Join Carrie as she dives into an interesting conversation with Ann Taylor McNiece, LMFT on Incognito Christian Counselors and the integration of faith into mental health counseling
Why some counselors are hesitant to publicly identify as Christians
How Christian counselors can provide evidence-based therapy while integrating faith and scripture
Challenges of finding specialized treatment for conditions like OCD and navigating treatment outside of one’s faith
Importance of asking questions and advocating for oneself in therapy
Related links and Resources:
6 Factors to Consider Before Searching for a Counselor
Carrie: Welcome to Hope for Anxiety and OCD, Episode 93. I am your host, Carrie Bock, and I’m so glad that you are joining us today to listen to this show. If you haven’t checked out our website, we’re at hopeforanxietyandocd.com and we have some free resources on there. You can go to the free page and get a download of five things that every Christian struggling with OCD needs to know. And you can contact me there as well. We would love to hear from you. Today on the show we have Ann Taylor McNiece, who’s a licensed marriage and family therapist and podcast host of Soul Grit. I am happy to have her here to talk with us about the integration of faith and Counseling.
Passion for Integrating Faith and Counseling
Welcome to the show. I think that we share a similar passion in regards to integration of faith into mental health counseling, and we both went to seminary, different seminaries, but how did this become a passion of yours?
Ann: I can actually remember the early years of college just kind of dreaming about this marriage of theology and psychology, and I was just starting to learn more about. I’ve been a Christian my whole life, but I had just recently started to struggle with depression and had my first experience of counseling in my senior year of high school. And just from there, I started having just this dream in my heart that more people need to be aware that these two things fit together. God created our minds and God created helpers that understand the mind and wanna help people and just reach their fullness of life to get away from things like anxiety, depression, and other common health problems that we see.
Carrie: And this is so prevalent in the church. There’s so many people who are struggling with common mental health issues, anxiety, depression, even things in the church, people that are struggling with ADHD or autism. There’s so much that’s going on that a lot of times we don’t talk about it enough, and so I’m glad that we’re able to talk about.
Our faith can be fully integrated. I like to say we can have all of Jesus and all of really good psychological teaching because everything points us back to God.
Ann: If it’s something good and true and it works and it’s healthy, and that’s coming from God. Humans didn’t create that stuff.
Carrie: Absolutely, and I think there’s so much more that obviously that God knows than we do about these things because he created our brain and our mind and knows all the intricacies of how everything works.
Hesitations and Challenges of Identifying as a Christian Counselor
Why do you think some counselors are hesitant to publicly say that they’re a Christian?
Ann: I think it depends if you really are a Christ follower because Christian can mean a lot of things. You’re in a different area of the country than I am in Southern California. It might mean something different than it means in the Bible Belt or the South, just to say you’re Christian.
It’s not a very good descriptor of what the person’s actually bringing to the table for one thing. And then the other part is that some therapists are unsure about what are the actual legal and ethical guidelines of bringing your faith into the counseling room. So some people might think, “Oh, I went to grad school. I learned how to be a counselor. I got my license. And I’m never supposed to talk about religion or spirituality or Jesus ever again in my professional context,” and I think sometimes we might get that even from public school kinds of mentalities or separation of church and state. The thing is, there’s nothing about State in my private practice of counseling.
So I don’t really have those same guidelines, like a teacher or a politician might have to try to keep those things separate. But I think it comes from people not knowing what are the guidelines and how much can I share. And all concerned that will it be ethical for me to share, will this client feel like I’m proselytizing or trying to evangelize them instead of really attending with empathy to their concerns that they’re bringing into the counseling room.
And then there’s another fear that counselors have just if I put out on my website that I’m a Christian counselor or if I have like a little Jesus cross or a fish or something on my business card to identify me as a counselor or maybe like a scripture reference or something like, Christians are gonna know that I’m for them, but am I gonna alienate all the other people?
And then it comes from this kind of mindset of if I don’t advertise or market myself to everybody. I’m not gonna be able to fill my practice and then I’m gonna suffer a financial loss because I won’t have enough clients.
