Natasha Helfer Has Been ‘Excommunicated’ From The Church — Here’s What She Has To Say Now
Natasha Helfer is a licensed mental health and sex therapist who lives in Salt Lake City. Last week, she had her membership withdrawn from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after being charged with apostasy. Helfer has been outspoken about her views of pornography, same sex marriage and other sexual health issues, but her views aren’t in line with Church teachings. Her membership council was held in Kansas where she lived until 2019.
Helfer spoke with KUER about her experience and her appeal of the Church’s decision.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Caroline Ballard: What was your initial reaction to the news that you were facing discipline from your previous stake in Kansas?
Natasha Helfer: The tone of the letter was upsetting. It felt very much like this membership council is being brought about on my behalf with a week's notice. Whether or not I could attend didn't really seem to matter — it's going to happen with or without me. The language was something like “You’re being brought to this council due to your clear and persistent opposition to the doctrines and teachings of the Church leaders.”
CB: You've said there were issues with how your case was handled — from having that membership council in Kansas to them not hearing from witnesses you say were pre-approved. What has what you've gone through told you about the excommunication or withdrawal process?
NH: Well, that has been shocking in and of itself, because if I thought anything about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [it’s] that it runs its organization fairly clinically — it has a General Handbook of Instructions. So it didn't have the feel that I historically have had with my church in regards to the process being fairly typical and uniform. The whole thing was very confusing, arbitrary and quite frankly, fairly cruel and cold.
CB: What do you think your case and your experience means for mental health and sex therapists who are part of the Church? How does it impact their practices?
NH: I'm gravely concerned about how this impacts both clinicians and clients. There are many clinicians, both LDS and not, who work in the Salt Lake City community and other Mormon-heavy populations that are doing really good clinical work because they're following their codes of ethics. They're following best practice evidence based approaches, which is what I very much believe in, and what we know to be effective. They now may be concerned about “Well, are people going to not trust me or come to me or am I going to be in trouble?”
I’m gravely concerned for the general public. If you're part of a religious community where your religious leaders — who represent, in a sense, your relationship with a divine being — signal that it's not OK to get help for something as complex and intricate to a person's relationships and identity as sexuality and gender identity — we're going to see a lot more of what I have been having to deal with for my entire career: bandaging up marriages, families and individuals who are suffering unnecessarily from sexual misinformation and ineffective treatment approaches.
CB: You have submitted an appeal of the decision to Church leadership. How do you think being so open and outspoken about your experience could impact that appeal?
NH: I guess I'm more concerned about the sexual and mental health of people that I've been serving than the result of my appeal. I think they know and I know that I’m not going to silence myself. I’m not going to stop talking about the issues where my profession is in conflict with their spiritual or religious understandings, and that's the main complaint that they have against me.
CB: I know this is all very new and fresh, but looking forward, how do you envision your relationship with the Church and if not the institution with the faith?
NH: Well, the Church does not have control over my spirituality and faith, so I don't see much change for me in that. I have found my own way to worship and to tap into my own spirituality, whether I'm active or have a temple recommend.
Where it saddens me is that I know that people who could have benefited from my services will now distrust those services. This has ramifications for a lot of different spaces where a lot of different people can be having healthier conversations that are uncomfortable — it's uncomfortable to talk about sex, right? But they're conversations that we need to be having in our marriages, with our children, in our churches, in our school boards and our lobbying and legislative efforts. So, I'm very excited to see how this moment in my life will be just a small way to energize other clinicians, other parents [and] other people who can have influence in their circles.