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APPROACHING A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY OF COUNSELING Tracy R Rider 9 April 2010 A 1995 journal article erupts with the news

that the psychotherapy business faces serious competition from organized religion, informing us of an explosive growth in the number of congregation-based counseling centers (Lewis). Such services at one time would have been avoided specifically for the same reason they are sought out today- for their unrepentant commitment to offering religiously biased therapy. Why such an interest in this type of counseling? Statistics indicate that clients perceive that a Christian counselor will be more understanding of their belief system and more accepting of them as individuals (Carter). Christian counseling, by definition, has one aspect of informed consent built in. It makes no apology for operating from the perspective of believerism. All counseling by its nature seeks change. One way or another it is value- laden. While responsible counselors do not aim to indoctrinate, the truth is that the values of any counselor will inform her goals and understanding of the therapeutic process, and as self-defeating attitudes and behavior are evaluated and perhaps reshaped for the well-being of the client, the counselors values and beliefs will be expressed, however subtly, in the shaping of this process. But isnt counseling, after all, about subtleties? It is the responsibility of all Christian counselors then, to be certain they have come to an appropriate understanding of mental health that takes into consideration the interplay between its psychological, theological, and spiritual dimensions; to learn if and when it is appropriate to introduce explicit Biblical interventions into the counseling process; and to understand the responsibilities and effects of emulating a redemptive counselor/client relationship as a part of ones character, and not as a technique applied artificially to the counseling environment. Understanding Mental Health The growing acknowledgement of life-span development research indicates that humans are multi-dimensional beings and that each dimension exerts an influence, whether positive or negative, on all other dimensions (Santrock 15). It will be wise for the counselor to operate within this framework as well, understanding that the more tangible aspects of humanity shall surely influence the more abstract dimensions. For this reason it is important to assess the basic physical concerns such as sleep, exercise, diet and medication regimes of the client so as to not miss possible organic contributions to mental health issues. Following this multi-dimensional model of development, an appropriate understanding of mental health will take into consideration the interplay between its psychological, theological, and spiritual dimensions.

The resistance to the use of psychology in Christian counseling has been at least equal to the resistance to the use of religion in psychology. At one time, Christian counselors were instructed that psychological gimmick must be avoided (Bobgan 172), and biblical counseling ministry can be diminished and demolished by the amalgamation of the spiritual and the psychological (174). Christian counselors who sought to understand and incorporate psychology into the helping role were viewed at worst as heretics, and at best as sleeping with the enemy. Our worldview is the framework through which we interpret life. Both the Christian worldview and the humanist worldview, upon which most psychological principles are founded, claim dominance in their pragmatic beliefs about human nature. The dominant point of contention is that of Christs centrality in Christianity, and mans centrality for humanism (Crabb 1977, 33). Integration seems nearly impossible without producing a worldview clash of titanic proportion. Most contemporary forms of Christian counseling are religious adaptations of mainstream counseling techniques (McMinn 16), with the understanding that the Christian worldview will override psychological theories of counseling at any Scriptural point of conflict. It is theology that anchors counselors in the midst of a profession easily swayed by new theories, fads, and sensationalistic claims (McMinn 9). Theology keeps us reaching up towards a universal truth that exists outside of humanity. It offers divinely inspired standards (Carter). Unlike humanistic psychology, Christian theology demands that we take responsibility for both our highest potential-that we are created in the image of God- and our lowest reality- that, as a result of choice, through the fall, we have become both agents and victims of universal sin. At all points along this continuum, people interact with other people from where they are at, and it is through this personal interaction with God and others that mental disturbances reveal themselves. Dr.Larry Crabb, whose insistence that the counselor/client relationship is central to the healing process is backed by current empirical evidence, states that we can profit from secular psychology if we carefully screen our concepts to determine their compatibility with Christian presuppositions (Crabb 1977 48). He makes this statement after reminding us that virtually all psychological evidence is interpreted through its own set of presuppositions, and should not necessarily be assumed as fact. The screening of techniques and philosophies applies, surprisingly, to the subject area of spirituality as well. Spiritual therapy shares the age old mystical insight that the way to access the greater self is by developing a devotional attitude toward the greater-than-self, which religious believers call variously God, Allah, Buddha Nature, Jesus, and the Brahman (Schiffman). All spirituality is not Christian. In a Christian sense, to be spiritual is to be created in the image of God, with the capacity and desire to enter into relationship with Him, and the free will to chose or refuse that relationship. Spirituality is not simply an outside nature acting on us; rather, humans are spiritual by nature. For this reason, the aspect of spiritual growth

