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Can Baha’is go into therapy?

This was a question I used to wrestle with, and maybe you do too?

When I was first aware of the degree to which my childhood trauma was affecting my present day life, everyone suggested I go into therapy, and for a long time I couldn’t because I believed Baha’u’llah when He said:

Be thou content with Me and seek no other helper. For none but Me can ever suffice thee.  (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 17)

Fortunately I keep reading the Writings and before long, I came across other quotes such as the ones I’m about to share with you.

To Go or Not to Go:

We should seek the best medical advice available:

Regarding your question about methods of healing which involve temporarily re-experiencing or remembering events, these are complex medical matters and as stipulated in the Teachings, believers should seek the best medical advice which is available and follow it. (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

It’s not enough to see a therapist; we must also follow their advice:

The House of Justice advises you to persevere in your efforts to secure good medical assistance, from psychiatrists or others, and to follow the advice of these specialists. (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

It’s not enough to see a therapist and follow their advice, we must also put our trust in God, through prayer:

The basic instruction in the Writings to one who is ill is to find a doctor in whom confidence can be placed, to follow his advice and to put one’s trust in God through prayer.   (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

What kind of therapist should we choose?

Prayer is not enough – we should always consult the most competent physicians:

As you know, Bahá’u’lláh has ordained that in case of illness we should always consult the most competent physicians. And this is exactly what the Guardian strongly advises you to do. For prayer alone is not sufficient. To render it more effective we have to make use of all the physical and material advantages which God has given us. (Shoghi Effendi, The Throne of the Inner Temple, p. 76)

We should look for a doctor we can have confidence in, and then pray:

The basic instruction in the Writings to one who is ill is to find a doctor in whom confidence can be placed, to follow his advice and to put one’s trust in God through prayer.   (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

For more information, please see “How Can I Find a Competent Physician?”.

We can choose not only psychiatry and psychology but other therapists as well:

As regards your seeing a psychiatrist: there is no objection to your trying this form of treatment if your physician recommends it.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 282)

As Bahá’u’lláh has urged us to avail ourselves of the help of good physicians, Bahá’ís certainly are not only free to turn to psychiatry for assistance but should, when available, do so.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 283)

Doubtless what the Guardian has said about psychiatry may also in general be said about psychology, including child psychology, but we have not found any texts to support this view.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

In the process of reaching a decision, [about deciding on the appropriate amount of contact to have with the abusers] you may well find it useful to seek the advice of experts such as your therapist.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

Psychiatric treatment is still a growing science and psychiatrists are not always wise or right:

There is nothing in our teachings about Freud and his method. Psychiatric treatment in general is no doubt an important contribution to medicine, but we must believe it is still a growing science rather than a perfected science. As Bahá’u’lláh has urged us to avail ourselves of the help of good physicians, Bahá’ís are certainly not only free to turn to psychiatry for assistance but should, when available, do so. This does not mean psychiatrists are always wise or always right; it means we are free to avail ourselves of the best medicine has to offer us.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 284)

Any healing techniques which would lead the practitioner or the patient to contradict the Laws of the Faith is not acceptable

Of course, no healing technique which would lead the practitioner or the patient to contradict the Laws of the Faith is acceptable.   (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

We must be careful not to fall prey to quackery:

We must be careful not to fall prey to quackery or to unnecessarily endanger the lives and health of either ourselves or of the loved ones with whose welfare we have been entrusted because of an arbitrary distrust of scientific methods of healing. If one feels that one is unable to make valid distinctions, it would be well to turn to others for advice, whether to Assemblies or to individuals possessing good judgement.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

The Bahá’í Faith cannot place its seal of approval on any one of the plethora of healing techniques:

What the friends must try and grasp, however, is that the Bahá’í Faith at this stage in its evolution cannot place its seal of approval on any one of the plethora of healing techniques. In the rising Bahá’í society of the future, it may then be possible to make definitive judgement or to evolve practices more directly predicated on the Bahá’í Writings. However, there is at present enough development in the medical field and a wide record of experience to enable a person after reasonable investigation to choose a suitable doctor or medical institution to deal with a case of illness.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

Advice to the effect that you should seek to transcend psychological problems does not qualify as competent advice:

Advice given by well-meaning believers to the effect that you should seek to transcend psychological problems does not qualify as competent advice on what is essentially a medical issue.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

Full Disclosure?

