What is Christian Counseling?
Christian counseling, also known as biblical counseling or Christian psychology, combines your faith with the principles of psychology to improve your mental health and relationships. More specifically, this therapy approach uses scripture and biblical teachings to help you deal with life’s challenges.
The truth is, when you are in the midst of troubling life events like the death of a loved one or pet, the loss of a job, declining health, financial problems, and/or relationship issues, a strong and resilient faith may be just what is missing from your life.
The ultimate goal of Christian counseling is to help Christians identify behaviors that are inconsistent with God’s teachings, so they can become more accepting of God’s will – even when it’s not their will. Christian counselors believe that the bible is the ultimate guide on how people, especially Christians, should think and behave. In other words, they view this holy book as the one and only truth.
How Did Christian Counseling Begin?
The root of Christian counseling lies within biblical accounts. Jay E. Adams, the founder of the Biblical Counseling Movement, discussed this faith-based approach to treating mental health conditions, relationship/adjustment issues, trauma, emotional distress, abuse, addiction, etc., in his novel, Competent to Counsel.
This approach was quite controversial because it differed from the more popular therapy approaches of the time. But, by the late 1960s and 1970s, this new form of counseling took off only to later become one of the most popular therapy options for Christians, and those who want to include their faith in the therapy process.
In 1968, the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation was formed to provide present-day and future Christian counselors with guidelines on how to properly treat those seeking a faith-based therapy approach.
It is important to keep in mind that counselors not only have to adhere to the fundamental values and beliefs of the Bible, but also follow the guidelines and ethical rules of the law, DSM-V, and the APA (American Psychological Association).
Who Can Practice Christian Counseling?
Psychologists of any specialty, counselors, pastors, reverends, religious leaders, clinical social workers, etc. can practice Christian counseling, however, they must have a master’s degree or Ph.D. in counseling, psychology, Christian counseling, or another mental health discipline in order to treat people. They must also be licensed to practice or provide counseling to clients.
However, an individual, who would like to provide Christian counseling to others, but only has a bachelor degree may still be able to practice by graduating from a Christian counseling certificate program. This program teaches future Christian counselors how to properly use the basic principles of the Bible in the counseling sessions, the importance of family therapy, and how to help clients get the maximum benefit out of rehabilitative counseling.
What Issues Do Christian Counselors Address?
The goal of Christian counselors is to use faith-based principles and psychological instruction to help people better manage and/or resolve any issues in their lives. More specifically, these mental health professionals not only assess, diagnose, and treat mental illnesses, they also teach clients coping skills, so they can better adjust to any changes that may occur in their lives.
What Are Some Goals of Christian Counseling?
As mentioned above Christian counselors treat a wide variety of issues, so clients set a wide range of goals, ranging from adjustment issues to mental illnesses.
Listed below are some of the most common issues and goals of counseling:
Conquering Marital Problems
Christian counseling places a great deal of value on the sacrament of marriage. When a couple enters a marriage, they are making a commitment to love and honor one another for life. In the Christian faith, divorce is not seen as an option, so couples are encouraged to work through any problems together in marital counseling, rather than giving up on their marriages.
The truth is, many problems can occur in a marriage. These problems can, in effect, have a serious impact on the relationship. Some common marital issues include infidelity, communication problems, loss of intimacy, addiction, and conflicts. Therefore, the purpose of Christian counseling is to help couples repair their damaged relationships.
Coping with Parenting Challenges
While gratifying, raising children is not easy. As a parent, you will experience many ups-and-downs, joys, and frustrations – that’s normal. In fact, there may be times when raising your child is extremely challenging, which is where a Christian counselor can come into play.
He/she can guide you on your parenting journey. However, if your parenting challenges are more in-depth or severe like mental illness, physical ailments, learning disabilities, bullying, eating disorders, and/or developmental challenges, you may be referred to a therapist or psychiatrist. Christian counseling can also be very beneficial when you are unable to identify what your child needs or if you become overwhelmed by the responsibilities that accompany parenting. These counselors can teach you techniques that will help you deal with parenting pressures.