cannot be ignored in counseling. With the same warning, can spiritual maturity ever be accomplished? It has been pointed out that spiritual competence is, in one sense, an oxymoron (McMinn 11). It follows along the same line as discovering that the more one knows, the more one knows he doesnt know- or, as Paul puts it, the man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know (1 Cor. 8.1). Spirituality intersects with Christian counseling most predominantly in the truth that it is our dependence on Jesus Christ to bring about our spiritual transformation. Through spiritual transformation we are made more Christlike, returned more and more to the nature that God created us in and intended for us so that we could live out the full potential of abundant life in Christ. It must be understood and communicated in the counseling process that abundant life has nothing to do with what we possess and everything to do with who we are. In counseling, our goal is to help people return to mental health. Spirituality helps us grasp a Christian understanding of mental health as being increasingly receptive to the transformational power of Christ. Unlike the humanist counselor, a Christian counselor has a greater responsibility, or goal, than simply helping a person return to the point where he can function effectively in an everchanging definition of cultural normalcy. In Christian counseling, our goal- that which we ultimately hope to accomplish through helping others accomplish what they want to accomplishis not conversion, but to help free people from whatever it is that keeps them from being able to respond to God and others in loving relationship. It benefits us in the helping profession to begin with our client on the journey toward mental health with the firm understanding that mental health is not to be viewed as a point of arrival, but as a constant churning, a constant spiraling upward towards God. The primary goal for the counselor is not to end the journey, but to end the clients dependence upon him for finding his footings along the way. Religious Interventions Effective interdisciplinary integration reminds us that it is the responsibility of the Christian counselor to learn if and when it is appropriate to introduce explicit Biblical interventions into the counseling process. Implicit Biblical interventions are always appropriate and effective, for they generally serve the counselor in his role. Such interventions include but are not limited to, the counselors spiritual maturity and growth, his personal prayer life, silent prayer during sessions, and the invitation of the Holy Spirit to be an active participant in the counseling process. In fact, since the Christian view of mental health insinuates a progressive journey into the presence of God, spiritual development of the counselor is an imperative part of both personal and professional health. We are reminded that the intensity of the counseling relationship demands that counselors be aware of their own physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and intellectual signs of stagnation and depletion during this phase of intense involvement

with another ( Skovholt). One way to ensure this is to practice continued involvement in the spiritual disciplines. Explicit biblical interventions include the use of Scripture reading, memorization or meditation, prayer, teaching and using Christian understandings of sin, confession and repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. These disciplines then become interventions, or techniques, and the counselor is responsible to evaluate their possible effects on the client before implementing them in the helping process either in office sessions or as assigned homework. Biblical intervention provides a direct and tangible source of encouragement and guidance that can benefit a receptive client. However, the counselor who uses such interventions in the counseling process risks misrepresenting a connection between the authority of God and the authority of the counselor. For example, there may be many transference and even counter transference misunderstandings associated with an abusive religious background that make the Bible an unsafe tool for some individuals. Garzon notes that, when appropriate ethical and religio-cultural assessment guidelines are followed, the Word of God demonstrates itself a living, powerful resource to be humbly handled by clinicians in their work. Redemptive Relationship The old adage that people wont care how much you know until they know how much you care certainly has proven itself true in the counseling profession, whether secular or religious counseling is concerned. Evidence overwhelmingly concludes that successful therapeutic endeavor depends on the participants establishing an open, trusting, collaborative relationship or alliance" (Sexton & Whiston, 1994, p. 7) (Skovholt). The relational aspect even out values a therapists psychological techniques (Miller). McMinn insightfully points out that beliefs will be changed the same way they were established- through relationships (245). It is essential then, that the counselor invest himself fully in establishing an authentic, redemptive counselor/client relationship. Both Christian and secular counselors are in agreement about the significance of character in forming an effective healing relationship. Corey and Corey list character and attitude as the major determinants of the quality of a relationship (151). Christian counselors involved in redemptive relationships with their clients see character- not their own natural character, but the character God is producing and renewing in their lives- as the greatest tool they offer in counseling (McMinn 257). Clinton also agrees that it is the grace of God that enables the Christian counselor the grace and strength needed to respond with loving acceptance. He counsels that there is one thing that must infuse and flow from the servant in order for counseling to be redemptive. That is the caring love of Christ, a love that must transcend the best love we can muster by ourselves (Clinton 13). It is this acknowledgement of a total dependence on Christ that gives one the personal integrity necessary to see ourselves and others for who we

are- and more importantly- for who we arent. Neither the burden nor the accomplishment of the healing process rests solely on the counselor, who must not only take responsibility for his role, but also learn to nurture the clients role, and leave room for Gods role. A redemptive worldview makes it easier for counselors to give their patients a chance to show something more of themselves than the problem with which they had become identified (Corey & Corey 153). As the counselor models a loving relationship, the client finds within that environment a safe place from which to explore a new way of being. We are reminded that it was the Apostle Paul who wrote that we who are strong must bear the weaknesses and help carry the burdens of those who are weaker (Collins 16). In fact, Crabb warns that the meaningful connection of shepherding will require an enormous emotional price from the counselor (Miller). Counselors enter a career in which the real problem is not going to be solved, not going to go away, and not going to give up. But by sacrificially modeling a more loving way to relate to the world and to the people in it, Christian counselors can help people to live better in a world that isnt about to make things easy. Conclusion With growing interest and confidence in Christian counseling, the discipline itself must endeavor to define its philosophy. Undeniably, there is an increasing sensitivity to religion and religious issues among mental health professionals (McMinn 15). At the same time, as evidenced by the growing availability of counseling programs offered in Christian colleges, there has been increased interest on the part of Christian helpers to be more effective in reaching out to hurting people. Furthermore, some scholars point to areas of interest that past psychological studies have neglected, and suggest that they might be best developed through a methodologically heterogeneous strategy created by the interdisciplinary efforts of both Christian scholars and psychological scientists (Hathaway). Perhaps we will be better able to accomplish the helping task if experts in each of the disciplines attempt to work alongside each other in humble submission to the God who created us as multi-dimension beings.

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