I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

How do Church members choose a therapist for social-emotional difficulties? What should we do when no Latter-day Saint therapists are available?

Val D. MacMurray, assistant commissioner, LDS Social Services. Before selecting a therapist, sit down with your bishop and evaluate your needs. He may be able to refer you, through the stake welfare services committee, to a counselor who supports gospel values. If approved stake resources are not available, you’ll need to survey the local therapists to see which have values compatible with gospel standards.

Counseling is available from many places: federal, state, and community agencies; clinics, hospitals; extended care facilities; and rehabilitation centers. Many private practitioners are also available. Some universities may have therapy services available at reduced fees. These services may be provided largely by candidates for advanced degrees working under supervision.

Upon identifying a potential therapist, meet with him or her and ask questions such as these:

1. What types of problems does he or she feel especially capable of handling? And are there some problems that he or she prefers to refer to other therapists?

2. What are his or her feelings about abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, divorce, etc.? (You may wish to focus closely on the problem with which you need help.) Obviously you would not want to work with a therapist who would suggest that you violate your personal or gospel standards.

3. What are his or her feelings about sin and how the Church helps someone overcome sin? (If a therapist questions the existence of sin or its impact in the lives of people, his therapy will be of questionable help.)

4. Does he or she feel that appropriate guilt or sorrow for wrongdoing can help someone make positive changes? (A therapist who feels that guilt itself is the problem may focus inappropriately on changing your feelings rather than on helping you change the behavior that causes the guilty feelings.)

5. As a matter of professional ethics, he or she will keep your case confidential; but if you request it, will he or she be willing to consult with your bishop?

6. What is the therapist’s educational background? What specialized training or experience has he or she had with the problem about which you are concerned? Is he or she licensed to practice by local licensing authorities?

7. What is his or her typical style or method of therapy?

Dr. Carlfred Broderick, a stake president and licensed marriage and family counselor, recommends that you ask yourself these questions after your first session:

1. Does the therapist seem to understand and care how I feel?

2. Does he or she see clearly what is going on?

3. Do this person’s ideas make common sense, or do they seem strange, dumb, or outrageous?

If the answers to these questions are not satisfactory, you probably do not trust the therapist and should look for another.

Dr. Broderick also suggests that you should expect some improvement in your problem by the fourth session. “If nothing good is happening, have the courage to quit,” he advises, and adds, “Do not be intimidated by the strategy of certain counselors who imply that the real problem is your moral or religious hang-ups. Reject any diagnosis which suggests that unless you adopt the counselor’s philosophy or life-style, you cannot be helped. … Don’t be afraid to stand your ground if the counselor’s requests violate your own values or standards. The best counselors will respect your position even if they do not share it.” (Carlfred Broderick, Couples, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979, pp. 218–19.)

You should be aware that many therapists specialize in a given area. If you have a specific problem, seek a specialist in that particular area.

There are also differences in the type of training therapists have received: psychiatrists are medical doctors specializing in treating individuals with emotional problems and thus can prescribe medication if necessary. Psychiatrists usually charge higher fees than other practitioners. Clinical psychologists usually have an academic doctoral degree (Ph.D.) and are trained in testing and individual therapy. Social workers may have doctorates or Master of Social Work degrees, and may counsel individuals, work with small groups or troubled families, and handle much the same range of emotional problems as these other practitioners.

May I again encourage you to draw on the resources of your bishop. In fact, it may be that through his inspired help, you will find you do not need the assistance of a therapist.

Why shouldn’t a person who lives within the geographical boundaries of one ward attend meetings regularly in another ward and have his or her membership there?

Glenn E. Nielson, Regional Representative. The Church is divided into geographical areas for a wise purpose. For one thing, it promotes a sense of community whereby individuals can recognize each other as neighbors and friends and care for each other as such. For another, it enables the Church to do its work in a unified, organized way. Indeed, much of the strength of the Church comes from the simple but effective way it is organized into wards and stakes, branches and districts.

Years of experience at the ward, stake, mission, and now regional level convince me that the revelation given to the Church in Doctrine and Covenants 132:8 [D&C 132:8] is indeed of divine origin: “Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.” This scripture provides a firm foundation for all administrative aspects of the Church.

