Questions about religion are common experiences for young adults, and BYU students are no exception.
However, dealing with questions and doubts about faith can be difficult at BYU where the majority of students are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
BYU student Samantha is an active member of the Church, but she has doubts about whether certain policies like women not having the priesthood and the Church’s treatment of gay couples are revelation from God or simply tradition.
Samantha, who asked to keep her last name anonymous because of the delicate nature of her story, said she is extra cautious about who she opens up to about her beliefs and opinions about the Church. “People can be really judgmental, and I would worry that people would turn me in to my bishop for lacking faith, which has happened to me before, or I’ll be talked about in the ward council, which has also happened.”
For students like Samantha, changes in faith can be a scary experience, and they might be uncertain of who they can turn to for support. However, Klint Hobbs, a psychologist at BYU Counseling and Psychological Services, said finding support through these experiences is the biggest way for students to cope.
How to get support
Support can come in multiple forms for BYU students experiencing a faith crisis. Hobbs suggested finding online support groups or friends who can validate and understand. “The number one thing I think is just not being alone with it,” Hobbs said. “That can be one of the biggest things that can help alleviate psychological stress.”
Hobbs said some professors on campus are willing to be a resource for struggling students. “I’ve heard good stories about professors just being willing to kind of be with students as they struggle, and professors whose students feel comfortable with just coming into their office and sometimes talking about the struggle.”
Students can also find support at CAPS. Hobbs said CAPS is an environment where students won’t be judged. “We’re here to make sure that you achieve the goals that you have. If you don’t know what those goals are, we’re here to help you figure that out. Again, with no agenda whatsoever.”
While not every student experiencing a faith crisis will experience clinical distress, Hobbs said CAPS is an option for anyone on the path. “If somebody is really struggling with this, and they feel isolated and alone, this would be a place where they could come and they can definitely talk to a counselor.”
Hobbs emphasized that CAPS is a safe and confidential place for students. “So, just because we work for BYU, we’re licensed by the state. And that means that BYU can’t access our records here. They are medical records that are protected. So this would be a safe place to come and just kind of air that, without that worry about that getting out to anybody or anywhere else on campus.”
How to support a loved one
Experiencing a faith crisis can be hard for the person experiencing it, but it also takes a toll on someone’s friends and family.
According to Hobbs, seeing someone else doubt their faith can cause a lot of discomfort and dissonance. Someone’s instinct might be to “solve the problem” by trying to convince their loved one to continue believing the same things as them. “That almost always has not been helpful.”
Hobbs suggested that rather than try to push someone to believe something they don’t, family members and friends should express their love for someone struggling through a faith crisis.
This approach allows people to explore their questions without having to worry about the consequences of those questions or exploration, Hobbs said.