As mental health is more and more of a concern for people, there are more and more options available. In my area alone, one can choose from a mental health clinic, a private therapist, a therapy group, etc. And for Christians, these choices double. You can choose pastoral counseling, Biblical counseling, or even lay counseling. In a description of Christian counseling, it is important to define all of these others as well.
Secular (non-Christian) Counseling: This is what most people think of when they think of counseling. Secular counseling is based on psychology theory to assess, treat and understand human behavior. You can explore issues of faith here, but your counselor may not have personal knowledge of your faith.
Pastoral or Biblical Counseling: Often pastoral counseling involves meeting with a pastor or church elder to receive counsel. This often includes reading through scripture and applying it to a current situation or concern. Pastors usually do not have specifically training to deal with more serious mental health concerns.
Lay Counseling: In my area (western ny), lay counseling refers to individual members of a church who have some training to apply Biblical principles and scripture to your current concerns or situations. This is similar to a mentoring relationship. They are not trained to deal with more serious mental health concerns.
OK, so what is Christian Counseling?
In my view, Christian counseling provides the best of both worlds. Your counseling is provided by a trained professional. This means your therapist would be trained to deal with a crisis (such as active suicidal thoughts), know how to handle your confidential information, and have scientifically proven, evidence-based treatment to meet your needs effectively.
It also means that your therapist is a Christian. They share your worldview, developed from the truth laid out in the Bible. Christian values and principles dictate how they interact with you. They know and can incorporate scripture, prayer, and other Christian practices into sessions. Also, they personally know the struggles that can come from living the Christian life.
Why would I choose a Christian counselor?
Sometimes, going to counseling means putting yourself in a vulnerable place. It often prompts you to be honest and share things that you may rarely share with others. For this reason, I encourage people to be very picky with their therapist. It helps to feel comfortable with the person you are talking to. Here are some reasons a Christian therapist might be your best choice:
- Professionally trained to address mental health concerns
- They share your values and belief system
- You can discuss concerns within the context of a Christian faith
- They have personal knowledge of applying faith to life issues
- They have knowledge of scripture and Biblical principles to apply to your current concerns
Just because a Christian counselor is a Christian, this does not mean that you will have to pray in sessions, only look at scripture to address your current problem, or even talk about faith at all. For Christians, it may simply be the comfort of opening up to someone who shares your worldview. For those who are not a Christian, the professional therapist will meet you where you are. You can explore your own faith, or not talk about faith at all while discussing your concerns. It simply allows you the option to explore your current concerns in the context of a Christian environment.
I’d love to hear from you. What are your thoughts about seeing a Christian counselor? What questions do you still have? Please leave them in the comments below.
Erica K. Cieri, LCSW is a therapist and trainer at Made to Thrive in Williamsville, NY. She specializes in working with kids, teens and college students dealing with anxiety, behavior problems, tough relationships and difficulty managing their emotions. She collaborates with her clients to develop strategies to manage their current issues, but also to discover long term how to find peace. Erica can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.