If you are looking for counseling, you might be wondering what is exactly meant by the term “Christian counseling.” There are some obvious implications, namely that the counselor herself is a Christian and secondarily that the counseling will involve some Christian themes and Christian ethics, but otherwise the phrase can be somewhat ambiguous. What type of counseling is implied by the phrase? What origins does this form of counseling claim? What are the goals of Christian counseling? What actually happens in the room with a “Christian counselor?” How is that different from what may happen in the counseling room with a professional counselor who doesn’t ascribe to the same belief system, or to someone who describes himself as a “biblical counselor?”
I’d like to devote this post to answering the first two questions, which are the more theoretical components to the larger question “What is Christian counseling?”
In its simplest form, Christian counseling applies the truths of Christian theology and the truths of psychology to people’s problems. Because our suffering and struggling often holds spiritual, emotional, behavioral, and biological origins, the solutions to our issues are derived from all of these disciplines. We would do clients a disservice to see problems in a singular way as purely spiritual or purely biological. Compartmentalizing aspects of our humanity as either sacred or secular is an unrealistic way of understanding the human condition. Instead, we are multi-faceted creatures and thus, a multi-faceted approach is required. This does not imply that God is left out of some areas while He is incorporated in others. Rather, if all things are from him, through him, and to him” (Romans 11:36), He is just as present in the application of psychological tools for healing as He is in the articulation of biblical truth. In Christian counseling, there is a belief that all truth is God’s truth, including the truths contained in Scripture and the truths present in the world God so sovereignly created. I am borrowing from David Entwistle’s Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity here when he comments
“If we understand that all of what God created was good, then we must avoid creating an artificial separation between that which is sacred and every facet of life” (p. 9-10).
So the key word for anyone who self-designates as a Christian counselor is “integration.” In Christian counseling, there is a conscious effort to integrate the insights of rigorous psychological science with the timeless truths of the Bible and basic tenets of Christian theology, both in how we understand people and how we understand problems and their solutions. According to Stanton L. Jones (2010) in Psychology and Christianity: Five Views,
“Integration means approaching the discipline and profession of psychology with a commitment to having one’s Christian convictions shape every aspect of one’s work. Because Scripture and the accumulated wisdom of the church in theology leave many areas of uncertainty in understanding and helping humanity, we approach psychology expecting that we can learn and grow through our engagement with it. Because all psychology is infused and shaped by metaphysical and moral presuppositions, we also expect that we may need to modify and reshape what we learn from psychology in light of our Christian beliefs” (p. 125-126).
In this way, Christian counseling derives its origins from God’s word as well as evidence-based practices that have been proven effective for those struggling with all manner of problematic behaviors, faulty thinking, out-of-control emotions, etc.
Now for the last question: Toward what ends? The goal of Christian counseling is to partner with God in His work of bringing restoration and healing to all areas of a client’s life as we move toward the new heaven and new earth waiting for us (Revelation 21). It is holistic and follows God’s vision of restoring every facet of creation: mind, body, soul. This is God’s Kingdom coming to bear on earth. Christian counseling is not merely interested in making a client feel better, although this is helpful and often happens. On the other hand, the profession is not focused only on helping a client grow in their Christian faith, although this is beautiful and often occurs alongside other forms of growth. Instead, the goal is to see authentic healing in the deepest areas of our being; to see broken responses, ways of thinking and relating, patterns, etc. restored to what God originally intended them to be. This is the vision of Christian counseling.