What is Christian Counseling?
Did you know Christian Counseling is a thing? I didn't many years ago. In fact, the Lord told me I would be a Christian Counselor, but I did not know what that was. Now that I am many years into being one (after 12 years as a state- licensed therapist), I would like to share with you the different types of Christian Counselors so that if you want counseling, you know what direction to head.
There are four types we will cover in this post: State-licensed, biblical, lay, and combo.
State-licensed therapists must have at least a masters degree and two years of supervision post-masters to have their own counseling business. This type of therapist is trained in well known and beneficial counseling theories, must diagnose each client, has ethics they must follow, and can take health insurance.
This type of therapist may (or may not) be a Christian. By law, they can only initiate faith into counseling if a client asks for it. Some integrate more than others. Keep in mind these therapists are under the covering of the state and must follow their state laws before the Bible. One very positive aspect is being under a licensing board. This way the public is protected in case a therapist is unethical, abusive, or disregards their clients. A client can file a charge against the therapist if needed. Oversight is important.
Biblical counselors may or may not have a masters degree (or any degree). They do not believe in psychology and will not use any secular type of mental health tools. They use scripture only as the therapeutic model and focus on sin, change from sin, and relationship with God (all good things!)
There is no licensing board, but rather an optional certification. Anyone can call themselves a Biblical counselor which can get a little messy without oversight or training.
Lay counseling is a person that may or may not have taken some classes or certifications in counseling and offers their services for free.
Stephen Ministry is a lay counseling program offered in churches across the country. Stephen ministers have the covering of the church which is a great benefit for public safety. No one gets a diagnosis, and this is a short-term situation. Ideally, it is offered as a safe place to talk about life's difficulties, and to have a listening ear that is supportive. Since it is lay you must watch out for the counselor that starts to talk about their own life and turns it into a dialogue instead of being the listener/helper (yes, this happens).
Lay counseling can also include inner healing ministries such as people trained in Sozo, Transformational Prayer, Restoring the Foundations, Heart-Sync and others. They may or may not have any degree. There is no diagnosis but there is also no real counseling. They are not trained in counseling techniques, only the ministry tools they are using. If they are certified in any of these ministries they are also under their covering which is important for public safety.
Combo therapy. This is where a masters level or higher degreed person in mental health brings together the best of psychotherapy and Christian counseling tools which may or may not include inner healing. This is slightly different from a state-licensed therapist because the state-licensed person is legally limited to what they can offer their clients.
Combo therapy is where I land. In order to do this I had to give up my state license, get certified under a Christian counseling organization, and was ordained. I use the best of psychotherapy and the best of inner healing and Christian counseling to help my clients heal and move forward. Included in this is what I call "Spirit-filled" which means the Holy-Spirit is leading. Not all combo counselors are Spirit-filled.
Since I am under two licensing boards (both Christian), that covers the issue of public safety. I can no longer legally diagnose but since I did that for many years, I have an understanding of what the client is struggling with and that can be useful, if needed. For instance, if I have a client that is on the autism spectrum but was never diagnosed, I would know some resources to pull in to support that client. I also understand that there really is schizophrenia and not just someone that is demonized. I know when to refer out if the clinical issues are areas that I am not trained in.
Having a licensing board of some sort is essential for the pubic. There are ethics to be followed as well as professional standards of care when under a board.
Unfortunately, I have heard horror stories from clients that saw lay counselors with little training and no oversight. This lead to blurred lines, hurt feelings, and questioning God and even their salvation. I have also heard of people seeking therapy but found themselves seeing someone that had a 3 or 4 day training and called themselves a counselor. Yikes!
If you decide to seek Christian counseling, I highly suggest these safeguards:
What level of training do they have? Do they have advanced degrees in counseling?
What oversight do they have/what authority are they under?
How much experience do they have? (If little experience, ask if they have supervision).
Do they offer counseling or just inner healing ministry? (one or the other is fine...it will depend on what you need).
You can see that each type of counseling we covered is not necessarily better than the others. It boils down to what you need, how helpful the counselor is, and the oversight and ethics that person works by.
I hope this blog was helpful in guiding you to the right counselor to work with. Regardless of what path you choose, My Christian Counseling Companion may be a great support for your journey. I wrote it with my clients in mind but wanted to make it available to whomever could use it. It is a guide for women in counseling who want guidance on spiritual disciplines, a place for counseling homework, notes, and processing questions between sessions.
Bless you on your journey!