Religion and the Mental Health Field

I mentioned a week or so ago that I am still afraid of losing my job or not obtaining future employment due to living openly as an atheist. One commenter pointed out that the amount of discrimination and ridicule you receive often depends on your job and field. I completely agree so I wanted to write a little about my work.

My Job as a Peer Supporter

I’m a mental health peer supporter and I’ve worked, interned, or volunteered for five mental health organizations in the past fifteen years. Wow. I can’t believe it’s been fifteen years. I don’t feel old enough to have worked in anything for fifteen years.

(A certified peer supporter here in Ohio means you have a mental illness or addiction, have at least two years of solid recovery under your belt, and are willing to share your story and experience to help others. I have schizoaffective disorder and have been in recovery for many years. Despite having a serious mental illness I have been able to go to school, work, and have a family.) 

Anyway, everywhere I’ve worked I’ve experienced some pretty intimidating holy rollers in both staff and clients. It’s caused me to keep my mouth shut. I really feel religious discussions have no place at work but there’s a difference between choosing not to say anything and being afraid to say anything. I’ve always been afraid and whether I think it’s right or not the religious discussions are taking place.

At my current position, I facilitate art and writing groups for people in recovery (or at least I did before the pandemic). I fear the staff but I fear the clients more. So many of the clients that come to the arts center are very religious. If they found out that I’m not, would they lose their trust in me? 

I’ve always been an anxious person, but in the case of my job, I feel my fears are legitimate. 

Spirituality vs. Science in Recovery

It goes beyond me and my job. I’m currently working on a memoir about being an atheist with a mental illness and I know first hand that it can be hard to escape religion and spirituality in recovery. Take the Twelve Steps for example. Talk of a higher power is all over their literature and program, and it’s such a popular and visible program. It’s what first comes to mind when you think of alcoholism or other addictions.

I’ve felt pressure from supervisors, coworkers, clients, and even my own therapist. Mental health and spirituality often feel intertwined but maybe we could help more people if the mental health field was more inclusive of the secular community. 

I know my own recovery is powered by science (my awesome doctor and life-saving meds). If more people viewed recovery in that way I think the mental health field would be a lot better off.


Has anyone else witnessed this in the mental health field? I know living in a red state doesn’t help.

Finding a Therapist that isn’t Religious

I’ve heard good things about the Secular Therapy Project. I wish I would have known about it in the past. It might have saved me some confusion and heartache. Go to their website to find a secular, evidence-based mental health clinician in your area.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *