How do Church members choose a therapist for social-emotional difficulties?
January 1983

“How do Church members choose a therapist for social-emotional difficulties?” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 21–22

How do Church members choose a therapist for social-emotional difficulties? What should we do when no Latter-day Saint therapists are available?

Val D. MacMurray, assistant commissioner, LDS Social Services. Before selecting a therapist, sit down with your bishop and evaluate your needs. He may be able to refer you, through the stake welfare services committee, to a counselor who supports gospel values. If approved stake resources are not available, you’ll need to survey the local therapists to see which have values compatible with gospel standards.

Counseling is available from many places: federal, state, and community agencies; clinics, hospitals; extended care facilities; and rehabilitation centers. Many private practitioners are also available. Some universities may have therapy services available at reduced fees. These services may be provided largely by candidates for advanced degrees working under supervision.

Upon identifying a potential therapist, meet with him or her and ask questions such as these:

1. What types of problems does he or she feel especially capable of handling? And are there some problems that he or she prefers to refer to other therapists?

2. What are his or her feelings about abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, divorce, etc.? (You may wish to focus closely on the problem with which you need help.) Obviously you would not want to work with a therapist who would suggest that you violate your personal or gospel standards.

3. What are his or her feelings about sin and how the Church helps someone overcome sin? (If a therapist questions the existence of sin or its impact in the lives of people, his therapy will be of questionable help.)

4. Does he or she feel that appropriate guilt or sorrow for wrongdoing can help someone make positive changes? (A therapist who feels that guilt itself is the problem may focus inappropriately on changing your feelings rather than on helping you change the behavior that causes the guilty feelings.)

5. As a matter of professional ethics, he or she will keep your case confidential; but if you request it, will he or she be willing to consult with your bishop?

6. What is the therapist’s educational background? What specialized training or experience has he or she had with the problem about which you are concerned? Is he or she licensed to practice by local licensing authorities?

7. What is his or her typical style or method of therapy?

Dr. Carlfred Broderick, a stake president and licensed marriage and family counselor, recommends that you ask yourself these questions after your first session:

1. Does the therapist seem to understand and care how I feel?

2. Does he or she see clearly what is going on?

3. Do this person’s ideas make common sense, or do they seem strange, dumb, or outrageous?

If the answers to these questions are not satisfactory, you probably do not trust the therapist and should look for another.

Dr. Broderick also suggests that you should expect some improvement in your problem by the fourth session. “If nothing good is happening, have the courage to quit,” he advises, and adds, “Do not be intimidated by the strategy of certain counselors who imply that the real problem is your moral or religious hang-ups. Reject any diagnosis which suggests that unless you adopt the counselor’s philosophy or life-style, you cannot be helped. … Don’t be afraid to stand your ground if the counselor’s requests violate your own values or standards. The best counselors will respect your position even if they do not share it.” (Carlfred Broderick, Couples, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979, pp. 218–19.)

You should be aware that many therapists specialize in a given area. If you have a specific problem, seek a specialist in that particular area.

There are also differences in the type of training therapists have received: psychiatrists are medical doctors specializing in treating individuals with emotional problems and thus can prescribe medication if necessary. Psychiatrists usually charge higher fees than other practitioners. Clinical psychologists usually have an academic doctoral degree (Ph.D.) and are trained in testing and individual therapy. Social workers may have doctorates or Master of Social Work degrees, and may counsel individuals, work with small groups or troubled families, and handle much the same range of emotional problems as these other practitioners.

May I again encourage you to draw on the resources of your bishop. In fact, it may be that through his inspired help, you will find you do not need the assistance of a therapist.