Religious counseling makes things worse


I’ve been in therapy a number of times in my life. The first time was when I was in college, at the strong recommendation of the missions organization that had just rejected me for experiencing “homosexual temptation.” The referred me to a good Christian counselor in my area who probed my relationship with my father, and with my mother, and my feelings of inadequacy. Blehhh!

The second time was when I went away to graduate school. I was stressed about living in a bigger, progressive city, and fearful that I might falter in the “progress” I had made in my fight against the aforementioned temptation. Well, I call it “the second time,” but it probably really shouldn’t count. I went to just one appointment at the university counseling center, and quite logically and eloquently (I’m sure…) explained how and why I was experiencing these errant impulses. When my counselor revealed that he was gay, I elected not to return.

And more recently, since my second coming out to my wife, I’ve been working with a good individual therapist. So I was quite distressed (though not surprised) to hear of a recent study assessing the efficacy of mental health treatment in reducing the risk of suicide among LGBTQ people.

The study finds that seeking treatment from a mental health or medical provider did not reduce the odds of a suicide attempt. Respondents who sought mental health or medical treatment at some time prior to their suicide attempt (or, among those who did not attempt suicide, prior to the age when suicide might have been attempted) were as likely as respondents who did not seek any mental health treatment to have a suicide attempt or serious suicide attempt after this time. However, counseling from a religious or spiritual advisor was associated with worse outcomes. Compared with individuals who did not seek help at all, those who sought help from a religious or spiritual advisor were more likely later to attempt suicide.

“The findings are troubling because seeking treatment is a recommended suicide prevention strategy and this study’s results show no more positive effect for people who sought treatment. More troubling is the finding that individuals who sought religious or spiritual treatment had higher odds of later attempting suicide than those who did not seek treatment at all,” said co-author Ilan H. Meyer, Ph.D., Williams Senior Scholar of Public Policy. See more at:

Did you catch that? Seeking help from religious or spiritual advisors actually increased the risk of suicide for LGBTQ people. Shocking, right? As I said, not surprising based on my own personal experiences, but nevertheless so very disappointing.

Signs of progress, though. Exodus International, one of the leading organizations advocating faith-based reparative therapy for gay people recently disbanded and issued an apology for the harm they have caused.  And a group of former leaders of the ex-gay conversion therapy movement have joined together and come out against conversion therapy.

If you are depressed, please don’t suffer alone. Reach out for help – but be careful who you reach out to!


  1. This has been a horrible experience for you. Sadly it does not surprise me. This idea that it is due to being gay is a result of neglect or abuse from the same-sex parent is a load of nonsense. It also does the devil’s work of “accusations” and has resulted in even more fractured relationships and lawsuits being taken against people for actions they have never done. I have written on this myself on my blog – if you look up the post “some thoughts on ex-gay reparative therapy”.

    What is really outrageous is that some Christian counsellors do this in the name of the Holy Spirit when it’s not God’s work at all!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just seen a mistype on my reply. The second sentence should read: This idea that being gay is a result of neglect or abuse from the same-sex parent…


  3. You are absolutely correct: “be careful who you reach out to”.

    I was once sent to the school counselor/therapist in my high school by a concerned teacher who saw a lull in my enthusiasm for life. This therapist was such a grand person that the ultimate result was my leading a Peer-counseling group during lunch period and one hour after school. Via this confidential counseling and said therapist as chaperone, I was able to connect with my peers and learn from each other in ways that a straight female professional could never achieve.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Reblogged this on LifeInCocoon and commented:
    This is mind-boggling.

    I’m working with an excellent therapist, a person who has the experience, knowledge, and heart to make it a bearable journey. Not everyone has that experience.

    “Today, I’m ok.” That’s my daily theme.


  5. I am new to your blog and don’t know you well. I do wish you the very best and I want to offer you the best hopes, and happiness I can express. I am concerned however about your mention of suicide. I admit it scares me. Even thought the point of your post was religious help makes the chance of suicide worse for non conforming sexual or gender people, I am stuck at the word suicide. Please don’t give up or give in. I have had too many people write about suicide and then do it. I have little to no advice to offer, except a ear to hear what you would say, eyes to read what you would write, and a willingness to be here if you need. I will send you my personal email, phone , and give what support I can. I just don’t want to see such a nice good life come to an end.

    Now from the writing I can see you are not saying you would do that however when the word is raised we much always be ready and willing to help. To many have gone that way to even ignore the suggestion.

    As to the rest of your well written post I would like to just add a little bit of my life in agreement with you if you would allow. Mental health issues have such a stigma in this country.

    However I was forced in to counseling several times in my childhood due to being abused. They never stopped the abuse but it made the adults feel better about them selves. After a session I got nothing out of, the same world existed for me. I went to counseling once at work because some one said I got upset when I did not but the system was designed to set a person up for employee counseling. After being told it wouldn’t cost me anything I found out it cost me 600 dollars for the psychologist to tell my work and bosses they had not protected me from harm and abuse at work and that they were totally responsible for a sexual assault and a possible sometimes hostile work environment. Then at the end of my working career when it came out I was cutting my self, they tried to force me to go to employee health again and more visits with a psychologist, however I reminded than that the last one has said they were at fault and so I was fired. For me mental health has not given me relief or help.

    However the greatest relief and help I get mentally and emotionally is from my wonderful love and partner of over 24 years. He can keep me sane and healthy. So it shows me that for me at least it is love and caring, concern and giving that keeps my mental balance. Recently I was going to cut my self but a good person I met who became my wonderful brother kept me from doing much damage. It cost him some sleep which he has not ever begrudged. To truly heal one much first be accepted as one is, good parts and faults, and never let to think they are not worth the world of effort to save.

    That is the real problem with Religious mental health issues. They don’t accept, instead they want to cure, convert, to love the sinner but hate the sin. It is totally at cross purposes and doomed to fail. To heal one must be accepted as one is. fully. Hugs and thanks.


    1. Thanks, Scottie, for your words of concern, and for sharing your own story. I’m so glad you have your partner in your life – from your blog and from your words here, it’s clear that he is good to you! I’m sending a backchannel message as well to your email.


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