The Balance of Professionalism and Faith Integration
Carrie: I think that’s a huge one. Just in terms of like how I was trained of, yes, like I was trained with really great faith integration, but then I was also trained with, but you’re trained as a professional to see everyone regardless of what their needs are. And so you have to put aside what your belief system is in terms of working with the client from their belief system. And so for a long time, I think I fell into what I’m titling this episode, the Incognito Christian counselor standpoint. I wasn’t open about my faith, and it’s actually this podcast that has helped me more than anything step into true authenticity of who I am in my marketing as a therapist, because I thought, well, I never really saw myself as a Christian counselor because sometimes when I think of that, I think of like, okay, some person that’s opening up a Bible and is, Hey, let’s talk about this scripture and how it applies to your life and your situation. And there certainly are opportunities that I may bring certain things up or ask clients, are you familiar with this Bible story? Or that type of thing. Based off of what they’re saying. But it’s not as, I think formal, maybe as I viewed it. When I came out with this podcast, I thought, this makes no sense. I have a very Christian name if you understand the Bible because my name is By The Well Counseling. People who are familiar with the John 4 story are like, “oh, well okay. She gets it. She has a Bible. So I did have that. And then I would say a little something about that on my website. I might check that I was Christian on Psychology today, and I might have a verse at the bottom. But I didn’t really go into like, Hey, my faith is a big passion of mine and I really believe that we can integrate really well.
And I think it’s definitely been a big shift in my practice over the last couple of years as to having more Christian clients or clients seek me out because I am a christian especially since having the podcast for the last two years. And I do think that some people in the community, even other therapists, probably think, oh, well, we’re not gonna send certain clients to her if they’re not Christian. And I just have to say, “that’s okay how they’re gonna view me and I really can’t control that.” I think we spend so much time trying to control how other people see us in all contexts, not just in a professional context.
Ann: And you know, I think that the clients I want to see are the ones that are gonna want to see me.
It’s not so much like you said, bringing out your Bible and telling them what verses are gonna apply to their situation, or, well, let’s just sit down and pray about it. All of those things are good things to do. But those kind of interventions might find themselves more in a pastoral or biblical counseling setting or where as licensed therapists, who, we have a state licensure that’s vetted us, we’ve done our 3000 hours, we’ve done all the things that we need to be clinical providers, we’re gonna bring all of that. But what’s gonna underlie all of this as our foundation is a shared value and a shared hope. When it comes down to, I’m doing cognitive behavioral therapy with somebody and they can’t get to that part where they need to create an alternative thought. I’m gonna say, okay, well if you can’t get to it, let’s ask God, what would God say about this? And we’ll find a scripture to that matches what they need to do. And it’s not because I am, well just read the Bible and that’s cover everything that you’re going through. That informs everything that I do as a professional counselor.
The Search for Christian Counselors and Specialized Treatment
Carrie: Another reason I wanted to have this episode too is I think especially for our folks who are struggling with OCD, they really have a hard time finding someone who has that training in OCD evidence-based therapies and treatments, while also having the value systems of Christianity. Part of that is because a lot of the OC D treatment has to do with behaviorism, and that’s not that it’s directly in conflict with Christianity. I think it’s just a little bit different way of looking at the world and we see people as more than just higher evolved animals, is a way to say it, but which is a lot of behaviorism is based on those kind of ideas.
I’m curious, like for you as a Christian, do you feel like you would ever see a counselor who wasn’t a Christian? Maybe if you had a certain diagnosis that you needed treating or as you were seeking out a certain type of therapy, and how would you navigate that if you would?
Ann: Well, I certainly wanna leave room for, some of us need really specialized treatment. And some of us lived in parts of the country where it’s harder to find providers. Like I said, I’m in Southern California, probably an hour’s drive. I can find a specialist in whatever I wanna be specialized in. Right? But if you live in a different part of the country, especially if you’re seeking in-person therapy versus on a screen like we all did for pandemic.
Sometimes you want a person that you can be present in the room with and you need them to have a specialization is going to help you break through something and that person may or may not be a believer. There are gonna be times when that is necessary, but for me personally, what I struggle with is depression.
That’s general thing. Sometimes just figuring out next steps in life, or I might go to marriage counseling or something like those things that I’m dealing with, I’m gonna definitely wanna have Christian counselor because I know there are people who have faith in God who have similar values and similar understanding worldview that have the training that I need to get through the things that I’m dealing with.