Support For Mental Health Conditions
Having a mental illness is hard enough without having to deal with it alone. Counseling helps those with mental illnesses by providing them with support and an outlet to express their feelings.
It is important to understand that people who suffer from mental illnesses – i.e. depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, often have lower self-esteem and self-acceptance, than those without mental illnesses. With Christian counseling, you learn how to accept that you are a Child of God – just like everyone else. It is this understanding that provides you with some much-needed comfort and solace when you need it the most.
Recovering From Grief & Loss
The death of a loved one is heartbreaking, and the grieving period can seem never-ending. But, for many, this is the time they lean most heavily on their faith to help them get through this taxing time. However, sometimes the grief is just too deep to find the Light of God.
Sometimes the surviving loved one becomes “stuck” in a phase, during the grieving process – a stage that feels impossible to move past. In these cases, Christian counseling helps the bereaved accept the loss, remember and honor the loved one, accept reality, and heal from the pain.
Healing From Substance Abuse & Addiction
Seeking help for addiction requires courage. But, admitting that you have a problem with drugs, alcohol, and/or gambling is often the first step in receiving the help you need to turn your life around. Once you admit that you need help, a Christian counselor can provide you with the support you need to kick your “habit.” Moreover, Christian counseling can help you unearth deeper issues that could be contributing to your addiction like childhood trauma, sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, and/or low self-esteem.
During Christian counseling sessions, you learn just how important and valuable you are in the Eyes of God. You also learn that you have the strength to overcome your addiction. Furthermore, Christian counselors teach you techniques that can help you turn towards your faith, instead of illegal substances or destructive behaviors, when life becomes overwhelming or unbearable.
Strengthening Your Faith & Improving Your Relationship with God
In today’s fast-paced, materialistic world, it’s easy to lose sight of your faith and become “caught up” in the daily pressures of life. With all of these stressors, your faith can get pushed to the side. However, it is during these high-pressured times that you need your faith more than ever.
Christian counselors understand these challenges and are able to help you reconnect with God and your faith. Moreover, they can teach you practical tools that you can use when you lose touch with your faith and become lost.
Who Should Seek Christian Counseling?
Anyone, who is experiencing psychological or health issues should seek Christian counseling. It is important to understand that Christian counseling does not center on one particular problem, concern, or mental illness, rather, the goal of this type of counseling is to address a broad range of personal, relationship, parent-child, social, and mental health issues. So, instead of seeking secular or non-religious counseling for these issues, Christian counseling uses your faith to help you resolve and heal from them.
Reasons why you should seek Christian counseling include:
- Relationship, parent-child, or marital issues
- Parenting guidance
- Mental illness or psychological distress
- Grief and loss
- Poor goal-setting skills
- Low self-esteem and self-confidence
- Weak faith and/or a poor connection to God
- Substance abuse or addiction
Will Christian Counseling Benefit Me?
Christian counseling may be most beneficial for Christians and those who have a strong faith or spirituality – although you don’t have to be religious or spiritual to benefit from this therapeutic counseling approach. In fact, anyone – religious or non-religious can partake in Christian counseling. If you struggle with grief and/or relationship problems, and can no longer cope with these issues alone, Christian counseling will most likely benefit you.
In addition, if you have a strong faith and belief in God, this type of therapy will most likely benefit you because it centers on biblical teachings. The hope is that by sharpening your knowledge of the Bible, strengthening your connection with God, and understanding God’s commandments, you will be able to turn your life around and conquer your problems.
You may benefit from Christian counseling if you are experiencing the following issues:
- Anxiety that prevents you from completing everyday tasks
- Panic attacks
- Insomnia or being unable to fall asleep and/or stay asleep all night long
- Social isolation or avoiding spending time with friends and family
- Sudden extreme weight loss or weight gain
- Feeling hopeless, helpless, and/or overwhelmed, or feeling unable to manage your problems on your own
- Out-of-control, irrational anger
- A loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling disconnected to your faith or God
What Should I Expect from Christian Counseling?
