Behavior OnLine Forums

Behavior OnLine Forums (
-   Law, Ethics, and Psychotherapy (
-   -   What exactly is Christian Counseling (

sk8rgrl23 December 13th, 2005 12:05 PM

What exactly is Christian Counseling
I really want to keep an open mind on this, but recently I've been confronted with two incidents of what I see as really bad therapy with a Christian spin to it. One is related to a client I just started seeing that came from a christian counseling center describing some serious ethical boundary violations, but since I didn't observe this firsthand, I"m going to comment on the incident I did experience first hand.

Last Saturday I went to a training that had been approved for CEU's by our state licensing board. The title was 'group leader training for sexual abuse survivors," which is right up my alley. When I got the packet I noticed it was from a christian "academy" and I was initially skeptical but I said, "No Monica, let's keep an open mind on this, they probably are not related to Pat Robertson." I went expecting to learn some new approaches and interventions, but what I got was Bible Study (which I can't use given that I work for a public mental health agency), gay bashing and overall gross insensitivity to the needs and vulnerabilities of sexual abuse victims. As one example of the level of incompetence I observed, two of the forms in the "workbook" (read: a plastic-binded set of xeroxed pages of irrelevant and biased data for which I was asked to pay $15) it included a registration form which asks prospective gruop members/clients to disclose specificially what type of abuse they suffered, including who did it and what body parts were involved. This registration form supposedly is to be collected (by whom?) and kept (where?) and used for (what?). Another form in there was a "no suicide" contract-so the people who put htis together have some rudimentary knowledge of the risks involved-but it only said to call your group leader if you are feeling suicidal. This training, as it turns out, was primarily geared to train people to go back to their churches to train people themselves to lead a "support" group on this. so a suicidal gruop member is being asked to seek help from a lay person who is unlikely to have even the most basic training in crisis intervention.

The other part of this, that leads me to question what exactly is christian counseling, is that the workbook included selected passages from the Bible, and were mostly irrelevant to the issue. Much of the language in the workbook, designed to be used directly with clients, included language derrogatory to gays and anyone in a nontraditional family structure. When questioned the instuctor, a licensed counselor, stated that her clients know when they come to her that she is a christian counselor so they know what to expect and she makes no apologies for her beliefs.

So given these two recent incidents, being my only contact with the world of Christian counseling, I'm led to believe that this isn't so much therapy as it is religious ministering, as the therapy seems to be designed around the therapist's religious framework rather than the client's. also, my impression given her statements is that she treats only Christian clients. Given her stated position and my impressions from this really poorly designed training and grouip format, I"m wondering if this particluar counselor has any real interventions other than bible reading.

But none of this looks to me like it qualifies as therapy, for much the same reason as Intelilgent Design is not science. If there are any Christian counselors out there who can give me an explanation of how interventions specific to Christianity can be used that are supported by research, I'm all ears. Otherwise, I fail to see any advantages to Christian counseling over mainstream counseling, as we are all supposedly bound to certain ethics, which include helping the client and treating them fairly and not imposing the therapist's beliefs on the client.

William Reid December 13th, 2005 03:49 PM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
Glory Be! A post at last! C'mon in. Have a cup of coffee. May I get you a nosh? a cruller?

If you don't know what a nosh or a cruller is, then (1) you're not Jewish and (2) you're a lot younger than I.

I hope we'll get some replies to your post, since it has a lot of relevance to ethics and standard-of-care issues. Speaking for myself, I'm not sure there's an "official" definition for "Christian counseling." While we're waiting for what should be a veritable onslaught of comments and insight, here are a few related thoughts:

I certainly would expect (albeit often vainly, I'm afraid) any professional counselor to first be competent and ethical. After that, there are lots of legitimate directions in which to go. Sounds as if you think the folks you encountered lacked sufficient competence. I don't like that whether it's Christian or something else.

