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Advocating for Atheist Clients

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Brittany Bishop

on 28 June 2017

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Transcript of Advocating for Atheist Clients

Defining Atheism
At it's core: what does the term atheist even mean?
Let's use an example to help explain this lack of belief
If Atheism is so easily explained, why is there so much confusion around defining it?
Advocating for Atheist Clients
Defining Atheism vs Theism: Where are we starting?
Atheism is defined simply as a lack of belief in God or Gods (and usually a disbelief in all supernatural claims)
By: Brittany Bishop
Here's a chart to help!
Terms about atheism:
Weak/Negative Atheism
Strong/Positive Atheism
New Atheism
So why does this matter in the US?
Quiz Time!
Quiz Answers
6 States have laws in their state constitutions which prohibit atheists from public office
Arkansas, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas
There are 13 countries where atheism is punishable by death
Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen
Voters in the US are more likely to vote for a candidate who has smoked marijuana or had an extramarital affair
53% said they would vote for an atheist last
Only 33% of people said they would hire an atheist to work in a day care
49% of Americans surveyed said they would be unhappy if a family member married an atheist
far more than those upset by marriage to a gun owner or person without a college education
50% of atheists reported having experienced discrimination
When asked to place hypothetical individuals on a list based on demographics, atheists were ranked significantly lower than Christians
Atheists were reported to be equally as distrusted as rapists in a UBC study
53% of Americans said belief in God is necessary to morality (Pew Research)
Atheists found to have comparable mental health to religious counterparts
Okay, atheists are a marginalized minority and it is an ethical imperative that counselors recognize this.
So how do we advocate?
Client/Student Domain
Atheist clients should have resources available to them identified for when they are facing identity conflict including:
nonreligious literature, atheist communities and groups, or understanding close friends
Help clients self-advocate through:
acknowledging and understanding their own beliefs (including where they fall on the spectrum of atheism)
sharing with others what those beliefs mean to them
Counselors should acknowledge that oppression of atheists is a systemic issue
Collaborate to identify factors that make self-advocacy difficult
Community, politics, education for and by the client
Atheists may develop self-advocacy plans that involve further self-exploration of beliefs, greater education on oppression, joining a community of atheists, or beginning to explain beliefs and attitudes to others.
Counselors may need to negotiate the provision of services and education or other resources on the behalf of clients including:
getting atheist clients with substance abuse problems access to nonspiritual programs
comprehensive sex education
Counselors may also need to identify barriers that act against individuals or groups and develop plans for confronting these barriers such as:
employers that actively discriminate against atheist employees
ally with tolerant groups or organizations to bring more awareness of multicultural issues into the workplace or several workplaces.
Community Collaboration
For atheist clients, environmental factors that work against client development may include:
groups that speak openly against nonbelievers
workplaces that discriminate on the basis of nonbelief
lack of community programs that make atheists feel welcome
judges or court systems that are harsher on known atheists
Counselors should try and ally with a local atheist community and work to understand the mission of that particular group
Counselors can communicate their respect for nonreligious beliefs and offer the knowledge they have about atheism and working with atheist clients to the group
Counselors should be sure to assess their effectiveness of their interaction in the collaboration and make changes from there
Systems Advocacy
Counselors should start by identifying the factor they see as infringing on a clients’ development such as:
lack of nonreligious grief counseling provided by a clients’ school.
Compile data and find allies who recognize this data and change as relevant and important
create a vision for change
Political or social factors should be acknowledged
Counselors should identify a step-by-step process for implementing change and dealing with resistance
Public Arena
Public Information
First recognize the impact that oppression plays on healthy development.
Second, identify environmental factors, like belonging to a community of atheists and strong commitment to atheist beliefs, that are protective for healthy development
Third, prepare written and multi-media materials that provide and ethically human development factors
discuss definitions of atheism and morality as well as dispel common myths that perpetuate atheist oppression
Fourth, work with popular atheist groups that have strong media presence, such as American Atheists, the Secular Therapy Project, the Atheist Experience and others to disseminate information.
Finally, the counselor can assess the influence of advocacy efforts and make meaningful changes from there. This may include providing additional information or working with other groups to disseminate information.
Counselors should distinguish problems that can be best resolved through social/political action such as:
changing discrimination laws to protect atheist populations
enforce the policy of church/state separation
Appropriate avenues for addressing these problems may include:
writing to congressmen
hosting peaceful protests,
joining with prominent atheist groups as an ally, or even helping raise funds to lobby for change
Counselors can help allies identify convincing data for lobbying such as:
arguments that religious freedom should also include freedom from religion
polls or petitions among communities that promote policies with church and state separation.
Counselors should continue the dialogue with clients and communities to ensure that atheists are happy with the issues being lobbied for so that they do not contribute to the cycle of oppression atheist clients may feel.
Any Questions?
American Counseling Association (2014). ACA Code of Ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author.
Baggini, J, (2003). Atheism: A short introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.
Brewster, M. E., Robinson, M. A., Sandil, R., Esposito, J. & Geiger, E. (2014). Arrantly Absent:
Atheism in Psychological Science From 2001 to 2012. Counseling. The Counseling Psychologist, 42(5), 629-663.
D'Andrea, L. M., & Sprenger, J. (2007). Atheism and Nonspirituality as Diversity Issues in
Counseling. Counseling & Values, 51(2), 149-158.
Day, S. X. (2007). Is God really on your side? Counseling Today, 49(9), 19-47.
Erford, B. T. (2014) Orientation to the Counseling Profession: Advocacy, Ethics, and Essential
Professional Foundations. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, Inc.
Gervais, W. M. (2013). In Godlessness We Distrust: Using Social Psychology to Solve the
Puzzle of Anti-atheist Prejudice. Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 7(6), 366-377.
Goodman, K. M., & Mueller, J. A. (2009). Invisible, Marginalized, and Stigmatized:
Understanding and Addressing the Needs of Atheist Students. New Directions For Student Services, (125), 55-63.
Jahangir, S. F. (1995). Third force therapy and its impact on treatment outcome. The
International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 5(2), 125-129.
Miller, J., L., & House, R., M., (2001). Counseling gay, lesbian, and bisexual clients.
Introduction to the counseling profession. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 386-414.
Pennycook, G., Ross, R. M., Koehler, D. J., & Fugelsang, J. A. (2016). Atheists and Agnostics
Are More Reflective than Religious Believers: Four Empirical Studies and a Meta-Analysis. Plos ONE, 11(4), 1-18.
Smith, J. M. (2013). Creating a Godless Community: The Collective Identity Work of
Contemporary American Atheists. Journal For The Scientific Study Of Religion,52(1), 80-99.
Torres, P. (2016). New Atheism, meet Existential Risk Studies. Humanist, 76(2), 18-21.
Walker, D. F., Gorsuch, R. L., & Siang-Yang, T. (2004). Therapists' Integration of Religion and
Spirituality in Counseling: A Meta-Analysis. Counseling & Values, 49(1), 69-80.
Weinrach, S., G., & Thomas, K, R, (1996), The counseling profession's commitment to diversity-
sensitive counseling: A critical reassessment. Journal of Counseling & Development, 74,472-477.
Whitley, R. (2010). Atheism and Mental Health. Harvard Review Of Psychiatry (Taylor &
Francis Ltd), 18(3), 190-194.

