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What is Distinctive About Christian Counseling?

By Helen Hofman, MA, LMHCA, Bellevue Christian Counseling

Holding out a helping handWhat makes me as a Christian counselor different from a counselor who does not profess the Christian faith? Is it the person of the counselor, or the techniques used? Is it because I am familiar with the Bible and can and apply relevant Bible verses to a client’s situation, being able to match Biblical teaching with the topics that my client is concerned about? Or does being a Christian mean that I know the “right” steps to use?

In this article, I provide an overview of some of the distinctive features of Christian counseling , showing how it is rooted in a Christian understanding of the human person. This understanding of the person enables me to enter into an authentic relationship with my clients and provides a safe space in which each one is supported on their own journey towards wholeness.

A Biblical View of Personhood

At the heart of Christian counseling is a Biblical view of personhood. The Christian counselor sees the client as a person made in the image of God. But the world is broken and so the client needs assistance in order to navigate life. Sin is real and it causes real pain and clear dysfunction everywhere — in our minds, bodies, families, relationships and environment. Nothing is fully as it could or should be, from the microscopic level to the international level. Yet the Christian knows that the redemption and restoration that Jesus offers us is as real as the brokenness around us. Many of the effects of sin in daily life can and will be pushed back.  Some of the effects of sin in the world will never be pushed back; then my work as a counselor is to help my client to find ways to live before God in as whole a manner as possible, with as much personal integrity as possible .

An Intentional Relationship

Human beings are fundamentally relational beings and so a Christian approach to counseling is primarily relational. We were created to live before and with God and each other. I engage in an intentional relationship, seeking to hear my client’s heart in an intently personal kind of listening. As I listen closely, I am moved by what their emotions and experience, and seek to create a back-and-forth exchange, as special space in which they can be known and understood. I invite and expect God’s Spirit to be present in each session, animating and empowering our verbal and nonverbal exchange.

A Christian Worldview

trip overWhether and how the Bible is used directly in the counseling room is less critical than the depth and breadth of my knowledge. Because I have wrestled through my own life issues, and have integrated a Biblical worldview with my academic and personal experiences, I am able to offer the client more than just technique and professional training. This Biblical worldview involves more than just patching together verses here and there, but is rather the fruit of a broader and deeper understanding that is both theological and practical. It is this underlying worldview that guides and shapes I use my professional training and study.

To show how my all this applies in a specific situation, consider a Christian man who has deeply and horribly wounded his wife by engaging in an online emotional affair. Beyond addressing the behavior he has adopted to satisfy legitimate deep desires and needs, I would address how he learned to not recognize that the desires and needs he was created with are good.  They are built into him as a man, and are meant to be brought into his marriage to fulfill both him and his wife.  He lives in an extremely high and sexualized culture, and resistance is weak. Reinforcing the verses about purity is inadequate in the situation. He has not understood how he is made, what power he has access to as a believer, and the nature of sin, and as the full reality of redemption. I as his therapist would work on all these issues with him, addressing him as a full person.

A Safe Space

As a Christian therapist, I seek to combine both theological soundness and emotional presence in order to receive what my client presents. While faithfulness to the truth demands a certain toughness, this needs to be paired with empathy and grace. It is of no use knowing the Bible cover to cover, or being able to identify error in a client’s life, if that client feels neither safe nor understood by the therapist. Both grace and truth are needed to help the client move through their life issues. Christ demonstrated both in his treatment of those who came to him in need, and I would must as well.

The Outer and the Inner Person

Christian counseling addresses both the external behavior of the counselee and their interior heart. For example, a female client may seek help for overeating, having unsuccessfully tried dozens of weight-loss diets over the years. This could be dealt with simply by suggesting behavioral change, dealing with her bad habits, and boosting her dragging self-esteem. As I am sensitive to her spiritual struggles, I sense that there are deeper issues involved. Through careful investigation and unvoiced prayer, I hope that my questions can probe deeper, enabling a deep anger to surface. It may emerge that the woman feels guilt over her deeply entrenched anger towards a member of her family. I would then address these internal issues of anger and guilt, as well as the external result of that anger.

We see, therefore, that the Christian counselor listens closely, deepens the sharing, and holds the issues with the client, all the while relying on discernment and knowledge of the counselee and of the therapy. My client needs to know that they are really heard: that they are listened to, heard, reflected on and known. Many of my counselees say that the relational aspects of our therapy, and especially that I cared for them, and prayed for and with them, deeply impacted them and helped them in our therapy.  Once I can create that crucial personal connection has been created, a safe place or platform is formed and my client and I can begin tackling their issues together.

Christian Counseling Can Help You on Your Journey towards Wholeness

We all struggle with deep issues in our lives as we journey towards wholeness. The theological term for this is sanctification, or becoming more Christ-like, and my task is to assist in this process of the client’s redemption. If you are struggling with particular issues and feel that Christian counseling could help you on your own journey towards wholeness, I would be happy to discuss this more with you.

Photos

Images are courtesy of dollarphoto.com; Man tripping vector – inciampare #41775783 ; Open extended hand #50577352 by duncanandiston

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