Extensive Interview with Dr. Darrel Ray on Secular Therapy and Recovering From Religion

by | April 10, 2020

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Dr. Darrel Ray is a Former Clinical Psychologist in Practice (30 years) and an Organizational Psychologist, Speaker, and Activist, as well as one of the Founders of Recovering from Religion. Recovering from Religion is a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to helping people leave religion. He earned a B.A. in Sociology, an M.A. in Religion, and an Ed.D. in Counselling Psychology from the Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. Also, he founded the Secular Therapy Project in April of 2012 providing support for those who are leaving or have left religion.

Here we talk about, once more, religion and work Dr. Ray does in supporting individuals who happened to have had highly bad, traumatic, experiences with religion and chose to leave it, with a connection to formal therapeutic interventions provided by Recovering from Religion in general as a resource and the Secular Therapy Project as a means by which to connect with secular therapists in particular.

*Interview conducted on March 20, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, some of the issues that we are seeing now. They have been a World Health Organization declaration of a pandemic with the symptomatology of COVID-19 produced by, SARS-CoV-2. It is, basically, the sequel that no one wanted from the 2002/2003 movie SARS-CoV-1. When we are looking at some of the services to those who are leaving or who have left the negative impacts of a traditional fundamentalist religion, what are some of your concerns, as someone who has studied this, looked into this, over time?

Darrel Ray: I am concerned that not only is the virus being spread biologically in normal ways. But that humans are facilitating the spread. So, you get ministers refusing to quarantine and having services anyway. You have priests, in Italy, going to visit people and, probably, spreading the virus themselves. Calvinists say that you can all drink out of the communion cup. And if they come to this particular religious group, God will protect you. Others will say that God will protect you, if you believe in their God virus. I call this a virus. People are taking advantage of people’s concerns to get more and more money for their religious organizations. I also see people coming to us. “Us” being Recovery From Religion. Those who are trying to suck people back into religion based on normal fears of this invisible virus. It is invisible as humans. We only know about it because we have molecular biology [Laughing], to back us up.

Jacobsen: Psychologically, for someone who might be on the fence around some of their fundamentalist upbringing, those believing in apparitions, miracles, efficacy of intercessory prayer. How do they, in times of crisis or in crises, get pulled back into that world of supernatural, magical thinking, wishful thinking?

Ray: Scott, we always go back to childhood. That is when you get infected with religious ideas. At the age of 3, 4, or 5 years old, I am guessing that you were taught English.

Jacobsen: Yes.

Ray: Somebody in Germany was taught German. You just accept it. You imbibe what is in your environment. Now, it would be nice to learn German or French. However, this is in retrospect. You did not have a choice. If you were raised in a very religious environment like Iran, Pakistan, a Jehovah’s Witness home in Colorado or a Mormon home in Utah, you would have not – at the age of 3, 4, or 5 – have thought, “Why aren’t my parents teaching me Catholicism or Buddhism?” It would not have occurred to you. While you are learning the language, you are learning a religion. Parents are very important to a child. You live or die based on the protection your parents give you. Your parents, let us go back to the old times, 100,000 years ago; you’re in the Savannah of Africa. Your parents say, “Don’t go over there in the bushes. There are lions that will eat you.” The next day, the parents say, “Don’t go over by that tree because there are demons that will infect you, or get you.” As a child, you have no way to know which to believe. So, you believe both. The same is true today. Parents say, “Don’t read that book or the Devil will get you. Don’t watch that television or Satan will infect your mind.” It is the same as “don’t go play outside in the street.” The children do not know which is true, so believes both. It is the way in which you imbibe language at that time in your life. Now, you are 30, 40, or 50 years old. You have believed this stuff as a child. You realize it was all bullshit.

