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My Experience With Mental Healthcare And Religion


Falloutdude

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I probably will never be as good a writer as I once was because of the heavy amount of weed I smoked, especially near the end when I was smoking multiple a day at times, but I can still flounder all I choose I guess. I will probably sound completely moronic compared to my previous skills, but I can at least try to practice.

 

Here goes. My topic, which is particularly close to me, is the mental health field. As any one who is familiar with the field knows, it does not generally promote views which can easily coexist with fundamentalist doctrines. Indeed, even more "moderate" Christians conservatives could find issues with treatment if they really gave it any thought, as thankfully I didn't when I reluctantly started therapy. My first counselor, which I began seeing while my church, as well as inevitably my faith, was in transition from it's roots as a strict fundamentalist Pentacostal. The new church consisted of the same family line, albeit with different branches of it. This family began to adopt views that, while still essentially fundamentalist, incorporated some of the mainstream ideas about Christianity and how it was taught. This consisted of mostly focusing on Jesus' love and a "relationship with Jesus". Because of the loosening of long-standing pentacostal rigidity on matters such as dress code and acceptable conduct, also came my ability to spiritually rationalize/accept the help of mental health professionals.

 

It was about a year before this transition period and migration of members began that I experienced my first severe bout of depression, later discovering my anxiety as a root cause. I first went to my primary care physician which I was able to see for free due to my coverage by Washington state. When I finally went to the doctor she started talking about anti-depressants. Now at this time I had been trained, at least implicitly, that such things were not ok. It took awhile for me to accept the idea of taking anti-depressants, even so doing it grudgingly. It was difficult for me to accept the idea this was ok, especially because in my old church demons were considered the source of basically all things labeled mental illness, which I hadn't even really heard of at the time. After a year of taking the meds my doctor finally got me to at least try going to therapy. Luckily I was still under coverage as I was a child and my parents were still pretty poor. Around this time I began seeing my therapist, I was of course very skeptical (ironically) that these kinds of things would help, and even more unwilling/afraid to cooperate. As I got my new counselor I began to connect with her, as luck would have it we were pretty much a perfect match. We talked about things little by little, eventually leading into the principals of cognitive psychology and challenging one's thoughts, as well as emotions. At first of course it was very difficult to believe this stuff would actually relieve my depression, but after a lot of talking as well as a lot of effort, I finally began to pull myself out of my first episode. This was probably the best part of therapy, and my biggest success. More and more I implemented the ideas to make myself more positive.

 

This all translated into a happier Christian me, more in touch with my feelings as well as the loving, nurturing part of me. As I began to learn to deal with my dysfunctional mental habits, as well as relationships, I was more able to be a more involved part of my youth group. As it happened, I became a pretty mentally healthy Christian compared to previously, however mostly due to the fact I never thought about what she said as being contradictory to my faith, although I saw later that it most definitely was. As anyone familiar with cognitive behavioral therapy knows, you are taught to conceive of your thoughts as statements you tell yourself (as opposed to statements that come from god, the devil or demons), which I merely incorporated into my Christian thought processes. Basically the devil almost all but disappeared since the depressing, bad thoughts I had, were my own, ones that I could change. I supposed it didn't really matter where they came from, only that you challenged and made them more positive. Anyways this went on for about a year or two until I finally neared the end of my 18 year journey as a Christian. As I graduated high school I became more and more hung up on why I wasn't feeling as good as before, why I wasn't "feeling god" being afraid I was no longer in as intimate relationship with God. Now the fear wasn't of going to hell, surprisingly this had pretty much dissipated as well as my fear of end times; no, this was a fear I lost my best friend, or at least my connection with him. The fear I would no longer feel the warm presence of the Jesus who loved me, who I loved dearly. Eventually I came to just say "enough", I wasn't going to worry about it anymore. This amazing feat was largely due to love I felt for Jesus as well as others/the more positive spin on Christianity. All this time I was still seeing my same counselor, who always seem to make me feel better when I spoke to her. At this point though, I was dropping back into depression, right before I would start my first quarter in college.