Some people worry that if they are not living up to the standards of the Faith, they can’t discuss it with a therapist, because it might somehow damage the good name of the Faith.  Fortunately Shoghi Effendi has told us this won’t happen:

. . . any intelligent doctor would never he prejudiced against the Faith through the difficulties incurred by a patient due to illness.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 282)

Without truthfulness, no real progress can be made:

Without truthfulness, progress and success in all of the worlds of God are impossible for a soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also become realized.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 384)

The House of Justice says we are to receive counsel from those who know of your past:

The House of Justice hopes that with the help of those close to you, you will be able to receive counsel from those who know of your past…and can aid you to walk steadfastly forward with your eyes fixed upon the great purpose of life: to know God and to worship Him, today through the Blessed Beauty and service to His Faith.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 22 December, 1981)

They can’t help you if they don’t know the whole story!

Why We Need Baha’i-Inspired Therapy: 

The views of professionals and of the wider society that are contrary to the Teachings have an impact on us, during this age of transition:

The views of professionals and of the wider society that are contrary to the Teachings will naturally have an impact on the friends in this age of transition. As the community grows in strength and as the Teachings become more fully understood and practiced by Bahá’ís, the distinctive characteristics of Bahá’í family life will become increasingly apparent.   (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 24 Sept. 2014)

Bahá’ís who have been trained in psychology and psychiatry may be able to elucidate the differences between the current scientific concepts of the mind and its functions and those concepts which emerge from the Holy Writings:

For further assistance in this complex matter of self and its attributes, you may find it helpful to consult Bahá’ís who have been trained in psychology and psychiatry and who may be able to elucidate the differences between the current scientific concepts of the mind and its functions and those concepts which emerge from the Holy Writings.  (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 4 August, 1977).

Bahá’í psychologists who know the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh will help profoundly in the alleviation of human suffering:

Psychology is still a very young and inexact science, and as the years go by Bahá’í psychologists, who know from the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh the true pattern of human life, will be able to make great strides in the development of this science, and will help profoundly in the alleviation of human suffering.    (The Universal House of Justice, Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1968-1973, p. 111-112)

Benefits of Using a Therapist:

First of all, we go for our minds; not our souls:

. . . the soul is not aided by psychotherapy. . . (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 283)

The mind may be favourably influenced by those who are scientifically trained:

The mind, then, with all its aberrancies, may often favourably be influenced by scientifically trained persons.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 283)

A therapist can help you decide if and when to take a leave of absence from work:

You are encouraged to follow the advice of your therapist in regard to the absences which you should take from your employment in order to facilitate your healing from the trauma you experienced in the past.   (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

A therapist can help you distinguish between real and imagined events:

Your therapist is also in the best position to assist you to distinguish between those events which have occurred, and any other impressions in your memory which may not be based on actual experiences.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

The time spent in therapy will result in an increase in effectiveness:

The time taken away from work beneficial to society would doubtless be more than compensated for by the increase in effectiveness with which you will be able to perform such functions when your healing is more advanced.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

You can promote your healing from the damaging effects of your past experiences, and can find happiness and tranquility:

You can draw on these powers by your prayers as well as your participation in the work of the Faith and the life of the Bahá’í community; through this effort, and through your consultation with competent professionals having expertise in your area of need, you can promote your healing from the damaging effects of your past experiences, and can find happiness and tranquillity.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

Counselling may cause a variety of emotions to surface which might be unsettling but they may represent a beginning of helpful change:

You should feel under no obligation to continue to consult with someone in whom you have lost confidence or who you believe may cause you to act contrary to the teachings of the Faith. However, it should be understood that counselling of the type you are receiving may cause a variety of emotions to surface as a normal part of the therapy. Individuals sometimes feel close attachment to their therapist or experience other feelings which might be unsettling because they are unexpected; such emotions may simply represent a beginning of helpful change and need prove no danger to ones’s moral standards.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

Consequences for Not Getting Help:

It affects every member of the family:

Failure to encourage an appropriate healing remedy for an emotionally or psychologically traumatized member of a family is likely to adversely affect the future happiness and well-being of every member, for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states, “The injury of one shall be considered the injury of all.” (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 60)

How Long Should the Process Take? 