There are no demons over there. Yet, your pre-conscious mind still harbours those fears and those ideas, and those beliefs. They are something that you learned right away. Certainly, you cannot unlearn them just as you could not unlearn the language learned at 3-years-old. You got language at 3-years-old. You got religion at 3-years-old. It is very difficult to unlearn something like that. What we are doing is to help people build strategies for bypassing those, it is not like you are going to unlearn it. I drive down the street. I see the “Love Jesus” signs.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Ray: It pisses me off now. It is probably based on some learning from my grandmother many years ago. That is the reason people have a hard time leaving the religion. And why after leaving it, the draw is there. Literally, last night, I had an extended conversation with a former Baptist minister. Now, he has been out of the ministry for 5 years. He was up there preaching fire and brimstone as recently as 5 years ago. Now, he realizes it was all a con game. He is out. He talked about how difficult it is now with the coronavirus stuff going on, and the fear with it. Even though, he knows the science. He did not know before. He wants to go back to church. He still wants to pray. He wants to feel as he felt as a child when they sang children’s religious songs. I want the feeling of safety within my family, within my tribe. That is what your tribe did. Your tribe sang. Here is how we know that; the hymns of the Baptist church will make you feel comfortable. If you raised in a Baptist church, then you will feel comfortable with Baptist kinds of music. But if you wanted to get the religious music fix by going to a Catholic or an Anglican church, then those songs will not make you feel comfortable. In fact, they will make you feel uncomfortable. To this former Baptist preacher, I said, “You need to sing religious songs, sing them in a Lutheran church, see what happens.” He laughed. He laughed at me, “That won’t work. It has to be Baptist songs and stuff” [Laughing]. Therein lies the secret for how religion works, you are so young that you cannot reasonably understand what is going on. You feel secure with your tribe. But it can only be Baptist tribal stuff. You can be a full-on atheist and still get the comfort of singing Baptist songs.

Jacobsen: What about some of these multimillionaire mega-church pastors in the United States who are beginning to and will continue to abuse crises, epidemics, for personal financial gain? Do any particular examples come to mind?

Ray: Yes, Kenneth Copeland is probably the wealthiest mega-church minister out there. Joel Osteen is another major mega-church minister who is very wealthy. A good friend of mine, Hector Garcia, wrote an excellent book called Alpha God. It helps us understand how our primate nature to follow an alpha leader is so strong in us. That those people are simply taking advantage of a deeply embedded, probably almost instinctual, desire to find the alpha male and follow the alpha male. I do mean male. Because it does not work as well with the females of our species. As we all know, every species has a pattern and behaviour with regards to sex and sexuality and how people respond to sexual dominance, and sexual submission. So, you watch a troupe of chimpanzees. The top two or three males dominate the sexuality of all of the females. The females themselves do not present themselves to beta males. They only present themselves for sex to the alpha males. It is easy to understand as primates because every primate has this kind of pattern. They differ by species, of course. But we have the same pattern. We can see this in bonobos. We can see this in chimps. We can see this in gorillas. We can see this in ourselves. So, you have the sheikh who has four wives in Saudi Arabia, but then you have Mohammed who had fourteen wives as the alpha male. In Christian culture, you have the same things happening. Even if a male cannot have more than one wife, many, many ministers have been caught with his pants down with the wrong female.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Ray: Because Christian mega-church ministers very well have groupies, like rock stars. Mick Jagger has groupies. We have women who will go to bed with him anytime. Chances are Kenneth Copeland does too. Same with Joel Osteen. They get caught. Then they seem to always get forgiven. They are forgiven because they are so valuable to the spreading of their particular God virus. You cannot fire a Catholic priest. It took 8 years or more to train that priest. You are not just going to throw him out because he raped a few children. They will send him to a new parish. The same thing happens with Baptist ministers. A Baptist minister rapes a 14-year-old girl in his congregation. They overlook it. They overlook it two or three times. Until, they send him off or send him to prison. What I am trying to illustrate, I am not saying this is about sex alone. I am talking about dominance and dominance hierarchies. Humans have an incredible need to follow the dominance hierarchy. That is why our current President got elected. He acts more dominant than just about anyone since Teddy Roosevelt. It is the way that he acts. It is attractive to a certain sector of the population that craves that form of leadership. It is how you get Hitler or Mao Zedong. These people have a way of tapping into the human need for dominant alpha males in our society. It makes them feel comfortable, even at the risk of their own life. This is what you see in alpha males, whether it is a great Assyrian ruler, or Julius Caesar. You name it. They know how to tap into the alpha male. The alpha male in any culture. That is what Kenneth Copeland does. That is what religious leaders do. People need to feel safe. That is what these people provide. A very visceral sense of safety under this alpha male. The biggest one in this framework is Yahweh, God, or Jesus. These guys represent that alpha male. That alpha male says that he protects you. There’s evidence that he can because the police and the army all follow the same alpha God, “In God we trust,” is on our license plates.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Ray: It is all there and ties into alpha males, dominance hierarchies, and sexuality. You cannot divorce these things. We are animals, like chimpanzees.

