The Difference Between a Christian Counselor and a Counselor Who is Christian

Should you work with a Christian counselor?

Or should you work with a counselor who is a Christian?

The label of Christian counseling* may not be as descriptive as some may think. This label covers a vast group of professionals/volunteers. For example, church-based counselors may not have “professional” training.

Some do, some don’t.

They may be pastors, trained counselors, paid, or volunteer. Some church-based counselors may be skeptical of “secular” methods/solutions, so they reject anything outside of the implementation of prayer and Scripture. Nouthetic counseling fits into this category, as do many Charismatic counselors.

For example, some Christian counselors see the use of mood stabilizing drugs as modern day sorcery.

(The Greek word for sorcery is pharmakeuō, from which the word pharmacy is derived.)

Ironically, many of the ideas and techniques originally developed by secular thinkers have been utilized by Christian counselors—consciously or subconsciously.

(Bonus points if you get that nerdy insider psychology joke.)

Ideas such as “denial”, “projection”, “transference/counter-transference”, etc. are uncontroversial, even to Christian/Biblical counselors. They sometimes take for granted that their techniques were developed by secular, even atheist, thinkers!

For example, a friend of mine recently said that he doesn’t see the need for anything more than reading the Bible and praying when we “have problems.”

I asked him where in Scripture he got this from, and he said, “James chapter 5. You know, where it talks about if someone has problems to have the elders pray over him and anoint him with oil.”

I asked him if he ever goes to a doctor for physical problems. Of course, he does. To him, this is not controversial, nor a violation of his faith. For some reason, he doesn’t view the field of psychology with the scientific respect that he gives to traditional medical doctors.

I pointed out that James 5 is actually talking about a physical/medical problem!

If legalistic consistency was his goal, he was actually going against the advice of Scripture by going to an M.D. for a medical problem.

Taken literally (and I would argue out of context), if someone breaks their leg skiing in Colorado, they technically should go to their church elders for prayer and oil…..not the doctor’s office.

Now, obviously, no one actually does this. Interesting!

It’s a good thing to question your assumptions, because they reveal the premises that you base your conclusions off of.

Some therapists who also happen to be Christians avoid the aforementioned labels.

They are employed in secular settings and see that their faith and vocation are two completely separate realms. They do not attempt to mix them.

Just as a plumber who goes to church doesn’t advertise himself as a Christian plumber, they do not see a relevant connection between Christianity and counseling.

In a hypothetical Venn diagram, there is zero overlap between their faith and their work.

This would be done for any variety of reasons, but there are many that fall into this category. There is another approach to this realm that may appear to fall into this category, but in reality comes from a very different place.

This different approach is “missional” in that we, as believers, are fully prepared, in-season and out of season, to give a reason for the hope that lies within (1 Peter 3:15).

We do not need a label of Christian Counselor to validate anything! It is not something to be “branded.” A Christian plumber is no better than a regular plumber. A Christian gym is no better than a regular gym. The existence of these labels doesn’t mean that professionals lacking the Christian adjective are automatically “secular.”

Where does it end?

Should we have Christian movie theaters, Christian coffee shops, Christian car dealerships? It’s a slippery slope of isolationism. Jesus did not call us to hide ourselves from the world, but to actively engage with it!

We can fully immerse ourselves in our field while fully immersing ourselves in our Lord; not by compartmentalizing these separately, but rather unabashedly and unashamedly letting them run together.

We approach our secular peers with neither arrogance nor insecurity. We drop the “agenda” and let the Lord show up on his terms, not our prescribed terms or specifically scripted approach. We loosen up and allow ourselves to be the therapist that God has designed and called us to be.

It’s the individual (therapist) that is the Christian. The method is not “Christian” if it is delivered in any other way other than with love. Without love it is nothing and gains nothing. Our obligation is to fully (intellectually and academically) embrace and know our realm with no reservations knowing that God is over all.

We have nothing to fear. As we approach others, they are getting the full “us,” not a scripted version. We can work in any setting, Christian or secular, but we will consistently be the same person and professional no matter the context.

Our integrity, consistency, and professionalism is what will attract others to us, not our words or artificially spiritual labels.

This takes a deeper level of openness, honesty, and commitment to our field. These individuals would also approach their faith and spiritual growth with the same dedication and integrity.

It’s all part of the whole, not separate wholes of secular vs. sacred, but the sanctified work through the individual therapist.

This takes more courage than slapping a “Christian” label on the business and calling it good.

In summary, I espouse the missional model as ultimately, not only the best approach, but the necessary next step for therapists to embrace in a post-modern/post-Christian, “prove it” culture. The old methods and categories no longer effectively apply, but God’s truth is and always will be the only effective healing solution.

 

-Dan

 

*use of the term Christian Counseling here includes those that prefer to be identified as Biblical Counselors.

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