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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.

sk8rgrl23 December 28th, 2005 03:05 PM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
That's what I was hoping for. I have posted questions on this on a couple other bulletin boards on this topic, and have gotten all kinds of repsonses, some agree wtih me wholeheartedly, others want to chase me off the planet.But so far I have gotten no real concrete information on what this is.

William Reid December 29th, 2005 09:02 AM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
Since you're getting few responses, and little concrete help, maybe you should do a brief study or survey on the topic. Seriously, some literature review and an objective survey of some kind might be a nice contribution to the professional literature. I could see a couple of possible topics: (1) How do the people who do it (or say they do it) define it (there may be several answers), and/or (2) what is the perception from outside the Christian (or other-religion-based) field (either other professionals or laypersons).

Maybe you could even find a grad student who needs a research project to do some of the leg work.

sk8rgrl23 January 17th, 2006 10:25 AM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
THat's an excellent idea. I kind of got pulled away from this for a bit (holiday stuff) but I'm just about ripe for a little project. I just knew my alumni library privileges would come in handy some day......

William Reid January 18th, 2006 10:58 AM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
Great. Go to it, and keep us apprised of your results. Let me know if you get data that you think is worth publishing; I work with some professional journals (mostly psychiatric, however).

Charles McNeil February 24th, 2006 01:02 PM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling

Originally Posted by William Reid
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.

Yeah, that's a bit picky. :) :eek: :) I don't capitalize religious terms regardless of faith tradition. I don't do so to slight anyone, it's just that to me, a non-believer for the most part, it would feel to me as if I cared more about the terms and what they represent than I actually do. However, I might feel differently if I was a member of the religion in question.

BTW, is anyone here aware of the fact that "dianetics counselor" either is or was previously indexed in the US DOT (Dictionary of Occupational Titles) as if it were a legitimate occupation? (John Revolta please forgive me! :D ) Among the essential skills is listed activities such as "use of an E-Meter", etc. I had this come up in a VALPAR assessment I once interpreted for a client. This is one of among many reasons I now refuse to employ VALPAR as a vocational evaluation strategy. I can't in good conscience use a device that would suggest that cult membership would be a GOOD THING for any of my clients.



William Reid February 25th, 2006 10:30 AM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
Your discovery of "dianetics counselor" in a federal occupations list is very interesting. Didn't know that. I for one will pass the info along to try to learn more. Anyone know further about that?

Thanks also for your other two posts.


John Simon March 5th, 2006 03:30 AM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
In this situation, it might be easy to fail to recognize the concept of a counselor practicing bad therapy rather than a counselor practicing Christian counseling since you are not familiar with Christian counseling in general. Some Christian counselors suck and many mainstream counselors suck. THis might not be surprising in the sense that some engineers suck or some lawyers suck. I am sorry you had a bad experience with this person. My understanding is that Christian counselors might be willing to discuss what the Bible says about a person's problems but usually only after a person identifies themselves as a Christian. In my experience, the bulk of a Christian counselor's business comes from other Christians. Many Christians want to go to a Christian counselor because they do not want to be judged for their beliefs. After all, many people view all Christians as right wing fundamentalists. So if a client states that he wants to get a divorce, the counselor might discuss this idea against the person's faith. Whereas the typcial therapsit might not even think to ask about how that decision meshes with a person's faith. Also, we are forgetting about informed consent. If in the informed consent paperwork, the therpaist describes how he would be willing to pray with the client or discuss decisions against the bibile or disucss the person's faith then it does clear the way to talka bout these subjects. Of course, if the person says to stop then the therpaist needs to stop. Bascially, through informed consent, the client can decide if they want to work with this type of therapist. Now of course I realize that you can not put anything you want in the informed consent paperwork such as "I do dual realtionships." However, the therapsit can explain where they come from in terms of a frame of reference.


sk8rgrl23 March 5th, 2006 01:32 PM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
Hi John and thanks for your reply. However, that still doesn't answer to part of my question which is "what does a Christian counselor do that I don't?" From an ethical standpoint, we as therapists are obligated to take a nonjudgmental stance, so the question of me or another "secular" therapist judging someone for their beliefs is ideally a moot point. (Are there secular therapists that deride people's beliefs systems? Of course there are, but there are also Christian counselors like the one I witnessed that deride people who believe differently than they do.)