Jacobsen: When you are having conversations with former religious leaders, in your country, it will be Christian of various forms. What are some of their transition points? What were the lynchpins? Because, in my experience in talking with people, not in a clinical way or with the background of knowledge you may have, it is the general sense of not all at once. Because the entire system of belief was built piece-by-piece and so falls away piece-by-piece. You noted this in an earlier response with an individual who may not believe in any god, but may still feel comfortable in the music or the community, or the worship aspect of faith while not believing any of it. Similar to those who may have left an abusive religious upbringing, do not believe in any of it, while has a visceral fear of hell, this sort of thing.

Ray: We see this a lot with people who come to us for help. That is, the journey is generally fast. Some people will say, “I can tell you the night that I figured it all out.” They can name the night or day. However, they bring with them the residuals of the former religious structure. The residuals hide. They are hard to find sometime, but they are there. For example, it comes out often in waking up in cold sweats over a nightmare of hell. We get thousands of chats per year – literally thousands, many may deal with the fear of hell. I mean 50% or, maybe, more of things that we deal with: the fear of hell or the fear of punishment in the afterlife. It may not be hell in the Christian sense. It may be hell in the Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist sense. They all have a kind of punishment. Some kind of consequence if you don’t live the life prescribed by them in life. Fear of hell is #1. It comes up over, and over, and over, again. There are other indicators of them bringing religious residuals into their new secular life. It often centres around sexuality. So, #2 behind the fear of hell are issues around their sexuality and things like, “I know it’s not wrong to masturbate, but I still feel guilty,” “I am a sex addict because I look at porn.” There’s tons of evidence that the most religious people self-identify the most as “sex addicts.” Not to mind, there is no such thing as sex addiction. There’s no way to define it. I have argued with atheists that have been atheists for 20 years who say that they are sex addicts. Help me understand, how did you get that diagnosis? “My mother-in-law diagnosed me” [Laughing]. “I look at porn once or twice a week.” I do not care if you look at porn once or twice an hour. You are still not a sex addict. So, get over that. You may have other issues. You may have some compulsions. You may have some fear of driving the issue. But it almost always comes down to early childhood religious training, as we spoke about earlier. So, people are simply responding to the programming. Even though, they are atheist, secular, agnostic. I do not care what you call yourself. You are still dealing with the programming. Sometimes, you can go an entire lifetime with a guilt, a shame, a fear, rooted in religion. You do not even know it is there. You may not even know that your inability to have good, positive sexual relationships with somebody is directly related to being spanked by your mother or father for touching yourself when you were 6 years old. All of that stuff that people get programmed with. It is a journey. It may be a lifelong journey. It may be 10 months. It is rarely, rarely under 2 or 3 years. Unless, you were raised in something like Episcopalians or Unitarians. Those people do not have much to get over. The Baptists, the Catholics, the Muslims, the Hindus, and the Buddhists, all of those religions. Do not let anybody tell you, “Buddhism is not a religion.” It is a fucking religion just like any of the others. It teaches as much shame and guilt about your body. It is as misogynistic as any patriarchal religion. That is my lecture on Buddhism.

Jacobsen: What are some examples of Buddhist sexism?

Ray: First of all, they take 9-year-old boys and put them in a monastery. There, they are victims of monks who could do whatever they want to do; the sex scandals in Thailand are as bad as any Catholic sex scandal. It is not just in Thailand. Although, this is the place where this has most clearly been exposed. Another thing is the theology: women are second-class citizens. It is harder for women to get the rewards of the so-called afterlife – nirvana, etc. – than a man. Also, women are second-class citizens within the hierarchy. Have you ever heard of a Dalai Lama who is female?

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Ray: [Laughing] There is no such thing. Because men are always dominant in Buddhism. It is a patriarchal religion down to its founding. So, people are always saying, “Buddhism is different.” No, it is not. Maybe, California Buddhism is different. But how many female Buddhist gurus are there? How many female gurus in Hinduism are there? There are few if any. It is, basically, misogynistic and patriarchal.

Jacobsen: When individuals make a transition, there are points that can be little mini-phase changes for them. When they start to do this within a community that may be highly religions, so, the ones that hit the newspaper stands and the online media outlets for Canadians when looking at the United States in the current moment would be the Evangelical Christians. In other cases, it is going to be Catholics. In general, it is two: the Evangelical Christians and the Roman Catholics taking the media time when Canadian secular people are looking at the United States, probably. Similarly, in Canada, it is about the same. It is, typically, the Evangelicals in certain areas of the country. In other cases, it is going to be Catholics. I think the Roman Catholic example is due to demographic dominance similar to the United States. When it comes to communities that are particular to the jot and tittle of Catholicism and Evangelicalism in the United States, and I would extend this to the Canadian landscape as well, what are typical things individuals can expect from that community when they find that they are not believers or are questioning their belief? How does this impact social life? Then how does this impact professional treatment, when they are talking with colleagues or at their workplace?

