So…I have gone back and forth on writing a blog that dances on the edge of controversy. I, like many others, have my opinions regarding political, social, spiritual, and psychological hot buttons. I am very passionate about certain topics/issues. However, I have not shared my opinions much. Why? Well, I’d say there are two reasons.
1) in graduate school, I had a professor who openly discouraged posting/sharing anything controversial on the internet. His main reason for this is because the counseling profession is supposed to be unbiased and accepting, full of unconditional positive regard for every person we come across, whether we personally agree with their opinions or not. We do not want to risk potential clients brushing off counselors because of internet posts that appear to be biased
2) I am from the “bible belt” of Texas. Many of my friends, family’s friends, and acquaintances are self-described Christians. I have been too nervous to share my own beliefs in fear of offending someone and losing their friendship or, worse, having them brushing me off.
So, there you have it. My reasons for remaining quiet on hot button topics. I have wanted to protect the identity of the counseling profession and I have not wanted to risk any personal consequences. However, my desire to be true to who I am and refrain from silencing my voice has made this a challenging time in my career and personal life. On one hand, I have professors and other voices in my head telling me to remain quiet. On the other hand, I have my own voice desperately wanting to share. Ultimately, it has felt like the angel and demon on my shoulders. Going back and forth.
Today, I choose to take a step forward towards sharing my voice. Though I will not dive deep into any hot button issues, I will venture into being true to who I am–publicly. There is still fear there. My main fear is that current or future clients will read this and blow me off–thinking that because we have different views, I can’t possibly be their counselor. While I am nervous for this to happen, I also think it is our duty as counselors/mental health professionals to be true to ourselves. Our clients can and will sense when we are not being honest. Not to mention, I encourage my clients to be true to who they are on a daily basis. How hypocritical of me if I am not doing the same!
So, here goes nothing. My first “honest” topic is going to be spirituality. No, I will not be debating religion. Actually, I won’t be debating anything. More so, just sharing my thoughts.
For the past two years, I have really been questioning my spiritual beliefs and, ultimately, my religious beliefs. I went from being a die hard, worshipping, bible studying, self professed Christian to questioning why I believed anything I believed. In the beginning, it felt awful. I grew up being influenced to believe that Jesus is Lord, every other religion is just plain wrong. They will go to hell. I also grew up believing that when you doubt God, you are sinning and you should just “have faith.” I felt like a failure for even questioning THE God. Come to find out, this is a normal stage in faith development.
According to James Fowler, there are six stages of faith development:
- Intuitive-Projective–This is the stage of preschool children in which fantasy and reality often get mixed together. However, during this stage, our most basic ideas about God are usually picked up from our parents and/or society.
- Mythic-Literal–When children become school-age, they start understanding the world in more logical ways. They generally accept the stories told to them by their faith community but tend to understand them in very literal ways. [A few people remain in this stage through adulthood.]
- Synthetic-Conventional–Most people move on to this stage as teenagers. At this point, their life has grown to include several different social circles and there is a need to pull it all together. When this happens, a person usually adopts some sort of all-encompassing belief system. However, at this stage, people tend to have a hard time seeing outside their box and don’t recognize that they are “inside” a belief system. At this stage, authority is usually placed in individuals or groups that represent one’s beliefs. [This is the stage in which many people remain.]
- Individuative-Reflective–This is the tough stage, often begun in young adulthood, when people start seeing outside the box and realizing that there are other “boxes”. They begin to critically examine their beliefs on their own and often become disillusioned with their former faith. Ironically, the Stage 3 people usually think that Stage 4 people have become “backsliders” when in reality they have actually moved forward.
- Conjunctive Faith–It is rare for people to reach this stage before mid-life. This is the point when people begin to realize the limits of logic and start to accept the paradoxes in life. They begin to see life as a mystery and often return to sacred stories and symbols but this time without being stuck in a theological box.
- Universalizing Faith–Few people reach this stage. Those who do live their lives to the full in service of others without any real worries or doubts.
As you can see, at this time in my life I was in stage four of faith development. I began critically examining every single message I received on religion and spirituality growing up. I began learning about all different religions and belief systems. What I initially thought was me “testing God,” which was a “no-no,” was actually a normal stage that everyone should go through to determine what their own beliefs are based on their own life experiences and their own understanding. I began to value multiculturalism.
This is why I personally do not believe that Jesus is THE one and only God. Who’s to say that our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world, believing in a different religion, aren’t correct? They were raised to believe their God is THE God, just like we are. In my opinion, there are many cultures around the world and it is incredibly selfish to think WE are the ones that are correct. Personally, I believe that our higher power is the sum total of what makes sense to us, what our life experiences lead us to, and what we believe in. I don’t believe in right or wrong regarding religion. I believe in different, which is beautiful.
So, that’s my story. What’s yours?