Thursday, March 22, 2012

Godly Counseling

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.


  1. Great writing. Great thinking and expression of it. Thank you. I personally prefer a simple "Christian-based Occam Razor" approach beginning at 60,000 ft, then 30,000ft, then etc with basic First Stage Filters before getting down into the weeds with Bible-believing Christians. I love your writing and thought process so far. I will continue to read. I get frightened when I see counselors jump first into low level and "weeds" layers first while skipping major First Stage Filters. I will be looking for First Stage Filter in upcoming blogs: (1) Is there a truly medical mental illness? If so, did prayer for healing fail? If no prayer, try it (If God does NOT heal within a reasonable time period, then considered it a failed approach. If it failed, go directly to a COMPETENT psychiatrist for critically needed help (If patient expressed suicidal ideation, pray on the way to an emergency room!); add COMPETENT psychological counseling when the patient regains stable thought--but not until then; best if these professionals are also Christian if available; (2) If no medical mental illness, insist on a getting a full written chronological history (including family of origin stuff) from the patient with a focus on the patient's chief complaint(s) and then immediately look for significant past offenses for which Matt 18 forgiveness process may be legitimate and ask, "Was Jesus' directive followed? Yes or No?" If not, do that first before initiating a circuitous, complex, multi-month, "theory-based" and costly process knowing that Jesus' forgiveness solution is often "probably correct" when major offenses are involved (although not always--which is where professional psychological counseling seems warranted--but not until this is first explored. "Minor and moderate offenses" should NOT require the Matt 18 process--rather, simple teaching & learning about forgiveness and then implementing it and learning how to overlook imperfections/family squabbles among humans (i.e., minor/moderate offenses: "fuhget about it!" [pardon my humor here]) can be done by Christian counselors and pastors without costly psychotherapy. However, if the patient does not respond to such a REQUIRED process above, then and only then, pursuit of the NON-Simpler routes should be considered. And, yes, if the patient is Christian, s/he should insist upon the holistic approach using Christ-centered professional counselors almost exclusively if available--due to the cross-purposes/cross-philosophy issues. I also feel that a truly professional psychological counselor is sensitive to cost issues and therefore insists upon completion of comprehensive forms by the patient that pull out almost the entire history "off the clock." Gathering such basic info in expensive counseling sessions is thoughtless/unfair/insensitive/unprofessional for MOST clients. ---Anyway, I look forward to reading more of your work. Again, thank you for your blog! This topic coverage is very much needed these days with such poor outcomes/results published in the counseling professional and lay literature. Keep it up Dr. Kathy!

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