“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.

Game-Changers

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When I was younger, I had a lot of answers. Now I’m older, and I have a lot of questions. The few things I feel like I know, I know with more confidence than before. Here are things I know from experiences I have had that have radically changed my view of God over the years — my real game-changers.

Most people who get diagnosed with terminal cancer are almost certainly going to die.

No matter how much you pray.

If you’re not aware of this on some level, I’m so, so sorry to bear the bad news. But it’s critical that you know this.

There will be exceptions, of course, and I’ll pray as hard as anyone, but if your theology depends on God healing some particular person, this is probably going to get harder.

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Words Give You Away

Words give you away. A week or so ago I posted something on Facebook to encourage people who fear that God has been removed from our schools. That post got more likes and shares and “thank you’s” than anything else I’ve ever put on Facebook. When one of my friends shared it to his Facebook wall, he got a reaction I could never have anticipated.

A guy started quibbling with the theology, “Is David saying that all of these people worried about God not being in schools do not believe in God’s omnipresence?” Stupidly, I took the bait, and quite the lively and completely pointless back-and-forth ensued, though we both remained very courteous. His point was that I’m missing what people truly intend when they complain that God has been taken out of schools. What people actually mean, he said, is not that God has been removed, but that God is no longer openly acknowledged. My friendly opponent argued that I was quibbling over a “Freudian slip,” that people don’t actually mean it like it sounds. But it’s not a Freudian slip. Freudian slips are accidental. They do not keep “slipping” out of people’s mouths the same way over and over and over again.

My response was, and is, that people nearly always say pretty much what they believe. In fact, your words actually belie what you really believe. Words give you away. If you say, “God is no longer in our schools,” you don’t mean only that “while God is certainly present in a theological sense, he is no longer openly acknowledged.” You in fact mean that the lack of acknowledgement of God’s presence in schools makes you feel that God is no longer there at all.

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Anxiety RX

 

prescription pad rx

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Below is a typical response I give to religious people who are struggling with anxiety and write asking for guidance. They tend to feel as if taking medication is a cop-out and that prayer should be able to completely alleviate the problem. The thing is, in a person without clinically significant anxiety, prayer and other spiritual exercises will probably go a long way toward resolving the problem. In people who have struggled for years and tried approaches of all kinds, spiritual approaches will probably not do the trick either, and this will often leave the person feeling guilty and as if his/her faith is questionable.

I know this will sound strange to hear from a pastor, but I recommend spiritual approaches in moderation. The reason is because so many of us today have been conditioned to use spiritual approaches as a kind of bludgeon, where we feel unspiritual and out of sorts if we can’t fix the problem through prayer, etc. When spiritual approaches help us find, face, and follow truth, and when they help us love and accept ourselves for who we are (just as God does), they are valuable. When they dictate to us lists of musts and shoulds and lay more burdens on us, they just become one more thing to worry about, and that’s the last thing you need. If the spiritual stuff is oppressing you and making you feel bad right now, drop it for the time being and pursue other approaches. Spirituality is a really powerful tool, but just like any tool, if we don’t know how to use it properly it can be very dangerous. In other words, if you notice that every time you swing a hammer you hit yourself on the head, I’d suggest leaving hammers alone for a while.

As far as how you should be relying on your faith, there are a lot of things you should be doing. You should avoid most red meat, not drink soda, work out 45 minutes a day, take a multivitamin every day, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, never waste time at work, etc. The fact is, almost nobody is capable of doing everything we are told we should be doing. We take that same inability with us into our spiritual lives. You simply cannot, right now, be a person who gives all this over to God. If you could, you’d have already done it. Start there, with the reality of your powerlessness. Having seen that, don’t jump right into “Yes, but by God’s power…” That’s simply not true for you right now. At some point, by the power of God, perhaps you’ll do a lot of things, but we tend to want to acknowledge our powerlessness only long enough to declare God’s power working in us so that we can effectively be powerful again.  

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God’s Love, prt. 4

No wonder we suffer from the spiritual schizophrenia we do in the church. No wonder the history of the church is full of outright atrocities, committed in the name of Jesus, prince of peace and Lord of Love. These spring directly from human beings who ultimately don’t know whether they are loved or hated, and from the difficulty of living in love. When we come to know the depth of God’s love for us, and that we are secure in that love not just for this life but for all eternity (a la Paul in Romans 8, and all through Philippians), we then have something to stand on other than threat of punishment. We then can find ourselves loving others for the right reasons — not out of fear for them, or for ourselves, but because we have finally found what we have always searched for — love that is truly unconditional, that never changes, in which there is truly no shadow of turning.

Good parents know there is nothing more important to our children’s development than their knowing beyond all question, suspicion, and doubt, that their parents always will what is best for them, that mom and dad will never under any possible circumstance, inflict suffering upon them that is unredemptive. People can say all they want about God’s sovereignty and mystery, and the importance of trusting in God, but whether you are in relationship with God or with a human being, you do not cease being human. Humans, in order to function healthily, need to know they can trust those who say they love them, and this includes every single personal being in relationship to them, whether other human beings, Martians, God, or hobbits. If God is going to harm you beyond any hope of redemption, you cannot trust him, and you cannot help that. God made you to shy away from people and situations you cannot trust. As long as you believe God is willing to punish you beyond all hope of redemption, you will ultimately struggle to trust him, and that is not lack of faith on your part.

The gospel I preach at Wildwind Church starts not in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but in Psalm 139. That plants our minds and hearts in fertile soil in which we can begin to imagine that we are truly loved, beyond any and all ability for us to screw up. Then we read the rest of the Biblical text and God’s love is apparent to us. In places in scripture where God is loveless, we realize the writers, too, are struggling to imagine this love (some of the verses toward the end of Psalm 139 are a perfect example of this). We have to make a choice here and that’s why I wrote http://davidkflowers.com/2012/07/right-and-wrong/. We’re scared to death to make that choice. Yet we must.

In this series of posts on God’s love, I have not dealt with any of the implications of what I believe about the love of God. What does this mean about salvation? Where is the need for Jesus? What is the purpose/point of evangelism? Am I a universalist? I will take on those questions in a future series, but I am going to give theology a rest for a while. It has been a long series, and fairly heavy, at least for people who are not accustomed to digging into theology.

Question: What does God’s love mean to you? How far will God’s love ultimately reach?