Examining Differences in How Atheist and Religious Therapists Are Perceived and the Moderating Effects of Religiosity and Personality Traits

Javier Moreira, Pace University


The purpose of this study was to examine whether negative perceptions of atheists/nonbelievers extend to the therapeutic realm. The current literature has found that atheists and nonbelievers, a growing segment in the United States’ population, report various forms of discrimination as a result of being considered members of an “out” group, thus affecting their mental health. The counseling literature has examined the importance of addressing value differences and potential effects within the therapeutic dyad, but most of the focus has been on race, gender, sexual identity, and religiosity, with almost no attention given to how nonbelief might also play a role in value conflicts. This study addressed this gap in the literature by assessing whether atheist therapists were rated less favorably and less likely to be sought out than religious identifying therapists. Participants (n=363) were randomly assigned to different vignettes describing a therapist’s atheist or religious orientation, and then asked to rate their perceptions of the therapist and likelihood of seeking them out. Contrary to what was hypothesized, there were no significant differences for participants rating atheist therapists as less favorable and less likely to be sought out compared to religious therapists. Also, contrary to prediction, the personality traits of openness and agreeableness did not moderate this relationship. Results did indicate that participant religiosity moderated the relationship between participants' perceptions and a therapist’s belief orientation and likelihood of being sought out. However, although a participant’s religiosity was negatively associated with their overall perceptions of atheist therapists, surprisingly this effect was found to be even stronger for religious counselors. Besides being one of the only studies to empirically examining perception of atheists therapists, these findings have important implications for counseling training, current counseling professionals, and future research.

Subject Area

Mental health|Counseling Psychology|Psychology

Recommended Citation

Moreira, Javier, "Examining Differences in How Atheist and Religious Therapists Are Perceived and the Moderating Effects of Religiosity and Personality Traits" (2023). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI30572569.


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