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Why Therapists and Church Leaders Need to Collaborate

Often, people in crisis work with both their church leadership and a therapist concurrently.  They need the church leaders’ assistance, who often know them well and are familiar with their life and difficulties on a personal level, and can, therefore, see some of the issues that need to be resolved better.  But, because their counseling abilities are often limited to a couple of courses in seminary, they are limited in their professional counseling abilities.  And that is where a licensed or formally educated therapist becomes necessary.  A therapist can bridge the gap between emotional, physical, or psychological issues that the pastoral team cannot.  The collaboration of both is instrumental in making sure healing is well rounded and complete.

Therapists and church leaders need to collaborate because it helps to keep everybody on the same page–therapists, church leaders, clients, family, etc.–and prevents the narcissist from compartmentalizing everybody to continue to abuse their victim.  It also gives the clients a greater level of support for healing on both a personal and emotional basis by bringing two professions together to work as a team.

Let’s take a closer look at the whole picture.  

The History of Therapists and Church Leaders Collaborating

There is very little documentation of church leaders and therapists working side-by-side in the healing of religious clients.  Until recent years, partnerships between the two was rarely done.  And often, when it was done, the church side of things was less than eager to acknowledge the scientific side of things.  Many churches claimed that “modern psychology” was not in alignment with their religious views. 

Unfortunately, this line of thinking opened the door to misuse of biblical principles, such as men being the head of the household.  Men who abused and/or oppressed their wives and children were given license to continue doing so, in direct opposition to mandates in the Bible to love and honor their wives and treat their children well.  See the chart below for specific verses.

In my case, the church we were attending at the time our marital abuse went public was supportive of the children and me and held my ex’s feet to the fire.  But he quickly left our church to avoid being called out for his narcissistic abuse (which actually was diagnosed in counseling).  His new church supported his abuse, in spite of being informed of it and his reason for running from his church into theirs. 

They assured our church that they would work collaboratively with our church to hold him accountable.  But instead, they insisted to me that I allow him back into our home after our church and counselors had him removed.  And when I didn’t at the advice of my counselor and pastor because he had not shown any signs of healing, they gave him grounds for divorce because I “was not meeting his sexual needs” while we were separated and he was supposed to be healing.  He married his next wife a mere 6 days after we got our divorce papers in the mail.  And he is still a member in good standing of that church.  

This is just one story of a church that chose not to collaborate in order to ensure the overall health of the victims of abuse.  At the same time I went through this, a close friend was excommunicated from her church with a letter stating that the pastor hoped she repented and found salvation for divorcing her husband after begging them for years for help with no response except to be a better wife.  For more on this, check out my articles about twelve ways the church helps narcissists abuse their victims. or  when the church doesn’t recognize narcissistic abuse.  I also have one on when the church believes the narcissist’s lies.

You can also check out the rest of my story by clicking here.

There are more stories like this than stories of support and camaraderie when  it comes to narcissistic abuse.  The very nature of narcissistic abuse–bad behavior behind closed doors while perfectly behaving in the public sphere–makes it very hard to spot for people who are not aware of what is really going on.  And the church exacerbates this conundrum by taking the narcissist at his word because they are afraid to call him out for appearing judgmental or even wrong.  

Fortunately, many counselors and pastors are beginning to shed light on this issue.  And with time, more and more churches are coming around.  There is still much more that needs to be done.  Many more churches need to see and understand these issues and then learn to deal with them accordingly.  But, with one church at a time, we are making progress!

Here are three really good books that will show you how severe this problem is, both to the abused church members and the church membership at large.  And they will show you how to work through it and get yourself and/or others into a healthier life.  And it shows the church how to rally around and support victims rather than re-victimizing them.  The titles of the books are Narcissism in the Church, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, and The Emotionally Destructive Relationship.  You can click on them below to find out more:

Therapists and Church Leaders Collaborate to Keep Each Other in the Loop

Many churches in America and around the world have chosen to see the insidious narcissistic abuse happening in Christian homes in spite of the smiling, happy faces of the narcissists who have found the perfect cover to continue to abuse unchecked.  Once they push into the behavior of the narcissist, they begin to see the bad behavior for themselves.  This is because the narcissist is now angry at them for “outing” him (or her, adjust the pronouns to fit your own situation).  And now the narcissist is going to exact his revenge that they would destroy his narcissistic supply.  He will “teach them a lesson” for daring to stand up to him.

It was this exact event that finally caused my church to see my ex’s narcissism.  Had they not been willing to push into the situation at the recommendation of my counselor, he would still be looking like an amazing pillar of the community and would still be an elder in that church.  And I would be a victim multiple times because they would still be telling me to be a better wife to an abusive man and father.

Singlehandedly, the biggest benefit of my counselors and church leaders working together was that it kept everybody on the same page.  This fact prevented him from telling us all different stories, which would, in turn, allow him to abuse me and the kids, suck up to church leadership as though he were living an honorable and godly life, and trick the counselors into thinking he was emotionally healthy all at the same time.

As soon as we were meeting on a regular basis and all communication was in writing or with witnesses that were deeply involved in our situation, my ex was no longer able to manipulate us all into thinking things were different than reality.  Unfortunately, rather than using this as a support team, he turned against everyone and treated us all as the enemy as he continued to try to manipulate any way he could.