 

As I learned about ancient history as well as different cultures from a rational, comparative perspective my faith in Christianity, and my transition into agnosticism began. During this time my counselor was astonished that I had abandoned the faith she knew I had previously held so dear. She still taught me therapy and such, but during this period I was doing a lot better emotionally. I did phenomenally well in college, and discovered a much more engaging learning environment. I quickly gained my confidence, and continued to use aspects of CBT. By this point the therapy had detached emotion, action, and thought from an entirely spiritual context, making my transition into agnosticism fairly smooth and seamless. Thought caused emotions, emotions led to actions, which in turn led to thoughts, and so on. My happiness was no longer contingent upon my closeness with god, in fact I had witnessed many depressive spells while I saw myself as close to Jesus. At this point I had become the mediator of my life and thoughts, instead of relying on emotional sustenance from God, although I did not quite recognize this at the time. As time on I was pretty happy, until I met my aunt at dinner. I had no idea she was devout a fundamentalist as she was from previous encounters, and when I talked about how I was agnostic I was blindsided by 2 hours of debate. Being caught off guard with apologetics I hadn't heard before, and leaving feeling like I wasn't sure about anything, kick-started the downward spiral which began right before I got on Ex-Christian. My happiness faded, replaced with a need to refute every fear or doubt that crept in my head, it just got worse.

 

This is where therapy began to fail me. I started going around in emotional as well as intellectual circles. She couldn't really touch the religion issues, I actually think she was a fairly liberal Christian even though you wouldn't really be able to know it from talking to her. I just couldn't shake my fears. Worst of all this stuff was not testable, or amenable to mental skepticism, since it was in the realm of emotion mostly, and intuition was not helpful. Of course my education helped, but even then my interest began to be plagued with placating fears. Near the end, shortly before my coverage was about to go out, as I was becoming an adult (my birthday being in July) I heard what I had never heard from her before. That she didn't know how to help me. Imagine that, someone who knew volumes of information about you from your weekly, hour-long visits didn't know how to help you get over these incessant fears.

 

Well from then on things went from bad to worse, I was supposed to come back after I applied for mental assistance, however that never ended up following through. I haven't seen that woman since, and I have spent more than a few times crying about how I wish I could speak to that caring person again...Unfortunately I didn't qualify for that help, and my parents definitely could not afford the costs out of pocket (only I had insurance under the state law, and since i was adult that no longer could be applied) I continued to take my medication, however I couldn't go back for more therapy. Not that it would have helped, as I said we hit a giant roadblock anyways. I applied for the only thing I had any real shot at getting, SSI disability, but they ended basically saying I didn't qualify because I had good grades and was too young; I guess to count you have to give up trying. Even the social worker saw how it wasn't a fair standard, but there wasn't much we could do as I had no way of paying a lawyer if we took it to court for appeal, especially because of the aforementioned roadblocks. At that point I gave up pursuing that.

 

It wasn't until a little under a year ago, after I had begun smoking pot recreationally, that I began to seek out more help, after multiple times being told to seek help on here. At first I only saw a medical doctor for help with maybe getting better medication (this new place allowed payment on a sliding scale, making at least feasible to go), whom ended up telling me he didn't think I had OCD (which was partly my fault, as I was timid, and probably underrepresented what I had been going through). I was then given an appointment with the only counselor their, but only could see her in a month. After I began seeming to get worse I started trying to see her more and more. However she definitely was not as helpful as Sarah (my therapist from before), and I got (and still get) relatively little from our meetings. This is the point basically in the last few months, when I really started trying to pursue help again, under advisement of people on this site. However even after calling a suicide hotline, and being told to go into the very same place I had used to go to when I saw my first therapist, having it implied I could have the evaluation free, I was told it was $80 for the evaluation alone. I broke into tears right on the spot, here I thought I was finally going to get helped, and I realized I could never afford it. At this point/somewhere a few months ago I had already started smoking a lot more heavily, exacerbated by the stress of being arrested for the first time.