Christian counseling pulls from a variety of counseling methods – one of which is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). One of the main differences between Christian counseling and some of the more secular counseling approaches is that Christian counselors use a wide range of materials, tools, resources, and psychological techniques, including prayer, scripture, affirmation, bible study, self-auditing or self-evaluation to help you combat your “demons” (problems).
Contrary to most secular counselors and therapists, Christian counselors do not believe that secular counseling approaches adequately cover the range of issues a person may be experiencing. As a result, these counselors combine your spiritual health with your mental health.
In other words, Christian counseling focuses on your spiritual health, personal relationship with God, and the belief that, with therapy, personal problems, mental health issues, and emotional distress can be replaced with increased self-worth and spiritual fulfillment.
Some of the things you should expect from Christian counseling include:
- Prayer, scripture, and other supplementary materials during the session and as homework assignments
- Family education & support
- Learning how to cope with serious life events like death or illness
- Learning how to make good judgement calls and decisions
- Referrals to other specialists – i.e. psychiatrists, social workers, and/or physicians, if needed
- Ceremonial preparations for couples who plan to get married and funeral services for families who have lost a loved one
What Happens During a Christian Counseling Session?
During the initial sessions, your Christian counselor will try to get a “feel” of who you are through structured intakes (interviews) and detailed conversations. Then, he/she will observe you, while you tell him/her about your problem(s) and how those problems make you “feel.”
Next, your counselor may ask you what you would like to accomplish by the time you complete the therapy process. After that, you and your counselor will discuss your goals and develop steps to help you achieve them. And, lastly, you will either verbally agree to commit yourself 100% to the therapy process or you will sign a document affirming your commitment to treatment.
After the first couple of sessions, you’ll be ready to jump right into therapy. During the later sessions, you will be assigned biblical homework and tasks, and you will discuss the results in the next session. You will also have biblical passages to read at night – ones that will strengthen your faith in God and His plan.
The counselor will use these passages to help you see the error of your ways. In other words, he/she will use the bible to show you how your behavior and thought processes are inconsistent and incompatible with biblical teachings. Christian counselors believe that for people to truly heal from trauma, psychological distress, mental illness, etc. they must turn to the bible.
They also believe that in many cases, mental health conditions stem from “sinful acts” or acts that go against God’s teachings. When people commit these “sinful acts,” it causes them to experience turmoil and mental anguish. Therefore, the only way to ease emotional distress is to reaffirm one’s commitment to God – and remove sin from his/her life.
What is Spiritual Health?
The truth is, spirituality goes beyond your religious beliefs. In fact, it involves a deep connection to a Higher Power – with the understanding that something bigger and better than yourself exists – something that is influencing and/or controlling what is happening on Earth.
It is important to understand that you don’t have to belong to a religious affiliation to be spiritual. In fact, you can be agnostic (believing in a Higher Power, but not necessarily God) and still be spiritual. How is that? Well, it’s your faith, morals, values, and principles that define your spirituality.
Spiritual health is often characterized by the following:
- A capacity to love others and the ability to accept love from others
- A commitment to community service
- Personal satisfaction
- Ability to care for others – without expecting something back in return
- An ability to experience happiness & spread joy
- The ability to perform self-care
- The ability to self-reflect or recognize how “sinful acts” play a role in your thought processes and behaviors
- The importance of providing services to others
As part of a person’s spiritual journey, he/she will inevitably experience challenges and hardships along the way. This is a universal experience; no one is immune to life’s difficult times. When a person is in sync with his/her spiritual health, he/she is open to receiving guidance from his/her faith – guidance that helps him/her to handle tough situations with love, empathy, compassion, forgiveness, and self-acceptance.
How Can I Find a Good Christian Counselor?