And unfortunately, nothing has changed with him to this day.  He still manipulates and abuses.  And he has a new life that he is able to compartmentalize to get away with all of his narcissism and continue to get narcissistic supply.  But the kids and me are all in a better place and for the most part protected from his manipulation and abuse.  And by the time he no longer has visitation with his youngest son, we will likely never have to worry about abuse at his hands again.

Therapists and Church Leaders Collaborate to Keep Each Other Accountable

Even though we have already talked about the biggest reason therapists and church leaders should collaborate, there are still more really good reasons.  And one of those is the it helps to keep both support systems accountable to the healing of the people/family involved in the issues they are working through.

I don’t think most counselors and church leaders need accountability for the sake of keeping corruption at bay.  Although there likely is some small amount of that.  But there needs to be accountability that the healing is well aligned with the clients’ needs based on their circumstances.

Sometimes one side may see something that the other side doesn’t see.  It could be something they see in their own environment that doesn’t show up in the other environment.  This could be thoughts or feelings expressed in the counseling session that haven’t come through in the church environment.  Or it could be something the pastor observes in the church setting that doesn’t come out in the counseling session.  Regardless, it is always helpful to have multiple perspectives working together.  Then everyone can see more of the whole picture.

Occasionally, the client may actually see the whole picture and clue either the counselors, church leaders, or both in on what is really going on.  At the end of the day, having all eyes in alignment helps the support to be more complete.

Another way therapists and church leaders collaborate that is helpful is when one side is able to communicate in a way that the client(s) may understand better.  One side may see the problems in a different way.  That would enable them to take the support in a different direction, while still working as a team.  Rarely does a support team see things exactly the same all the time.  Having different viewpoints is almost always beneficial to the process.  As long as everybody is staying on the same page through that process!

A priest speaking privately with a woman in a church setting. This photo represents the title of the article, "Why Therapists and Church Leaders Need to Collaborate."

Therapists and Church Leaders Collaborate to Give Better Support

I already alluded to this in the previous point, but when therapists and church leaders collaborate (and do it well), the result is always going to be better, more well-rounded support.  Actually, you may have noticed already that all three of my main points are closely related so they can integrate well in the healing process.

So, how do therapists and church leaders collaborate to give better support in addition to what I have already talked about above?  Here are some of the most important ways:

  • Either church leaders or therapists can discover physical needs that the other involved parties can help out with.  For example, if a counselor finds out that a newly single mom is afraid she doesn’t have enough money to buy needed food, the therapist can alert the client’s pastor.  The pastor can then assist that mom, either directly or in a way that she may not see where the assistance came from, saving her embarrassment over a difficult time.
  • If the client/church member is not very good at communicating their needs, both the therapists and church leaders can step in and help everyone to see the full picture.
  • Both the therapist and pastor/church leaders may have information or access to community organizations that can directly help their client.  The more eyes on a situation, the more knowledge and help there usually is.
  • Both the therapist and counselor bring different skills/gifts/talents to the table that will all benefit the client/church member in the long run.
  • Both organizations will have the added support of contacting the other one when they find themselves needing some assistance that they find themselves coming up short in.  Being able to call someone else who is knowledgeable than they are in a certain area is such a huge help.  When my pastor was trying to work through our disaster, he was able to contact my counselor, two psychologists from his former state, and a dean of the psychology department that he knew of from a campus minister at that college.  His connections gave us all so many more resources to deal with the situation well and make sure everyone involved was on the right track.

There are many more ways that come up as you are walking along your path to healing.  And every time you experience one, you will feel that much better that you are on the right road!


It is almost always a good choice to have therapists and church leaders collaborate in difficult life situations.  The more people that can help bring bad situations to life and help victim(s) get on their feet, the better.  And in cases where healthy healing is not taking place, things can be set right much quicker than a victim trying to figure out what’s right on their own.

Additionally, churches are not well versed in deeper psychological issues.  So bringing in professional counseling is such a huge benefit to the church.  The church may even have therapists in their membership that can help out in these circumstances.

Have your therapist and church leaders collaborated with your situation?  Did it change how things were going in a positive way?  Did it help you to see things in a better way?  Did it help to prevent some of the narcissistic abuse?  Did it give you definitive steps forward toward your healing?  I would love to hear how it turned out for you.  It was life-changing for me and my kids.  Feel free to share with me in the comments below.

Do you feel like you have no idea where to start or how to formulate a plan toward healing?  Do you have some ideas but you still aren’t sure?  Are you on the path to healing but just need some confirmation that things are headed in the right direction?  Do you just need to confirm what’s going on for the sake of your own peace?  You can schedule a consultation with Marie at your earliest convenience.

I prayed for you as I was writing this article!  God knows your struggle, even though you may not be feeling Him at the moment.  I didn’t feel it then, but looking back now, I can see so much more!

Hugs and love,

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Hi! I am the founder of Navigating Religious Narcissism after being raised under a narcissistic mother and married to a narcissistic man for 31 years. It is my prayer that I can be as valuable on your journey to healing and peace as were so many who crossed my path of healing.

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