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Information for Christians Considering Counseling

This page contains some of the most commonly asked questions and concerns raised by Christians who might be considering services from a psychologist.  Please consider these thoughts with an open mind as you evaluate whether or not I am the right person to help you with your concerns.

Do you practice "Christian Counseling?"  Might as well start with the most loaded question.  It is a loaded question because there are many ideas about what constitutes "Christian Counseling," and the questioning person typically has some specific ideas about what this should be.  Here are some of my basic tenants and practices:

  • The extent to which matters of faith are discussed is decided primarily by you.  I typically ask my clients about their religious and spiritual life in the first or second session. 

  • For those identifying as Christian, some just want a psychologist who is in agreement with the foundational teachings of their faith.  Others are wanting an approach that involves using scripture, prayer, and the prescription of Christian disciplines in the service of alleviating suffering.  I fall somewhere between these two positions.  Further bullet points will clarify.

  • God can and does use the psychotherapy relationship to help bring healing and change.

  • I initiate prayer and the use of scripture extremely rarely (and only with Christian clients), though I will freely join a client in these activities at his or her request.  I am much more likely to ask questions about what your pastor or scripture teaches about a particular issue or share a relevant example of a particular issue from scripture (e.g., Job's handling of suffering).  This is because the therapy relationship involves a power differential, and the risk of abusing that power increases as the therapist initiates more of these activities (McMinn, 1996).  This does not mean that those using these disciplines are abusing their clients, only that the risk for such goes up.   

  • I shy away from making pronouncements about how you should live because God, the scripture, and your pastor are much better sources of authority on those issues.  Because Christian clients have already sought counsel from fellow Christians, spiritual authorities, Christian self-help books, and the Scriptures, they often come to therapy already aware of some significant personal sin that may be affecting their distress.  In these cases, further "preaching" is not required.  (Example: A client who has been verbally and emotionally abusive toward his or her spouse and children often is already aware that it is sinful and destructive - they have read it in the scripture or have been reminded by authorities in their church.  What he or she needs is help in understanding the reasons for this behavior occurring and how to change it). 

  • As a member of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies, I affirm the purpose and Biblical principles found in the ethics code of this organization, which can be viewed by clicking here

Will you try to change, alter, or otherwise take away my faith?  A qualified no is in order here.  Let me explain: It is important to be open to exploring all the important areas of your life in psychotherapy, and faith is no different to the extent that it is (hopefully) a major source of support, healing, and meaning in your life.  I want that to grow, not diminish.  However, some people have histories with their spiritual communities that are filled with shame, fear, and even spiritual abuse.  Since I believe that faith in Jesus brings us joy, salvation, and victory, I am likely to target shame, fear, and distorted images of God (e.g., distant and punitive) for change. 

Are you saying I should not feel guilty?  Absolutely not.  Sometimes, guilt is just good common sense.  It is an emotion that lets us know that we need to repent and seek change and reconciliation.  However, there are other times when guilt feelings are related to something that is not sinful (Example: a person has feelings of guilt after having sex with his or her spouse).  In those cases, it is important to examine the source of this feeling.

Will you try to "raise my self-esteem?"  I think the best answer to this might come from Jesus himself, who [quoting Torah - Deuteronomy 6, specifically] stated that the two greatest commandments of Torah are that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves [Matthew 22:34-40].  If we do not love ourselves, then what kind of love can we possibly show our neighbor?  If we love ourselves too much, what kind of love can we possibly offer to God?  Either extreme is likely to become a focus of counseling.      

Will you collaborate with my pastor (or, alternatively - Will my pastor find out I'm seeing you?)  I am very open to collaboration with your pastor in helping you find freedom from the emotional struggles that bind you.  However, whether or not this happens is entirely up to you and requires your written consent.  I do not talk to anyone to whom you do not specifically authorize me to speak except as required or permitted by law (e.g., if you are suicidal, homicidal, etc.).  If you list your pastor as an emergency contact person, I may contact him or her in the interest of the safety of you or someone else.  One more thing - if you initially want me to collaborate with your pastor and then change your mind (or vice versa), it is acceptable to ask for this in writing. 

