My disappointment with the business and structure of church led me to fall out of love with church. But I did not fall out of love with God. Of course, my decision to leave church was difficult. And, I chose ultimately to leave organized religion and to create a not-for-profit organization to meet a neglected need in the community.
Finding my new life after leaving organized religion took time and effort. First, I found a group of supportive friends of faith to join in my new organization. Secondly, I created a personal faith system of my own. I based it on a reinterpretation of the popular themes of my prior faith system. After years of following my system, I recorded the tenants of it in my book, The Two Agreements: A Good News Story for Our Time. And, importantly, I found it most helpful to talk long hours with a non-judgmental friend, many years my senior and many years divorced from organized religion. Over coffee, I spoke freely about the swirl of emotions and thoughts around leaving my religion. Today, I am very happy living a spiritual life of my own choosing.
More Americans than ever are leaving their religion. Some who are questioning their faith can find professional support or mental health services to help them with challenges they may encounter. Clinical psychologist, Dr. Caleb Lack, explains how people can get secular-based professional help through his Secular Therapist Project. The Secular Therapist Project was founded by Psychologist, Darryl Ray in 2012 as part of the Recovering from Religion organization. Because people who are questioning or leaving their faith can feel isolated, the Recovering from Religion organization can help connect them with others facing these issues.
Dr. Lack decided to get involved in the Secular Therapist Project because many people had shared with him that when they'd sought treatment for mental health problems, they weren't necessarily getting the best care and some were being evangelized by their therapists. As an example, one woman who contacted Dr. Lack had sought treatment at her local Community Mental Health Center for help with stress and depression. The intake worker told her that if she would only accept Jesus into her life, her problems would be solved. Because of stories like these, Dr. Lack decided to join the Secular Therapist Project, which helps connect nonreligious clients with secular, evidence-based mental health professionals. Lack makes dozens of referrals per month. He has seen where people transitioning from being religious to being nonreligious need help dealing with feelings such as anger from being judged in a fundamentalist religious environment or sadness and grief from losing their church family.
Dr. Lack explains that if potential clients can't find a therapist on the Seculartherapy.org website, there are steps that they can take to keep from seeing someone who will evangelize to them. When trying to find an evidence-based therapist, clients can ask, “What is your primary therapeutic orientation?” and listen for words like “cognitive behavioral,” “interpersonal,” or “dialectical behavior therapy.” Clients can also ask, “How do you know that the type of therapy you do works?” and listen for talk about “research” or “meta-analysis” and avoid someone who only talks about their personal experience or how long they've been a therapist. Clients can also explain that they are nonreligious and are seeking someone who is comfortable with that.
Caleb W. Lack, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at the University of Central Oklahoma. He blogs at Great Plains Skeptic.