Ray: Wow – there are two big questions there. A third thing that I want to address right off the bat. You have a big problem in Alberta and in Manitoba because we get a lot of calls from them. We know it. Not very highly populated provinces of Canada, they are more like Alabama in some ways, Mississippi. They may not like me saying it [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Ray: I also want to expand the question. It is a universal pattern. It is not whether it is Catholic or Evangelical. We see the same pattern coming out in Mormonism and the same pattern coming out Jehovah’s Witnesses. We see the same pattern coming out of highly Islamic families in America as well as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. It is more a matter of degree than religion. If the religion is extremely fundamentalist, then the degree is going to be a hell of a lot more in terms of how they will be treated upon leaving that religion. We see a whole lot of Southern Baptist families disowning their children at any age, whether still teenagers at home or adults, over simply not believing their doctrine anymore. Even if the person leaves Baptists and becomes a Methodist, they may still be disowned. It is not just leaving the religion. We know of Catholic families who have disowned their children because they became Evangelical Christians. That pattern is a tribal thing: “You are no longer a part of our tribe. We are not going to protect you anymore. We are not going to give you the benefit of our largesse. You are not going to get a casserole when you are sick. You are no longer a part of us. You are ex-communicated socially if not theologically from our religion.” The pattern is the same whether Westboro Baptist Church, which is only 45 miles from my house, by the way. Or a Mormon polygamist [Laughing], if you will, family from Salt Lake City, Utah. The patterns are almost identical.

First, they get a rather strict warning and an offer to get back under Jesus’ protection. If they do not follow that warning, then they will be ostracized and put out of the community. They will be allowed back into the community in the case of the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses only if they show certain penances. With the Evangelicals, they cannot control people quite as much. But you are still not going to get back in as easy. Also, the Evangelicals do not have the formal structure that one sees in Mormonism or Catholicism being put out or being brought back in. You ask about the professional. There are two professional things that I want to talk about. If you are in a community dominated by a particular religion, such as Mormons in Utah or Baptists in Alabama, your boss is probably Mormon of Baptist too. You may not go to the same church. But once the boss finds out that you are now an atheist, your job may not be secure in the future. They will find ways to fire you. We get lots of examples, “I tried to hide my atheism. I did it for three years. My boss found out and fired me.” Even if you are fired for illegal means, who is going to sue him? What Lawyer is going to take his case? There is a whole structure for supporting and forcing people to stay inside of the religion or, at least, to keep their mouth shut. That is the crime. Scott, the crime is not necessarily becoming an atheist or becoming secular. It is opening your mouth about it. That is the crime.

Jacobsen: That is a very good point.

Ray: I told my parents at 16, “I don’t believe in this stuff anymore.”My parents said, “Okay, just keep your mouth shut and don’t tell anyone, because it will be a disgrace to the family. By the way, you still have to go to church, still have to sing in the choir, etc.” If the child agrees to not talk about their atheism, then they may be able to survive. We have many college kids saying, “I don’t believe any of this shit anymore. My parents said, ‘As long as you keep your mouth shut, we will keep paying your college bills. The minute that you open your mouth. We are cutting you off.’” That is a real thing that we see a lot.

Jacobsen: The parents are afraid of social opprobrium.

Ray: That is exactly right. Religion teaches, bring up your child in God’s name and nothing will go wrong. When the child questions or leaves, it becomes a judgment on the parents, “You must have done a bad job as a parent. Otherwise, your child would not have strayed.” It is a reflection of the parents. That is what they are afraid of suffering. That they were a bad parent. There is a scripture. But I cannot quite it right now – ‘Bring up the child in the ways of the Lord, and he will never go astray,’ which is bullshit. Children have a mind of their own.

The second thing that I want to talk about. When people leave, there are enormous mental health and emotional consequences for leaving a religion that dominates an entire community. Let us just give a radical example, which is not really that radical, a girl in Iran tells her family that she no longer believes. She may find herself being stoned to death. In Saudi Arabia, she may get her head cut off. She will, certainly, be abused by her family. It is no wonder that somebody leaving a religion under those circumstances might experience depression.

