You’re not betraying your religion by seeking professional help


Chapel interior Photo credit: Elizabeth Nelson

The room is silent, and you’re left alone with your ominous thoughts. You’re religious, so you call out to God or Allah, the Buddha’s wisdom or the Hindu deities. You trust in their greatness and for good reasoning, too; they’ve helped you navigate through the monstrous waves of life.

Yet, your mental health is deteriorating, no matter how much you call out to them. It isn’t because they don’t want to help you, rather because the resources you need, you have yet to seek out. Yes, God can guide you, but you need God-given therapists and counselors and mentors. And that’s okay.

I was around 15 years old when I started experiencing an extreme sadness. I was raised a Pentecostal Christian, and thus, when I encountered any trouble, my first thought was to pray. Time and time again, I was blamed for being miserable, it was simply because I “didn’t have enough faith.”

Eventually, I grew so frustrated that I stopped identifying as a Christian. I knew what I needed was actual help. Otherwise, God would have healed me after all these years.

In a world where emotions are taboo, it’s important to remember that your feelings are valid and need to be heard. Isabel Chavez, a sophomore at Trinity, shared her experience with the detrimental belief that religion is equivalent to therapy. “My grandparents, when they talk about people who do have mental health issues, they express sympathy but they just kind of say, ‘Well they have to pray, they have to believe in God’ and that God’s gonna fix it all, without really considering any alternative solution.”

She continued, “I’ve noticed in my family that if people struggle a lot, it’s not really accepted. You just kind of live life with God in the background.”

We have all experienced calamities in life that have left their stains on us — stains we try to wash with exhausted smiles and repetitive toxic behaviors. It’s important to remember that seeking professional help isn’t for “crazy” people, nor are you betraying your religion by doing so.

Andja Bjeletich, a sophomore at Trinity, shared how therapy has made her grow closer to her Christianity. “Embracing therapy isn’t rejecting a religion; it’s incorporating a religion in a scientific way. The way therapy works, [is that] the therapist comes to understand your mindset and your set of beliefs. She shows you how to better operate inside of this mind frame. What they’re tweaking is the way that you think, not what you think about.”

She also shared her personal story. “I struggle with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and I have a panic attack disorder. So, what would happen is, I would be told, ‘Just pray, and it’ll like go away.’ So finally, I went to a therapist, and she was able to incorporate my faith into my therapy. I’ve never been pressured by my therapist to quit being religious. If anything, it’s actually made me a stronger Christian.”

Bjeletich’s story is a reminder that religious and therapeutic help can and do coexist. Perhaps if I would have realized this earlier, I’d still be attending church and singing along to spiritual music. I needed to know that God is not a therapist in the same way that God’s words are not our only source of food; we wouldn’t physically survive, and it doesn’t have to be an insult to our religion either.

The truth is that religion provides a soothing blanket of calmness. Allah’s reminder that I am fully loved or Buddha’s messages of kindness have often times helped me feel better. Yet, their words have never helped me to a point where I felt “saved” or healed, not even when I was a devout Christian. That’s because we are vulnerable human beings who need a physical person to respond to us, and at the end of the day, we can go home and thank Allah, God or the goodness of the universe for that person. Whatever you believe in, know that they placed helpers on this earth to help you.