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WHY CHRISTIAN COUNSELING?
Dr. Pierre J. Samaan
Over the years, I maintain an average of 1000 clinical Christian counseling sessions per year. With that number of counseling sessions you must field a large number of client questions about Clinical Christian Counseling. Not all Christians are blessed without having serious personal or family problems. There are those in the body of Christ who must struggle with issues such as abuse, addiction, dysfunctional family dynamics, marital conflict, parent-child problems, and mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorders. There are even those Christians who are dealing with legal problems. In all of these cases a specialist in Christian counseling can be of great help. In this article I have answered seven of the most frequently asked questions about Christian counseling. In answering these questions I hope to clarify the role of the Clinical Christian Counselor in the “Body of Christ.” All biblical references used are from the NIV Bible unless specified otherwise.
SHOULD CHRISTIANS SEEK CLINICAL CHRISTIAN COUNSELING?
A counselor is one who gives direction and advice for life. The Bible gives us two sources of counsel: humans and God. We are told in the Old Testament book of Isaiah 3:3, that there is a class of people called counselors. Also, in Isaiah we are told that God is “…wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom.” (Isaiah 28:29) So, who do Christians turn to for counseling, God or man?
Let us first look at Biblical references to wise counsel. Good counsel is necessary according to the writer of Proverbs, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed…Have I not written thirty sayings for you, sayings of counsel and knowledge, teaching you true and reliable words, so that you can give sound answers to Him who sent you?” (Proverbs 15:22; 22:20-21)
The Bible also tells us that we receive counsel from wisdom, which in Proverbs 8, is depicted as a person who was active in the creation, counsels the rulers and walks in the path of justice. Such wisdom points to the One who is the true wisdom of God, Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God (John 1:1).
“I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion. To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have understanding and power. By me kings reign and rulers make laws that are just; by me princes govern, and all nobles who rule on earth.” (Proverbs 8:12-16)
David, a man after God’s own heart, had wise counsel. (1Chronicles 27:32-33) Jeremiah who was God’s Prophet to the kingdomof Judah was also known as a good counselor. (Jeremiah 38:14-27)
God is also a counselor in the book of Psalms,
“I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me…You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will take me into glory.” (Psalms 16:7; 73:24)
Christ is titled “Wonderful Counselor,” in Isaiah 9:6. And, Jesus promised another counselor;
“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth…When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about me…But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (John 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:7)
The Spirit of the Lord rested upon Jesus to give Him wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2) That same Spirit rests upon the believer. Counsel, therefore, comes from God through the Holy Spirit to all believers who are also expected to give advice and direction to one another.
“Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily…Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 1:28; 3:12-17 NKJV; underlines added)
The concept of perfection in the New Testament means completeness or maturity. Spiritual completeness probably means when we go to be with the Lord. Maturity can also mean the maturing of our souls which involve our mind, will, emotions, and intellect. Paul labored with great concern for the perfection or maturity of every believer. He did so, not in his own strength but by the power of God working in him. These, along with other scriptures, suggest that all believers at various times can give support, encouragement and advice to one another.
There are those however, who have a special spiritual gifting (e.g. exhortation, teaching…) for the benefit of all Christians. Peter was told by Jesus to; "…Feed my lambs...take care of my sheep...Feed my sheep...” (John 21:15-17) The true Clinical Christian Counselor, also called Clinical Pastoral Counselor, will be spiritually gifted and ordained by God, as is the Church Pastor. However, he/she who is spiritually gifted by the Holy Spirit for the specialty ministry of Clinical Christian Counseling is also feeding and caring for the sheep, God’s people.
Whether it is a Church Pastor, Clinical Christian Counselor, or Elder, we should be able to ask of them questions when seeking guidance and direction. But, even after receiving the counsel, we must still make our own decisions. We are acting irresponsibly when we allow others to make our own important decisions. Total obedience and absolute trust are to be given to God alone.
"He walks ahead of them; and they follow Him, for they recognize His voice. They won't follow a stranger but will run from him, for they don't recognize his voice...” “My sheep recognize My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me...” (John 10:4, 5, 27)
SHOULD A CHRISTIAN RECEIVE SECULAR COUNSELING?
In order to be fair in answering this question it is important to know that this writer is prejudiced in favor of Clinical Christian Counseling. One should always be open to the Spirit’s leading. God can use any means at His disposal to advise and direct His people. The Scripture tells us that God’s Word never comes back void.
To answer this question it is best to first ask another; where do problems come from? In the natural, we have learned through thousands of years of history that human resolve has been unable to develop the perfect life or environment. In the spiritual, as Christians, we know that this is due to the origin and extent of sin. (Genesis 3:1-7)
In the New Testament letter to the Romans 6:1-4, we read;
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
Can non-Christian counsel fully grasp the understanding of what it means to be “baptized into His death?”
“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5-8)
Can non-Christian counsel accept the Christian belief that the sinful nature cannot please God in light of the humanistic teachings related to values clarification (e.g. It is alright to do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt others.)?
