Are a Therapist’s Religious and Social Views Off Limits?

Hello. I'm thinking about talking to a therapist about some deeply personal issues, issues that are very much unique to me, issues that—if the small community I live in were to get word of them—would be extremely damaging to my reputation and professional ambitions. For this reason, it's of extreme importance that I find a therapist whose religious, political, and social views are similar to mine. If the therapist's views in these arenas are not similar to mine, there is too much risk involved and I simply will not feel comfortable opening up. So my question is, is it appropriate/OK for me to ask about a therapist's views on religion, politics, and social values (on a very broad, basic level; I don't expect details) in advance of scheduling a session with him or her? Are there any ethical concerns from the therapist's point of view in answering such questions? I totally respect that therapy is about the client, not the therapist, and I have no desire to know more than is necessary to ensure that I can trust my therapist with my innermost secrets and feelings. Not knowing is a deal-breaker for me. —Curious George
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Dear Curious George,

Thanks for your thoughtful question. I’m going to do my best to answer it and to alleviate some of the concerns you have expressed.

The most important thing to address here is your statement that if your personal issues were to get out, it would be damaging to your reputation. I’m not sure how much you know about the ethics of counseling and therapy, but one of the most important guidelines is that anything that a person shares with his or her therapist is confidential (with the exception of imminent risk to self or others or in the case of child/elder/dependent abuse). There are other, less common situations where confidentiality is not protected, but those are very rare. Also, the laws may differ by state, but by and large those are the two most common cases where confidentiality isn’t guaranteed. With that said, I understand your concern about privacy and your desire to be sure that you are protected as best as you can be. I hope that this knowledge will help you to feel safer as you consider whether to seek a therapist.

As for the next aspect of your question, it is not uncommon for people to seek out therapists with similar belief systems, especially when it comes to religion or spirituality. After all, some people tend to feel more comfortable with someone who shares those beliefs. There are some therapists who have no problem sharing their beliefs with a person considering therapy, and even those who specify their spiritual or religious affiliations up front. The other aspects you’re looking for (political, social) in your therapist might be more challenging to find, as many therapists might not feel comfortable discussing those views so early in the therapeutic relationship, if at all. It is quite likely, in fact, that a therapist will not discuss those issues, as they are intensely personal and private matters. Ethically, the therapist is not prevented from discussing personal views so long as it is in service to a person’s progress, but I would venture that many would feel that answering those questions prior to an appointment might be out of bounds.

As you already mentioned, therapy is not about your therapist but rather about you and your process. While you might feel more comfortable with a therapist who has similar views, it is quite possible that you may not find someone who meets your expectations. I do wonder why you feel that you can work only with someone who shares your beliefs. Given the laws and ethics governing confidentiality in therapy, whatever you tell the therapist (outside of the rare exceptions I outlined above) will remain confidential. Unless what you are sharing with the therapist is putting you or others in imminent danger or involves abusing others, you are protected. Regardless of political, social, or spiritual beliefs, ALL therapists are bound by this code of conduct. Not only is violating the confidentiality of a person in therapy unethical, it is illegal. That protects you far more than a shared belief system.

Your letter also mentions that you live in a small community. That factor alone makes it more difficult to find a therapist in your area who will share your beliefs because there are likely to be fewer therapists to choose from. If that is the case, I would hate for you to not seek therapy as a result. I wonder if your desire for your therapist to share your beliefs isn’t a way to limit the possibility that you will seek help if you can’t find the “perfect” fit. I hear that you feel vulnerable, and I want to acknowledge that this process can be very scary and feel risky. Indeed, it is risky to trust someone with your deepest secrets, and I applaud you for considering taking this journey.
I would also like to invite you consider your other possibilities. There are therapists who may not share your beliefs but who can be great catalysts for change nonetheless because what facilitates change in a therapeutic relationship is not shared values or similar beliefs—it’s the relationship between the therapist and the person in therapy. That je ne sais quoi of the healing relationship is not something that can be predicted by anything other than a mutual willingness to engage in the process.

I encourage you to reconsider your position given the information I have shared and to at least explore some of your options. Call and make some consultation appointments. Go meet some therapists and see how you FEEL when you are with them. Talk about your concerns about confidentiality and how you feel vulnerable undertaking this process. Give them a chance to see you and be seen. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that even someone whose belief systems are unknown to you can be very welcoming, accepting, nurturing, and can be a great agent of change.

Best wishes,
Lisa

Lisa Vallejos
Lisa Vallejos, PhD, LPC, specializes in existential psychology. Her primary focus is helping people to be more present in their lives, more engaged with their existence, and to face the world with courage. Lisa began her career in the mental health field working in residential treatment, community mental health centers, and with adjudicated individuals before moving into private practice. She is in the process of finishing a PhD as well as advanced training in existential-humanistic psychotherapy, and provides clinical training and supervision.
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  • Erin

    Erin

    July 11th, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    I am of the opinion that maybe you don’t actually need a therapist who shares your same views. Wouldn’t someone like that just be telling you things that you already believe and want to hear? Wouldn’t it be great to find someone who may have a little different point of view who may could open your eyes to other possibilities?

