Christians, just like non-Christians, may suffer from emotional problems and mental illness and undergo counseling sessions. Because Christians understand the nature of man through a relationship to a Higher Power, Christian counseling sessions differ from secular counseling. What are the differences, and is one better than another? The answer to those questions lies in an examination of the qualifications of Christian counselors and of the session itself.
Advisor Versus Counselor
First, it is important to note that many people, Christian and secular, may call themselves counselors when they have little or no training. There is no regulation for advisors, even though they may identify themselves as counselors. This discussion is concerned with licensed counselors and psychologists. Pastors and laypeople may offer counseling services and may have some training, but they do not have the advanced education to be licensed. Licensing requires applicants to have hundreds of hours in supervised sessions and a minimum of a master’s degree in psychology or counseling.
Secular Session Procedures
Secular counseling is based upon research and reasoning. Therapists usually try to put clients at ease but keep small talk to a minimum. Most counseling sessions with a secular therapist begin with the client reporting their feelings or telling the therapist what has occurred in their life. According to an article in Psychology Today, the counselor will usually have reviewed case notes so that they are “up-to-speed” and can give some input. Therapists ask “leading” questions that can prompt clients to self-discovery and employ several kinds of therapeutic problem-solving techniques, but most of the talking is done by the client. Therapists often help clients to establish realistic goals for therapy. The client may even be asked to take notes on the meeting. Sessions generally end with the counselor assigning “homework” to the client.
Christian Counseling Sessions
Christian counselors view psychological issues in light of a client’s relationship with God. They utilize a variety of therapy methods such as Cognitive Behavior and Psychoanalytic Therapy, but they add the dynamic of scriptures and Biblically-based foundations. Sessions often begin with prayer and Bible readings. Afterward, as in secular therapy, the client reports their feelings and any relevant happenings in their case. Because Christian counseling often involves family or marital matters, family members may be included in the session. Clients and therapists work to establish goals. They may be individual, or mutually agreeable among all people involved. Christian clinicians may administer tests or ask diagnostic questions, teach coping behaviors or utilize other counseling tools, and they use scriptural references to address the issues. Christian counselors, however, recognize the importance of self-determination, so they do not attempt to “convert” their clients. Sessions end with the clinician assigning homework and with prayer.
Christian counseling is generally better for a client of faith because the client already accepts the principles upon which it is based. It is a more comfortable setting for him or her. If a licensed Christian counselor is not available, however, the client would probably be better served to see a licensed secular counselor. Additionally, all counselors will refer clients to other therapists if they cannot meet their needs. The fundamental differences in the sessions between a secular and a Christian counselor, then, arise from the different understanding of the origin of psychological or mental health problems.