Fundamentalism, Psychotherapy and De-Conversion
In my own de-conversion, I found that being in psychotherapy was enormously helpful to me in overcoming some of the indoctrination I absorbed in my fundamentalist church. In fact, I was so impressed with the outcome — I quit writhing in neurotic self-flagellation as a Christian and actually started enjoying life — that I went on to become a psychiatrist.
I do not believe psychotherapy is a panacea for all the ills of the world. However, it surely represents a step forward from the morass that is fundamentalist Christian counseling.
The issue of Christian psychotherapy is complex. In fact, most religions, especially conservative ones, have a built-in psychology. This is the means they use to peddle their wares. Fundamentalism must first convince you that you are sick before its cure will have much of an appeal. To accomplish this task, it utilizes time-tested methodologies. For example, it teaches that your worst feelings of guilt and shame are the truest intuitions you have about yourself, so you should listen to them. In fundamentalist thought, there is no such thing as neurotic or misplaced guilt; guilt is the bite of a God designed conscience. It demands repentance, not an understanding of *why* you feel guilty.
Moreover, in my own clinical work, I have seen untold damage done to those hardcore fundamentalists who come to really believe that God cures all ills and heals all wounds. This can result in enormous psychological pressure to be “over it” – whatever horrible trauma “it” might be – because “I gave it to God.” The logic is sinister: if you are still struggling with this, you are not really giving it to God, because if you did, you would be fine. Failing to give a problem to God is pride or a refusal to trust and, of course, pride is a sin. The upshot: if you suffer from any human pain that is not easily “fixed” by prayer and the like, you are in sin. In my opinion, this is really, really evil.
On the other hand, real psychotherapy can be immensely transformative if we can overcome our indoctrination and allow it to work. It was such a bombshell moment in my own personal therapy when, after about ten months of work, I *finally* told my psychotherapist I was a Christian. I had held off from divulging this because I expected, in my caricature of secular thought, that she would tell me I would have to abandon Christianity in order to get better. I did not think this should be the case, but I perceived she thought it, so I held this nugget of information in for months. The root my perception was found in the us-vs-them attitude fundamentalism teaches: she was not a Christian (by my definition), so she was clearly a godless secular anti-Christian relativist.
However, she did not respond as I expected. She just accepted this part of me like any other, and that was the real beginning of my therapy – of showing another person what I thought were the worst and ugliest — yes, the most sinful — parts of myself and have them be accepted and understood, not condemned. In doing so, it helped *me* to accept those parts of myself, also, rather than trying to expunge them in prayer and self-abnegation. Even more, it taught me that the us-vs-them dichotomy I had been taught and expected to find was just not true. “They” were not mindlessly hostile to ” us Christians” as I had been led to believe. She was compassionate and empathic and accepted me for who I was – something that, despite all my church’s talk about unconditional love, I had never really experienced before.
This started me wondering what *else* I had been taught that was not true.