I work for a public mental health agency. Nothing in our agency policy says anything about not being permitted or in any way discouraged from engaging in therapeutic discussions of spirituality and religion. If I appear judgmental in any way, it's only when I see something happening with the client that appears detrimental. I get concerned when a person is engaged in a belief system that impinges on a person's free will, for example. I also get concerned when I see religion used as a way to oppress a person, such as is sometimes seen in cases of domestic violence, where the concept of "submitting to your husband" is taken to an extreme.

Personally I believe in working within a person's framework and personal set of ethics. I have worked with people of all faiths from Eastern religions, to New Age to Christians who adhere strictly to the Bible.

But I also work hard at keeping the two schools separate. Spirituality can be therapeutic, but it is not therapy, any more than mental health counseling or any theoretical orientation is a religion.

I haven't gotten there yet, but I want to start digging up literature and see if there's any empirical support of Christian counseling as a form of therapy in its own right, or more fundamentally, what do they say they do that the rest of us don't?

John Simon March 5th, 2006 11:06 PM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
I mostly agree with what you are saying. However, you might not be judgmental but you also might not ask how a client's decision meshes with their religious beliefs. Even if you did ask, they might not know and might be looking to the counselor to help them with this part of the equation. I doubt a secular therapist would take the time to read the Bible so they could help the client with their decision. The Christian counselor can point the person to the relevant Bible passages etc. I beleive that you will find that most Christian counselors that are trained use CBT or Psychodynamic or some other typical theory. You might think of it as a specialty within the therapeutic community similar to a person who works with transgendered individuals or the gay community. Of course, someone who works with a gay individual might use the same CBT framework that you use. However, having worked within this community for a while, they might also be able to discuss nuanced information with the client that you or I are not aware of. To start you on your journey, I would suggest that you look at an article on the subject in the Psychotherapy Networker. I beleive it was about 3-5 years ago. It provided an in-depth discussion about the differences. It was quite informative. I doubt you will find statistical infomration on the subject any more than you would find statistical studies on whether counseling helps gay individuals. The real focus should be on the diagnosis and whether or not the therapist treats that effectively.


William Reid November 23rd, 2007 11:52 AM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
Thanks for reading this thread! The Law, Ethics and Psychotherapy Forum gets a lot of readers, but few new posts. You are invited to contribute statements, comments or questions to keep the forum alive. Pick something you like, or something you don't like, but don't let the threads go stagnant! All I ask is that we avoid personal questions from patients (we can't do clinical work or second-guess therapists here, but we can have professional discussions among clinicians about ethics or forensic scenarios). We also avoid personal attacks.

The possibilities are endless. You can simply reply to a post in an existing thread, or start a new one. Do you have questions or experiences that involve the ethics or legal aspects of training? clinical work? termination? malpractice or malpractice lawsuits? forensic careers? criminal matters related to mental health? boundaries? work with courts or lawyers? work in correctional institutions? work with parolees or probationers? clinician impairment? laws affecting practice?

Choose something you're familiar with or something you want to know more about. If you want suggestions, you're welcome to check out my website at

Bill Reid, Forum Administrator

sk8rgrl23 March 28th, 2010 12:53 PM

Re: What exactly is Christian Counseling
sorry it took so long to get back to you on that, but yes, I think I have come upon some data to support a spiritual focus in psychotherapy. I went to a Mind-Body medicine training with Dr. James Gordon last fall and there was a large emphasis on the use of spirtuality in a number of ways, and some evidence to support it.

One astonishing example I heard was an experiment in which patients were prayed for, and the patients didn't know they were being prayed for (blind study), and the ones that were prayed for did better than those receiving the same standard of care without prayer.

Meditation is on some level spirtual, and there's a ton of research supporting its use with cancer patients.

I could go back in my packet and share others, as well as the sorce of these infobytes, but those two stood out for me.

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