Why does this matter to professional counselors?
ASERVIC Spiritual Competencies
The professional counselor can describe the similarities and differences between spirituality and religion, including the basic beliefs of various spiritual systems, major world religions, agnosticism, and atheism.
The professional counselor recognizes that the client’s beliefs (or absence of beliefs) about spirituality and/or religion are central to his or her worldview and can influence psychosocial functioning.
The professional counselor actively explores his or her own attitudes, beliefs, and values about spirituality and/or religion.
The professional counselor continuously evaluates the influence of his or her own spiritual and/or religious beliefs and values on the client and the counseling process.
The professional counselor can identify the limits of his or her understanding of
the client’s spiritual and/or religious perspective and is acquainted with religious
and spiritual resources and leaders who can be avenues for consultation and to
whom the counselor can refer.
Counselor Self-Awareness
The professional counselor responds to client communications about spirituality and/or religion with acceptance and sensitivity.
The professional counselor uses spiritual and/or religious concepts that are consistent with the client’s spiritual and/or religious perspectives and are acceptable to the client.
The professional counselor can recognize spiritual and or religious themes in client communication and is able to address these with the client when they are therapeutically relevant.
During the intake and assessment processes, the professional counselor
strives to understand a client’s spiritual and/or religious perspective by gathering
information from the client and/or other sources.
Diagnosis & Treatment
When making a diagnosis, the professional counselor recognizes that the client’s spiritual and/or religious perspectives can a) enhance well-being; b) contribute to client problems; and/or c) exacerbate symptoms
The professional counselor sets goals with the client that are consistent with the client’s spiritual and/or religious perspectives.
The professional counselor is able to a) modify therapeutic techniques to include a client’s spiritual and/or religious perspectives, and b) utilize spiritual and/or religious practices as techniques when appropriate and acceptable to a client’s viewpoint.
The professional counselor can therapeutically apply theory and current research supporting the inclusion of a client’s spiritual and/or religious perspectives and practices.
ACA Code of Ethics
A.4.b. Personal Values
Counselors are aware of—and avoid imposing—their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Counselors respect the diversity of clients, trainees, and research participants and seek training in areas in which they are at risk of imposing their values onto clients, especially when the counselor’s values are inconsistent with the client’s goals or are discriminatory in nature.
A.7.a. Advocacy
When appropriate, counselors advocate at individual, group, institutional, and societal levels to address potential barriers and obstacles that inhibit access and/or the growth and development of clients.
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