A mental condition, I am hesitant to call it a mental illness because it really is not. You may become depressed in that environment. But that is probably a pretty reasonable response to that environment. An illness denotes a problem or some internal problem. The internal problem in this case is the structure does not parallel the internal belief system. So, the cognitive dissonance that you are having to deal with every single day is difficult. It would cause emotional distress and, finally, depression. Back to the second part of that question. What will that parent do when their child is depressed, the child knows, “I am depressed.” They do not know the psychological component. The child knows, “I do not believe in this stuff anymore. Mom and dad are making me go to church and read the Bible. I don’t want to do that.” The conflict is causing cognitive dissonance and the child does not know how to deal with that, which causes depression. The parents say, “Our child is not acting right, Our child has flunked out of school and was a good student.” They send this person to a counsellor or a therapist. When the child gets there, it may be a Christian counsellor. Therein the professional piece, which I want to talk about, is being sent to a fucking Christian counsellor to deal with the depression brought on by the religion of Christianity.

We are seeing a massive number of schools training and graduating Christian counsellors who are licensable in many states. Liberty University is graduating licensable Christian marriage and family counsellors. Regents University, Oral Roberts University, Pat Robertson, George Fox University, all these universities are graduating people. Brigham Young University too, they teach that gayness is a disease and God will judge you, put you in hell, for being anything except straight, missionary position. There is another professional issue there. There is very little help for people leaving religion, even children, in the mental health world. There is a hell of a lot of apparently qualified counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrist. I say, “Apparently qualified,” because their underlying belief structure is one of supernaturalism. If you pray good enough, then you will get over your depression. I have literally heard psychiatrists. This is an M.D. person. They say, “Yes, I will pray with my client.” They themselves have a religion “because I think prayer helps people get over depression.” The depression was caused by the thing that you were praying to in the first place.

That is why I created Recovering From Religion in 2009. We are 11 years old now. In 2012, I created the Secular Therapy Project because there are so damn many religious counsellors. You cannot find a counsellor who does not bring Jesus into the therapy session. To diagnose the depression and relate this to the non-belief, it is practically illegal in the therapy world because we are taught as therapists: You cannot challenge somebody’s religion. Religion is the cause of a hell of a lot of mental illnesses. If it is not the cause, then it, certainly, exacerbates. You are a child with a tendency towards depression. Your religion tells you that you are a worthless piece of shit and you are going to hell; and your body is your enemy. Is it any surprise that you will experience intense depression? That is just not allowed in many training programs, even secular – so-called secular – programs at state universities. They teach, “Don’t challenge someone’s belief system. Don’t challenge someone’s religion.” I am calling bullshit. We need to challenge them. But we need to challenge them in a respectful way. The job of the therapist is not deconversion. The job of the therapist is to help deal with the dysfunctional beliefs underlying the issue.

Jacobsen: If someone comes to a counsellor, and if someone has done their homework, then they may come to someone who is a highly religious oriented and trained counsellor or therapist while being a secular person reaching to someone for some psychological help, whatever the help might be. If someone has not done their homework, they made that mistake. What can they do in terms of reporting malpractice of a highly religious counsellor attempting to convert a client themselves, in sessions, for one? For two, what are the ways in which those highly religious counsellors who are trained at these highly religious universities use these ideas to help people through real psychological problems with supernatural ‘therapies’?

Ray: It is very hard for somebody who has a fundamental supernatural belief structure to have a well-formed, well-trained therapeutic approach. I will tell you why. Right now, we call this evidence-based practice, EBP. If you are using evidence-based practice, and if you are well-trained, the fundamental foundation for all EBP is rational-behaviour therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy. It is the same thing, different name. Let me say, the inventor or the developer of cognitive-behavioural therapy, which virtually every EBP therapist will have been trained in was founded by Dr. Albert Ellis. My mentor, I studied with him back in the 70s. Dr. Albert Ellis founded the whole school of cognitive-behavioural therapy. He was a fucking out atheist, big time. He was named Atheist of the Year by American Atheists back in 1981 or something like that. There are no ifs, ands, or buts, Using cognitive-behavioural analysis, you are analyzing belief structures and your rational /irrational ideas. If you use that effectively, there is not a single religious idea that will stand up to that examination. It is almost – I won’t say this 100%, but will come real damn close to it – I can’t see how you can be a good therapist and hold any kind of supernatural beliefs because, by definition, those supernatural beliefs are irrational. How can you help somebody else deal with an irrational belief that you believe? That is my question.