There are many ways to find a good Christian counselor in your area. Some of these ways include acquiring referrals from your physician, friends, or religious leaders, and/or other faith-based people, who have experience with the counselor and can testify to his/her methods, approach, and effectiveness.
Another way is to do your research. In other words, research each potential counselor to make sure his/her values, spiritual beliefs, personality, and approach align with your own. The good news is, you don’t have to look too far because our TherapyTribe Directory can connect you with a good Christian counselor in your city and state – all with the click of a mouse.
If you’re not too sure about going to weekly counseling sessions at an office, you may want to consider online therapy with a certified counselor, psychologist, or social worker. The great thing about this method is that it allows you to obtain help with your issues – no matter where you are.
What Should I Look for in a Christian Counselor?
Similar to if you were searching for a secular counselor, your main priority when looking for a Christian counselor should be that he/she has the proper training, licensing, and experience. In addition, your faith should play a large role in who you select as a counselor.
Does the counselor’s spiritual beliefs (and approach) align with your own? If not, that counselor may not be right for you. Do you like the counselor’s personality, approach, and demeanor? If not, he/she may not be right for you. Does the counselor respect your faith or spirituality or do you feel like he/she may try to change your beliefs? If you feel like the counselor may try to “change your mind” about your faith or spirituality – he/she is not the right counselor for you.
The truth is, a good doctor/client relationship is paramount to the therapy process, so if that is missing – keep looking until you find one that will not only assist you on your spiritual journey but also help you manage or resolve your issues with the use of the bible.
Don’t become discouraged if it takes a minute to find the right counselor. It’s better to take your time than to rush a select a counselor that worsens your problems, instead of helping them. You will get the most out of your counseling sessions if you work with a Christian counselor that puts you at ease.
One population that experienced the most changes during the coronavirus pandemic was Christian college students. Heavily religious students experienced extremely high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression during the pandemic. Many of these students had a hard time understanding why the virus was afflicting and killing so many people. These believers did not understand how God was allowing this to happen. Some even believed that the deaths, uncertainty, and fear were related to biblical prophecies – i.e., the “Book of Revelation.” Some students were afraid that the world was ending, which made it hard for them to concentrate on completing school assignments and have a “normal” college life.
Students, who were used to attending in-person classes were forced to complete courses online, which only added to the stress, anxiety, and depression they were feeling. At the same time, college counselors at Christian schools struggled to provide the support the students needed to get through this distressing time. Instructing Christian college students to have faith was no longer enough to ease the mental health woes of these students.
As a result, Christian counselors had to start caring for Christian college students in a more in-depth and personal way – a way that was new and foreign to them. A survey found that the mental states of students worsened as the pandemic progressed, with nearly 41% of students experiencing moderate-to-severe emotional distress in 2020, and almost 51% of students experiencing moderate-to-severe emotional distress in 2021.
Before COVID-19, Meghan Becker, Director of Baylor University’s CARE Team, typically met with 5-7 students in crisis weekly. It is Becker’s job to connect Baylor students with the right mental health professionals, tools, and resources to address a wide-range of issues, such as suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts and attempts), anxiety, severe or chronic stress, substance abuse or addiction, trauma, and other upsetting thoughts or behaviors. However, in the fall of 2021, the number of students she was seeing on a weekly basis, doubled, then later tripled.
In fact, at one point, during the pandemic, Becker was seeing close to 19 students daily. Because the anxiety, depression, and stress were so high during the pandemic, she started to require the CARE staff to work-from-home at least two days a week to safeguard their mental health and well-being. According to Becker, mental health professionals cannot help students if they are not mentally sound, and during COVID, the added stress, anxiety, and depression was not only taxing for the students, but also for the staff.
