A Therapist Goes to Church

Forgotten Church by akreon-d5n5doe

Forgotten Church by akreon-d5n5doe

Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve sensed something deeply amiss in my experiences within the context of the institutional, Western, primarily evangelical church.  For a very long time I muted my dissonance, being unfamiliar with its nature, and not terribly desirous to understand it more clearly.  Early on, many of my misgivings were obscured by my own personal emotional, mental, and spiritual struggles.  I had a hard time knowing where my interpersonal issues ended and legitimate inquiry and criticism began.  Years of therapy, mentoring, reading, and spiritual guidance have helped make those lines clearer.  I am thankful to a number who’ve helped me – you know who you are.

Ironically, the more clarity and insight I have gained into myself, the more sharply focused have become my concerns about church, to the extent that it has been at times a violation of my conscience to darken the sanctuary doors.  While I have engaged in all manner of communal life and spiritual and pastoral conversation outside the 4 walls of the institutional church, nearly every time I set foot within it, I am racked with questions and a clanging inner dissonance.

In trying to explain this to friends and pastors who clearly don’t feel similarly, I have gotten a well-meaning mix of prayer, pity, and pathologizing.  I am thankful for all three.   Thankful because they have helped me immensely in clarifying a spiritual identity within and without that has lead me closer to understanding myself and God. 

Particularly, in the past year, I believe that I have truly “come home” to myself.  In his similarly titled work, Father Albert Haase observed, “The spiritual journey is a journey back to one’s true self.  Coming home is about leaving the pigpen of empty attractions and avoidances and coming back to the Presence in the present moment. It is about returning to where God placed me in the very beginning.”  It is perhaps not ironic that in the midst of this process, I have returned to my boyhood home in the Midwest, and have felt the flames of rekindling for my deepest roots.


The Long Road Home by Capturing the Light

The Long Road Home by Capturing the Light

In a rather dramatic sense, I’ve begun to leave behind much of the self-rejection I learned over the years, and to realize that the identity forged in me right here, right now, is precisely the one God intended.  It is not a mistake, it is not pathological. It is not perfect, and it is as yet incomplete, but only in the sense that air still weaves its way in and out of my chest and blood still works its way through my veins.  To be alive is to continue to grow.  But to understand my identity most deeply means being where I am now, and living from that place with freedom and energy and authenticity, rather than on or for some distant shore.  This identity is sacred to me, and something I am deeply grateful to call my own.

LucyThat in mind, several individuals have recently pointed out how thoroughly my personal, communal, spiritual, and vocational identities inform and are informed by my profession as a mental health therapist Some of the most formative minds in shaping my life framework have been psychological and spiritual-psychological thinkers, and certainly, four years of graduate education in Marriage and Family Therapy probably had something to do with it as well.  If you’ve read any of my blogs then you already know this.

One friend in particular recently suggested that this is true to the extent that the paradigm from which I work could rightly be summed up as, “A Therapist Goes to Church,” and suggested I begin a series of regular blog posts with that in mind.  I thought that I’d never heard such a wonderful idea.  

The first can be found here, and you can link to all in the series here.  I hope you enjoy them.


“There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face, and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.” –Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” –Joseph John Campbell

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Author: Ryan Thomas Neace

Ryan Thomas Neace is a counselor, professor, husband, and daddy. Please contact him for counseling via skype or in-person at ryan@changeincorporated.org.

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