That is a fundamental problem of any therapy training program that graduates people that have supernatural beliefs. I am pretty strong about that. That is why I started the secular therapy project. If someone has not done their homework, before seeing a religious therapist. I am sorry. You have wasted the first 4 hours of sessions on that therapist who is a Jesus believer. What I would suggest, first thing, you can tell your therapist, “I am an atheist. I expect you to use evidence-based practices with me. Period.” You have to be assertive because they may not respect your boundaries. That is a boundary that you need to put in place, as soon as you find out the therapist has any supernatural beliefs, e.g., New Age, crystals, chakras. Anything like that. There is no scientific evidence for this stuff. If they cannot respect the boundary, you have got a problem and need to get out of there. Here is the thing, Scott, poor therapy is frequently worse than no therapy. You may feel better because they are a good listener. There are many therapists who are good listeners. But listening is different from therapy. So, you need somebody who really know show to guide you into the place that you want to go. You cannot do that if they don’t know how to do good therapy. Second thing, if you want help beforehand, you contact us. People can chat into Recovery From Religion has a chatline at the website. Ask, “Can you give me guidelines for finding a good therapist?” We have a whole set of guidelines.

You can sign onto the Secular Therapy Project and find if there is a therapist near your zip code. These days, you will need to schedule a teleconference with them because of the pandemic. If you find a therapist that is violating their own ethics, trying to convert you, or to bring religion into it. If a client brings religion into their session, then the therapist can work with the client working in their framework. The therapist should never bring their religious framework into a session, ever. If that happens, then they should report that person to the licensing office of their particular state. I would love it if they would contact us: www.seculartherapyproject.org. You can ask for Dr. Travis McKie-Voerst. We have to challenge illegal and unethical practices in the United States. There are ethical guidelines against these violations. The legal entities and the associations are ignoring those guidelines when it has to do with religion. Religion is getting a pass. Even though, it is illegal and unethical.

Jacobsen: What is the state of the peer-reviewed evidence on teletherapy versus in-person therapy?

Ray: Oh! Good question, there is a growing amount of evidence that teletherapy or distance counselling is almost as effective. We won’t say, “As effective.” But it seems almost as effective as face-to-face. I do not know how you would put a percent on it. There have been a few studies comparing the two. It is hard to do. It is really hard.

Jacobsen: Let us say someone is having some issue, in an in-person session, it takes, on average, 10 weeks of therapy to work through and process that issue for an average person. Averaged over a general population, etc. We do all the proper controls – p-values, effect sizes, and so on. We look at the tele-help. It takes 12 weeks. Then we can say, “It takes 20% longer with teletherapy compared to in-person therapy for this particular issue for an average North American in Canada, America, or Mexico.” What I am getting from you, the evidence still needs to poor in, in addition to some form of metanalyses of efficacy.

Ray: We are not there, yet. I am not an expert here. What I have seen and heard, and read, there has been very few studies. What we do know, it is still in its infancy. There is a big problem with legality. It is hard to do a study. It is almost like, “Let’s do a study of the efficacy of marijuana in Kansas versus California.” It is fucking illegal. So, it is hard to study the stuff as openly if it is against the law. This is what we are facing here. Teletherapy is – literally – illegal in some states. It is prohibited across state lines in virtually all states. I can do counselling in Kansas. But if someone wants me to call them, or wants to do a Skype session over the internet in Massachusetts, Kansas will not allow it. Insurance will not pay for it. Medicare will not pay for it. By the way, my professional insurance will not cover me if I get sued. So, there are enormous obstacles to providing teletherapy in the United States. There is not in Canada. Thankfully, you guys do not have this level of regulation. However, also, this means people do not have the level of security in the people providing therapy. It has its ups-and-downs, pluses-and-minuses. That is a big problem for us, now.

We have this gigantic crisis with the coronavirus. People are desperately in need of mental health support. They cannot get out of their house to see the therapist. What is the therapist supposed to do, it is illegal to provide it. I live just outside of Kansas City, Kansas. If I had a client living in Missouri 25 miles away, I could not provide tele-help for them. They would have to drive in their car over to Kansas to get therapy in my office. But I am retired. I do not practice anymore. I do not want anybody calling me. So, those are some of the obstacles that we are facing. This crisis is going to force the world of psychology and psychotherapy, as a legal structure, to re-examine how we deliver services. We have been pitching for teletherapy for a long time, called tele-health, because a doctor has the same problem. Going across state lines, the licenses do not necessarily protect you. If you mis-diagnose something, or provide less than whatever the quality of care is, you are not protected. It is not just psychology. It is also medicine. But medicine is solving some of those problems. I think psychology will have to solve them too. We depend more upon the spoken word and face-to-face contact. A physician can look at tests, interview you while looking for symptoms. They are not necessarily looking if you have depression or bipolar. There is a real difference in how a physician and a psychologist would practice tele-health. Gosh! We got off pretty far on that tangent. Man-oh-man [Laughing].

