Why Choose A Christian Counselor?
The Bible tells us in 1 Kings 22:5 to "first seek the counsel of the LORD." When we face problems such as anxiety, depression, grief, or marriage struggles, it's important to find a counselor who uses God's word as the foundation of truth. Every therapist possesses his or her own personal opinions, but opinions aren't always right. A person can be sincere and still be wrong. If your counselor's philosophy doesn't line up with God's word, then you need to change counselors.
Isaiah 40:8 says, "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of God stands forever." Therefore, it is essential for Christians to employ only a counselor who lives in total dependence on Christ and who seeks His will. Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
A Christian therapist will approach counseling with a different world view than a secular therapist. He or she will honor your sense of faith and understand the values you seek to maintain and practice. While relying on knowledge gained from the study of psychology, a Christian therapist will also turn to the Bible for guidance in addressing his or her client's struggles.
The root of psychological problems can be both physical (resulting from brain chemistry) and spiritual (resulting from the effects of living in a fallen world that is often living in opposition to God's will). While a secular psychologist or psychiatrist will address only the psychological and chemical components of the equation, the Christian therapist will recognize the importance of the spiritual component and also give you spiritual tools to lessen your load.
What Types of Christian Counselors Are There?
The first step to choosing a therapist is to decide what type of Christian counselor you need. Many different people can play a counseling role in the life of a Christian. Here are the four primary types of Christian counselors:
1. Lay Counselors
While lay counselors may lack professional degrees, they often undergo specialized training through programs such as Stephen Ministries. Lay counselors typically serve as volunteers, and their services are often free, so they may be a good choice if you find your budget is particularly tight. Lay counselors such as Stephen Ministers are trained to provide Christ-centered, one-to-one care to hurting individuals. Leaders undergo training courses and can help individuals with issues ranging from grief to struggles with temptation. Caring for People God's Way, Pure Intimacy, and Setting Captives Free are just a few of the organizations that will connect you with lay counselors.
2. Pastoral Counselors
These licensed mental health professionals have also undergone in-depth training in the spiritual realm, such as in the field of theology. Pastoral counselors sometimes work privately, but also often work outside of church offices or otherwise have ties to churches. Many pastoral counselors belong to The American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC). The AAPC's members provide integrated counseling that is spiritually informed. The organization was established in 1963, and it sets certification standards for its over 2,000 members. Members of the AAPC have ongoing opportunities for in-service training and many resources at their fingertips. You can also find pastoral counselors outside of the organization.
3. Professional Counselors
These counselors are professionals who have met the prescribed standards of the state for their particular license. These standards will vary from state to state and from license to license. The specialties of these professionals also vary. Types of professional counselors include board certified psychologists, marriage and family therapists, licensed professional counselors, licensed social workers, licensed clinical psychologists, licensed marriage and family counselors, and licensed chemical dependency counselors. Professional counselors may advertise that they are Christian, or you may have to inquire.
4. Christian Support Groups
Christian support groups are another way to obtain counseling. These groups are especially popular among individuals who are dealing with a medical condition, undergoing separation or divorce or who have recently experienced the loss of a loved one. Christian support groups can also provide accountability to those who are struggling with a wide variety of addictions. Some people prefer the convenience and relative anonymity of online Christian support groups. You can discover a wide variety of support groups at http://community.edrugsearch.com/christian-support-groups.
How Do I Find a Christian Counselor?
Start by asking your pastor for references. Pastors have to deal with a wide variety of issues among their congregation, and they are usually well informed about the available resources for struggling individuals. Your pastor may already have a connection with one or more Christian counselors. You can also consult the websites of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC) or the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC). If you are in a health care PPO, review the options available to you. Be sure to research any therapist you are considering visiting.
What Factors Should I Consider When Choosing a Counselor?
Once you have decided which type of Christian counselor you wish to employ, you will need to choose a specific counselor. The client-counselor relationship is an important one, and therefore it's essential that you find the right match for you. If you feel you would be more comfortable with a female counselor than with a male counselor, or vice versa, you can begin your process of elimination right there. Next, call any therapist you are considering using and set up a phone interview so that you can learn more about the counselor.
When making your selection, there are five questions you should ask your potential Christian counselor:
1. What is your specialty?
While many Christian counselors work with a broad array of problems, some specialize. Make sure your counselor has experience addressing the particular struggle you face. Ask her what experience she has working with people who suffer similar problems. If you're dealing with marriage problems or stresses resulting from parenting a special needs child, you'll probably want a marriage and family counselor. If you're struggling with alcoholism, you might need to seek out a licensed chemical dependency counselor.
2. What are your qualifications?
Ask what degrees or licenses your Christian counselor has. If you are opting for a lay counselor, ask about his or her memberships and what kind of training he or she has received. You may want to review the websites of any organizations to which your potential counselor belongs.
3. What is your counseling philosophy?
Find out if your Christian counselor is open to the possibility of medication, or if he prefers other avenues for addressing problems. Ask how he integrates biblical truths into counseling. You may also want to know what your potential counselor believes about miracles, the role of women in marriage, divorce, remarriage, homosexuality and any number of other issues that could affect his counseling perspective. Feel free to ask about these things so that you can find a counselor with whom you are comfortable.
4. How do you practice your Christianity?
If it's important to you to have a Christian therapist, then you'll want to make sure he or she is actually a practicing Christian. Ask your potential counselor if he belongs to a church and what ministries or services he has joined. You may also wish to ask if your potential counselor prays with clients.
5. What are your rates and how do I pay?
This may sound mercenary, but it's an important question to ask. If you begin a counseling relationship with a therapist you can't afford, you won't be able to continue your sessions, and you may find yourself starting from scratch. Some Christian therapists will charge you based on your ability to pay. Make sure you clearly understand the counselor's rates and acceptable methods of payment, including any payment plans, before you begin counseling.
After you have decided what type of counselor you would like, obtained references from your pastor or searched available resources for counselors, and interviewed potential counselors, you'll be ready to make your selection. Proverbs tells us that "without counsel, plans fail." Without counsel, we too can sometimes falter in mind or spirit. Consider your options and this advice as you seek a Christian counselor to guide you through the wilderness of your life.