Choosing a Christian Counselor

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Written by “Holly,”
“In my search for a counselor, I visited a secular psychologist, read books written by extremist biblical counselors, and had tearful talks with my own general practitioner. I wish I had known then what TYPES of Christian counselors were out there and how on earth I could find help I could trust and afford.”

Why Educate Yourself about Christian Counseling?

Perhaps you do not suffer from depression, have a great marriage, kids seem to be doing okay, everything is fine. Why should you look into various types of Christian counsel?

1) Think of a Christian counselor as an invaluable resource, much like the family lawyer, pediatrician, or accountant. When problems arise, wouldn’t it be nice to already have the information you need regarding local counseling services?

2) It’s always a good idea to have information at hand so that you can guide distraught friends and family members to a trusted counselor who can offer biblical guidance and support.

If you are a believing Christian, I MUST recommend seeking a Christian counselor.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.”

Ephesians 2:19

The Problem with Secular Counsel

Many secular counselors will take your faith into consideration when treating you. However, as citizens of heaven, seeking counsel from a non-Christian is much like seeking counsel from someone who doesn’t speak your language…and he or she does not speak yours. Progress and inroads could be made, but in the long run, little will be accomplished.

There’s seldom wisdom and truth apart from godly counsel:

“The godly offer good counsel; they know what is right from wrong.”

Psalm 37:30

Find a Christian who is a professional counselor. There are a number of directories on the internet. Each individual counselor is different from the next, however, and you will need to interview any counselor before you decide to use his or her services.

If Possible, Find a Specialist

You may wish to choose a counselor who specializes in a specific area. There a number of issues for which people seek counsel, including:

  • Abuse
  • Addiction
  • Anger Management
  • Anxiety
  • Coping with Stress
  • Depression
  • Divorce
  • Eating disorders
  • Emotional trauma
  • Financial difficulties
  • Grief
  • Loss
  • Major life changes
  • Marital issues
  • Mental illness
  • Pain management
  • Parenting issues
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Pre-marital counseling
  • Relationship conflict
  • Religious doubt/ confusion
  • Sexual/ intimacy difficulties

The first thing to consider when choosing a Christian counselor is whether or not they are capable or qualified to handle the particular issue you seek counsel for. A marriage counselor may not be the best person to go to if your thirteen-year-old daughter is battling anorexia. This seems like a given; however, be sure your counselor has experience handling your specific issue.

Decide whether or not you would feel more comfortable seeing a man or a woman for your particular problem.

Seek a Licensed Professional
Also, if you seek counsel outside of your church, make sure your counselor is a licensed professional. I suggest finding a professional who holds a minimum of a master’s degree in their field of study, who have completed the required number of supervised hours, and who has passed your state’s examination to become a licensed counselor.

Remember that most counselors employed by churches are professional counselors, but some are not. A church counselor should be qualified through their educational experience, and have some sort of license or certification that enables them to counsel (generally they have a Christian counseling certification awarded from various Christian counseling training programs or colleges.)

Interview Your Prospective Counselor BEFORE Your First Session

Going into a counseling session before you know where your counselor is coming– I should never, ever exercise my personal freedom if that action infringes on the liberty of others. can be dangerous, especially when you are in a vulnerable emotional position unable to clearly think or discern the counsel you receive.

Before your first session, make the counselor shares your faith and concerns about the issue at hand. If possible, bring a trusted companion along to get their opinion about the practice you are considering.

Some questions to ask your potential counselor are:

  • What is your Christian counseling approach?
  • Do they adhere strictly to biblical counseling or do they consider psychological approaches as well?
  • Will they work with your psychiatrist and or doctor?
  • What license or certification do you have? Is it from an accredited college? A Christian college? A training program?
  • Are you affiliated with any particular Christian counseling organization?
  • How do you integrate the Bible into your counseling sessions?
  • How do you incorporate prayer into your counseling practice?
  • Do you have experience counseling people with (insert the issue for which you seek counsel)?
  • What is your payment structure?
  • Will my insurance cover my sessions with you?
  • What is your view on psychoanalysis, medication treatments for psychological ailments, and other scientific approaches to mental illness?

If you have an opportunity to interview your potential counselor in his or her office, take a good look at the books on the bookshelves. The types of books displayed might give you an excellent indication of the types of counsel you will receive.

Before you make your final decision, pray on it, consult your Bible, and if possible, talk to your trusted general practitioner before seeking therapy.

Recap:

Educate yourself about the various types of Christian Counselors. When finding a Christian counselor, remember to find a licensed, experienced CHRISTIAN professional capable of addressing your specific issue. Interview your prospective counselor before attending your first session. Go prepared with a series of questions that will help you gain knowledge about the kind of counsel you will be receiving. Prayerfully consider whether or not you and the counselor are a good fit.

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(Bryan— I unearthed this from somewhere. I apologize for not being to attribute the article.)

 

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When Despair Empties You

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“It is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of Heaven.”  

Acts 14:22

As a broken believer this might happen–

#1, I breakdown, and begin to fray. I begin to despair.

#2, my own ‘faith’ is questioned, I become unsure of my salvation.

#3, I feel like I’m all alone. No one can help me.

