Christian Counseling actually doesn’t involve sessions that are focused on prayer and spiritual preaching. Instead, it is spiritual guidance within the ethical and scientific context of a psychological treatment approach. Those who want prayer or spiritual preaching can also work with their religious leaders, pastor or priest as an added support to traditional counseling.
What you can expect from a therapist in this context is someone, who as a Christian, has a value-based foundation and focus and respects the values and beliefs held by the patient — as it would be in all types of psychological treatment.
Spiritual-seeking patients who are not Christian expect a therapist with an ethical, value-based, foundation that respects their personal spiritual perspective as central and critical to their foundation, values, and worldview. Spiritual counseling, as with all types of psychological treatment, is focused on building upon strengths by understanding the patient as a total human being who is on a spiritual journey of self-discovery.
Sometimes this journey is a struggle that seems lonely and overwhelming and not much different than that experienced by others who seek psychological treatment.
Christian counseling concepts can provide an underlying focus in therapy. The underlying message of the New Testament is love, forgiveness, and humility. One of the principles that is part of any counseling or therapy situation is the guarantee that every person is accepted in a way that can help them grow emotionally, interpersonally and spiritually.
St. Paul made several directives in the book of Romans that may be viewed as core principles of Christian counseling. For example, he wrote about many issues that Christians need to be aware of regarding the Christian struggle and the importance of having a focused direction in therapy.
The “underlying message” of the New Testament is “love, forgiveness and humility.” One of the values that needs to be part of any counseling or therapy situation is to insure that everyone is accepted in a way that can help them grow emotionally, interpersonally and spiritually. Christian counseling and therapy are, therefore, based within the concept of “love and acceptance of others” where they are. Therapy does not involve preaching. It involves “listening and accepting as the core concepts of love, growth and change.”
Remember these key points:
- “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:17-18)
- “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” (Romans 14:13)
- “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Romans 14: 17-19)
- “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:7)
Spirituality and Psychological Therapy
Early Christianity noted that tending to the needs of people was known as “the cure of the soul, and the role of the cure was to maintain the individual in a religious and spiritual context. In ancient Greece, “therapy” meant service to the gods. Therefore, the care of the psyche and soul was therefore considered a “sacred act.”
With the advent of modern science and technology, the emphasis was more on objective facts and a neglect of the subjective issues of spirituality and faith. However, with this we have seen people increasingly searching for the “meaning of life” and “one’s connectedness to a higher spiritual meaning.” This has been increasingly recognized even by the American Psychological Association that established a Division of Religion within it’s structure in order to develop a better connection between the individual and the Divine.
Many therapists are perceived as not wanting to pay attention to the value-based needs, ethical systems, and religious/spiritual based foundations of religious patients. A further complication is that at times mental health therapists are seen as having incorrectly confused the term “Christian” with that of extreme controlling religious groups.
It is my hope to try to clarify some of the elements involved with Christian Counseling that are central to all aspects of psychological services. Remember:
- Christian Counseling involves an environment of similar beliefs.
- It does not involve prayer or preaching.
- Shared faith and values allow for meaningful therapy.
Early Christians viewed tending to the needs of people as “the cure of the soul” and believed that the cure was to maintain the individual in a religious and spiritual context. In ancient Greece, “therapy” meant service to the gods. Therefore, the care of the psyche and soul was considered a sacred act.
With the advent of modern science and technology, emphasis was placed more on objective facts and less on the subjective issues of spirituality and faith. However, we have seen more and more people searching for the meaning of life and their connectedness to a higher spiritual meaning. This has been increasingly recognized by the American Psychological Association, which established a division of religion within its structure in order to develop a better connection between the individual and the divine.
Having a shared faith in the context of Christian Counseling allows us to explore our issues with the understanding that our faith is not only important, but greater than ourselves.
In having the same spiritual approach, we are able to accept and understand that what we do in life has significant consequences for ourselves and the impact that it has on others. We can more easily evaluate our decisions and the requirements of our faith.
Where we fail is when we neglect to understand that we all have limits and boundaries that we must respect as God’s children. Keeping our focus on our spirituality allows use to remember that the world does not revolve around us; there is a greater purpose in life that God wants us to follow and understand.
Spiritual Growth vs. the Quick Fix
Our faith, and existence, is not built on a constant search for the direct and immediate experience and a spiritual journey with God. The reality is that we can have periods of time when we do have the “mountain top experiences.” However, ultimately we all have to come down from the mountain and be among the everyday issues of life. Real faith and commitment come from dealing with each moment, each day, and each problem that we have to face in life.
We can experience God through knowledge and our own personal growth that we gain from this knowledge. Doing this is not the “quick peak experience.” Real experiences that are worth their weight in gold come over time and through struggles. Even Jesus Christ had to experience 30 years of life, a long time in those days, before he was ready for his ministry. Even before he could do this he had to spend 40 days and nights in the wilderness facing struggles and the evil temptations by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). History continues to teach us that nothing happens fast in life.
In order to grow, we need to enjoy our own moments of vision when they do happen to us even when we do have hear direct voices from heaven or have mountain top experiences. Glimpses of peak experiences happen as we are living our ordinary lives as we encounter others and learn to live when we are most alone and lost. These moments of life help to sustain us through the difficult times in life. Much of life is “living the ordinary” rather than always searching for peak experiences.
The Bible is based on how God’s people have had to suffer first before they reach the “promised land.” Christ’s suffering on the cross is also part of the suffering that had to be endured for a greater purpose in life. We have to learn to “bear our own cross” of suffering and to “stay with it” understanding that “it is not my will, but thy will be done.”
