Published on July 23rd, 2013 | by Kristen Kansiewicz
What Is Christian Counseling?
If you are a Christian, you may feel that you would like to find a therapist who shares your faith. When you hear the words “Christian counseling,” what comes to mind?
Words like “Christian,” “therapy,” “counseling,” and “psychology” have been applied to a variety of methods, ideologies, and settings. Even among those in the non-religious mental health world, these terms do not have one specific definition, as there are many techniques and theories in existence. The church you attend may have different definitions for all of these words than the church down the street. As a result, the kind of help Christians receive under the name “Christian counseling” varies widely.
Depending on your background, you might imagine a private practice setting with a Christian who is not connected to your church other than by referral. In that setting, you might talk about your problems and the counselor might listen. She may or may not offer feedback. Depending on her style, she may or may not explore your childhood. You might work with her for a few months or a few years.
On the other hand, you might be more familiar with what some would call “biblical counseling,” a more brief process (8-16 sessions) usually done by a pastor. This type of counseling is focused on confronting sin in love and using only the Bible to produce specific change through the Holy Spirit. Pastors trained in this approach reject most or all psychology due to its humanistic philosophies.
So what IS Christian counseling? And how do you, as a person of faith suffering with emotional pain, go about finding the help that is right for you? The first step is to know yourself. Are you more comfortable talking to someone in your church or someone outside your church? Would you prefer speaking with a man or a woman, your pastor or a licensed therapist? Do you hope to see someone for just a few sessions, or do you feel you are going to need time to unpack all that you are feeling?
Once you know what you are most comfortable with, explore your options. If there are multiple pastors at your church, and you’d like to see one of them, ask about their availability. If you prefer to see a licensed therapist, you may want to ask your pastor if there is a Christian practice nearby. If you feel your pastor is opposed to counseling that includes psychology training or may not have a referral, New Life Ministries (1-800-NEW-LIFE) maintains nationwide referral lists in the U.S.
Costs are also a consideration, as most outside practices will take insurance or have a sliding scale fee while your pastor would likely see you for free. However, receiving the kind of help that is right for you with worth paying for.
You can and should make a few phone calls and possibly meet with two or three people before deciding who is best for you. If you want to shop around (and you are fortunate enough to have more than one choice in your area), be sure to mention this to the pastor or therapist so they understand you want to see them once before you decide. Some may only allow a phone consultation for billing reasons or they may offer a consultation session that you pay for out of pocket prior to making your decision.
You may want to ask some of the following questions:
- How long have you been in practice?
- What types of people do you work best with?
- Do you offer advice and feedback or do you focus mainly on just listening?
- Do you pray or read from the Bible during our sessions?
- What is your training and view on psychology?
- How many sessions do you typically have with a client or parishioner?
- Do you focus on the specific problem I bring in the here and now, or do you explore the past?
It is important to be open with the pastor or counselor about your preferences, as some may use a variety of methods depending on what you need and want.
There are also some emerging alternatives within the realm of Christian counseling that increase the accessibility of services. Skype counseling is gaining momentum within the Christian counseling realm. If you are overseas, this may be an option if you have a connection with a counselor in the States.
Another newly emerging model is one in which a church hires a licensed counselor to practice in and for the church. This is the model my pastor and I have built at our church, and we are in the process of helping others learn about and adopt this model. For more information and thoughts on this model, you are welcome to connect with me on Twitter (@ChurchTherapist) or email me at newhope @ ecic-lynn . com (without the spaces).