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Intensive Questionnaire

This one may be a two-parter. I inquired about therapy services from a church. I happen to think religion is OK, so when I heard about a counseling center that was sponsored by a religious organization, I thought I would give it a shot. Services at this church-based clinic were commesurate in cost to services elsewhere in the city, so I naturally inquired about financial aide.

This clinic does not do a Sliding Fee Scale, nor do they claim to (+). Individuals requesting financial assistance with counseling are referred to another wing of this church called the diaconate. I had never heard this term either: it is the office of the deacon. A deacon is an elected or appointed non-clergy leader, and is usually a paritioner (i.e., "regular attender"). Deacons have some leadership status in the churches they attend, but what they end up doing usually looks like a horrible volunteer job, with meetings. This diaconate was in charge of distributing some of the church's money in order to "do good". I am not unfamiliar with how churches run (my father worked for one for decades), so I was game.

I spoke to the clergy in charge of the clinic, and he referred me to a person representing the diaconate. As expected, the diaconate needed to talk with me in person (they are a non-profit, so they can't actually throw money around). Interestingly, they needed me to complete a questionnaire so they could do an "intake". I would become a "client" of the diaconate, as a result. The positive side of this is that there was a process for distributing money, which potentially makes it more fair (+).

The first part of the intake was a spreadsheet where I was supposed to list my income and expenses. They wanted to know how much I spend on things like rent, loan payments, hair and nails, smoking, and alcohol. I got the sense there was a subtle message in there about some obvious reasons I might need financial assistance from a church.

The truly (disconcerting, alarming, offensive, questionable, confusing) intriguing part of the process was the essay section. Here are some of the questions, along with some of my responses. Please remember that I am seeking financial assistance so I can receive therapy. The diaconate (not the therapist) are the ones asking these questions.

If you rent, do you deposit rent into landlord’s bank account?

Bank and account #

  • I would like to wait to give you this information until I know the purpose of the question.

Who is the check made out to?

  • Again, see above.

Do you have any extended family? Where do they live?

  • Yes, again, I’m interested in the nature of the request. I will give this information in person if needed.

What is the highest level of education you have had? degrees?

  • Ph.D.

Are you employed? where?

  • Self-employed

What is your employment history? Or What type of work have you done?

  • Good.

Are you seeing a counselor?

  • That is at the core of my request.

Are you taking any prescription medications for depression, anxiety or pain? Please list:

  • I will disclose this if it is pertinent or necessary.

Are there any previous depression, anxiety, or pain medications that you were on in the past but are no longer taking? Please list:

  • See above.

Have you ever been hospitalized for depression, suicide, or a mental illness?

  • Again, will disclose if pertinent or necessary.

Please describe your Christian experience.

  • I do not understand this question. Will discuss in person if you like and I can ask some clarifying questions.

Please give a detailed description of your current situation.

  • I would like to be seen in your therapy clinic but I cannot afford the full fee for service. I would like the Diaconate to help me pay for sessions.

What have you done so far to remedy the situation?

  • We can talk about this in person.

What is your specific request of the diaconate?

  • Money for therapy at church’s clinic.

Is there anyone in your family, or are there any friends that you feel close to, that know about your situation?

  • Yes.

Do you need prayer support?

  • Not sure I understand this question. I hope discussing my problem with a deacon will make the question and answer more clear.

What is the point of posting these questions? Just because people might give you money, or be in a position of authority, or otherwise might have something you want, that does not give them unlimited access to your personal information. Why does the diaconate need to know what medications I am prescribed, my hospitalization history, about my family, or where I mail my rent checks? In the interview it was clear that they also wanted to know why I was seeking services from the clinic (i.e., the presenting problem). All of this information I refused to give them because: it was none of their damn business.

What was the purpose of asking these questions? They did not seem like malicious people, and I still cannot guess what the purpose of that line of questioning was. Regardless, I have been having difficult conversations with people for a living for a while, and so it was easy for me to identify which questions I would answer and which I would not (because I didn't want to, or felt they did not need the information, or just because I wanted them to ask in a different, more respectful and upfront way). Here are some questions you can use if you feel uncomfortable by people's questions of you:

  • Why do you need this information?

  • Why do you ask?

  • How does this information help you?

  • How will you store my responses?

  • What rules do you have around confidentiality?

  • How do you keep my information safe?

  • Who do I contact to make a complaint about you?

If you get an "I'm not sure" or even a vague response to any of these questions, I would advise you to ask to speak to a supervisor, or someone else who can answer your questions. You might also do well to stop answering questions at this point. Psychologists and other licensed health and mental health professionals have responsibilities around all of these issues (e.g., confidentiality, being mindful about the kinds of information they solicit), and should be ready with a response. If you are meeting with a therapist who is not sure about any of these questions, find a new therapist.

Writing this post is bringing back some of the feelings I had from a couple weeks ago when I completed the forms and attended the interview. Even though I refused to respond to many of their questions, I was "approved" for a fairly hefty subsidy from the diaconate. The good news is that even if the therapist turns out to be a hack, it will be hard to get ripped off.

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