Should you seek a Catholic counselor?
Apr 16, 2019
If you find yourself in need of the services of a therapist, should you seek one who is a Christian or, more specifically, a Catholic? This question may not be a no-brainer, even for the most devout Catholics.
During the many years I was engaged in private practice, people would often call and, before making an initial appointment, would ask “Is Dr. Wisely a Christian psychologist?” Sometimes the question would be “Is Dr. Wisely a Catholic psychologist?” The best answer to that question, by the way, might have been “Dr. Wisely is a Christian. He’s Catholic. He’s a psychologist. But he’s not a ‘Christian Psychologist.’”
When the term “Christian” is attached to professional titles such as Psychologist, Counselor, or Therapist, it often implies more than just the religious faith of the professional. It usually implies an approach that actively incorporates aspects of Christian practice in counseling or therapy. Perhaps the therapist and the client/patient pray together in the sessions. Perhaps scripture is discussed or shared. In some cases, it may imply, for example, that there is a faith-based method of treating, for example, clinical depression that is more likely to be effective for a person of faith than other kinds of treatment. (I am not sure that is true.) I did not practice that way, which is why I did not refer to myself as a “Christian Psychologist.”
The matter of a professional being Catholic is a bit different. There are therapists who are Catholic, of course, but it is rare such a professional to “market” himself or herself as a “Catholic Psychologist” or “Catholic Counselor.” (I cannot think of any mental health professional who argues there is a specifically Catholic approach to mental health treatment.)
If an approach that actively incorporates aspects of Christianity is important to you, you will want to seek out a professional who identifies as a “Christian Counselor / Psychologist /Therapist.” You will also want to let the professional know that is what you seek.
Returning to the subject of people asking if a therapist is “Catholic” or “Christian,” it is important to consider why they are asking. Many of my patients would establish before they came that I was a Catholic (or some kind of Christian) and then it would never come up again in therapy. I came to believe that it was not as important to them that the therapist be Christian or Catholic as they believed. What they wanted was a therapist who would not be hostile to their values, to their faith, to their beliefs. They wanted to be sure they were working with someone who would respect their values, faith, and beliefs. That is more than fair. I would argue that one has the right to demand that.
There was a time when it seemed that many therapists were hostile to religion and disrespectful of their clients’ religious beliefs. Frankly, in 2019, I don’t know any therapists of whom that is true. There are plenty of therapists who are themselves people of faith. The larger problem is that there aren’t enough mental health professionals to take care of all who need care. That brings up a practical consideration.
It is difficult to access the mental health system. Even in a place like the Birmingham metro area, where there are many licensed therapists, it can be difficult to find one who can see you as quickly as you need, and who has the special skills needed to help you address your issues. If you were to call me and tell me you want a therapist for your 13-year-old son, and he needs to be male, and he needs to be Catholic, and he needs to be seen in the next month or so, I will tell you that I’m not sure that person is out there. I am sure an often-difficult search will be much more difficult if that is what you demand
Here is my advice. Seek a professional who has a good reputation, the skill set you are looking for, and who will be respectful of your faith. Don’t be too concerned about their religious affiliation. Ask around. Talk to your physician. Speak to your pastor. Call me at the parish office if I can help you with your search.