I see a lot of need for counselors who share some life experience with their patients/clients. That doesn't mean that drug abusers should always see recovering addicts, and certainly not that people with bipolar disorder (or something comparable) should rely on counselors who've had a major depressive or manic episode. I do see, in both clinical work and forensic consultations, patients and potential patients of strong faith who have a lot of trouble connecting when their therapists either have none or downplay the importance of faith in the patient's life and problems. Sometimes there's little choice, for example when assigned to someone in a government agency or HMO. In most cases, I'd rather refer such a person to a believer in a different religion than to someone who doesn't have a religious connection at all (or who may have an ax to grind with religion). The traditional tolerance of Jewish therapists, including rabbis, comes to mind.

I have a lot of problem, as you apparently have also, with people who attempt to proselytize or convert others under the guise of therapy. They can do a lot of damage, especially to fairly ill patients. At the least, the patient/client doesn't get what he/she came for (and is probably paying for). That could reach the level of fraud or malpractice, and if given under the auspices of a professional license could be outside the professional practice rules for that state. Saying something like "the people who come to me know I'm a (Christian) counselor" doesn't exempt a therapist from the legal and ethical duty to be competent, not misrepresent what he/she's doing, and practice within the standard of care.

That begs a question about pastoral counselors, priests who advise parishioners, etc. I don't know the legal and ethical expectation when such a person isn't separately licensed as a mental health professional. I do believe that a clergyperson with a professional license would be required to meet the relevant standard of care in all counseling settings, and would not be able to switch back and forth between the professional and the religious at will during a session (but maybe not: I'm neither a lawyer nor a cleric). In Texas, at least, pastoral counselors are held to the same patient/client abuse laws as any other counselor.

Da Friendly Puter Tech December 13th, 2005 06:17 PM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
This is an interesting post - and I think that the question could even be expanded to include other counseling within the auspices of other religious faiths as well. These days we have Christian counselors, Buddhist counselors etc etc.

I will share my personal experiences with you.

I saw therapist 1 in regards to some specific issues that had a large influence on my own faith. When I found her I was initially aware of what her faith was, and I specifically requested that we could use some of the resources that her faith connection gave her because I thought it would directly have an impact on the work I wanted to do. We discussed this both during the initial consult, and ongoingly throughout the work. We did manage to touch on some of the controversies of faith based counseling in our discussion, but the bottom line for me was that whenever we discussed anything related to her faith it was done within the frame work of what I needed to progress in my own work. Her faith knowledge became simply another resource for me to draw on. It was done elegantly, respectfully and had a good impact in my life. When she drew in some of the knowledge or resources based in her faith she always made sure to identify them as such and then opened it up for me to examine how it related to my issues and what was my truth in relation to this.

I saw an other therapist for a short time - he was a trainee. This therapist drew in his own faith, what his guru told him, and faith based quotations regularly. He had very little idea what the framework was of his clients when he did this. At first I wanted to be tolerant of his faith, but i asked specifically which faith or guru he referred to so I could find out where the influence came from, and make my own decisions as to how much I wanted to listen to that part of it. Eventually it became too much work for me to try and sort through his religious glasses, and i requested he left his faith at the door. Which he did. I did eventually decide not to work with this therapist, but that was for other reasons.

I think there are so many fine lines that has to be walked when / if a therapist draws in their own faith to the work. Obviously - when done right I think it can have a big positive impact, but if done incorrectly it can have at least as big a negative impact.

To me - maybe the biggest pitfall is that the therapist who draws in their own faith to the therapy framework might have trouble setting it aside enough to allow the client to work within their own truths. There might simply be too many preconceived ideas. It sounds to me like the Christian counselors you refer to was completely unable to allow the clients to work within their own frame work, and in fact stamped their own opinions on the work, and thats never good therapy.

It would be great if this thread could provoke a discussion of when is religious counseling ethical and where exactly does the lines get drawn.

Da Friendly Puter Tech

sk8rgrl23 December 13th, 2005 07:04 PM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
It was on principles of ethics and standard of care that I reported this to the state licensure board. Aside from the bible study (which I was really disturbed to think that they could justify doing this for money) there was just so much about that training that could pose serious harm to clients, or even to well-meaning but untrained group leaders.

