How does a Christian find a good counselor or therapist?

By Lana Brogan

This is a good question for the biblical counseling world. My education is in psychology and I am a licensed therapist. However, I am also a Christian, and during my education I realized a lot of the content and theories did not align with Scripture. Furthermore, the theories fell short in practice when I put them into action on actual patients. The facilities I worked in needed a revolving door because patients would return to us again and again. The people were clearly searching for answers that myself and my colleagues didn't have. I began to feel the Lord was drawing me to His solutions for man's problems and I started studying everything I could find on biblical counseling. However, I ran into some unexpected problems. I found that there were several conflicting theories and approaches in biblical counseling just like in secular counseling. This felt disappointing because I wanted to find the "answer."

As I searched and studied the Christian resources to learn the biblical approach to counseling I found there were several problems. In one instance, I attended a Nouthetic seminar specifically to hear how they dealt with issues like schizophrenia and psychosis. The answer they gave was that people with this diagnosis are essentially faking. I worked firsthand with hundreds of patients who had schizophrenia/mental illness/addiction and I knew they were not faking their problems. The people I treated suffered greatly, and I doubted that they would choose to do so. I left the seminar disappointed because it was clear that the cause of their diagnosis is unknown to both Christians and psychologists. So while they did have a lot of helpful information about how to counsel someone from a biblical standpoint, there were some unanswered questions to problems I knew were very real for many people seeking counsel.

Now I knew that some Christian counseling theories rejected any and all manmade theories about mental health. They demonized the entire field of psychology because it was associated with unbelievers like Sigmund Freud or B.F. Skinner. But therein lies the problem: nouthetic counseling alone refuses to address mental health issues because the Bible does not specifically address them. Jay Adams is the father of nouthetic counseling. His theory does a great job confronting so-called Christian counseling when it is little more than a person who calls himself a Christian using secular therapy technique. A Christian who using psychoanalysis is still not practicing what most would assume is counseling from a Christian perspective. A Christian who studies secular psychological theory should see that it is impossible to heal the hurts if you never redeem the soul. The Lord Jesus is the underlying answer to ALL of life's problems. Without starting from a redeemed standpoint there is nothing to build on.

On the other hand, psychology is much more than manmade theory. Psychology is a science and field of study that examines the mind and behavior of the human through observation, measurement, and objective data. Similarly, medication has been developed from valid and reliable research to help manage symptoms. Medication itself is not a sin nor can it block the Holy Spirit's work in someone's life. Though research uses scientific methods and empirical evidence to find real answers to many questions, the issue of humanity's wretched sin is largely ignored so it is missing a large piece of the puzzle. Thus, biblical counseling must be first rooted in Scripture, but can't ignore information provided by valid and reliable research performed objectively.

Unlike psychology, the Bible is a living tool that is God speaking directly to us. The science of psychology doesn't minister to the soul. Even as our external lives and internal pain motivate someone to seek counseling, it's their soul that's in real peril. What good does it do to help someone have a better coping skill or response if they are still separated from God? A good biblical counselor will share the gospel with unbelievers or help believers know their savior more. Human hurts need the truth of Scripture to bring the Holy Spirit into the problem. It's important to know that no one can fix another person. Counselors who are willing to let Jesus live in and through them can minister to the hurting by listening with empathy, clarifying the beliefs about God, and showing them scripture that reveals the truth to them. But only the Lord Jesus can reveal truth to someone's mind thereby allowing them to respond to it.

The key that I've found in effective "biblical/Christian" counseling is the relationship with Jesus. First of all, I attempt to find out if the person has trusted Jesus as their savior. Until they have done this I would use the gospel to witness to them by bringing all their problems back to the reality that they need Christ. Once they receive Jesus, my focus is on how they can better understand who Jesus is and their relationship with them. Discussing beliefs is an opportunity to examine what the person believes about God, the Bible, themselves, and how it all aligns with Scripture. Usually they need to be shown Scripture in order to reveal truths that they need to know. Homework is helpful so that they learn to study God's word on their own. Everyone is responsible for their own spiritual growth so they must practice spending time with the Lord which is essential for Christians to abide in Christ. Finally, the real work in counseling is done by the Holy Spirit. He is the one who is revealing the truth to their minds and sanctifying them through the process of discipling them. In that vein, one might prefer to call themselves a discipler rather than a Christian counselor.

So where can you find a good Christian counselor? Many churches have counseling ministries or pastoral counseling which are great resources. Sometimes a combination approach works such as counseling with a pastor while getting medical care from a psychiatrist. Many people can disciple others along the way. For example, a Christian who is abiding in Christ can disciple another person without any degrees or licenses. When we truly seek to know God and His answers, He will lead us to the right people at the right time to find the answers to life's questions.

In order to help others we must continually be growing in our own knowledge of both scripture and the study of counseling others from a biblical viewpoint. Here are some resources that have been helpful to me as well as an article that explains the problem with Nouthetic counseling:

"Psychology is the Devil: A Critique of Jay Adams' Counseling Paradigm"
Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation
Cloud-Townsend Resources
Tony Evans; Free at Last: Experiencing True Freedom Through Your Identity in Christ
David Powlison's list of questions for choosing a counselor
Michael R. Emlet; Cross Talk: Where Life and Scripture Meet
David Powlison; Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture

Image Credit: Ambernectar 13; " James being analysed by Dr Bob Hartley "; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Controversial-Issues  | Depression  | Hardships

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Published on 3-3-2015