This week has been tough for Christians in the news in the United States of America. Between the report of the Southern Baptist Convention investigation reporting thousands of unreported sexual abuse cover-ups and scandals with pastors and congregation members to the debate of gun control again coming to the forefront with another mass shooting that has spurred another conversation about what Christians should say about gun control.[Read more…] about Guns, Abuse, and Jesus
Nine years ago, I was in my last two semesters of my Masters degree at Denver Seminary that would lead to my Masters in Clinical Mental Health and propel me into counseling services. In that time, I took a required class that was not a part of the CACREP Accreditation for my degree to be used by licensure boards in the United States, but a requirement of the seminary to further explore my Christian faith within my profession. In that time, we looked at how Christian beliefs and doctrine work alongside and possibly in opposition with longstanding secular counseling ethics and laws, how Christianity can be used in the counseling session, and which counseling modalities work within our faith.
One conversation that directly impacted me is a conversation of how we see faith and psychology interacting with each other. You’d think it is a simple answer until you start to flesh out the differences. I will say that I have researched where this conversation came from, so far as to grab the old PowerPoint, look on several Christian counseling research journals, and even contacted the professor directly. There is no published conversation about this outside of what was discussed in class, though it is modified from a presentation by Larry Crabb, a forerunner in Christians integrating faith into counseling.
Here is a quick graph of the six types of interactions faith and counseling can have and a discussion of the implications of each. (Note that depending on where you lay with your own interpretation, it can impact the treatment of the client, the techniques that you do or how you do them, if you end up using counseling in your practice, or even if you should be practicing as a clinical or Biblical counselor. I will also note that the within the last four options, none of them would be deemed as wrong but a preference, though some would argue within their Christian doctrines it does not fit well.)
Faith, Not Psychology
The idea that faith should only be considered when talking about a person’s struggles goes towards a long-established belief within the Church that mental illness is actually sin. In this understanding of faith and psychology, clinical counseling has no place, instead it should only be the Bible that we use. If you are someone that holds to this, you need to consider not doing any clinical counseling as you will not be within good standing of a licensure board’s ethics. I would go so far as to say that Biblical counseling is not an option as this profession is still informed by psychology. Instead, you may find yourself as a pastor within a strongly conservative or fundamentalist church.
Psychology, Not Faith
This was the belief of many mental health professionals for the last century, that you cannot bring any faith into the counseling room because it does not have any clinical significance. In the last two decades, a stronger emphasis on culture and spirituality within counseling ethics and higher education would say this is also inappropriate and you be doing more harm than good for a client as we know that any spirituality has significant clinical improvements for clients and this would not be a viable option in the mental health field.
Faith Over Psychology
Within this ideal, both faith and psychology have their place in a counseling appointment, but you are going to favor faith. This gets commonly associated with Biblical or pastoral counseling where you meet the spiritual needs of an individual, understanding that a person may be struggling with a diagnoseable mental illness disorder such as depression, anxiety, trauma, eating disorder, or substance use disorder. Coping skills taught may include prayer, Bible reading, fasting, discipleship, and service with the hope of reducing mental illness symptoms. There is no resistance to psychiatric medication, psychiatric hospitalization, or talking about thoughts and emotions. These sessions are not billed to insurance as they are not recognized as evidence based practices.
Psychology Over Faith
Within this ideal, both faith and psychology have their place in a counseling appointment, but you are going to favor psychology. Here we find counselors many times not wanting to explicitly state they are Christian, wanting to be able to serve everyone. This is an individual that may not bring up faith unless the client identifies it as important or bringing it up first. You will find yourself leaning more towards clinical skills such as mindfulness, thought records, relationship interactions, and breathing exercises. You encourage clients to go to church, but leave the activities solely to outside church activities or ministries. The risk is that you may find a divorce from clinical skills and faith.
Faith Separate From Psychology
This may feel similar to the first two ideas of faith, not psychology or psychology, not faith, but it isn’t. Instead, it looks at having an understanding that you can have faith within your counseling practice, but you should not use it directly in session. When you practice counseling techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Family Systems, this idea would say that Christianity was never in mind with the authors of the treatment modalities and you should only ever discuss faith when a client brings it up or practice faith practices such as praying over the counseling session before or after the client comes in. It is not saying that one is better than the other or that one needs to be excluded, but just as oil and water don’t mix, neither should faith and psychology. Yet, as Christians, this goes against compartmentalizing our faith, so there can be a tension of wanting to not break ethics of counseling and not wanting to “dilute” ones faith.
Integration of Faith and Psychology
In my mind, this is the choice that is what I seek to be, yet I would also say it is the hardest to accomplish. Our Christian faith says we should be Jesus to all people and shine our light at all times, especially to those who are hurting. But that does not mean we have to proselytize at all times. Further, we know that spirituality is effective for clients when they seek it, so we need to be open to talking about it in counseling and not avoiding it.
