Secular Psychotherapy

by Dr. Ann Lane
Washington, DC Coalition of Reason

As a lifelong atheist, religion was never a part of my practice. I always identified myself as a humanist who relies on research-supported methods tailored to meet individual needs.

Through my secular readings and affiliations with secular groups, it became more and more apparent that there are so many people that have difficulty finding therapists who do not have some religious biases. I also met many people who struggle with issues related to religious upbringing but keep coming across therapists who try to promote spirituality or prayer for healing.

I was particularly influenced by Dr. Darrel Ray who brought to light the need for accessibility to secular therapists. He created a database of mental health professionals who met rigorous evaluation and made it available through the Secular Therapy Project (seculartherapyproject.com). My own participation in this project has provided me with opportunities to work with people: all are unique, and have different types of issues.

I do often work with patients who are religious believers, but I make it clear from the onset that my approach is strictly reality-based and that I leave “spiritual” issues to their respective religious leaders. I believe that everyone can benefit from psychological strategies aimed at altering negative patterns of thinking, improving communication skills, overcoming difficulties in decision making, setting effective goals, proper time management and improving organization.

Although my profession’s ethical guidelines do not permit me to use actual cases and examples, I am able to provide a glimpse of how Secular Therapy can help through example composites of patients that reflect the different kinds of situations I deal with:

“Mr. Z” was a 28 year old male who suffers from low self esteem, low confidence, and other social issues. He is smart, talented and skilled at his craft; however, he continually sabotages any opportunities for advancement. Furthermore, despite a strong desire for relationships he avoids social situations. History revealed that the foundation of his negative view of himself was laid by harsh parental rearing practices shaped by religious dogma. By helping this patient understand where his negative beliefs about himself come from, he was able to see how they influence his mood and decisions. Together, we worked on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and maladaptive behaviors.

“Ms. X” no longer shared her family’s fundamentalist beliefs. She described her parents as loving but very devout. She was feeling guilty about living life as an atheist while simultaneously presenting herself as a religious believer to her family. She wanted an authentic life but was afraid of disappointing her parents and worse than that she feared rejection. Helping people “come out” is always challenging because there is no guaranty of a positive outcome. We worked on her internal conflicts and fears, her needs for authenticity vs. acceptance, communication and assertiveness, expectations, developing support systems and building of confidence.

 

20 years ago, Dr. Lane and her husband also founded a non-profit organization called Paws for Life, helping to provide financial assistance to pet owners facing veterinarian expenses in emergency situations. Her family has also volunteered support for rescue groups who rehabilitate and prepare animals for adoption.

UnitedCoR wants to thank Dr. Lane for writing to us about her work as a registered and trained psychotherapist, who focuses her work on peer-reviewed and scientifically-tested methods, rather than religious belief. If you or someone you know are in need of secular, evidence-based mental health professionals in your local area, please contact The Secular Therapy Project for more details.