Somehow in the development of the Christian counseling field a spectrum formed, with counselors using only the Bible on one end and counselors using only principles of psychology on the other end. The primary focus seems to be on the content of what the counselor uses in the counseling session. Some believe that if you use any “content” containing ideas or practices not found in the Bible that it is not “Christian Counseling.” Others believed that if you are a Christian, it is ok to use primarily psychological principles, and that ethically the counselor has a responsibility to not mix “religious” beliefs with the work of counseling.
My husband works in the field of worship leadership, and I have often heard him (and others in his field) refer to the “worship wars.” In past years I think the Christian counseling spectrum could be referred to as the “Christian counseling wars.” It was almost as if parties at each end of the spectrum considered those who thought and practiced differently than them as enemies. It is easy to begin to describe others who are different than we are, or who think differently than we do, as our enemies. Yet, it is obvious in the Scriptures that God values “variation” or “difference.” I do think it is only fair for me to identify that I see myself in the middle of this spectrum, seeking to use both biblical principles (always the ultimate authority), as well as psychological principles that are consistent with the biblical principles.
When I look at creation, I am amazed at how God created such variety—whether in the incredible assortment of the color green one sees in the grasses and trees, or in the curious differences in the length, circumference, design of the necks of all the animals of creation. When I consider how each human God has created is uniquely formed and developed, it is beyond my capacity to comprehend how much God truly loves variety! Yet, in our fallen nature, it seems that we tend to desire the opposite. We think everyone should be like us, have the same preferences we have, and think like us.
I am thankful in recent years the “Counseling wars” seem to be dying out and there is more receptivity to understanding the value of counselors from all places on the spectrum of differences. My purpose today is not to analyze the differences between Christian counselors of all stripes. There have been many books written already analyzing this topic, so other than a few comments, I will not write a lot about this topic.
I do believe there are actually a variety of “spectrums” that could be identified in the field of Christian counseling. It is not just all about “content.” I would like to suggest at least three different “continuums” in the field of Christian counseling. All three continuums are interrelated and have an impact on each other. These are not exhaustive, but three continuums that I have noted include:
Content of Counseling:
Counselors using only Scripture VS Counselors using psychological principles
Area of Calling:
Discipleship Counseling VS Clinical Work
Character of Counselor
Not exhibiting the character of Christ VS Exhibiting the Character of Christ
Content of Counseling:
This is the area that has probably received the most attention in the “counseling wars.” The differences in this continuum primarily center around whether the use of principles of psychology is biblical or not. At one end of this continuum are those who believe only direct content from the Bible should be used in Christian counseling, with the belief that counseling rarely has anything to do with biological changes within a person, and more to do with the choices the person makes(sin). At the other end of the continuum are those who primarily use principles of human behavior, whether developed as theoretical models of behavior coming from observed conduct, or behavior that is the result of brain activity inferred from neurological science. Theoretical models would include a long list of theorists such as Freud, Beck, or deSchazer. Neurological science has increasingly produced more and more data about the brain and how it functions . Current theorists in this area (Daniel Siegel, J. Schwartz, Cozolino, etc.) are weaving neurological data into theories concerning human responses, attitudes, and mental/ emotional health and diseases.
There have been multitudes of books written about the “counseling wars,” often called the “integration of psychology and theology.” It is not my intention to rehash all writers have written on this subject. (A few examples would include Narramore, McMinn, Coe, Jones, and Johnson). In recent years it seems there has been a reduction in the “war” part of integration, and the two extremes are attempting to understand each other a little more, and to accept that it is acceptable to have differences in opinion. Acceptance of the need to respond to clients in a holistic manner appears to be increasing on the part of individuals from each end of the continuum. God created humankind with both a body and a spirit, and a truly biblical approach will never separate the two. Learning all that can be learned about the brain and how it functions, and the impact of both the genetic inheritance and environmental influence on patterns of behavior and emotional response is important, just as learning how God and His Holy Spirit transforms the mind and spirit of a man is important. (For more on this topic see the posts titled “Brain Research and Scripture” ,Parts 1, 2, and 3)
There is so much to study and learn both in the Bible and in the sciences if I want to truly glorify God and have my “tools” sharpened to allow God to work through me in helping hurting people. For this reason, I have come to the conclusion I don’t really have time to focus on the differences in what I do and practice and what someone else does and practices who resides at a different place on this continuum. I do not say this to disparage or diminish in any way those who have written about this topic. There have been some thorough and very thoughtful works written about these differences, and I am thankful for the time and effort various authors have expended. But I believe it is time we broaden our understanding of our differences, and the validity of those differences. It is not just “content” that is important in what we do as godly counselors.
In the next post we will think more about how the content of Christian counseling is related to godly counseling.