That being said, it is hard to truly stay integrated when you may find yourself leaning out of the integration towards psychology over faith or faith over psychology. At times, it is a proactive balance on a tightrope between these two ideologies. Further, you have to make sure to understand the ethical implications of faith with proper boundaries in the counseling session or you may find yourself being filed grievances’ against you and standing in front of a state licensure board due to malpractice.
This is an initial conversation and I would love to hear your struggles with these types, where you find yourself in one of these six types, and what questions you have. Leave your comments below and lets start a dialogue.
Mental health is starting to have more of an awareness culturally than ever before and thankfully Churches are beginning to appropriately talk about the issue. In fact, from a clinical view, the integration of faith has been happening for a couple of decades with a now established bio-psycho-social-spiritual model. I would encourage Christian counselors to research and see if this aligns with your practice as well as pastors to continue to have these needed conversations of what the Church can do for the kingdom with regards to mental illness.
With this understanding of needing to be educated, the video below is a great understanding of how trauma impacts a person’s, especially a youth’s, brain. We’d love to hear your thoughts this can have not only on a person’s recovery with mental health, but also in regards to spirituality and the Church’s need to support them.
It was heartbreaking to see in person. From the front row of the Michelob ULTRA Arena—the Stanford women’s basketball team was wearing Stanford Soccer t-shirts during warm-ups before their basketball game against Oregon State a month ago in Las Vegas for the PAC-12 Conference Tournament. They were publicly honoring their fellow athlete and friend, Stanford goalie and co-captain of the women’s soccer team, Katie Meyer, who had only just died by suicide a day or two before.[Read more…] about Remembering How to Hope
If you have not yet noticed, we have released a new eBook now available to the public. And if you are not yet already part of our newsletter email list, we actually gave an early look with a limited time code only for newsletter subscribers to get it free a couple of weeks ago.[Read more…] about 99 Self-Care Techniques for Christians
We are excited to announce that in May 2022, we will be back as a speaker for the Thrive & Cultivate Summit this year. If you remember, we participated in this conference last year with a presentation on “How Churches and Christian Counselors Connect.” This year’s theme with the conference is focusing on caring for your own mental health pastors and Christians, as well as the mental health of your community.[Read more…] about We’re Speaking At Thrive & Cultivate Summit 2022
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Anxiety has become so prevalent leading to millions of people so afflicted that they are diagnosable with a disorder. We know that God’s Word is a light of hope, but what does it have to say about mental health and specifically anxiety, other than the poorly quoted “give up anxiety?” Amanda Porter, PhD has combined Scripture through a devotional on this top to give a 40 day guide for those who struggle to start their morning right in her book Dear Anxiety, Let’s Break Up.
I’ve talked many times before about mindfulness that is not only a therapeutic technique we use in counseling, but something that can be integrated with Christian principles and this book does so also. Amanda brings experience to this topic as a nurse practitioner, specializing in Integrative Mental Health, board-certified in internal medicine, psychiatry/mental health, and addictions.
Topics this devotional covers include:
- understand the Bible’s message on mental health,
- develop actionable, scientific-based coping skills,
- reverse the cycle of negative thinking,
- free themselves from shame, guilt, and harmful stigmas, and
- learn to support loved ones who also struggle with anxiety.
We give the book a 4.5 out of 5 for you to add to your morning read.
If you do not know, I’m a huge fan of what my church has been doing with regards to being at the forefront of mental health within the Church. While I am happy to have helped establish a mental health team, the pastoral leadership that sees this has not only good, but a priority. Many key Christian members in our church also have been supporting the initiative within their own events, including a recent conference we had called Soul Scan.
Soul Scan is a two-day women’s conference that happened last weekend with powerful speakers, testimonies, and worship. The theme was “Is it well with my soul?” to help with the deeper issue of “If it’s not well with my soul, what wells am I running to?” It happened at this time on purpose as March 8, 2022 is International Women’s Day, a secular date to support many women’s initiative and gender equality.
The conference leader asked that we have a mental health table that we were appreciative to be apart of. We had fun grab bags put together by the local mental health and recovery board, mental health education brochures from NAMI to share, flyers from the local counseling agencies as well as the Christian counseling agency we have onsite at the church, among other things. We had several conversations with women, several people that followed up personally, and even had a moment on stage at the end of the conference to quickly talk about mental health resources in the community and at church they could connect with if they needed it.
If you do not have a resource like this, consider how you can partner with local counseling agencies, other churches, or Christian individuals to not only support Christian women, but make sure needs are being met.
Joni and Friends is an amazing organization that talks not only about visible disabilities as we see in Joni Eareckson Tada, but also hidden disabilities with mental health. The video below is part of her “Diamonds in the Dust” series that are short vignettes on what we as Christians must do to keep pushing forward.
The video below talks about our ability to keep pressing on, even if we feel stuck. But press on as God would have us to do, not with seeing another counseling client, writing another blog article for our church website, or coming up with another game, but engaging with God in prayer.
Here is what Joni shared: “If you are tired and ready to throw in the towel, don’t give up. Jesus is asking you to let down your net just one more time. Stay in his Word; keep praying; pursue obedience. He can still fill an empty net!”