Jacobsen: A few things will not be affected at Recovery From Religion. One will be the blog. Another will be the podcast. Another – ding-ding – will be donations. They will not be impacted because you can do them online. When it comes to the Fall Excursion, what is the status of that? Because I know some secular event shave put question marks up around their happening based on the SARS-CoV-2 crisis.

Ray: Wow – Scott, that is a great question. You know more about our organization than I probably thought that you did. Fall Excursion is, literally, still up in the air.  We had a conversation yesterday. Even if the crisis is over by September when we scheduled it, people’s financial issues may be difficult. We are not sure people will be able to afford it. So, this is not official. It is not looking good. However, we are working really hard to make some lemonade out of the lemons that we have been given. We have meetings. These are local meetups for Recovering From Religion. We have gotten meetings here in Kansas City, in San Diego, in Columbus, Ohio. They meet once or twice per a month. People can come and sit down in a library or in somebody’s coffee shop and talk about their recovery with a trained facilitator. They are not a psychologist or a therapist, but are trained to help people process their emotions in leaving religion. We cannot have those, anymore, at least until the crisis is over. We’re rapidly transitioning into an online format. We believe this will allow us to serve a lot more people. We are also transitioning the Secular Therapy Project into some psychoeducation programs, which will be online, free. We charge nothing for any of our services. Everything at Recovering from Religion is free.  So, we are going to be putting together a team of therapists to put together some psychoeducation.

Basically, we are not doing therapy, but educating people on things that might help them to help themselves. In fact, I did a talk for Atheists United in Los Angeles by Zoom. I will be doing three more talks on Monday evenings by Zoom and we will have more over the coming months by other people and therapists. We have 100 placements available on Zoom. We are looking to do more of that stuff. We think that we can provide a lot of support to people online. Since a lot of people are sitting at home with nothing to do…

Jacobsen: …[Laughing]…

Ray: …we recently had two online events, where we would normally expect 20 people to show up. 29 showed up to one and 50 at the other. So, I think people are hungry for this. They want to have a connection back to their group. They want to have the support of someone who is competent and willing to listen. Also, they want education. How many people know how to deal with this kind of a situation? I confess. I am probably as well trained as anybody. I am still trying to figure out what is the best approach to things. That is what we are doing at Recovering From Religion. Unfortunately, it may mean we have to cancel the Fall Excursion, which was a success beyond our wildest dreams. We were amazed at how well things went for us. This is coming from someone who was skeptical at first. However, our social media person, Shannon Nebo, convinced us to give it a shot. I am glad that she did.

Jacobsen: What do you see as the main service, non-tangible service, of the Secular Therapy Project and Recovering From Religion?

Ray: Our premier service is the chatline and the phone line. You can call from anywhere in North America, Australia, or the UK and get a human being to talk to. There are no robots. It is human beings. They will talk to you. We are hoping to open phone lines to  South Africa, New Zealand and other countries in the future. There is a big market. Our premier program, at this time, serves probably 1-on-1 somewhere between 3,000-5,000 people per year. However, behind that, we have our resources. Our resources website is massive. It is by far the biggest resource page for any kind of recovery stuff on the planet. I have never seen anything that even comes close to it. You name it. The gay kid in the Mormon home. We have a whole set of resources just for you. Or, you are Catholic, Buddhist, etc. We have a lot of resources for ex-Muslims. I dare say our resources are second only to the Atheist Republic or Ex-Muslims of North America. I am not sure. We do not compete with any other organizations. We’re sending people all the time to their organizations. The big thing is the resource webpage. It is the heart and soul of Recovering From Religion. Even though, you would not know it. When you call into us, and tell us about your problems, we will not do therapy with you. We will say, “We have this page. We have this website. This book to read.” We will be pointing to very, very targeted resources that fit your particular needs. To me, this is amazing. That is our real service. It is helping people get connected with resources for their particular needs and conditions.

