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Should You Try Faith-Based Counseling If You're An Atheist?

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Added Note, Posted January 3, 2018: Marie Miguel with Better Help plans to link to and cite this article on the Better Help website. Please consult her site for in depth counseling. 

Counseling provides individuals with afflictions the help they need to recover. There is a wide-range of counseling including counseling for addictions such as drugs, alcohol, or sex. There is also counseling for marriages and families. A lot of counseling has at least some form of faith intertwined with it. The counselors are licensed professionals, but can often times revert to either anecdotes or passages that are religious in background but have applications to any situation.

One the other hand, some counseling is completely faith-based. This means that the counseling services provided will have a foundation built in from a spiritual perspective. However, you typically will not find any faith-free counseling services. Yes, there are some that exist but they are few and far between.

So what should you do if you are an atheist? Are there counseling services available for you?
Should you even try a faith-based counseling service?

Unfortunately the answer to those questions are not clearly defined. They will often be best answered on a case-by-case basis. However, there are some general guidelines in which you can apply to your own situation to determine if a faith-based counseling program would work for you.

Yes, you should

The first thing to understand is that faith-based programs will not kick you out if you are not a religious person. You will not be shunned from their services simply because of your lack of religious beliefs. Their overall goal is to treat you as best they can, using the methods they know best. Those methods, are going to be faith-based counseling. In fact, they may provide counseling services with the hopes that you can see the benefits of having faith.

If you are an atheist, attending a faith-based counseling program may seem like an odd choice. However, it can be perfectly suitable for you depending on your mindset as an atheist. For example, all atheists share their disbelief in God. However, some atheists feel uncomfortable or even insulted when others are openly discussing their belief in God. Other atheists can simply hear the conversation about God, without feeling uncomfortable but knowing that they do not share the same belief.

For those that are not put off by the discussion of religion and God, faith-based counseling may still be an option. For those suffering from an addiction or another form of problem, there really is nothing to lose. Every option should be utilized in order to get better. While your beliefs may differ spiritually from a faith-based counselor, that does not mean that their approach to counseling won’t work. Even faith-based counseling uses the most comprehensive clinical approaches to healing afflictions such as addiction, depression, and family issues.

An open-minded atheist will take the counseling for what it is; an attempt to help them right themselves. The religious stories can be seen as anecdotal situations to learn from, rather than being seen as the word of God.

No, you shouldn’t

However, not all atheists should try faith-based counseling. As much as any faith-based counselor would like to say that their counseling will help, the truth of the matter is, your mind has to be open to it. Just as some religious zealots are unwavering in their beliefs despite evidence, the same can be true about atheists. Without an open mind, there is really no reason for you to try faith-based counseling.

Atheists who are firm disbelievers and who are either uncomfortable or offput by religious discussions may find it extremely hard to be counseled using a religious backbone. The structure of your counseling will be based off of spirituality if you attend a faith-based counselor. While professional clinical counseling will also be taking place, it may be hard for a firm atheist to see past the religious overtones. This forces the atheist to miss the real message at hand because they are too focused on disliking the religious story. Additionally, an atheist might take it as an attempt to be converted into a born-again religious person.

So in the end, the answer really comes down to the open-mindedness of the person. If you are an atheist that can be comfortable with hearing scripture periodically through your counseling services, faith-based counseling might be an option. For those who are offput by religious discussion, faith-based counseling may actually do more harm than good.


  1. One note of caution. I was an atheist for nearly 60 years and my faith based counseling resulted in my slow conversion to the point where I'm now enrolled in an RCIA program. Faith, for me, just seemed more practical and I was convinced by, first, acting as though I was a believer and, finally, believing in God. NOTHING in life ever came close to changing my outlook. So, buyer beware.


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Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

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Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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