What do Christian Clergy Say?: Advice from Christian Pastors to Family Therapists about Working with LGB Clients

  • Katelyn O. Coburn
  • Christi R. McGeorgeEmail author
Original Paper


This qualitative study informed by queer theory explored Christian pastors’ advice for family therapists seeking to work more competently and affirmatively with LGB individuals and their families. Twenty-one pastors leading Christian congregations (e.g., Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, United Church of Christ, and Presbyterian), who identified as LGB affirmative to varying extents, were interviewed. Thematic analysis identified the following categories: (1) therapists holding a positive stance toward LGB clients, (2) therapists developing ethical boundaries around their religious beliefs, (3) therapists being open to spirituality as a resource for LGB clients, and (4) therapists gaining the necessary knowledge to work affirmatively with LGB Clients. Implications based on the findings of this study include a need for family therapists to engage in self-of-the-therapist work to address religious biases and heteronormative assumptions in order to provide competent therapy to religious LGB clients, as well as important insight for how therapists can collaborate with pastors to better serve their LGB clients.


Collaboration between family therapists and christian pastors Queer theory LGB affirmative therapy Religion and spirituality 



  1. Balkin, R. S., Schlosser, L. Z., & Levitt, D. H. (2009). Religious identity and cultural diversity: Exploring the relationships between religious identity, sexism, homophobia, and multicultural competence. Journal of Counseling and Development, 87(4), 420–427. Scholar
  2. Barton, B. (2010). “Abomination”: Life as a Bible belt gay. Journal of Homosexuality, 57(4), 465–484. Scholar
  3. Bergin, A. E., & Jensen, J. P. (1990). Religiosity of psychotherapists: A national survey. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 27(1), 3–7. Scholar
  4. Bowers, R., Minichiello, V., & Plummer, D. (2010). Religious attitudes, homophobia, and professional counseling. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 4(2), 70–91. Scholar
  5. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101. Scholar
  6. Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Caldwell, B. E. (2011, September/October). The dilemma: Can a religious therapist refuse to treat gay and lesbian clients? Family Therapy Magazine, 10, 50–52.Google Scholar
  8. Caldwell, B. E. (2013, September/October). Conscience clauses: When do the therapist’s moral values outweigh a client’s request for help? Family Therapy Magazine, 15, 20–27.Google Scholar
  9. Carlson, T. S., McGeorge, C. R., & Anderson, A. (2011). The importance of spirituality in couple and family therapy: A comparative study of therapists’ and educators’ beliefs. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 33(1), 3–16. Scholar
  10. Carlson, T. S., McGeorge, C. R., & Toomey, R. B. (2014). Establishing the validity of the spirituality in clinical training scale: Measuring the level of integration of spirituality and religion in family therapy training. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 36(2), 310–325. Scholar
  11. Chilisa, B. (2012). Indigenous research methodologies. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  12. Creswell, J. W. (1994). Research design: Quantitative and qualitative approaches. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.Google Scholar
  13. Dahl, C. M., & Boss, P. (2005). The use of phenomenology for family therapy research: The search for meaning. In D. H. Sprenkle & F. P. Piercy (Eds.), Research methods in family therapy (2nd ed., pp. 43–54). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  14. Edwards, L. L., Robertson, J. A., Smith, P. M., & O’Brien, N. B. (2014). Marriage and family training programs and their integration of lesbian, gay, and bisexual identities. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 26(1), 3–27. Scholar
  15. Fallon, K. M., Dobmeier, R. A., Reiner, S. M., Casquarelli, E. J., Giglia, L. A., & Goodwin, E. (2013). Reconciling spiritual values conflicts for counselors and lesbian and gay clients. Adultspan Journal, 12(1), 38–53. Scholar
  16. Fischer, A. R., & DeBord, K. A. (2007). Perceived conflicts between affirmation of religious diversity and affirmation of sexual diversity: That’s perceived. In K. J. Bieschke, R. M. Perez & K. A. DeBord (Eds.), Handbook of counseling and psychotherapy with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender clients (2nd ed., pp. 317–339). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Godfrey, K., Haddock, S. A., Fisher, A., & Lund, L. (2006). Essential components of curricula for preparing therapist to work effectively with lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients: A Delphi study. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 32(4), 491–504. Scholar
  18. Grams, W. A., Carlson, T. S., & McGeorge, C. R. (2007). Integrating spirituality into family therapy training: An exploration of faculty members’ beliefs. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 29(3), 147–161. Scholar