I was told I need to see a "Biblical Counselor."  Is that you?  When people make reference to this, they are generally referring to what Jay Adams initially called "Nouthetic Counseling."  The Greek root of this is noutheteo, which is best rendered as legal counsel.  Those espousing this position tend to believe that God has revealed all we really need to know about what we call psychological, emotional, or behavioral problems in scripture.  This has not been my training by choice because I do not share this belief.  However, I would not stand in the way of someone seeking this method of growth.  Such an approach is available in the Arlington Heights area should one wish to avail him or herself of it.  One need only search on the internet. [Caveat: I have absolutely no control over the services that are offered there, and therefore cannot be held responsible for the quality of services that are offered.  This information is offered only as information and not as a specific referral.]  Relatedly...

I have read that seeing a psychologist is sinful, and my pastor keeps telling me that Christ is sufficient.  I mean, the fathers and mothers of our faith did not have Christian psychologists, so why do we need them now?  There have been many critiques and criticisms of clinical psychology (and the mental health disciplines more broadly) from Christians both inside and outside the profession.  These range from well reasoned concerns to rambling ignorance and incoherence.  Rather than addressing specific individuals or schools of thought, let me just say the following:

  • Intelligent, well-meaning, and serious Christians can and do disagree on this issue. 

  • I have been thinking, practicing, and studying these matters for a long time, and have done my best to come to some resolution I can live with.  I do not claim to own objective reality or absolute truth - God does. 

  • Criticisms by Christians against mental health practice are often rooted in a division of the world into the sacred and the secular.  But, God is the ruler of the whole universe - both the sacred and the secular.  In his most recent book Surprised by Scripture, N.T. Wright exposes this position as problematic at best.  God has bestowed upon us intelligence and curiosity to study creation, in which Paul teaches us God's glory has been revealed.   It is this that gives us, for example, medical advances to cure or at least control diseases and prolong human life.  Yet few Christians question these medical breakthroughs. 

  • Another source of criticism is that some view psychology as giving excuses for destructive behavior and offering license to continue unabated.  No better example of this exists than the [incorrect] interpretation of Sigmund Freud as advocating for complete sexual freedom.  Freud never said this, and this has obfuscated Freud's belief that by uncovering those things that are hidden due to emotional pain can lead us to take responsibility for ourselves and make more constructive decisions.  While a full explanation of this is beyond the scope of this faq file, exploration of the past is done in order to recognize and mourn the ways that you have been sinned against, to better understand how you have learned to live with that truth [be it spoken or otherwise], and most importantly how to be empowered to make more constructive choices in the future.   

  • Humans, be they psychologists who are Christian or well-meaning individuals in the church, are never sufficient.  God can and does use both to provide healing.  Furthermore, many pastors are so overworked that they do not have the time to really devote to counseling - and many have little or no training.  In fairness, there are some churches in the area who offer a wide range of ministry services for people who are hurting emotionally, and I am thrilled by this because historically people with emotional problems have been ignored or ostracized.   

  • Maybe the saints of our faith did not have Christian psychologists.  But they didn't have angioplasty and antibiotics, either.  But, what they likely did have were scholars who helped them apply scripture pragmatically to their everyday lives.  This role of wise men has some very important similarities (and differences) to modern psychologists (Jones & Butman, 1991).  For example, the scripture teaches us about forgiveness, and a good psychologist is equipped with ways to help you do that. 

I am not a Christian, but practice [insert faith view here] or I don't practice anything.  Will you try to convert me?  First, thank you for reading this far.  The answer to your question is no.  My strong belief is that psychotherapy or other professional psychological activity is not the appropriate place for evangelism.  As I stated above, I am acutely aware of a power differential that can exist in a professional relationship.  I will likely want to know more about whatever faith you practice (or if you don't practice anything), and will have similar questions about how this affects your life.  For example, if one were to tell me that they practiced Buddhism then I would want to know more about the individual's practice of meditation, view of "self," and the like.  I will also want to know about the person's engagement with the community to ascertain to what extent this is a positive source of support.  The goal in these questions is not to change anything, but to understand you and your concerns in your whole life context.  If you have further questions, I invite you to discuss them with me directly.

If your question is not specifically addressed, please feel free to contact me and I would welcome the opportunity to dialogue with you about these important issues. 

  2006: Mitchell W. Hicks, PhD.  All Rights Reserved.