The Catholic Psychologist and Same-sex "Married" Couples

By Marsh Fightlin 

DULUTH, MN, June 3, 2013--(Catholic Stand)-The State of Minnesota recently passed a law abolishing the commonly accepted definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, and replaced it with a definition that requires only two adults, including two adults of the same sex. The law goes into effect August 1. Consequently, from that date forward, the State will recognize three types of marriage: male-female, male-male and female-female. All three will be considered “marriage”, and any effort to distinguish between them based on the commonly accepted definition (male-female) will be branded “discrimination”.

I have been doing marriage counseling for almost forty years, more than twenty five of which were as a licensed psychologist in the State of Minnesota, where I presently practice. What will be the legal implications of this sea change definition for my practice?

In saner times, it would have been considered obvious that same-sex “marriage” is an oxymoron, something akin to the square circle. Treating such unions as marriages would have been seen as a game of let’s pretend. Psychologists, considering themselves to be professionals who do not adjust their practice to the whims of the culture, would maintain the commonly accepted definition, a definition that is older than the profession of psychology itself. They would distinguish between “natural marriage” and the novel legal construct of same-sex “marriage”. They would refuse to act in therapy sessions as though the latter were the same as the former. Such a pretense would be incongruent with their true convictions and hence a distortion of the dynamic of therapy. They would therefore refuse as a matter of professional ethics to do marital therapy with same-sex unions.

Alas, we are not living in saner times. The American Psychological Association has blinked, and now considers same-sex unions as marriages. It is unclear what stance the Minnesota Board of Psychology, which grants licenses and renewals of licenses to practice psychology in Minnesota, will take on this issue. It could go in any of the following ways:

1)     Distinguish psychologically between marriage and same-sex unions. This would be the most sensible stance. Psychologists trained to do marital therapy would not be required to do therapy with same-sex couples because the psychologists’ lack training in that area. This would respect the general ethical principle in the field of psychology that one should not attempt to do therapy in an area in which one is not trained.

2)     Make the distinction in #1 above, but require psychologists to receive training by a certain date to treat same-sex couples. This would force psychologists to receive training in an area in which they have no desire to be trained. In saner times, such an unprecedented move would be seen as outrageously tyrannical. But, as noted above, these are not saner times.

3)     Not make the distinction in #1 above, but consider same-sex unions to be marriages that are psychologically indistinguishable from marriages commonly understood. This would force psychologists who do marital therapy to treat same-sex couples as though they were in a marital union, even though the psychologists don’t think they are.

What is a Catholic psychologist to do? (Actually, Catholic psychologists are not the only ones who face this dilemma. Many other mental health professionals, both non-psychologists and non-Catholics, see this issue in the same way.) It seems clear that it is ethically impermissible to cooperate directly in promoting or approving of this grave error concerning the nature of marriage. This would preclude treating a same-sex couple as if they were truly married. Therefore, from a Catholic perspective, it would be unethical and unprofessional to attempt to do marital therapy with same-sex couples.

How then should I, as a Catholic psychologist, proceed? If the Minnesota Board decides on option #1 above, I simply need to state that I am not trained to treat same-sex unions, and decline to do so. If the Board selects option #2 or #3, I have no ethical choice but to stop doing marital therapy altogether. This would obviously have a significant impact on my professional practice and my income.

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