The psychotherapist combines science and her Christian faith.
In a community that's overwhelmingly Christian and historically tight-lipped, it's no surprise that, too often, a black person's admission of mental turbulence is met with declarations like, "That's just the devil" and instruction that sounds like, "Just pray on it." Psychotherapist Dr. Pauline Furman has a Ph.D. in psychology but she's also a woman of faith, and with many of her patients, she employs an approach that combines the science and the spiritual. Her new book, When God Shows Up on the Couch, is an assemblage of stories from her sessions that Furman hopes will keep the momentum going, toward an acknowledgement of mental illness and an acceptance of help.
Practicing for 27 years, she's encountered patients with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and everything in between. "I thought the book would be helpful, particularly, because individuals with those diagnoses were coming to see me and were aware that they were, perhaps, shamed privately by family or friends and had not wanted to seek counseling. But when they finally did, they found it very, very beneficial, and intertwined with their faith, it made a positive difference."
Having a Christian affiliation is not a prerequisite to sit on Furman's couch. You needn't be religious at all, in fact, because she follows her patients' lead with regards to whether spirituality is welcomed in their sessions. "If they bring their faith up in the office, that makes it open for us to share." Even before that, patients complete a biographical data form that lets Furman know what, if any, religious views they hold, and how strongly. "I have met with a number of black pastors who are looking at (When God Shows Up) as an avenue to help their parishioners," she says.
"In the black family, we have had a lot of mental health challenges that could have been helped but we have chosen to keep that family member hidden and not seek assistance where medication could be an asset along with treatment," Furman says. "Even in my own household, my mother would say, 'What's said in our house, stays in our house.' I think the millennial generation is exposing the truth – that it's OK to seek therapy."
Find When God Shows Up on the Couch at Amazon.com, Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, on Dr. Furman's website and in her office, Center for Individual & Family Counseling, 30555 Southfield Road #340 in Southfield.