God is the ultimate healer according to Deuteronomy 32:39. He is the one who will often use humans to medically heal physical infirmities (2Kings 20:7), as well as in giving emotional and spiritual healing. (2Chronicles 30:18-20; 1Peter 2:24) I believe that over 80% of our medical problems have spiritual origins. If this is true, not addressing the spiritual darkness of a person’s broken spirit can only lead to tolerable recovery instead of total healing.
Can non-Christian counsel accept that God is the ultimate healer or do they discourage Christian faith by identifying a spiritual Christian as being “religiously preoccupied?”
Paul told the Ephesian elders to;
“…keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God…” (Acts 20:28-35)
The Apostle Paul spent three years advising the church elders to watch out for false teachers (v. 31).
Having the Spirit of God and being obedient to God’s Spirit are two different notions. A Christian who calls himself/herself a Christian Counselor may not be attuned to obedience to God’s Spirit. Whenever possible seek Clinical Christian Counseling from one who the Spirit of the Lord confirms within you is giving wise counsel. Wise counsel can also come from non-Christian sources because God is Truth and all Truth comes from Him. If you do not have access to wise counsel from a Christian source be sure to pray before entering secular counseling. Ask God to give the secular counselor His Truth about your situation and need. And then ask God to confirm what is said through any counseling source. When our burdens become too heavy the Lord will use others to help us.
“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14; NKJ)
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCEBETWEEN PASTORAL COUNSELING & CLINICAL CHRISTIAN COUNSELING?
For several years I had been experiencing increasing abdominal and intestinal distress. I finally went to my family physician after going to the emergency room one night due to the severe pain. He gave me a blood work-up and sent me for a series of outpatient tests. The results confirmed his initial impression of my condition. My gall bladder had to go. He then sent me to a surgeon who specialized in this type of surgery. After the surgery, I was seen a few times by the surgeon who then released me from his care and back to the care of my family physician. The primary care physician, who refers to the specialist, is like the pastor who refers to the specialist for Christian counseling, the Clinical Pastoral Counselor or Clinical Christian Counselor.
Both men were physicians in the medical field, but each in a different area of expertise. Essentially, those who practice church counseling such as the pastor and the Clinical Christian Counselor, sometimes called Clinical Pastoral Counselor, perform spiritual and/or biblical counseling. Both teach and shepherd those under the spiritual covering of pastoral care. Like the medical practitioners who specialize, the Church Pastor who may also be called the Pastoral Counselor and Clinical Christian Counselor are specialized members of the Body of Christ. Generally speaking, those same spiritual gifts equipping the Church Pastor are very often also found in the Clinical Christian Counselor.
The title of Clinical Christian Counselor is often determined by their graduate level degree. They will have followed a degree track which emphasizes Christian therapy with a biblical foundation. The word clinical denotes therapy. Christian therapy often focuses on crisis intervention and all matters of the human soul such as thoughts, emotions and behavior.
Some Church Pastors will refer all their counseling to the Clinical Christian Counselors. Others will perform counseling at the level of their expertise as long as they are able to fit it into their busy schedules. The Church Pastor must focus on all aspects of Shepherding including the management of Church ministries and property. The Clinical Christian Counselor’s only focus is that of counseling which is part of Christian discipleship.
HOW CAN I DECIDE WHICH CHRISTIAN COUNSELOR TO TALKWITH?
“Buyer Beware!” Bad counseling is out there. The Bible tells us to beware of the wicked counselor. (Psalms1:1) In 1Kings 12:1-15, we read that Israel rebelled against Rehoboam because he followed foolish counselors. Poor counsel contributed to the fall of Babylon. (Isaiah 47:13)
If I were a good butcher, that might qualify me for being a good teacher in the art of cutting meat. It would not, however, qualify me to teach first grade. Proper credentials are important for the Clinical Christian Counselor. Graduate schooling in Counseling and Biblical Studies, along with a number of years experience, make for good credentials in a Clinical Christian Counselor. For example, in my own academic journey, I have a Bachelors Degree in Psychology with a minor in Biblical Studies; two Masters Degrees, one in Theology and the other in Clinical Christian Counseling; and a Doctoral Degree in Clinical Pastoral Counseling.
A Christian Counselor should not only be educated in his field, but he/she should also be held accountable by some form of authority and credentialing body. In Florida for example, a Clinical Christian Counselor is exempt from State Licensing (FS 491) as long as he/she is a Licensed or Ordained clergy with a National License and is employed by the church. The National Christian Counselors Association in Sarasota, Florida is one national organization that maintains the highest standards for national credentialing as a Clinical Christian Counselor.
Let us also not forget the most important element in the Clinical Christian Counselor, the ability to give a personal testimony and tell others who is Jesus Christ, as well as God’s plan for their lives.
When I had surgery I felt comfortable following the recommendations of my family physician. As believers, first seek the counsel of your Pastor and if he feels further counseling is necessary ask him for a recommendation. Most Church Pastors will know of Clinical Christian Counselors with whom they have consulted. The Pastor will know whether the counsel was sound and biblical. If you do not have a Pastor to work with, word of mouth is a good counselor’s best referral source; do not be afraid to ask others.
WHAT HAPPENS IN A COUNSELING SESSION?
