Christian Counseling vs Secular Counseling
Okay, so the title may be better stated as: “Why does psychology sometimes fail where Christian counseling would succeed?” The truth is that psychology ̶ in the sense of professional psychotherapy ̶ does work. And yet, sometimes it fails. This leaves us with the question: Why does secular counseling work for some and not for others? What is the difference between Person A, who has an addiction, gets counseling, and stops, and Person B who follows the same process yet he does not stop? Are some counselors just a “bad fit” and the best you can hope for is to get a good match? Is it simply a matter of finding a “good counselor” who knows what they are doing? And does not the client themselves play a role in the outcome of their therapy?
So where does that leave you, the client, in terms of your hopes for success? You can try and filter out the bad counselors, find a good match, and of course you will do your part. Yet, for all that, counseling still seems to be a hit and miss endeavor.
We Are More than Just Bodies with Brains
I would like to suggest that the reason secular counseling still frequently misses the mark is because it only addresses part of the issue. Secular counseling in its purest form addresses only two-thirds of the issues that clients bring in. Moreover, secular counseling misses the most important part, namely, the heart.
When Jesus was asked about the greatest or first of all the commandments in the Bible, he responds by referencing Deuteronomy 6:5. He essentially states that the most important thing for us to focus on is love.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)
We are to love God with everything we have. This sounds pretty straightforward, yet a more nuanced reading reveals something more about ourselves. We are more than just bodies with brains, for we have a soul ̶ we have a heart.
When I say that “secular counseling in its purest form” misses the heart, I am referring to counseling in a moral vacuum. True secularism, which denies the existence of the divine, is thought without faith, reality without reason, and work without ethic. And this can also describe the difference between secular and Christian counseling. As professional psychotherapists, we are engaged in an ongoing discussion on how to integrate our faith and values into our counseling. For too many, the answer is found in secular counseling’s attempt to remove all ethics and values from the counseling room. Yet this is a travesty. The idea that good and effective counseling can be provided in a purely mechanical way is fundamentally misguided. It is misguided because, as we all know intuitively about ourselves, people are more than machines. We have heart and we have soul. While there is certainly a physical world, there is also a spiritual world and sometimes it is the soul that needs to be healed, corrected, or changed.
This means that a Christian counselor will need to address issues relating to the mind, such as mistaken beliefs or cognitive distortions, as well as poor communication skills. They will also need to address getting enough rest, adequate nutrition, and the reality of what happens to the body when the sun seldom shines. But if they stop with skills and thoughts, food and rest, then they cannot say that they are doing Christian counseling. Indeed, they will often be abandoning the suffering person in their shame, when what they need is to know the love of God in their heart. You cannot “skill” your way to forgiveness, peace, or humility. There is no physical cure for pride and selfishness, bitterness and resentment. These are quandaries of the soul, and it is the soul that must be tended to.
Christian Counseling Addresses the Pain of the Heart
This is what Christian counseling does. Christian counseling means counseling that is professionally trained in the psychology of the mind and the reality of the body. But the difference is that Christian counseling adds to this the firm foundation of the Word of God, which addresses the pain of the heart. Whether the wound is self-inflicted or caused by another, it is the love of God that heals and makes whole. As Christian counselors, we rejoice that God ̶ and only God ̶ can change and heal the human heart.
Christian counseling embraces, welcomes, and celebrates this reality of the fullness that is every person ̶ body, mind, and heart.
“A vision through an art work in glass,” courtesy of Alexandre Dulaunoy, Flickr CreativeCommons, (CC BY-SA 2.0); “Dysfunction-1” file #4638 by Diorama Studios, www.creationswap.com