The Atlantic

The Atheists Struggling to Find Therapists in the Bible Belt

The rise of faith-based counseling in America’s most Christian regions has brought the clash over religious liberties to the therapist’s couch.
Source: Brian Snyder / Reuters

In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, life in the town of Easley, South Carolina, was tense for Leigh Drexler. Pick-up trucks with airborne Confederate flags seemed more prevalent than ever before, and her grandparents—who had never voted in their lives—registered to cast their ballots for the Donald himself.

Drexler felt isolated. “My family has always directed their point of view at me, but it has been a million times worse than normal,” she told me last October. “Every time we’re in a conversation, it’s either about the election or religion.”

It’s a dynamic that led Drexler, who identifies as a democratic socialist and an atheist, to go online in search of a therapist—someone who would perhaps better understand her lack of faith. She scouted towns within a 20-mile radius, but only “faith-based” practitioners turned up. She resorted to distance counseling over the phone with a therapist a few states away. “I knew there would be Christian counselors here, but I didn’t think that was all I was going to find,” she said.

In the U.S., people are less religious than ever. Adults in their 20s and early 30s make up more than one-third of the country’s “nones,” or those who consider themselves religiously unaffiliated. Church attendance among young Americans has

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