We will help you to find a therapist. You can do this yourself or tell us the postal code, to help find a therapist in your community. The Secular Therapy Project is 30% of our program. We are connecting people with therapists. However, it is an extension of our resources if you think about it. If you look at the resources, then a big part is finding a therapist. We have 427 (Ed. April, 2020 numbers) registered, evidence-based therapists in the Secular Therapy Project (STP). Over 19,000 people have registered as clients to find therapists over the years. The STP is growing about 28% per year, in clients, but only about 9 or 10% per year in therapists [Laughing]. We need more therapists, a lot more therapists, in other words. So, if that is what you are asking, the other program I told you about earlier – the meetup program, where we have face-to-face meetings in coffee shops. That program is growing. We will continue this when the crisis is over. Right now, that one is transitioning into online support rather than face-to-face. We have a bunch of other things, which we are working on now. For example, before the crisis, we were about ready to launch ourselves into South America. We have been looking to launch into Germany for over a year now. We may not go as fast as we wanted now, due to the crisis. We do not have the bandwidth to process everything we want to do. The Recovering From Religion blog; we will be opening this for the Spanish-speaking world with a Spanish-speaking blog and resource page. Golly! Is that what you are asking, or did I go off it?

Jacobsen: This is good. I think a question in terms of not only what you are providing with the Secular Therapy Project. But, what do you need?

Ray: Money! [Laughing] Money, the bottleneck for any organization is the funds to expand and grow. We started 11 years ago without a dime. We built this whole thing to over 120 volunteers and over 420 therapists. All of the webpages, the development, software development, for the Secular Therapy Project – alone! – was massive, just gigantic. To the degree that we have funds, we can expand. For example, I told you. We have been thinking about opening phone lines. We will only be able to open those phone lines in Australia and the United Kingdom if we have the funds to back those up. When we get grants, we are happy to get grants every now and then. They get you started. They do not keep you going. If we open a program, we want to be able to sustain it. It takes a long time to build a program. If it goes offline as it takes a lot of time and effort to bring it back online. If we know people are giving $5, $10 or $50 per month, then it helps us plan what we want to do. The big grants that come in every one or two years help us get started, but we need to know how to keep things going. Small donors giving us money each month. We love it. A lot of those people got services from us, or volunteer for us. What else do we need? Volunteers, we always need volunteers, Scott. We have a 24-hour helpline, phone line. We are every time zone on the planet. We are always looking for more volunteers both inside North America, and outside. We are looking, potentially, into getting some Spanish-speaking volunteers too. We think there is a real possibility in expanding into the Spanish-speaking world and into the Arab-speaking world. That is where we are now with the programs and the plans.

Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?

Ray: I think as a secular person; you are stuck with making your own meaning. As a religious person, it comes from a god. A secular person, meaningfulness comes from actions. That is why we are here and started Recovering From Religion. I see Recovering From Religion as a way for people to give back to the community and to help other people who are in the same place that they were five years ago. Actually, Scott, it is highly therapeutic for our volunteers. I just listened to a conference between our volunteers recently. I realized, these people are really dumping their hearts out to one another. It is very therapeutic for them. I think that is the big part that  I discovered. I did not start Recovering From Religion to be therapeutic for the volunteers. I intended this as therapeutic for our clients. As it turns out, this is creating a sense of purpose and meaning among our volunteers. This is where I come from. I like to make meaning and feel like what I am doing has an impact on other people’s lives.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Darrel.

Ray: Yes! You went a lot farther than I thought you would [Laughing]. Catch you later.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-booksfree or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican AtheistsAmerican Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

Image Credit: Darrel Ray/Secular Therapy Project/Recovering From Religion.

5 thoughts on “Extensive Interview with Dr. Darrel Ray on Secular Therapy and Recovering From Religion

  1. Dr. Marty Shoemaker

    Hello Scott. Just a shout out for the interview with Dr. Darrel Ray. The Secular Therapy project just like the Clergy Project is filling a very important gap when people need to get more objective and supportive information in their worldview journey particularly religion. Many of us have been there. thanks again and look forward to chatting again particularly when my book on Inclusive Humanism if finished. Lots of time to work on it these days. Hope you are well and thriving amid these infectious times.

    1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen Post author

      Dear Dr. Shoemaker,

      Thank you for the compliment and the note, and for your publication efforts. Indeed, perhaps, as per controlled and safe therapist-client environments, it comes down to the fundamental re-evaluation/re-frame of the question, “What matters in life to me?” (By implication, in the response to the previous question, one answers, in part, the question, “To me, what doesn’t matter in life?”) Anyhow, I will contact you, again, shortly, to continue the conversation.

      Be well, be healthy, and be safe, in the interim.


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