Tell our readers who you are and how you came to the LDS Church.
My name is Natasha Helfer Parker. I am a Marriage & Family Therapist, a Sex Therapist, a blogger, podcast host, knitter, wife and mother of 4. My parents converted to the church when I was about 5 years old. They were the first members to convert in a city called Valladolid, Spain. And it was this wonderful process of having a branch develop, first in our tiny apartment, then a rented butcher’s shop (which was perpetually frozen) and finally a chapel we never got to see built (we had moved back to the United States by then).
I have fond memories of the missionaries who taught our family, the converts that became our second family, the blonde kids of the Mission President (I was fascinated), the responsibility I felt giving my very first sacrament talks, learning how to pray, singing beloved hymns, etc.
What affected you the most as your faith developed?
My faith has gone through many different shifts and transitions along the way. As a child it was idealized and I only wanted to be like what I imagined the Mormons in Utah must be like. As a teen I loved it and rebelled against it in a simultaneous, ongoing process. As a young adult, when I finally made my way to Brigham Young University, I had to face difficult challenges to the expectations I had developed over the years and the self doubt I inevitably held because I wasn’t like the “typical” or in my eyes, “worthy” Mormons I was inevitably culturally different from.
As a developing student and practitioner within the psychology field I had to face cognitive dissonance and the reality that what worked for me personally within my faith paradigm – was not working for many around me. And that it would be unethical to project my religious values onto those I worked with.
As an active member within mainly non-Mormon communities I had to face ongoing challenges to what I had assumed was correct and literal Mormon history and doctrinal foundations. So my faith and spirituality have gone through many facets and I assume that will continue to be the case as my lived experience continues to evolve and change. I used to be afraid of this.
Now I welcome it.
I have come to a place where I am somewhat comfortable with ambiguity (are we ever really completely comfortable with the unknown?) and see it as a place where there is infinite possibility. Where I can keep what has had tremendous amount of meaning for me as a Mormon and abandon that which has not helped me – even harmed me. I like this space and find great comfort and enlightenment as I continue to search for spirituality in my life.
What is important to you now?
It is important for me to dedicate myself to mental and spiritual health – so that I can be part of the guidance process for my children and for all those who entrust me with their stories, their pain, their desires, and their hope and efforts toward healing, increased resilience and growth. I have particular interest in helping those within Mormon communities achieve healthier perspectives regardless of where they may find themselves along the continuums of belief, behavior, activity, etc.
What are you currently involved with? Tell us about it?
I am involved in many arenas within my professional realm. I run a private practice where I specialize in issues regarding faith, trauma and sexuality (natashaparker.org). I am president of the KS chapter of the American Association for Marriage & Family Therapy. I am founder and current president of the Mormon Mental Health Association. I write a blog called The Mormon Therapist in advice column format. I host the Mormon Mental Health Podcast. I am on the board for the Open Stories Foundation.
I am a regular columnist for Sunstone Magazine. I am a supervisor in training for those mental health professionals who want to become certified in sex therapy. And I give a myriad of national presentations both to the public and other professionals in my field.
What is the question you wish people would ask you that you never get asked?
What are the sex-positive gems we have hidden in Mormonism? Just did a podcast on that topic with some of my favorite colleagues and Dan Wotherspoon over at Mormon Matters. Check it out. wink emoticon
Do you have any links to your projects for people who would like to know more or to donate?
- The Mormon Therapist
- The Mormon Mental Health Association
- Natasha Helfer Parker