therapy, there are people who would call themselves “religious” or “faith-based” or “Christian” therapists. The danger is some of those are not regulated like non-religious therapy is.
So, secular therapists would have a lot more restrictions on their licensure. Secular therapist would have a lot more training and equipping going into the field, and some of the religious faith-based counseling programs do not have those measures built in place, which provide a level of safety for a client, really.
"If a person is continually retraumatized – on top of what they've already been through... there's a lot of negative ways – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, you name it – that those clients could be directly impacted."Debi Hake
It guarantees that like you're gonna get this type of treatment, and you know that it can be good, and you know what to expect going into that. Whereas in a faith-based or Christian-type therapy setting, you may get another set of rules and another set of rigidity handed down to you.
And instead of helping you process through what your concerns – mental health or otherwise – are, what you then might have is another secondary layer of trauma put on you. Because it's just another way of a person saying, “Well, what you're struggling with really isn't anxiety or depression. It's just not trusting enough or it's not believing enough or it's not praying enough” Those sorts of things.
So it, A – doesn't have the level of accountability built in it that that secular programs do, and B – I think can carry a real big danger of retraumatizing or continuing to traumatize somebody that has experienced religious trauma.
Just like the effects of trauma, in general, you know, most of us can handle one experience that would be traumatic, but it's the accumulation and the ongoing effects of experiences that are repeated in trauma that really carry the heavy weight for individuals.
And so, if a person is continually retraumatized – on top of what they've already been through – if they've had a lifelong pattern of experiencing trauma and this just continues to perpetuate, there's a lot of negative ways physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, you name it, that those clients could be directly impacted.