It's not easy to learn a new culture, doctrine and terminology — just ask new converts to the LDS Church — one of whom was disappointed to learn that the fireside she'd been eagerly looking forward was not a bonfire. Or the one who showed up in tears at the office of Marleen Williams convinced that no Mormon man would want to marry her because she couldn't operate a hot glue gun.
"There is a process of acculturation (for new converts)," said Williams, clinical professor in counseling psychology at Brigham Young University. "Conversion doesn't happen all at once. It's a process."
That was the message delivered Friday afternoon at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building to a crowd of about 60 who came to hear the findings of a study done on the spirituality and psychology of new converts to the LDS Church. The presentation was given as part of the annual meeting of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists.
Williams, along with four other students and professors from BYU, conducted the study by examining the conversion process and experience of 40 converts.
"The new convert ends up in an internal struggle to understand their identity," said Kristin Hansen, assistant professor in clinical psychology at BYU.
New converts face many struggles as they adopt a new culture and way of life, according to the study. Many end up feeling like they do not belong anywhere, neither to the new LDS culture nor to their previous culture.
"Maybe we should have a club for converts so we can all have a place to go," said one convert in the study when talking to a friend about the sense of belonging nowhere.
Some converts are rejected by their family for their decision to convert, said Williams.
"They sometimes have to choose between the approval of their family, intergenerational attachments and traditions," she said.
According to the study, members of the church can help new converts by being more open and by giving love and acceptance to them, especially as they struggle to learn LDS jargon and learn the difference between culture and doctrine.
"Love and acceptance is critical. We're all converts," said Williams. "Having a multi-generational LDS heritage doesn't mean that our testimonies, and our experiences with Spirit, have any more validity than those of the new convert."
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