Consider the ward organization. The office of a bishop is to look after the welfare of all members living within the designated borders of his ward. Can you imagine how difficult a bishop’s job would be if geographical boundaries were not observed? Think of the problems in communication and ward organization!

The bishop whose ward a family should be attending would be unable to consider any members of this family for positions of activity if the family members were going other than where they lived. At the same time, the bishop in whose ward they had elected to attend would naturally have some hesitation about using them in positions of leadership. The change would also require extra travel for home teachers, visiting teachers, and others who would normally visit them.

And think of the effect on the family. Since they would not be associating at church with people with whom they associate during the week, they would have a difficult time feeling part of any other ward. Not only would their social lives be affected by the change, but their spiritual lives as well.

Having said all this, let me say that there are circumstances that allow a person living in the boundaries of one ward to attend another ward. In some areas, single adult wards have been formed to provide a way for such individuals to associate regularly. There are also wards organized for special language and cultural groups and others with special needs who would find it more socially and spiritually beneficial to associate with one another. (See Ensign, June 1981, p. 44.) But even in these cases, geographical boundaries are established and observed as much as possible.

When divisions of wards and branches are made, stake presidencies seek the help and the guidance of their Father in Heaven and receive it in making those divisions. Whatever ward we find ourselves in physically is the place our Father in Heaven would have us for the benefit of ourselves and others. It is the place where the greatest opportunity for service and development will come to us.

Our Savior’s church is truly a church of order, and if we will live within the orderly framework he has established, he will cause the Church and the gospel to be great blessings to us. “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” (D&C 82:10.)

Not long ago I learned that someone in our area was called to the position of public communications director. Can you tell me what this calling entails and whether it involves the help of other members?

Gerry Pond, Manager, Domestic Operations, Public Communications Department of the Church. Basically the public communications director (PCD) is the public media information specialist for his or her local priesthood leader and often acts as the press secretary to help communicate accurate information about the Church to local media. Ward PCDs also function very effectively as sources of information to stake or region PCDs, who then, with priesthood approval, release the stories to the local media.

Public communications directors (PCDs) also assist the chairmen of special programs like open houses, fairs, and exhibits in creating publicity and in setting up actual exhibits. In addition, they help train other PCDs for whom they are responsible.

PCDs may belong to a public communications council. On a region or a stake level, this involves local specialists in areas of print, electronic media (radio and television), photography, speakers bureau, and sensitive issues; a secretary; and a representative from any missions included in that geographic area. The local priesthood leader is the chairman of the council.

Many councils use a “news bureau” approach, writing and sending priesthood-approved news tips and releases to local media (and adapting Church headquarters releases for local use). Some of these councils also use a “clipping service,” which clips all newspaper articles mentioning the Church in a particular geographic area. Some PCDs simply clip articles themselves and forward them to Church headquarters. Council members are always concerned about developing good working relationships with individuals in the media.

Ward, stake, and region public communications directors can have a powerful impact on missionary work and community perception of the Church. We’ve seen PCDs under a priesthood directed program help eliminate misperceptions about our people and our beliefs by developing friendly working relations with local media, providing the media with accurate information, and publishing positive articles about the Church.

Part of the calling of a PCD is to be aware of major media interest concerning the Church and issues that local priesthood leaders might address, using First Presidency statements as their guide. For example, one stake president took a stand against an indecent billboard in his city, and the public communications director worked with the media to report the Church’s stand against pornography. The billboard was removed within days.

In this regard, PCDs also welcome input from other Church members. Many members have brought to the attention of local PCDs interesting, positive stories about Latter-day Saint people or events that, with priesthood approval, have been passed on to local media.

Local members have also called the attention of PCDs to inaccuracies they have seen or heard reported about the Church. In one area, for example, a member brought to the attention of the PCD incorrect information reported in the local media. The PCD, in turn, worked with his priesthood leader to issue a statement to the press to correct the inaccuracies. The paper was more than willing to print an entirely new, correct story. In this case, inaccurate reporting became an opportunity for dedicated Church members to present the correct teachings of the Church.

We have found that an effective public communications program in a ward, stake, or region requires strong priesthood support as well as initiative on the part of the public communications director. If the priesthood leader and the PCD work together to set goals and a budget for the program, some very exciting and helpful things can happen in their efforts to spread the gospel.