Practicing in a publicly funded agency does not prohibit one from including spirituality issues or using whatever religious references the client may present. I am just not clear what the difference is between what I do and what a "christian" counselor does, except the focus is on the bible. But what makes it specifically Christian, and does making it specificially christian violate ethical standards. For example, do they only then treat clients that are leading a Christian lifestyle? Or do they see nonchristian clients but still use biblical references, and if so, is that ethical? And if it's biblically oriented, does that mean you make decisions based on biblical principles, and then does it cease to be therapy and morph into pastoral guidance?

Mostly I think I just needed to vent, as I've been fuming about htis for over a week now and still can't get the bad taste out of my system.....

BTW, I know what a cruller is, having lived in New England for some time, but what exactly is a "nosh?"

William Reid December 13th, 2005 11:40 PM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
Ah, Da Friendly is still around. Good.

Just a quick observation (and maybe I'm being picky): Neither of the last two posters consistently capitalized "Bible" or "Christian." Given that proper grammar demands capitalization, and respect for others' beliefs suggests the same, is there some reason, or was it just an oversight? I must admit that I purposely avoid capitalizing "scientology."

A nosh is a snack, sk8rgrl. One out of two ain't bad.

sk8rgrl23 December 14th, 2005 12:16 PM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
Oops, mostly an oversight, my fingers sometimes jump the tracks. Not intended as a slur toward anyone. I think if there was vocabulary to distinguish the real Christians from the Fake christians I would capitalize or un-capitalize intentionally.....

I'm still hopeful to hear from someone who can give me a good explanation about this that will give me a better impression of this type of counseling.

sk8rgrl23 December 15th, 2005 10:37 AM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
For me, I think the fine line is when the therapist tries to impose thier own belief system on the client. Calling yourself a Christian counselor I don't think justifies using the therapy hour to save souls. Nor does it make it okay to use the Bible to moralize or otherwise scare a client into following recommendations of any sort. I would like to think that Christian counseling is about being supportive of a client's need to refer to the Bible, but allowing the client to take the lead, such as selecting passages or coming up with their own interpretations. IN that case, I'm having a hard time understanding how Christian counseling would differ from any mainstream counseling.

Da Friendly Puter Tech December 15th, 2005 05:17 PM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling

I was tired that day. I will go back and change it.

I respect all expressions of faith that treat their adherents with respect, and blanketly disrespect all expressions of faith that does not treat their adherents with respect!

By far most Christians are good, honest, respectful and kind people.

Da Friendly Puter Tech.

kittenkrusher December 21st, 2005 06:52 PM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
I think you've got a hold of it in the ethical sence. Its just not proper counseling to hold someone to any standard other than theyr own. It doesnt matter if your a Christian Counselor or Counselor, when you impose personal dogma on someone,or let it inhibit your approach to them, your ate up. Its scary the only Counselors in the Military are Chaplains. :eek:

William Reid December 22nd, 2005 09:53 AM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
Why do you say that the only counselors in the military are chaplains (I note that you identify yourself as a soldier)? The military has many kinds of counselors in different venues, from the chaplaincy to general health care to mental health specialists. Some are highly trained (e.g., doctorate or MSW); others are bachelors- or masters-level, or have a support MOS.

My experience is based on my own military service, a little teaching in military and VA centers and consulting to DOD, and some informal sources (I occasionally play tennis with the retired chaplain to the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- what a coincidence, a nice guy and fine player). Perhaps non-chaplain counselors are more accessible in large centers, such as military posts and hospitals, than in the field?

Are there any Christian-oriented, other-religion-oriented, chaplains, or pastoral counselors out there to comment? Seems odd to discuss a topic without some representation from the field we're discussing.

All times are GMT -4. The time now is 01:37 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.7.3
Copyright ©2000 - 2021, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Copyright © 1995-2004 Behavior OnLine, Inc. All rights reserved.