 

I have been to a more than a few appointments with this counselor, which ended up being free, but I barely get anything out of each visit. I don't really connect with her at all other than her having compassion. Hell, even recently when I started talking about wanting to not be afraid of hell, and even asking her where to find a church that was more accepting of people like homosexuals (She didn't even think it was a perversion/seemed fairly liberal) she told me about Morningstar Church. I recognized the name, since a friend of someone I had befriended at college was on facebook recommending he just try visiting his church after he saw my college friend as posting some things which exhibited obvious depression. I had looked at the site, and the damn thing was just a more efficient/mainstream version of modern churches, although still fundamentalist (Although not nearly as focused on the negative aspects, also like what my old church had turned into). It wasn't at the level of a megachurch, but still a church that couldn't quite be called rural. As you can imagine that did not bode well with me, and though I did not tell her no outright, I definitely had no attention of "trying" such a church. She said they never talked about it, but I had no doubt if I were to talk to the pastor they would be against homosexuals and the like. She also obviously endorses marriage-only (to protect your heart/future spousal relationship instead of the idea you'll go to hell because of it). Now I am stuck with this.

 

Moral of the story? I guess I just wanted to talk about it. One take away though is that where I am, and no doubt many places in Washington, as well as other states, mental health even for those who sorely need it, is not readily available. Even looking in the phonebook at local practices, there are only a handful, if not 2-3. One of those being the facility I began therapy with so many years ago. A good facility, but insurance in this state that would be the only kind we could afford would not let me choose where I went, I wouldn't even be able to go this facility. What's more, and most frustrating, is it seems like the mental health practices in Yakima, though secular in name, seems to be dominated by people are in some way Christian. I even got into a theological debate one time awhile ago with the psychiatrist who used to prescribe me medication and ended up switching because I felt uncomfortable, unfortunately he was the only real psychiatrist available, others being nurses or something of the sort.

 

Secular psychologists are scarce, especially in the rural towns and settings which are prolific in Washington. The only place I could think of you could reach someone who wasn't religious is probably be in Seattle, and if in other cities/towns, they would be few and far between. Moreover, the only therapies seem to be fairly limited, I guess talking does help, but I would only imagine it would be so with someone whom you felt comfortable with. Another major issue is the hesitation to acknowledge any problem with religious teachings, mainly because like most of American industries, psychological care is dominated by people who are at least friendly with religion, often times being woefully ignorant of the effects it can have on those who do not want to be Christians.

 

Marlene Winell, as a lot of you may know acknowledges the effects of fundamentalism, unfortunately she is not the nicest person when you meet her in person, at least when I met her. Yes, I did go to a Journey Free retreat, even though I never divulged it on here. When I encountered her in tears due to my fear, I was basically rudely and shortly addressed, feeling guilty for even bringing up my issue and crying in front of her. Let's just say virtually no one ever wanted to talk to her again at the end of that trip, and many of us ended up getting our money back. The group we met was the best part, and I still keep in contact with many of them via facebook. Don't get me wrong, we all admired her work/what she was trying to do, but she obviously was not up for shouldering such a task. Anyways, the point is that she is one of very very few psychologists who even address the trauma seriously, the other prominent (if not only) one is Valerie Tarico. My point is that even if you are to find a therapist/psychologist, difficult enough for some depending on their location and financial status, even grimmer is the prospect you won't find one that will validate your pain, as they themselves are somewhat religious or have little experience with fundamentalism. I even remember one time I was basically laughed at in describing my existential predicament, and basically just told to just "believe" whichever aspects of the bible/Christian religion that was the least discomforting to me. His snide attitude belied that he probably was either some form of believer, or had never had experienced the effects of dogmatic doctrine and didn't take my pain seriously.

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Falloutdude, thank you for sharing your story, your experiences. I'm sorry you have had such a difficult time. I understand your frustration with the lack of mental health care, or at least the accessibility of it. And of course the lack of secular therapists.

 

I hope you will share your story with Darrel Ray and The Secular Therapy Project. They are working to build a database of secular therapists and I think your story is an excellent example of why they need to continue building that database. I also think it could explain to therapists that may be contemplating participating in the project why it is needed.

 

If you don't want to send your story to them I would be happy to, with your permission.

 

Rose

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