The healing process can often be lengthy and stressful:

Experience seems to suggest that the healing process can often be a lengthy and stressful one requiring the close guidance and help of trained professionals.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

Other Things We Can Do Along With Therapy

The best result can be obtained by combining both spiritual and physical methods:

Healing through purely spiritual forces is undoubtedly as inadequate as that which materialist physicians and thinkers vainly seek to obtain by resorting entirely to mechanical devices and methods. The best result can be obtained by combining the two processes: spiritual and physical.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 276)

In general, the best results for the healing process are found when the spiritual approach is combined with the remedy offered by competent doctors.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

Here are some other things we can do:

  • daily prayer and the daily obligatory prayers
  • study of the Writings
  • active participation in teaching efforts
  • active participation in the activities of the community
  • constant effort to sacrifice for the Faith

It also suggests that through daily prayer, and specially by observing the daily obligatory prayers, through study of the Writings, through active participation in teaching efforts and in the activities of the community, and through constant effort to sacrifice for the Faith you love so well, you will obtain a spiritual counterpart to the professional help you will receive from the experts. (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

The Local Spiritual Assembly also has a Role to Play:

The House of Justice is pleased to learn from your letter that both you and your husband are receiving professional therapy, in addition to the counselling you are receiving from your Local Spiritual Assembly.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 22 July, 1987)

The local Spiritual Assembly can assist the individual believer to find a counsellor and with the believer’s permission can send a delegation to meet with the counsellor. The aims, goals and standards of the Faith can be shared with the counsellor and the Assembly can ask for information on how they might better assist, encourage and support the individual concerned. If the believer is willing, a release form may be signed by him which would release information from the counsellor to the local Spiritual Assembly or which would enable information to be released by the local Spiritual Assembly to the counsellor concerned.  (Source Unknown)

Guidance for Therapists:

Baha’is offering counselling should not create the impression that they are a source of guidance but should know when to refer the friends to Spiritual Assemblies:

. . . the provision of guidance on administrative matters such as the laws of engagement, marriage, and divorce falls under the purview of Local and National Spiritual Assemblies; while Bahá’ís who are professional counselors are free to share with the friends extracts from the Bahá’í Writings and to offer advice of a general nature, it is best that they refer the friends in the first instance to their Local Spiritual Assemblies when questions arise about the application of the laws and Teachings of the Faith.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 24 Sept. 2014)

As a general guideline, it is preferable that individuals offering counselling who are Bahá’ís not create the impression that they are a source of guidance in this area [parental consent] but rather, as stated above, refer the friends to Spiritual Assemblies.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 24 Sept. 2014)

Training

Bahá’ís with access to the full Texts of the Holy Writings will effect great progress in the development of psychology:

As for the system called individual psychology, there is nothing in the Writings which supports any particular theory of that science . . . Doubtless, in time, Bahá’ís of talent and scholarly bent who will have access to the full Texts of the Holy Writings will effect great progress in the development of psychology, as in other sciences, for the benefit of all mankind.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

The Chapter in “Some Answered Questions” on the differences between man and the animal would be particularly helpful:

Regarding your request to know what concepts of psychology are valid according to Bahá’í standards, the House of Justice suggests that an intensive study of Part IV of “Some Answered Question”, particularly chapter XLVIII on ” The Difference which exists between Man and the Animal”, will help you to view, in their proper perspective, any concepts being taught in your doctoral program. As a Bahá’í you will be able to detect when a concept ignores the spiritual part of a human being.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

Methodology

Therapists are encouraged to:

  • apply their professional expertise
  • draw on insights into the Bahá’í Teachings
  • encourage their clients to develop the skill of consultation
  • help their clients to distinguish concepts and practices current in society from those found in the Teachings.

Besides assisting couples through their professional expertise, counselors can draw upon their insights into the Bahá’í Teachings to provide further assistance, such as by encouraging them to develop the skill of consultation and by helping them to distinguish concepts and practices current in society from those found in the Teachings.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 24 Sept. 2014)

Conclusion:

When I carefully studied this guidance I felt a lot better about going into therapy.

What have been your experiences?  Post your comments below!