Ask Surly Amy: Secular Therapy

Ask Surly Amy

Hi Amy,

I am going through my second divorce in 5 years.  My first marriage lasted 18 years and produced two children who live with me.  The second marriage lasted two years.  My therapist suggested a divorce/grief support group.  A search revealed many groups in my area. There is one problem; all of them are faith based. Perhaps I’m just being cynical, but I don’t want to invest my emotions into a group that I could quite likely not fit in with.

Still I thought I’d contact one of groups and after settling on which session I could make, I received this email:

“Hope, healing, and new friends are a blessing of this ministry.  Take care, Kay”

I am at a loss as to what to do. I desperately need support, but I can’t accept being told that to heal I need to put my faith in a magical sky man.

What is an atheist to do in a situation like this?


Dear JW,

You and I actually spoke about this on the side and the advice I gave to you was to seek out a psychiatrist for alternative advice or to ask for a referral for a group therapist from an MD. A medical doctor may know of some science-based or secular councilors in your area that your particular therapist was not aware of. I also suggested that you actually call and ask about the groups before visiting or spending money or time on a group that is not right for you. Because no, I don’t think that you should put yourself into a situation where you don’t feel comfortable and where people will not understand your particular needs and views but you do need professional help.

I stand by that advice.

The reason I have decided to go ahead and post your question publicly is that I think this is a serious issue that the community may have some insight on. We really need a secular and science-based database of doctors and community services but I am not aware of anything like that existing. It took me some trial and error and footwork before I could personally find for myself a primary care physician in my area that I trusted to be science-minded and I am wondering if any members of the Skepchick community have run into similar issues.

Does anyone know of an easier way to locate science-based therapy or medicine in todays alternative and faith-based marketplace? Are there any resources I may have missed?

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. Hmmm… sort of a “Carl’s List” (for Carl Sagan)? A database of science-based physicians and skeptic-friendly counselors, as well as skeptic-owned businesses? Sorted by location, with reviews from members?

    Maybe “Randy’s List”, and have it operate as a revenue stream for the JREF?

  2. I agree with Surly Amy but am at a loss to offer advice. Except that if your primary physician tends to make science-based decisions, he might be able to direct you to a counselor who would be appropriate.

    I can relate to the situation. My brother is in prison and my sister-in-law is a heavy theist. It’s very clear that she’s not getting the support she needs… but she hasn’t told anyone in her church. Because (I think) she recognizes the small-town gossipy nature of that church, and knows that word would get out. Very sad, and I don’t know how to help.

  3. One of the things that works well is to look for counselors or groups that are tangentially related to what you’re looking for. For instance, I’ve found counselors that specifically list being gay friendly as also being very secular minded as a result.

  4. Many crisis centres maintain extensive files on local resources. The one I worked at had hundreds of agencies and support groups listed. We kept the religious ones flagged in case people wanted that – the opposite situation JW is in.

  5. Ask your therapist. Ask a mental health service at a university. Any sort of mental health teaching place should have such things and/or know who does. The lawyer that is helping you with the divorce.

  6. I always lived under the impression that being a skeptic, i should be tougher. I got the illusion that skeptics don’t need therapy, because we’re so rational, so if we can get over religion, superstition etc. what’s a little depression gonna do? Boy was i wrong!

    daedalus2u seems to have the best advice in the comments so far.

  7. If you don’t find a group, create one.

    Finding one ought to be easier, as in less work for you while you are going through trying times. But if you can find one secular or mostly secular person who’s been there and has the mental energy to help organize, and a counselor who can join in for the first couple meetings, you will probably be able to locate a larger group of others who are having the same issue. And knowing that you are helping others with your efforts may help you with your mental energy as well.

  8. Hey JW,

    Group therapy was also suggested to me and I had the same problem. You would think that in L.A. there would be lots of places one could turn to for secular help. And there are if your problem is drugs, alcohol or adapting to a gay lifestyle.

    I did find a few groups that weren’t tied to a faith-based organization, but they focused on co-dependency or victimization. It was a lot of “oh, you poor thing” stuff and nothing about how to move on and rebuild a life.

    Try searching – you may find something local that will work for you. You can search by keyword and location for women’s/divorce support groups. I wish I had some better resources to offer you, but it does seem that your best bet may be a referral for a therapist or social worker. If I run across anything, I’ll be sure to post the info.

  9. Dear JW, I once joined a sobriety group at the Center for Inquiry, and I didn’t feel like I fit in there either! I’ve had good shrinks and bad, and that’s a hit or miss thing. I can’t even talk to my shrink until our next appointment, which is 3 weeks away. Bottom line: get together on a regular basis with people who have some time, energy, and sympathy for you and your situation.

  10. I am the JW Amy writes about. I first want to thank Amy for being so kind to take the time to talk with me about this on the side and then to write about it here.

    Next I want to thank everyone who left comments of encouragement. I can’t tell you how much they mean to me.

    I did end up giving one of the faith-based groups a try. You can the read details on my blog here: . The upshot is that it was exactly as I feared; god was the answer to every issue and question raised. Very discouraging.

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