As mentioned previously, COVID-19 triggered a noticeable spike in mental health woes, which ultimately overwhelmed Chrisitan counselors in Christian colleges and universities all over the world. However, at the same time, the virus, and more specifically, the pandemic caused Christian counselors to reexamine the “burdens” and “hardships” faced by Christian students, and helped them assess the tools and resources needed to help these individuals effectively manage their fears, anxiety, stress, depression, and other mental health issues.
The truth is many Christian college students were already feeling stressed prior to COVID, however, once the virus arrived on the scene, the stress, fear, angst, uncertainty, and loneliness escalated to extremely high levels. For the first time, Christian colleges and universities saw an increased need for counseling resources. As a response, these Christian institutions added remote counseling options (because lockdowns prevented college kids from being on campus). Many remote counseling or “telehealth” options offered 24/7 availability to meet students’ mental health concerns.
Once students were allowed to return to school, more in-person Christian counseling options were needed to help these students better manage their conflicting feelings and emotional distress. More specifically, the return of students caused a significant increase in counseling requests, primarily because the threat of COVID was still present, which meant the fear of contracting the virus and the confusion surrounding it was still prevalent.
Once Baylor’s Christian students returned to school, Becker’s CARE team experienced a 110% increase in counseling requests. In fact, an informal survey from Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) schools found that there was a 66% increase in mental health services requests, during the pandemic. Approximately 78% of these Christian students experienced emotional distress during this time that caused them to struggle with attendance, completing coursework, and motivation.
At the beginning of COVID, there especially appeared to be an increase in anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation at small Christian colleges, however this increase not only affected the students, but also their friends and families. Christian colleges and universities pride themselves on “interconnectedness” so being separated from their peers, loved ones, friends, partners, and instructors caused extreme fear, angst, stress, and depression, while also testing their faith and resolve.
Because of COVID, the focus on Christian college campuses has begun to shift more heavily towards self-care and mental health tools and resources. Unfortunately, there is a misconception that Christians must be “perfect,” and that as a Christian, one must rely on and have faith in God to “fix things.” As a result, Christians should not worry or experience anxiety, stress, or depression. Uncertainty and doubt should not be part of the conversation when a person is a “Christian.” This belief system often causes Christians to hide conflicting or upsetting thoughts and emotions, which ultimately ends up delaying treatment. A delay in treatment can lead to suicide thoughts and attempts.
Christian counselors have also become more sensitive to the needs of their students. COVID has prompted Christian college counselors to make the mental health of Christian students a priority by helping them cope with the isolation, fear, uncertainty, and worry that comes with COVID. These counselors are also working to dispel the myth that a Christian should solely rely on the Lord, instead of seeking treatment for mental health concerns. Thus, the main goal of Christian counseling, during the pandemic, and even today is to provide comfort, reassurance, and acceptance in all Christian communities.
- Adams, J. E. (2019). Biography. Institute for Nouthetic Studies. Retrieved from http://www.nouthetic.org/about-ins/our-faculty/8-about-ins/6-jay-adams-biography
- Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. (2019). Information page. Retrieved from https://www.ccef.org/
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- Carter, R. B. (1999). Christian Counseling: An emerging specialty. Counseling & Values, 43(3), 189. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-007X.1999.tb00142.
- Walker, D. F., Gorsuch, R. L., & Tan, S.-Y. (2005). Therapists’ use of religious and spiritual interventions in Christian counseling: A preliminary report. Counseling & Values, 49(2), 107–119. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-007X.2005.tb00257.
- American College Health Association. (2021). Undergraduate student reference: Group data report (Spring 2021). Retrieved from https://www.acha.org/documents/ncha/NCHA-III_SPRING-2021_UNDERGRADUATE_REFERENCE_GROUP_DATA_REPORT.pdf
- Perry, A. (2021). Student mental health in the pandemic. CCCU Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.cccu.org/magazine/student-mental-health-pandemic/
- Huiskies, H. (2021). It takes a campus: Pandemic expands mental health resources at Christian colleges. Christian Today magazine. Retrieved https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2021/december/christian-college-mental-health-counseling-pandemic-demand.html