I think you have to allow room for both when you can see a Christian counselor and when there’s something that just needs specialists, go ahead and do that, and you just make the best of it.
Carrie: It’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay to ask your therapist what their value system is. They may or may not want to answer that for you, just kind of depending on how they work, but it’s fully within your right to ask where someone is coming from or what type of treatment methods they use.
So know that you’re in an empowered place regardless of where you find yourself in treatment. And I’m thinking that we may have a friends that listen to the show that have had to go to an in-patient treatment, or they’ve had to go to an IOP treatment, and it’s not something that’s covered by their insurance.
It’s probably not gonna be a Christian run facility most likely talking to the counselors about what your values are, these are things that are very important to me and I wanna make sure that we’re utilizing them in counseling in a healthy way, and I wanna make sure that you kind of understand where I’m coming from and what’s important to me. And ethically, whether your counselor is a Christian or not, they have to respect that.
Ann: Exactly. Yeah. What I really think that God is faithful in this area, that when you’re in a really bad place with your mental health condition, and you need to have some of these higher level of arrangement is made for you like he’s gonna be faithful.
Just be surprised that there’s gonna be another patient there, or there’s gonna be a nurse, or there’s gonna be a therapist or a behavioral tech or something like that. You’re not gonna know at first, but then you’re gonna find out that person also loves God. And then God’s gonna put those pieces together for you so that you can have an experience of getting the healing that you need with that kind of high level of specialty. But then he’s also gonna be right there saying, I see you. I know what you need. And then as you move down from higher level of care back into just regular weekly therapy with your therapist, like maybe that might be an opportunity to say, okay, I learned all these kind of technical skills in my IOP or whatever it might be, but now can you help me figure out how I integrate those things that I learned with what I know to be true in the Bible and what God’s doing in my life. And that’s a really good launching point for the next phase of.
God’s Faithfulness in Mental Health Treatment
Carrie: Absolutely. I really like how you worded that. I do think that God is always with us in walking us through situations and just giving us those little glimpses of like, “Hey, I’m here for you. You’re gonna be okay. You’re gonna be able to make it through.” This is one of the reasons that you started your podcast because of your own mental health struggles.
Ann: I think I got into counseling because of my own mental health struggles. But I started the podcast because I saw this need in my community. And yes, it’s Southern California, but my particular community is a little bit smaller and so I was looking for people that I could refer patients to when they were requesting a Christian counselor and I was either full or didn’t take their insurance or whatever, and I would reach out to people and a couple of times I got emails back that would say something like, yes, I’m personally a Christian, but I don’t offer Christian counseling. Why not? That just didn’t make sense to me.
So then I had to go back and think through all of those reasons why a person who had no faith in Jesus wouldn’t wanna bring that into their professional setting. Carrie, you and I both had a seminary background. We had classes that specifically taught us, okay, you’ve had bible and theology. You’ve had clinical classes, here’s how you put them together, and here’s how you bring that into your career, into the room with your clients. But a lot of people who were trained either in a secular university or some other kind of program didn’t have that advantage. Maybe just don’t know how to do it and don’t have confidence to do that. I started creating resources that would help learn how to integrate their personal faith into the practice that they already know how to do.
They’re already licensed counselors or pre-licensed, and they wanna be able to do good work clinically, but then there’s this whole part of themselves that they’re leaving out. You just said when you started the podcast, you became more authentic in your work because now you’re bringing in this part of you.
I wrote an e-course that was my 2020 pandemic project over the summer.
Carrie: We all had one.
Ann: Yeah, I put out the E-course and then I thought, you know what? People need an easy on-ramp to find out just to get their toes in the water with this idea about integration. My podcast is for people who do this kind of work like you and I do.
But also for people who are just interested in mental health and they wanna know like, is this okay that I’m a Christian and I wanna do this therapy thing? I’ve done different special episodes on things like brain spotting or transcranial magnetic stimulation or different things where I wanna get a Christian perspective on all those clinical things that are out there so I can understand more.
I can get the help I need and I can pass on this information to other people that I see in my world or in my church that are needing the help as well.
