“Christian” and “Counseling”

How do these fit together?

christian counseling

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I recently completed an interview for several of my graduate students about my perspectives on the integration of faith and counseling. I think my answer to one of the questions is something some of my readers might appreciate.

Question: How do you distinguish between secular counseling, Christian counseling, pastoral counseling, and biblical counseling?

Secular Counseling

For me there’s no such thing as secular counseling. I’m not capable of doing it because God is always in my perspective, even if I don’t share that with the client, and oftentimes I won’t, depending on where the client is coming from. I don’t feel any need to make this part of therapy if it doesn’t speak to the client.

Christian Counseling

The most important word in “Christian counseling” is “counseling,” not Christian. In other words, if a therapist is good, sensitive, caring, and intuitive, they can do enormously healing work (which I believe is the work of God). This is true whether or not the therapist acknowledges God in this work. So being a good counselor comes first. If that’s taken care of, the work can be incredible.

The “Christian” thing is a distant second.

Any client should seek a good therapist before seeking a Christian therapist. If they can find a therapist who is both good and Christian, that’s fine.

In my view God is in the act of healing all of creation at this very moment and every human being as part of that creation. Healing is on the way, in process, a given, something that will happen naturally, in God’s ordained order, if we learn how to get out of our own way and let it happen (which all good therapy helps us do, Christian or not).

Healing was a huge factor in the ministry of Jesus, who healed, but usually did not heal and preach at the same time. Healing was his ministry in those moments. He didn’t angle. He didn’t “integrate.” He just acted, in God, from a place of faith, confident that healing was inevitable from that place. I do my work from that place.

Biblical Counseling

When I think of “Biblical counseling” I think of the “nouthetic” counseling movement. NC insists that the Bible contains everything human beings need to know about psychology and uses it as their sole source book. I see this as fundamentalist, deeply flawed, and therefore dangerous.

Pastoral Counseling

I see pastoral counseling kind of like spiritual direction. I help people discern where God is moving/working in their lives, and how they may be getting in the way. I help them work through personal issues that may be affecting their spiritual life or vice versa. Anyone who has read the work of the Desert Fathers and Mothers knows they came up with many psychological insights out of their spiritual communities that were confirmed by studies in the 20th century.

The best spirituality is often psychological and the best psychology is often spiritual.

The Reality That Is Making Me More Liberal (theologically)

Crowd of People -- working with people

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People who don’t work with people day in and day out, in the trenches of their lives, can afford to philosophize about people, to make up abstractions, and talk about the rightness/wrongness of people in philosophical terms, holding people up to their abstractions and deciding who fits and who is lacking and how so.

But in all my years working with people, for example, I’ve never seen “homosexuality.” Never once.

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Things You Should Know About Therapy, prt. 2

things you should know about therapy -- guy talking to psychiatrist

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Therapy may often feel ineffective

When you go to counseling, chances are good you will expect it to be something other than it is. Some people expect very little to happen. Others expect it to “fix” their problems. Many people think therapy is about getting “advice.”

But therapy is unique. It’s not like talking to your mother-in-law, or seeing a doctor who will fix you.

You go into therapy with certain beliefs about who you are and how the world works, or should work. Chances are good some of these beliefs are flawed, unreasonable, even downright wrong, and that is probably why the actions you take based on those beliefs doesn’t work. 

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Five things to do when you enter counseling

counseling

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I have written posts previously about counseling myths, how to spot a bad counselor, and my “full immersion” approach to counseling (as a client). In this post I want to help you get through the first few weeks of counseling.

1. Celebrate what you have done, and keep at it

Once you have taken that step and called to make your first appointment, realize how far you have already come. Think how unwilling you probably were not long ago to even consider counseling, much less believe you actually might benefit from it! It is this openness that will be the main factor in the progress you will continue to make, and you have already seen it in action. Hang onto that openness.

2. Do your paperwork

I have heard people say, “I didn’t do anything in my first session but answer questions and fill out forms.” If a counselor mails or emails you some paperwork to do, do it as thoroughly and conscientiously as possible and bring it with you to the session. Consider asking if you can scan and email it to the counselor in advance. Attend to this formality and it will be more more likely that you will be able to jump quickly into what is bothering you, perhaps even in the first session. If your counselor insists on spending the first session or two on intake (questions, paperwork, your psychological and perhaps medical history, etc.), that is okay.

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A (Virtually) Guaranteed Way to Save/Improve Your Marriage

couple silhouettePhoto courtesy of Gregory Jordan, under Creative Commons License

Marriage research has come a long way in the last twenty years. Therapists used to try to save marriages by helping couples improve their communication and conflict resolution skills. Indeed, this is still what many therapists are doing to help marriages improve. The problem is, we now know that this is not effective.

While we know that couples in happy marriages usually communicate and resolve conflict well, it turns out that is not why their marriages are happy. Their marriages are happy because they enjoy the time they spend together. Likewise, you will not fix your marriage by going to therapy and working on communication and conflict resolution skills. You will fix your marriage by learning  to have fun together.  

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