Pagan Clients as a Marketplace

I did an interview yesterday with the editor of an industry newletter.  He basically wanted to know what is Paganism, how can therapists work with it, and how big of a financial market opportunity does it represent.  I’d say the emphasis was on the last question — are Pagans a big enough market to warrant specialized attention from psychotherapists?

I’m going to refrain from reposting most of what I wrote and told him because I want to see what he publishes first — it would be uncool of me to undercut his article by posting the interview contents here first.  But this does raise all sorts of interesting questions for the Pagan community and for psychotherapists.

One of the tenets often heard within psychotherapy is that an accepting therapist, who is basically familiar with a cultural group, can service all clients.   So do you think this is true?  Can a therapist who is non-Pagan, but willing to see our Paths as valid and willing to learn a bit about Pagans, service Pagan clients adequately?  Or, does the therapist need to be religiously Pagan themselves in order to understand Pagan clients?

I’d love to hear opinions.  I’ll throw out my own opinion here for what it’s worth.  At the moment I think therapists who are doing secular therapy on standard mental health problems can service Pagan clients adequately if they take some time to learn about us.  I think therapists who specifically market to the Pagan community or who want to engage in something like pastoral or spiritual counseling as well need to be religiously Pagan themselves.  One possible exception might be a counselor on a somewhat similar personal path (like say Pervian shamanism) who chooses to spend LOTS AND LOTS of time at Pagan community events and trainings really getting immersed in our culture first.


  1. Erynn said,

    January 11, 2008 @ 8:19 pm

    As a Pagan who’s been in and out of therapy for most of my life, my experience is that non-Pagan therapists can be of immense help so long as they’re able to accept that my spiritual life is non-mainstream and that it is extremely important to me. My current shrink at the Veterans Administration seems to be pretty much in awe of my spiritual practice and last year invited me to speak in front of 140 medical and clerical professionals at a VA conference on spirituality and healing from PTSD. I was the only non-Christian on the panel of veterans and chaplains and apparently quite impressed the crowd.

    It can happen. It does happen. Even in what you’d think would be a hideously conservative environment like the Veterans Adminstration.

  2. Beth Owl's Daughter said,

    January 13, 2008 @ 10:33 am

    The best therapist I ever worked with was a practicing Buddhist. One of my closest friends, and coven brother in the Craft, is also a practitioner and initiate in one of the Tibetan forms of Buddhism. So there seems to be a very high degree of compatibility and comfort between these paths.

    I think that the most important criteria for offering therapy to Pagans is not so much that the therapist be Pagan themselves, for it is my observation that Pagans are not exempt from rigidity and even proselytizing, even regarding the various branches within Paganism.

    More important, in my experience, is that the therapist have a compassionate nature, an openness to all paths, and skilled wisdom about the hungers, hurts and healing of the human spirit.

  3. Michael_Reeder said,

    January 13, 2008 @ 10:59 pm

    Beth Owl’s Daughter — I think there’s a lot of wisdom in your take on this. Thanks for posting it. One of the therapists at the “pastoral” counseling center I’m an associate at in Washington, DC is a Tibetan Buddhist. We get along quite well and he’s been to Pagan events.

    Erynn — Acceptance is key. A therapist that can accept where the client is at and stay out of the way can handle many types of situations. Thanks.

    — Michael

  4. Angela said,

    January 26, 2008 @ 9:21 pm

    well first what exactly do you consider pagan as in most schools of thought at least that I”ve come across shamanism falls under that catagory. Openess compassion, understanding all more important, I agree. I do think that how close ones path matches can make it easier, simply because one doesn’t have to spend the time explaining and “teaching” about one’s views. It really comes down more basicly to the proper fit between the counselor adn the client. Some people can seem so different and mesh like fish in water and some can seem so similiar and yet go rounds like rabid dogs. Its nice not to have to expalin so much, not to feel one is being given the “that’s nice” treatment but when it comes down to it, is the person capable of hearing what being said never mind what i said? Can they think on thier feet? Can they set aside what they think should be and deal with what I’m seeing? Things I’ve seen all to many seem to have issues with, no matter what their creditionals or personnel beliefs are.

