John Jung, LPCC-S
Clinical Director, New Creation Counseling Center
1 January 2017
"What is Christian Counseling"? I hear this question all the time, and it is a good one. There are many answers to this because it looks so different to so many people.
To those who adhere to the strictest, narrowest definition, it may be that "Christian counseling" is only counsel that comes directly from Scripture and cannot incorporate modern techniques or psychological theories. On the other extreme, it may be counsel offered by one who calls her/himself Christian, but denies orthodox Christian beliefs, and denies the primacy of Christ. One might also distinguish the difference between Christian Counseling, and Counseling Christians. The expectation for Christians who expect counseling may be different than what a non-Christian expects. Some Christians expect that one will simply open the Bible and begin to expound on what God’s Word says about their situation. While this may be appropriate in some situations, I usually offer this as homework. It is better to have people seek out resources and experiment with them outside of the counseling room. After all, most growth will not happen in my office, but in the application of new behaviors in their own environment.
I believe that God has gifted us with His ultimate truth, and that truth has been written in the Bible. It is life-giving because God is the provider of life and truth, and He loved us enough to give it to us through His inspired word. It is our opportunity to give life-giving truth to people in their time of need. That truth is a stumbling block for many because it is simple, and it is a paradox for those who try to understand it only with their own mind. One can only discern truth through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. That said, it is like the Ethiopian that Paul encountered who said to him, “How can I understand unless someone explain it to me?” Indeed, our job is to explain truth to people in a loving and simple, non-judging way. First, we must meet people where they are, not where we want them to be. Hence, my first principle:
This is akin to Carl Rogers’ belief that we need to have “unconditional positive regard” for the clients we serve. This is a baseline belief, and it allows us to be non-judging and positive in our approach to clients, regardless of the background they share, or the beliefs they espouse. This does not necessarily mean agreement with the client’s beliefs or behaviors, but it means that we are willing to hear out our clients and get a deeper understanding of how they got where they are. It means we will extend an empathetic approach to our clients, and we will extend grace to them. We remember that we are all recipients of grace because we need grace.
Jesus encountered the woman at the well in Samaria, and he engaged her in conversation. The passage begins with the words “Now he had to go through Samaria”. In my opinion, he “had to go through Samaria” because he needed to minister to this broken woman. He was called to broken people, and not as the “one-up” one who gave answers, but one who helped others explore for the truth through the prism of their own experiences. There is only one way to God- through Jesus, but there are many ways to Jesus. We need to respect that.
Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Jesus asked the woman for a drink. I find that to be an engaging technique. He put himself in her “debt” by asking the favor, and therefore establishing a safe relationship- one that is not in his “power favor”.
We need to recognize that every client encounter is one where we counselors learn from our clients. Indeed, we should be the students of our clients, trying to learn as much as we can about them to be used for their benefit. Which brings me to a second principle of counseling.
Jesus saw something in people that they did not see in themselves. Jesus saw an evangelist in the woman at the well, not a broken outcast. Part of our role is to let clients know that we see in them something that they may not see in themselves. We need to let them know of the hope and potential that we see in them that, because of current circumstances perhaps, they cannot see in themselves.
This principle from Ephesians 4:15 came home powerfully to me years ago when I was called upon to relieve someone from their job (OK, I had to fire somebody!). No one likes to do this, and this was an especially difficult one because it was a trusted friend, one who was very invested in the job as director of a non-profit she had helped to form. As I agonized the night before I met with her as to how to approach this delicate and painful situation, I felt God’s whisper to me very clearly. “It is not your job to convince her that this is a good idea. She cannot possible see that now. Your job is simply to speak the truth in a loving way. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convince her of whatever needs to be conveyed.”
Armed with that insight of truth, I met with her the next morning, and indeed it was very painful. But speaking the truth in a loving way freed me from the concept that she had to be convinced that this was a good thing, or that she had to agree with me, or that she would leave the office happy and content. None of those things transpired, but I was free, and so was she. Months later, she came to me and said, “That was the best thing for me. I was terribly stressed and did not know how to get relief. I have now found a much better place of service and freedom”. The Holy Spirit had done something I could not possibly do. He had led her into truth in His time, as well as her time. I was simply a vessel for the conveyance of truth. That is what I am supposed to be- that clear vessel, telling truth in a loving way, allowing God to provide His guidance in His time, and in the time of my client. I am freed from judging how well I did. Rather, I can relish how well God does!
We typically ask clients if we can pray with them, often at the end of the session, but sometimes before the session. Being as we are in a “Christian community mental health” environment, many of our clients are not Christians, or at least not experiencing true depth in their faith journey, and they may feel that this would be an unwanted intrusion. Obviously, we respect the client’s decision to choose, and we never pressure this point. One develops a feel for whether to ask if we can pray with them. However, we can always pray for our clients, even after they have left the office, and we typically do.
Prayer can be an important homework assignment that we give to clients. It might be to pray about something we suggested during the session (e.g. whether or not to write that letter, ask that question, etc.). It might be for the couple to begin praying together as part of their three-part connection time (PSE Time Homework discussed later).
Prayer at the end of the session is often very reassuring to the client. Specific things I mention in the prayer reinforce the fact that I have heard the client need. It also helps to teach clients how to spontaneously speak to God about their needs; it helps to reinforce that the One who can help them is God- my job is to be a good “God-connecter”.
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