Counseling with a mental health clinician (Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Licensed Social Worker, psychiatric nurse, psychologist, or psychiatrist) is one of the most commonly used mental health resources.
For a long time, there were officials of the Catholic Church who warned of the dangers of psychotherapy, and there were many therapists who considered all religious faiths ‘the opiate of the people’ and tried to convince their clients of this. Over the past few decades, the situation has changed dramatically, and there is now, for the most part, an acceptance of therapy by Catholic leaders and an openness to faith on the part of many/most therapists.
With more than 40 years of experience as a clinical psychologist at a major teaching hospital and in private practice, I can say that most people I have seen or heard of seem to benefit from therapy and that the risks are much smaller than the benefits in most cases.
There are dozens if not hundreds of approaches to therapy like Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy Therapy (IPT), Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), and Insight-Oriented Psychotherapy (all of these fall under the general heading of ‘talk therapy’), to name just a few. In general, studies have shown that the approach is less important than the relationship you develop with the counselor.
My advice is to find a counselor that you like, trust, and can afford. Most counselors these days respect clients’ religious beliefs and practices but if the counselor you meet with does not, find a different counselor! You should also move on if you don’t feel comfortable, safe, heard, or respected. In most cases you should start with talk therapy, not medication. However, if your symptoms are severe or if they persist, medication could be an option, usually in conjunction with therapy.
How to find a good counselor:
Ask a friend, pastor, or your primary care clinician for names of therapists/counselors they would recommend. If you can find someone who takes your insurance that is an obvious plus. One way to do this is to contact your insurance company and find practitioners through them. Most often, this falls under the ‘Behavioral Health’ portion of their website or directories.
You can also check out the Psychology Today website. It’s free and provides brief write ups of thousands of counselors (some have videos introducing themselves). You can sort potential clinicians based on insurance, gender, location, etc. The website is: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists.
In some ways, there has never been better time to find a counselor, with thousands to choose from and more options than ever. Especially since the onset of COVID-19, therapy can now be provided virtually, over the internet or even telephone. Since current regulations usually allow you to see a counselor anywhere in your state, online therapy makes it easier to attend.
In other ways however, it has gotten harder to find a therapist. With the COVID-19 lockdowns and the anxiety caused by so much severe illness and death, more people have been looking for counselling and many counselors have long waiting lists, so it may be difficult to find someone who is taking new clients. This may be less of a problem if you can afford to pay out of pocket ($50-$400/hour) instead of using your insurance. Starting with a talk therapist is probably a good place to start. However, if you want medication, you will need a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse.
The Psychology Today website also lists psychiatrists if this is something you are interested in: (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/psychiatrists).
Many therapists who practice a religious faith do not identify themselves in this way, so you might get a Catholic or Christian therapist without even knowing it. On the other hand, some therapists make their faith known and weave it into the therapy they provide. So if your faith is important to you, you might want to look for a therapist who states that he/she is a Catholic or Christian therapist. This could be important if the issues that concern you involve faith, divorce, abortion, or culture.
There are only a handful of explicitly Catholic therapists in the Greater Boston area (and they have long waiting lists), but there are many, many more who identify as Christian. Psychiatrists who identify as Christian are even rarer (in the Boston area, John Peteet, MD is the only one who comes to mind). In the past, there were a number of very prominent Catholic psychiatrists in Boston: Ned Cassem, SJ, MD; George Murray, SJ, MD; William Meissner, SJ, MD; Anna Maria Rizutto, MD.
One way to find a Christian counselor is through the Psychology Today website mentioned earlier. One of the search terms they provide is “Faith” and under that you can select “Christian” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists).
Another way to find a Christian therapist is through the Greater Boston Christian Therapy Network which is a Listserv of more than 100 Christian therapists. If you email me (email@example.com), I can post a brief description of what you are looking for and send you names of therapists who reply through the listserv.
A sample posting is as follows: “Looking for a therapist for an Evangelical man in his mid 50’s whose son with a severe mental illness lives at home. BCBS insurance. Email Dr. Murphy with your contact information, and he will pass it along.”