The Reality of Change in a Spiritual Life
The more we become impatient, want quick decisions, answers, solutions, and even cures, the less chance that we will ever experience them. We also have to give “room to others” to find their own level, reach their own decisions, and struggle in their own time regardless of what we “know” is right for them and us. One’s real spiritual journey comes when one starts to accept that they have absolutely no control over life. It also comes from understanding that each of us has to experience our own “40 days and 40 nights” of struggles to grow and find out what it is that God is trying to direct us to.
Remember, the more we fight, the longer it will take to find what it is that we are meant to be in life. Our life is always changing, evolving, maturing, and challenging us to reach to a new level. Real spiritual change comes from dealing with the everyday problems, losses, disappointments, struggles, relationships, and the frustrations of what others do to us that is upsetting.
Spiritual Compassion & Responsibility
St. Paul talked of his commission in proclaiming the Gospel: For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. (1 Corinthians 9: 19-23). In other words, St. Paul is suggesting to all of us that we are to serve with compassion to everyone, in order to serve one another. This includes not only our approach to others, but to ourselves.
Jesus Christ reached out to the average person, those who were suffering and felt lost, and those with whom others did not want to be associated in order to share healing, love and the Gospel (the Good News). “…they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons…. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him…. and he went went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.” (Mark 1: 32-34; 39).
We are to follow these examples and reach out to “heal and help” if others also “reach out honestly asking” for such help. We all grow in our faith by opening up, sharing, talking, asking for help, and in turn helping others.
How Does This Influence Therapy?
Entering therapy requires developing trust and patience to endure as one “works through” the process of change within a value-based setting. The end results are worth it if you are willing to take the chance to grow and change in new ways. We all resist change, the unknown, and those things that we have “hidden deep inside” of ourselves. Entering therapy requires “taking the leap of faith” and being open to allowing for “real change” through honesty, work, and being open to what one must learn about oneself.
Therapy, Moses, and the Great Mountain
In the Bible, there are many 40 days and 40 nights of experiences that have to happen as part of having to “endure and mature” in life. They are there to teach us about what we have to do to “endure” if we are to grow emotionally and spiritually.
Moses, as part of his leading the Israelites out of Egypt, stops at Mt. Sinai because God has called out to him to meet him on the top of the mountain to receive the stone tablets on which the law and ten commandments would be written (Exodus 24:12-18). The experience was another 40 days and 40 nights on the mountain with God. This “mountain top experience” required that Moses also wait six days at first before God called out to him in all his full glory. When he came down from the mountain he had to return to the problems of the Israelites who had “lost their direction” and “were frustrated in waiting for Moses to return.”
This all resulted in Moses needing to confront their impatience, set boundaries, while throwing the tablets to the ground which opened up in God’s frustration with the impatience of man who wanted to find ways of controlling things themselves by creating a golden calf as a golden god idol to worship. This also resulted in Moses having to return again to the mountain and God to again receive the commandments that were designed to “shape” humankind into a unified community.
What can we learn from this? Even the Israelites even had to journey in the wilderness for 40 years until they learned to become a functioning team and community. Even more so, each of us must have a “spiritual journey” that takes into consideration our struggles and frustrations as we learn to “delay gratifications” as part of this important journey.
The Spiritual Responsibility of Therapy
Spirituality for the individual requires understanding and examining many issues, but must consider the five important issues of love: Others, Forgiveness, Work, Belonging, and God.
Love of Others: This suggests that love demands attachment, yet requires a healthy distance.
Love of Forgiveness: Forgiving frees us from the harmful effects of anger, hate, humiliation and embarrassment. It also involves totally accepting others and the differences of others. Love of forgiveness also requires that we “forgive ourselves” for the past in order to free us to be part of the present and future.
Love of Work: God is present not only in prayers but also in the details of our everyday chores. One cannot search for the Soul, or any spiritual meaning from within; Spirituality cannot be divorced from one’s relations in the outside world. Positive intentions, without taking action (doing the work), has little meaning.
Love of Belonging: Belonging is living in the world with others. It is the outward form of communion which requires some degree of sacrifice of one’s self-centeredness. It is appreciating the simple life, honoring basic virtues, and above all, promoting selflessness. It is not focusing on one’s own success. It means believing together (“where two are more are gathered there am I”). One goes to a religious service to “find a congregation of believers who share that which means most to you. Faith comes from “hearing, and sharing, the Word” in community with each other
Love of the Sacred God: This requires believing in the sanctity of everything around us that God has put here for us, including all of our experiences, health, illness, pleasure, pain, joy, sadness, gain, loss, success and failure, birth and death. It is understanding one’s purpose and God’s hand in that purpose. For Christians, it is understanding the Message, the Gospel of Good News, in Jesus Christ and that we are saved, and justified through faith, by God’s Grace.
Christian Counseling in Therapy
Most therapy services can be provided within a short-term focus that makes an effort to focus on the strengths in the person. We cannot always make changes by our own will. However, we have been given a brain to think with, a knowledge of what is right and wrong, and a will to choose to do things differently. Value-based therapy provides for a focus on “the brain that God has given all of us” to make changes and to analyze situations.
However, because we are not always conscious of our actions, and why we are stuck in repeating dysfunctional patterns, it helps to allow us to be open to another person who shares a similar background of values. Therapy needs to focus on finding solutions to problems. It is when we are distracted by issues of blame or fault-finding that we go astray.