Starting a Podcast to Address the Need for Faith Integration
Carrie: That’s awesome. I think there’s a really, a lack of conversation surrounding these things, which is one of the reasons that I started my podcast too. I had a blog for like a hot second and I realized writing’s a lot of work.
Ann: Yeah, same .
Carrie: And it’s easier for me to talk, so I decided, you know, maybe we’ll, podcasting route because it was a lot of work to try to get all these blog posts up there, and then I was like, is anybody rating this thing? But I think this is great. I’ve really definitely looked for a lot of resources and people who are bringing to the table really solid clinical skills and good Christian counseling.
I hope that people will check out your podcast, Soul Grit, and you’ve had a wide variety of episodes on there, different topics. It’s awesome.
Ann: Yes, Carrie’s gonna be on the podcast too.
Ann’s Story of Hope
Carrie: Woohoo. Towards the end of every episode, I like to ask our guests to share a story of hope, which is a time of hope that you have from God or another person?
Ann: Yes. Well, God has done a lot of amazing things like actual miracles in our family story. I’ll just share where I am right now. I actually had a stroke two months ago and that was very unexpected cuz I’m only 40. I exercise most days. I eat healthy. I don’t have diabetes. I don’t smoke or drink.
I don’t have any risk factors, and all of a sudden I found myself in the hospital having suffered a stroke just during November. I didn’t know what that meant or what my life would look like, and it turns out it could have been a lot worse. I have all of my faculties available. I can walk, I can talk, I can think I can do cognitive tasks.
In the meantime, God had to remove me from a lot of the things as a professional mom, wife, all the roles in ministry. December could be like, this is the big time, right? , the week before December started this past year. God just said, no, actually your job is to lay on the couch. And I thought, but God, I’m the mom and I’m the podcaster and I’m the therapist and I lead a small group and I have to do holidays for my family and all those things.
And God just made me rest and taking me through right now a journey of figuring out what is really important. And what is foundational? Do I have big ideas and big [00:18:00] goals for my practice or my e-course or my podcast or my other things that do in ministry or family, whatever. But come down to take care of yourself, rest, read the Bible, spend time with the Lord. Be there with your family, work on your marriage, eat the right food. It’s come down to just very foundational basic things, and I’ll say, this is why, this is my story of hope because right now I don’t see what the result of that is gonna be, but I really have this sense that God has me in this place of lane , a solid foundation.
Not that I wasn’t solid in my belief in God, or that I didn’t have a good marriage or anything before. But it’s like he’s laying this new layer of foundation that I need for whatever that launch is in the next season of life, and I have no idea what that might look like, but I have hope that if he’s asking me to slow down and rest right now and take care of these things, that means he has something for me then that’s gonna be worth it when I follow him in an obedience to that.
Carrie: Yeah. It’s so hard for us in our cultural context to slow down and to rest, but it’s definitely so needed and so important, so I’m glad that God’s working with you on that. Have you kind of had a lot of reflections on just the sense of Sabbath in the Bible and what that really means to rest?
Ann: What’s really funny is in October I did a whole series on rest and ceasing from busyness and Sabbath. And that was what the whole, the podcast in the fall was about. And then I had just moved into a new series that I was doing about the body and what God has to say about the body and how our body impacts our mental health and things like that.
It was almost like God said, well, you’re doing good work. I see the work that you’re doing, but I’m gonna make this really real for you in short order.
Carrie: Yeah, he did. It’s kind of like when the pastor has to preach the sermon to themselves before they give it to the congregation. That’s what they say. They’re like, I had to learn this for myself.
Awesome. Tell us where people can find you and we’ll put links in the show notes too.
Ann: Yeah, of course. So my website is soul gritresources.com, and that’s where you can find the e-course. You can get links to the podcast, the blog that I used to write and for your listeners, I’m assuming a lot of people that listen to your podcast are interested in things like those evidence-based practices.
So I have a freebie that pops up. It’s called Cognitive Behavior Therapy with scripture, and I’ll walk you through how to use the scripture to replace those thoughts that you’re needing some help with once you identify them, so they can find that there. I’m also on Instagram at Soul Grit Resources.
Great. Well, thank you so much for being here today. Ann: Thank you.