Some counsellors are not comfortable with faith. Twenty first century England is a fairly secular place but it would be wrong to assume that faith plays no part in anyone’s life. There are many people who come to counselling because of issues that have arisen within their faith community – sexual abuse in boarding schools run by religious orders; physical abuse in madrassas and seminaries; abuse of all kinds by those with authority in different faith institutions. Some people are angry that their faith has been lost. Some are trying to find a way to make sense of their faith within a religious context that seems to have perverted it. Some people feel cast out by their religious community maybe because of their sexual identity or because they are considered to have broken the ‘rules’.
There are actually many people in this country who hover on the margins of faith communities. Some would like to be fully accepted and are dealing with feelings of loss and rejection. Some are determined to escape and are dealing with engrained notions of unworthiness, evil and damnation. Others have found a way to make peace with their God, if not with their faith community. Sometimes these matters of faith are the main reason why people come to counselling. More often they are an important part of the person’s background story and have an impact on how that person is grieving or dealing with a relationship crisis or anything else.
A good counsellor will make space in the relationship for your faith story if that is part of your life. We do not need to share your faith but we do need to recognise its importance and have some understanding of faith identities and of the role of religion in life – for good and for ill. At the moment there are many people who will be affected by the reports on abuse in the Church of England and the Roman Catholic church in this country. Many others are dealing with the ongoing struggle for acceptance of LGBTIQ* people within faith communities and with the refusal of some faith groups to allow women to exercise ministry. Sharing these struggles with a receptive counsellor may be helpful. There are people out there who understand.
Some useful organisations and resources –
MACSAS – Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors provides support and advice for people abused as children or adults by Christian clergy. It also provides links to other organisations which may be useful to people from other faith backgrounds as well.
Diverse Church – support group working with young LGBTQ people and their families. It’s a Christian group that affirms LGBTQ identities and supports young Christians who sometimes find that their evangelical communities are either trying to exclude or change them.
New Ways Ministry – similar to Diverse church in some ways but it is US based and not just focussed on younger people. It is a Roman Catholic organisation.
NSPCC – provides advice and support for those concerned about keeping children safe within our faith communities.
JWA – Jewish Women’s Aid provides information and support around domestic violence and abuse. It also signposts links for supporting men facing domestic abuse.
IICSA – Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is currently looking into several major cases of organised child sexual abuse including some in faith communities. The link is to the Victims and Survivors section of their website.
Keshet UK maintains this list of support groups for Jewish LGBT people.