  • Gayle

    Gayle

    July 11th, 2014 at 1:52 PM

    Dear Curious George,
    I have never replied to one of these sites but I found your delimma to be one I have had to resolve. While I think it is important to see a competent and trustworthy therapist. I have see a therapist who had different beliefs of mine and found him helpful in see things from a different angle but then I found I wanted someone who I could communicate and express my deepest concerns and fears within the context of my Christian beliefs. I found a wonderfully dedicated therapist who helps me incorporate God into my treatment even though he is not of my faith. I had gone to someone in my faith and found the treatment wanting and felt very uncomfortable, whether from my feeling on the spot for not living the life I should or believing in my heart that this person couldn’t possibly not judge me it didn’t matter. I was not able to open up like I thought I should be able. So I found this therapist who is Christian and believes in achieving peace within ourselves, the world we live in and with God through being honest. I have been able to develop a level of trust I never thought possible with this therapist and still have a way to go. but I am now comfortable that because of our common belief in achieving internal and external peace through truth I am confident I will achieve my goals of emotional and spiritual healing.

    I live in a small community and travel 0 min to my therapist and have enjoyed knowing my secrets or safe in another area neither of us go to. I get to digest my therapy sessions on my way home before I get home-which I have found to be helpful especially after intense sessions, which you will have.

    My therapist has his personal standards such as he is dedicated to his family, his church, his community, to assisting his patients in their journey of healing. He prizes his relationship with his God above all else, he values the sacred trust his clients place in him and strongly believes in confidentiality. There is one more really big thing my therapist values and respects that at times I can honestly say I really hate but know in my heart is something that is very necessary for my healing-not his and this is his establishment of strong . Consequently I have been able to not only reveal and talk about things I thought I needed to talk about but about many things I never thought I would ever be able to talk about because I was afraid of what others would think and what I would think of myself.

    If I were to look for another therapist today I would look for someone who has a strong value system and belief in God, his dedication to his clients, community, church, family confidentiality and if he had strong boundaries not only in the therapeutic relationship but within his own life. I would also ask what he does to preserve his own good mental health

    Hope this helps and good luck-by the way I am now able to fulfill some of my dreams I was not able to fulfill because of being emotionally crippled by not seeking competent help. Life does not have to be a big secret it can be a journey in which we are able to heal and enjoy our lves, but it does take a lot of honesty, risk, trust and risk again and it helps if we have someone who has the skills and sincere desire to help us in our journey of healing. Fear is our worst enemy not our memories, we aleady survived what happened now we just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

    Good Luck in your journey of self discovery and healing.
    Gayle

  • Harriett

    Harriett

    July 11th, 2014 at 2:11 PM

    I neither think that they are important or that they really matter if this is a good therapist they will help you find what is best to you and what they do or believe on their own time is not important.

  • Jake

    Jake

    July 12th, 2014 at 6:19 AM

    Part of being in a therapy relationship is learning to open your mind to new and better possibilities.
    Perhaps working with someone who thinks like you do would be the answer for you, and then again perhaps not.
    I think that most importantly I would try to work with someone whom I felt could and did understand me and my needs, who would not judge me, and who would make me feel better about things.
    I don’t think that it would be that important to me to know that we went to the same church or had the same core values because I know that regardless of all of that if this is a person helping me grow and become better then those are things that do not matter all that much.

  • greg h.

    greg h.

    July 14th, 2014 at 11:26 AM

    For the patients’ best interest I definitely think that these things should be off limits and should play no role in the care that they receive. What the therapist thinks or feels about certain things should not matter- they are helping the patient work through their issues and if this is a person dedicated to their job then you will have no idea what they really think about certain things. These are things that are best left separated.

  • Kirsten

    Kirsten

    July 14th, 2014 at 2:34 PM

    What is actually most important is that the therapist is able to help you using YOUR belief system as a framework. It would be more important to find out that they will support you and accept your beliefs, and what therapy method they will use and that you would be comfortable with it.

  • tessa

    tessa

    July 28th, 2014 at 4:41 PM

    I am a professional and don’t see the need to share my personal beliefs with others and the same thing should be true of those in the therapy profession.

  • Michael

    Michael

    December 29th, 2017 at 7:50 PM

    I’m an ethical vegan, and would very much like to find a vegan therapist, because a great deal of what I’d like to talk about is how difficult it is to live among non-vegans, whose moral character I have little respect for (to put it very mildly). I can’t see how someone can be open and honest about the anger they feel toward a class of persons to a therapist who is him or herself a member of that class. I imagine that lots of other people with different moral convictions than mine find themselves in similar circumstances. No one is likely to be helped by a therapist they see as bad, when they need to talk about their experiences living among people they see as bad, are they?

  • KCatty

    KCatty

    September 30th, 2018 at 7:54 PM

    It is interesting how this post has aged. I’d be curious to know if this position has changed in light of the current political climate.

    There are a lot of us for whom politics and the current administration are the root of our anxiety. I genuinely could not trust a therapist that did not share my political views.

  • John

    John

    November 12th, 2018 at 8:42 AM

    I agree with you completely. If part of my needs are discussing anxiety related to politics and the state of thw world, I want a therapist with similar beliefs because he or she may have ideas that could help deal with that having possibly been through it themselves. How much can a therapist help if you start complaing about politics and the therapist completely disagrees with you? To me, it’s fair game if it’s one of your issues.

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