In the first counseling session the counselor will take some time to help the client become acquainted with him/her. This is important in helping to develop a trusting relationship. After soliciting a brief history from the client, time is then given for the client to process thoughts and feelings about the issue at hand.
By the end of the first session the Christian counselor will have a general idea of the immediate issues. The Christian Counselor will also have a good impression of past events which may have contributed to some aspects of the current problems. Toward the end of the first session the counselor will have developed the early formation of a faith based treatment plan that is based on biblical soundness and authority. He will then discuss this plan with the client. If both are in agreement, the counseling will then follow the agreed upon course of spiritual treatment.
Follow-up counseling is generally planned on an “as needed” basis. Some issues require weekly counseling while for others, every other week or monthly. Occasionally, there are issues which are resolved with the initial visit. After the counseling has been terminated, the Clinical Christian Counselor becomes a resource for future interventions, should his/her service be needed.
Prayer is a vital part of Clinical Christian Counseling. I take time for prayer with the client in every session because this is the Christian’s means of communicating with God, who is the Father of counseling. Unlike the secular counselor, the Clinical Christian Counselor will intercede (John 17:6-26), and petition (Matthew 26:39, 42) to God on the client’s behalf. During a counseling session a Clinical Christian Counselor will be in silent prayer, maintaining the communication link with the Holy Spirit. Many times, the spiritual gifts of discernment and knowledge are given to the Clinical Christian Counselor as a result of maintaining that communication with God throughout the counseling process. It is also not unusual for clients to receive physical healings as God tears down spiritual/emotional strongholds.
For long term counseling, progress is periodically evaluated between the counselor and client. If both are agreeing that issues are being resolved with spiritual and emotional growth occurring, Christian counseling may continue.
HOW CAN I BE ASSURED OF CONFIDENTIALITY?
Often, there is a fear that others will find out that you are in counseling. Or, there may be a fear that what is being said will be disclosed to others. Recently, a distressed wife called me on the telephone. She said that she was desperate for help. Her “Christian” husband was making her feel like she was “going crazy.” Her number one fear was that he would use what she said against her if they divorced. She had the understandable fear that he might use the information to take her children away.
The Clinical Christian Counselor is a professional counselor who must follow a professional code of ethics. In most States the clinical Pastoral and/or clinical christian counselor are required to maintain ethical standards regarding confidentiality. There are basically three limitations. The State of Florida mandates that, “all professionals must report or cause a report to be made and cannot keep silent on the grounds of confidentiality or privileged communication,” the following:
1. If your Clinical Christian Counselor thinks you might harm yourself or someone else. This may include information indicating impairment sufficient to pose a life threatening situation to the workplace;
2. If your Clinical Christian Counselor believes that a child or adolescent, an elderly person, a nursing facility patient or a disabled person is being abused and/or neglected;
3. If a Judge orders your Clinical Christian Counselor to comply with a court order (i.e. a personal subpoena from a Judge not an Attorney) or to provide information in connection with certain legal proceedings such as child custody, care and protection cases, adoption proceedings, or a case against the Clinical Christian Counselor.Generally, in custody cases, a Judge will only issue a personal subpoena when he feels there is a potential for harm to the child. Even then, the Judge will, most often, review the records privately in helping him make a determination of the case and keep the records sealed from the litigants.
WHAT IS CHRISTIAN COUNSELING GOING TO COST ME?
Most churches cannot afford dedicating additional pastoral staff towards the sole function of Clinical Christian Counseling. Some of the larger churches do have this service available on a donation basis. Over the years, I have learned that clients do not seem to fully appreciate Clinical Christian Counseling if they have not become financially invested. When they give a donation for the counseling, they are investing in themselves. They are investing in the process of “renewing their minds...”, and “…tearing down strongholds.” (Ephesians 4:23) Clients who have a financial investment in themselves tend to make more determined efforts in the process of transformation.
With that said, not everyone can give a charitable donation. No one is turned away from my office if they have a legitimate counseling need. Those who can donate help this Mission to see those who are in need of Christian counseling.
CLINICAL CHRISTIAN COUNSELING, IS IT FOR ME? In closing, I hope these questions and answers have helped you in understanding secular counseling versus clinical pastoral/christian counseling. Even Christians can get stuck in tunnel vision. When someone gets locked into one way of problem solving its easy to repeat the same mistakes and feel powerless to change. Seeking out the advice of those Christian professionals can be life changing. Future plans will become stronger and more likely to succeed. The Clinical Christian Counselor is an integral part of the Body of Christ. Remember, when making a decision regarding counseling, pray first. God will give wisdom to anyone who asks. (James 1:5)
Pierre J. Samaan, Ph.D., LCPCA,; Dr. Samaan is a nationally Licensed Clinical Pastoral Counselor by the Board of Directors for the National Christian Counselors Association (NCCA). He is a Senior Chaplain with the International Fellowship of Chaplains, Clinical Supervisor for the NCCA, Diplomate with the National Board of Christian Clinical Therapists and Director of Counseling for New Horizons Institute of Counseling – United Brethren Counseling Ministry, 970 Peachtree Industrial Blvd, Suite 100, Suwanee, GA 30024.
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