Gays, Christians, and Therapy
One of the most frequently asked questions people ask me about my job is whether I get depressed at work. As a web-based therapist, I specialize in primarily seeing three different types of people. Those who need a safe place to figure out if they are gay and how to reconcile that with their faith, people who need help navigating relationship issues within their same sex relationship, and straight people who need a place to process their feelings around a family member or friend being gay. I love what I get to do for a living, despite people assuming there is something about it that would make me depressed.
People usually follow this question up with another question of wondering if I get tired of people complaining about their lives and talking so much about themselves. When someone asks me these questions, I immediately have two responses. The first is, I realize this person has no idea what really happens in therapy. The second is a pensive sadness because the person who asks this type of question, on some level, feels their own pain and stories aren’t worth the time for someone to be with in them. You see, you and your stories have to matter to you in order to invite someone else into them. A question like this reveals how that person feels about themself and usually points to a person who doesn’t feel overly good about themselves.
At the same time, if they’ve never been to therapy, they don’t know how deep and rich and beautiful the process is. People experience depression for many reasons and one of the primary reasons is that they push their real feelings and experiences down so far that they begin to feel “dead” inside. Patients of mine who have been depressed are relieved when they begin to feel even sadness because it is better than feeling nothing at all. There becomes a preference for any emotion over a feeling of deadness.
Depression is sometimes an experience of a lack of feeling, when really your psychological world is simply responding to what you’ve been trying to do – you’re trying to “kill” your feelings. What happens in therapy is the opposite of that. People become more fully themselves, more fully alive and find ways of making changes that bring about a deeper satisfaction in life.
One thing that occurs over and over in therapy and in our daily lives is the fear of being human and having human needs, desires and wants. There’s so much shame experienced by simply being human. It’s as if there’s some unspoken message, especially in the Christian tradition, that to have needs is to not trust God. I help people see and embrace their needs and find ways to live deeper into those places. People who do this become powerful in their lives and forces of hope in their communities. This is all true especially for the kinds of people I specialize seeing in my practice. Many times the people I see for therapy are not only experiencing what the rest of the world experiences, but they experience these things in isolation overwhelmed with a fear of going to hell and being completely rejected by their friends and family.
The difficult part is that I can’t guarantee there won’t be loss for a gay person, especially in the Christian world. As a therapist who wants to comfort people, this is heartbreaking for me. I want to be able to assure them that they won’t have to experience loss or judgment, but I would be lying to them if I said that. Instead, I verbalize questions that lurk in the dark places of their hearts, but because of the fear of the answers they go unacknowledged by them. Questions like, What if some Christians are right and being gay is a sin, what would that mean for you? Do you fear there is something really wrong with your sexuality? What if you were worthy of love and didn’t need to hide from relationships, what then? Acknowledging the scary, unimaginable questions is important because finding the answers to them has a way of freeing us – we are no longer bound by the fear of the unknown.
It’s important to have a safe place to explore worst-case scenarios because many times we live as if they are already true. There were years I hid the truth of who I was from my family and more intentionally from my dad. I had been living a tortured life filled with shame, secrecy and isolation as if he had already rejected me. But when I told him I was gay, his response was one of love and support. While I realize this specific example will not be everyone’s story, I wish I had lived earlier into the possibility that my dad wouldn’t have rejected me. I am confident that there are places in your life right now where you are living as if something horrible is true that has not even occurred.
As a therapist, I get to help people walk through the painful, traumatic and confusing stories and experiences of their lives in order to find hope and a new life. There is nothing more hopeful and full of life than a person who faces the scary questions head on and finds they actually have really great answers for them. I’m amazed and inspired by the courage of my patients every day. It takes great courage and strength to reach out for therapy and I hope that each of you reading this will consider taking that step and reach out.