Incorporation Scripture Into Counseling: How Does This Change When Counseling a Believer Versus a Non-Believer or When Counseling in a Secular Versus a Church Setting?
Effective counseling addresses the body, mind, and spirit. The field of counseling has been slow in recognizing the need to address spiritual and religious concerns. There is now widespread interest in the role of spirituality in both assessment and treatment. Evidence for this interest is found in the many books and articles written on spiritual and religious values in counseling.
Christian counseling, also known as biblical counseling and Christian psychology, combines your faith with the principles of psychology to improve your mental health and relationships. More specifically, this therapy approach uses scripture and biblical teachings to help you deal with life’s challenges. The truth is, when you are in the midst of troubling life events like the death of a loved one or pet, the loss of a job, declining health, financial problems, and/or relationship issues, a strong and resilient faith may be just what is missing from your life. The ultimate goal of Christian counseling is to help Christians identify behaviors that are inconsistent with God’s teachings, so they can become more accepting of God’s will – even when it’s not their will. Christian counselors believe that the bible is the ultimate guide on how people, especially Christians, should think and behave. In other words, they view this holy book as the one and only truth. The root of Christian counseling lies within biblical accounts. Jay E. Adams, the founder of the Biblical Counseling Movement, discussed this faith-based approach to treating mental health conditions, relationship/adjustment issues, trauma, emotional distress, abuse, addiction, etc., in his novel, Competent to Counsel. This approach was quite controversial because it differed from the more popular therapy approaches of the time. But, by the late 1960s and 1970s, this new form of counseling took off only to later become one of the most popular therapy options for Christians, and those who want to include their faith in the therapy process. In 1968, the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation was formed to provide present-day and future Christian counselors with guidelines on how to properly treat those seeking a faith-based therapy approach. It is important to keep in mind that counselors not only have to adhere to the fundamental values and beliefs of the Bible, but also follow the guidelines and ethical rules of the law, DSM-V, and the APA (American Psychological Association).
The ecumenism of the movement is further seen through the diverse background of the Society’s executive and references boards as well as the diversity of both the authors and theological systems represented in the society’s journal, Christian Psychology. For example, two editions of the journal featured a focus on Catholic Psychology and Eastern Orthodox Psychology. While diversity can provide wonderful opportunities of mutual learning, understanding and communication, it seems that CP’s commitment to this level of ecumenism will render its initial goal of developing a singular Christian psychology unlikely. There are vast differences between a Protestant and Catholic understanding of salvation alone, with dozens of other significant theological differences which render any sort of compatibility impossible. Integrationists have challenged Christian psychologists regarding the possibility of achieving such a unique, singular Christian psychology, and even Eric Johnson himself seems to concede that the whole CP project is destined to fail as the “inevitable and happy result of human finitude.” Finally, Christian psychology suffers from weaknesses in actual counseling practice. The most telling aspect of any system of soul-care is ultimately how one goes about helping people with counseling problems. CP desires to develop a unique Christian psychology (understanding of people) and psychotherapy (how to help people) while “continuing to participate actively in the broader field.” Since the “broader field” of psychology and professional mental health is largely secular, Christian psychologists often maintain licensure, accreditation, and memberships in professional societies that require certain secular commitments. In counseling practice, these secular commitments often mean there is a reluctance to be overtly Christian in counseling through prayer, through utilizing the Scriptures or through presenting the gospel to clients who may not be saved. Worse still, secular commitments of this nature may render these biblically mandated pursuits “unethical” in one’s professional context. Diane Langberg provides a clear example of Christian psychology at work in an actual counseling situation. She rightly notes that the mental health professional ought to “bear in their person a representation of the character of Christ and that character must shape the therapist, the client and the relationship between them.” However, her overall approach to counseling is surprisingly secular (Stuart Scott). Like the levels-of-explanation, transformational, and integrationist approaches, CP avoids anchoring its counseling in the Bible. At best, the Bible has an accessory role, rather than a foundational, functional control over the counseling process. While the Scriptures are clear that a relationship with God through the Person of Christ is a person’s source of hope, strength, encouragement and stability in the day of trouble, Langberg notes that the client’s relationship with God needs to be explored to “see whether or not that can contribute to his stability at this time (Grudem, 727-9 and James G. McCarthy, 1995).
In summary, christian counseling is distinct from secular counseling in that it specifically incorporates the spiritual dimension, Biblical truths, and a seeking of God’s will in an individual’s life. Christian counselors understand that the Bible has a lot of practical wisdom about human nature, marriage and family, human suffering, and so much more. By using biblical concepts in counseling, they can sometimes provide specific direction and accountability. Psalm 119:24 says, "Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors."
Grudem, 727-9 and James G. McCarthy, The Gospel According to Rome (Eugene: Harvest House, 1995), 21-124
Stuart Scott, “A Biblical Counseling Approach” in Counseling and Christianity: Five Approaches, Stephen P. Greggo and Timothy A. Sisemore
Grudem, 442-450; Lambert, Theology, 184-91; Anthony Hoekema, Created In God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986)
Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), 517-536