In the mid-'90s, Carol Waldenburg felt like her life was out of control.

She was in a relationship she knew wasn't healthy. Her job as a mental health counselor wasn't fulfilling; she wanted to do more for people. And her Methodist faith, she felt, did nothing but condemn her.

As a therapist, she knew psychotherapy could help. But she also knew she wanted to explore her religious beliefs and doubted that would happen with most secular therapists. After all, her own training had taught her to immediately send any client who mentioned God or religion to a priest, minister or rabbi.

So she told her minister what she hoped to find in a therapist.

"I didn't necessarily want Christian counseling,'' Waldenburg says. "But I wanted someone who was going to take my faith and the part it played in my life very seriously and. . . use it as a place of healing.''

As society becomes more spiritually aware--check out Oprah, the bestseller lists, and the topics in women's magazines--therapists and their clients see a clear need for counseling that allows, and even encourages, people on the couch to talk about God.

Waldenburg ended up going to the Samaritan Counseling Center, an interfaith center for psychotherapy with offices throughout South Florida. She found a counselor who helped her explore her spiritual issues and the other areas of her life. "It changed the way I look at faith,'' she says. "I don't accept the blind dogma of the church.''

It even led to a career change: She decided to become a pastoral counselor, a therapist with theological training who incorporates faith into treatment for depression, marital troubles, family conflicts, and other problems.

Today, after three years at Duke University Divinity School, Waldenburg is a therapist at the center that helped her years ago, and loves her job.

"I feel more whole as a person, more at peace with myself and with my relationship with God,'' says Waldenburg, 36.

And she feels much better prepared and more "whole'' as a therapist, too.

"It's more than just diagnosing and treating,'' she says. "It's caring for the soul, too. Even if it's not relevant for my client, which is fine, I'm aware of their intrinsic value as a human being, as my brother or sister in the human race, and of their worth to God.''

Challenging Tradition

In the past five years, more counselors, psychotherapists and social workers have challenged traditional teachings about the place of religion in therapy.

"It's hot,'' says Hugh Leavell, a secular marriage and family therapist. "Isn't spirituality always hot? It's the biggest thing in the world.''

Membership in the New York-based Center for Spirituality and Psychotherapy, for example, still grows weekly almost five years after it opened, director Henry Grayson says. He started the center to offer conferences and support for therapists and referrals for clients.

But for years universities and colleges taught prospective counselors little about religion and spirituality--except to avoid the subject with clients.

"Traditionally the fields of psychology and theology have been at odds with one another,'' Waldenburg says. "They have really met one another with suspicion and competition.''

A big part of the blame goes to the controversial "father of psychoanalysis,'' Dr. Sigmund Freud. The self-described "godless Jew'' - most famous for his belief that sexual impulses explain all neuroses - was intolerant of religion and thought healthy people should "outgrow'' their need for God.

"Freud said (God) was something that neurotic people believed in,'' says Terry Northcut, a licensed clinical social worker and professor of social work at Loyola University in Chicago. His beliefs led the clinical world to ignore God or dismiss spirituality as irrelevant.

Some churches contributed to the divide, telling troubled people to pray more or sin less, instead of acknowledging mental illness as a medical condition.

And the desire of academics to remain professional and scientific stopped universities from exploring religion or spirituality in counseling, Northcut says. They also worried that students might proselytize to clients.

"Those are legitimate concerns,'' Northcut says. "Unfortunately, it meant that the subject kind of got squelched. I found that students would ask me kind of on the sly.