  19. Green, M. S., Murphy, M. J., & Blumer, M. L. C. (2010). Marriage and family therapists’ comfort working with lesbian and gay male clients: The influence of religious practices and support for lesbian and gay male human rights. Journal of Homosexuality, 57(10), 1258–1273. Scholar
  20. Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, Inc.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Marks, S. R. (1994). Studying workplace intimacy: Haven at work. In D. L. Sollie & L. A. Leslie (Eds.), Gender, families, and close relationships: Feminist research journeys (pp. 145–168). Thousands Oaks: Sage Publication, Inc.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McGeorge, C. R., & Carlson, T. S. (2011). Deconstructing heterosexism: Becoming an LGB affirmative heterosexual couple and family therapist. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 37(1), 14–26. Scholar
  23. McGeorge, C. R., & Carlson, T. S. (2016). The state of lesbian, gay, and bisexual affirmative training: A survey of faculty from accredited couple and family therapy programs. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 42(1), 153–167. Scholar
  24. McGeorge, C. R., Carlson, T. S., & Farrell, M. (2016). To refer or not to refer: Exploring family therapists’ beliefs and practices related to the referral of lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 42(3), 466–480. Scholar
  25. McGeorge, C. R., Carlson, T. S., & Toomey, R. B. (2014). The intersection of spirituality, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity in family therapy training: An exploration of students’ beliefs and practices. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 36(4), 497–506. Scholar
  26. McGeorge, C. R., Kellerman, J., & Carlson, T. S. (2018). Indicators of LGB affirmative training: An exploratory study of family therapy faculty members. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 30(1), 1–24. Scholar
  27. McNeil, S. N., Pavkov, T. W., Hecker, L. L., & Killmer, J. M. (2012). Marriage and family therapy graduate students’ satisfaction with training regarding religion and spirituality. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 34(4), 468–480. Scholar
  28. Murr, R. (2013). “I became proud of being gay and proud of being Christian”: The spiritual journeys of queer Christian women. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 32(4), 349–372. Scholar
  29. Nelson, T. S., & Allred, D. D. (2005). Survey research in marriage and family therapy. In D. H. Sprenkle & F. P. Piercy (Eds.), Research methods in family therapy (pp. 211–237). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  30. Oswald, R. F., Blume, L. B., & Marks, S. R. (2005). Decentering heteronormativity: A model for family studies. In V. L. Bengtson, A. C. Acock, K. R. Allen, P. Dilworth-Anderson & D. M. Klein (Eds.), Sourcebook of family theory & research (pp. 143–165). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.Google Scholar
  31. Oswald, R. F., Kuvalanka, K. A., Blume, L. B., & Berkowitz, D. (2009). Queering “the family.”. In S. A. Lloyd, A. L. Few & K. R. Allen (Eds.), Handbook of feminist family studies (pp. 43–55). Los Angeles: Sage Publications, Inc.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research & evaluation methods. Thousands Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.Google Scholar
  33. Pew Research Center. (2014). Religious landscape study. Retrieved from
  34. Prest, L. A., Russel, R., & D’Souza, H. (1999). Spirituality and religion in training, practice and personal development. Journal of Family Therapy, 21(1), 60–77. Scholar
  35. Ryan, C., Huebner, D., Diaz, R. M., & Sanchez, J. (2009). Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in white and Latino lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults. Pediatrics, 123(1), 346–352. Scholar
  36. Ryan, C., Russell, S. T., Huebner, D., Diaz, R., & Sanchez, J. (2010). Family acceptance inadolescence and the health of LGBT young adults. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 23(4), 205–213. Scholar
  37. Schmitz, R. M., & Tyler, K. A. (2018). The complexity of family reactions to identity among homeless and college lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer young adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47(4), 1195–1207. Scholar
  38. Walker, M. D. (2013). When clients want your help to “pray away the gay”: Implications for couple and family therapists. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 25(2), 112–134. Scholar
  39. Weaver, A. J., Koenig, H. G., & Larson, D. B. (1997). Marriage and family therapists and the clergy: A need for clinical collaboration, training, and research. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 23(1), 13–25. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kansas State UniversityManhattanUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human Development and Family Science, Dept. 2615North Dakota State UniversityFargoUSA

Personalised recommendations