  5. Laura Jean Karr said,

    April 7, 2008 @ 4:36 pm

    I agree with Beth Owl’s Daughter. As long as the person themselves is compassionate an open then their personal faith is of little matter as long as they do not let their personal faith overshadow an objective view in helping someone.

    For me it is more important that someone be open in their acceptance of other faiths, that being said I would personally feel more comfortable going to someone who was already Pagan not because I feel that they would be inherently better but because I would feel able to discuss what I do spiritually without having the explain the history of where what I practice comes from.

  6. Kerry said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 12:42 pm

    I think a therapist who is Pagan-friendly, compassionate, and willing to learn and explore is more than adequate. From the other side of the coin, as a Wiccan and licensed therapist, I’ve encountered numerous “Pagan” clients who didn’t have a clue about their religion, and even though I was familiar with their philosophies and practices, they still weren’t ready to utilize the tools that their own Path was offering regarding improvement of their mental health issues.

    I think each situation is different, and there may be no difference regarding a Pagan therapist or a therapist who is Pagan-friendly. The other issue is that sometimes the Pagan therapist isn’t a very good one, due to their issues of bigotry, lack of ethics, personal problems, and tendencies towards domination. I’ve met those folks as well, as well as some of the clients destroyed by encounters with such people.

  7. Mariah/Caelesti said,

    July 7, 2008 @ 3:59 pm

    I look for a therapist/psychiatrist who knows what they’re doing works well with me and is covered by my HMO. I rarely know what their own beliefs might be and I feel strange asking them like I’m invading their privacy.
    I have discussed meditation with my therapist, though I have not mentioned what spiritual path I follow. To me what’s important is that they are Pagan-friendly. It is kind of like being GLBT, I want a GLBT-friendly professional, they don’t need to be themselves. I can’t really see a non-Pagan therapist focussing on serving the Pagan community unless they had some personal reason for it, like maybe if they had a family member who was Pagan etc, or found it interesting.

    BTW, I can’t thank you enough for creating this blog. I have found that there are a lot of Pagans who struggle with mental illness, have unique needs, and often can’t afford health care or are uninsured/underinsured, or distrust the mental health system.

  8. Michael_Reeder said,

    July 7, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

    Hi Mariah — Thanks for your comment. Many therapists won’t want to answer questions on what their own backgrounds are (some will). I think you can certainly ask:

    a) How much experience do they have with Pagans?
    b) When might they view Paganism as a help or a block to mental health?
    c) Do they work with spirituality in session?
    d) Do they work within the client’s own spiritual framework?
    e) Is talking with the Divine (in whatever form) always an indication of mental unbalance?
    f) How experienced are they with (or what are their views on) other similar topics like shamanism, meditation, etc.?

    By the time you get through these questions and similar you are likely to have a pretty good idea how comfortable they will be with you.

    Thanks for your kind comments! I’m glad I created it too.

    — Michael

  9. Susan Thornton said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 3:02 pm

    Glad to have found this blog! I am a Certified Life Coach, dealing with setting and attaining goals rather than delving into psychological issues (i.e., I am NOT a psychotherapist). I have an interest in serving the Pagan community, as I have long been a student of comparative mythology (Joseph Campbell, etc.). Skewing Eastern and Pagan myself, I believe there’s alot to be learned from the many different paths humans explore in their life’s journey.

    Is there a link to the interview you mention in your original post?

    Thank you!

  10. Michael_Reeder said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 4:31 pm

    Hi Susan — Thanks for your comments. No, the newsletter is Psychotherapy Finance and they keep most of their articles offline. Website at

    I may try to post my thoughts from the article when I get a chance — I had meant to do that — thanks for reminder.

    — Michael

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