Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Hi, I'm Ellen and I'm An Atheist

When I set up my web site, I asked friends to give me feedback.  I was quite surprised that they approved of my spelling and a bit taken aback by their take on my statement,
I am an atheist. Normally that doesn't come up in conversation but if you're looking to talk through questions of infidelity, sexuality, gender, divorce, abortion and other life issues without a religious perspective, you may find that information useful.
"Don't say you're an atheist," several friends chorused.  "You'll put people off!"

That was surprising because I was hoping that particular bit of disclosure would encourage trust. While atheism is unusual in South East Asia, where I come from, Holland and Scotland, it's pretty normal.
Proportion of atheists and agnostics around the world
Proportion of atheists and agnostics around the world

It's fairly common for mental health practitioners to describe how they work, so that clients can choose between different therapeutic approaches. For me, describing personal values is just as important.

Therapists are human and they can have strong beliefs about marriage, sexuality, abortion and other issues. 

As a result we've got two extremes with practitioners who try to divorce their practice from their own ideals on one end, and faith-based counselling on the other.  

If you're depressed because you've had an abortion, because your same sex relationship is in difficulties, or because your husband's third wife is a horror, you might think twice about reaching out to someone whose personal values would clash with yours.

So I say I'm an atheist because I want potential clients to understand where I'm coming from.

As far as I'm concerned, being an atheist isn't that important. Although I don't have a faith, I've lived in five countries, I've met a lot of people, and I work with Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus.

You see, when it comes to therapy, it's not my beliefs that count. If you come to me and tell me your marriage is in trouble, but your religion forbids divorce, that's just another parameter we work with.  My opinion about marriage or divorce doesn't come into the picture at all. All that matters are your beliefs. 

I'm not saying I can work with anyone. When the gap is too wide, and it becomes too difficult to understand each other, then the prospect for healthy change is too narrow.

And because I worry about that, I offer a free fifteen minute chat to all new clients, just to see if we click.  If we don't, we're just out of a little time and you can look for a better match.

However, given that atheists are targeted in some countries, should I hide what I am?

Tell me what you think.  Should I say I'm atheist in my profile or not?

Credit: graphic is from Wikipedia