What is Christian Counseling?
"Hear counsel, receive instruction, and accept correction, that you may be wise in the time to come." (Prov. 19:20).
What is Christian Counseling? It is a style of psychotherapy which is both respectful to the person's specific religious beliefs, and also draws from the strengths of the client's faith. Christian Counseling uses the powerful Scriptures, tradition, experience, theology, and metaphors of the Judeo-Christian tradition to help people address important problems in their lives.
In the past, counselors were trained in counseling methods that were at best neutral towards people's faith, and at worst, antagonistic. Over the years, this has changed, as the healing power, resources, and strength of spirituality has been recognized more often by those in the counseling professions. Many people seek specifically Christian counseling because they want psychotherapy which is consistent with their own beliefs and ethics. They may also want to avoid therapy that is not supportive of their faith.
There are different schools of thought about how to define Christian Counseling. These range from an approach in which all counseling precepts are rooted directly in the Bible, to a school of thought which states that counseling should be a mix of Christian traditions with modern counseling techniques.
It's important to differentiate between Nouthetic Counselors (now branded as Christian Counselors), and Pastoral Counselors. Nouthetic counselors are counselors who have been trained to provide counsel solely from Scripture. Oftentimes they are not licensed by the state. They oftentimes do not have formal training in known, standardized and evidence based (meaning strongly researched) psychotherapy techniques. Some people may be more comfortable with this approach. However, an argument could be made that a better approach would be to seek a licensed therapist trained in pastoral counseling who is a Christian or who is very familiar with Christianity. Pastoral Counseling is a method of counseling that incorporates theological perspectives, Scripture, and awareness of discernment issues with evidence based psychotherapeutic techniques. The term "Christian counseling," then, can be confusing. For the purposes of this article, "Christian counseling" is defined as pastoral counseling which integrates a pastoral approach with psychotherapeutic techniques, so that no one may be confused about what is offered at Psych Choices.
There are other fields which are related to Christian Counseling, but are not necessarily the same. These include services provided by religious leaders such as pastors and priests, and those provided by spiritual directors. Pastors and priests can be great sources of counsel, and they also can provide other supports such as sacraments, but they usually are not specifically trained to do counseling per se, except on a limited basis. Spiritual directors work with people specifically on enhancing their spiritual lives, kind of like a spiritual wellness coach. Some pastors or priests or spiritual directors may be trained in a counseling field, but others are not, and it is important that the consumer be aware of the difference.
A Christian Counseling session is similar to a regular counseling session, but it draws on spiritual practices and metaphors more than one would usually find in a regular counseling session. Specific methods may vary. The client and the therapist may decide, for example, that part of the session be devoted to prayer specific to addressing the client's problems. Scripture or Scripture-related imagery or metaphors may be used. Fundamentally, the therapeutic relationship is seen as not a dyad of therapist and client, but as a triad of therapist, client, and God. The therapist and client work together to discover how God is at work in resolving the problem and giving it meaning.
In good Christian counseling, the client feels that he or she has a voice in determining the extent and limits of the use of spirituality-based counseling that is provided in the session. Also, the client is not told how to run his/her life according to religious principles, but the client is given the space to explore how to live out their own life in accord with their own religious principles, while being mindful of how those principles have been interpreted over the centuries. In other words, they are invited to "continue to work out (their) salvation with fear and trembling" (Phillippians 2:12).
We have at present two Christian Counselors at Psych Choices. Mr. Nate Prentice, who wrote this article, has a degree and license in clinical social work and has completed a certificate in Pastoral Counseling. Pastoral Counseling is the masters degree equivalent certification held by Pastoral Counselors who already have a masters degree in another mental health field. Ms. Kathryn Dobbs has a masters degree in Pastoral Counseling. Both attended Neumann College for their graduate work in Christian, or Pastoral, Counseling.
Both of these therapists are happy to work with clients on many issues and will not be using a pastoral or Christian counseling approach with everyone, but only with those who request it or who prefer to work in this way. Both believe that Scripture can be used as long as it is interpreted in context, and believe in the use of modern counseling methods as well.
Christian counseling at Psych Choices will be marked with an acceptance of the child of God who comes for help as she/he is, with an encouragement to use the best of religion and spirituality to help them move out of the pit and the miry clay of their presenting problems, and onto the rock of a relationship with the God they encounter as they are pulled out (Ps. 40:2). Christian counseling, done in a gentle, supportive manner, it will be with the aim of helping the person to simultaneously move out of problems and into a closer relationship with God and a better understanding of the larger meanings of their problems and solutions.If you have further questions about Christian Counseling, please feel free to contact us at 610-626-8085.