When you’re profoundly depressed issues like a simple hot shower and eating something besides top ramen seem impossible. I’m embarrassed to say I once went 34 days with a shower. I laid in bed unable to function. I suppose that is the insidious truth about chronic depression, I know it well. God seems far, far away. Life doesn’t matter anymore. I am way beyond ‘salvageable.’ I obviously don’t say it but I feel like I’m destined for destruction.

  1. Just a word here about Satan’s battle for our souls. He is evil far beyond human comprehension. His schemes and plots are his attempt to destroy me and to extend his darkness.
  2. The devil is already condemned and his power lies emasculated (ouch!). With the weapons (Ephesians 6:10-18) we protect family and friends. We set free the captive, heal, and preach the gospel to those who can’t see yet.

There is much I can do before it gets to this point. Life’s concerns can seem insurmountable. We must grab the truth that clinical depression kills people. It slowly devours “a sound mind.” It cripples before it takes away your life. There is nothing quite like it; people tell you it will pass, and that you’ll see the sun again. But at the time that seems to be the worst advice ever given.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

2 Timothy 1:7

Meds help a lot. I take Zoloft and that is a godsend. I never miss a dose. I know I’m not bulletproof. But I’ve taken it for several years now. (It’s like insulin for a diabetic). Taking meds may not be your cup of tea, but pray about it and at least keep it as an option. (Just be aware that only a doctor can prescribe antidepressants.)

Afflicted souls are special to God. And that alone truly comforts me. Sometimes it seems like there is an invisible tether that holds from completely dropping off the edge. When I do pray–it is desperate and brief. (More like a quiet scream for help.) There are no frills and no eloquence, but I know I’m being heard by Him who guards my soul.

People for the most part, are of little help. And I admit that my attitude can be less than stellar. “Unless you have been lost in this section of hell yourself, it’s best if you just shut up.” (I don’t really say this, but I’m tempted to.)

But there are a few that can speak. Almost always these are the ones who have been through some affliction themselves. They have been hurt and they ‘walk with a limp.’ I’m convinced that they can speak in direct proportion to the pain they themselves have suffered.

I once woke up once to another pastor praying prostrate on my bedroom floor. He didn’t have to do or say anything else. He left without saying some ‘pious’ word to me, yet what he did was wonderfully done.

“I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain.”   

John Henry Newman

Take care of yourself.  Prepare in advance spiritually for the next. Identify those ‘dear-hearts’ who can help you in advance. Keep taking your meds, even if you think your o.k. And speak often with the Lord, and learn to listen to His voice. That “sound mind” is a promise for those who truly need it.

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Rainy Day People

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“Rainy day people always seem to know when it’s time to call,

Rainy day people don’t talk, they just listen till they’ve heard it all.

Rainy day lovers don’t lie when they tell ‘ya they’ve been down like you.

Rainy day people don’t mind if you’re cryin’ a tear or two.”

Gordon Lightfoot, 1975

“The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.”

Proverbs 27:9, NLT

“Wise words are more valuable than much gold and many rubies.”

Proverbs 20:15

I’ve discovered that good counsel invariably comes from a good person. 

But it’s more than that– not everyone can do it.  At one time I thought any mature Christian believer had a right to give guidance, but that really wasn’t the case.  I also believe that every believer will receive a minimum of a ‘spiritual semester’ in counseling. The Holy Spirit will come to teach you. We have to learn there is wisdom, and there is counseling. And at times, “wise counseling.”

Choose your rainy day people carefully. Mark them out beforehand; before things get out of hand.

“From a wise mind comes wise speech; the words of the wise are persuasive.”

Proverbs 16:23

Proverbs tells us that giving good advice is as rare as gold or silver.  I have met so many people who have an opinion about my problems, but few want to listen.  And listening skills are what my counselors need.  Job’s friends were the best counselors when they sat quietly in the ashes with him. They were sterling silver until… well, you know what happened next.

I want to unload my issues.  Personally, I need someone who has been profoundly depressed and finally stumbled out into the light.  It’s not that I don’t love certain believers, but they haven’t been “checked out” on this particular problem.  It’s like flying a plane, or operating heavy equipment.  If they haven’t suffered, then leave me alone–but, please do pray for me.

I read this somewhere, and it seems like it’s true.  “Unless you have been lost in this particular section of hell– just shut up!”  I don’t want to be rude, or ungrateful, but I really need someone who has visited ‘hell’ on occasion. And especially down this specific corridor. People who have been damaged by life know what I mean.

Often counselors are offering a very small part of the needed wisdom. They must accept this. I however place a premium on the counsel of a few dear friends, even though I have hundreds of Christian relationships. I am a bit of a hermit, so it’s hard to find caliber people that I can trust.

I don’t diminish relationships, but I do know that certain people are not tested on certain problems.  This may be simplistic, or a little harsh.  But when I had my brain tumor, I did not want my car mechanic to fix me, I wanted a neurosurgeon. And both are wonderful people. I’m fortunate to have them.

If you’re reading this, and you have a mental illness issue that’s starting to escalate, you need to reach out.  Realize, that 1 in 70 people, [more or less] are qualified to deal with mental illness.  Ask the Holy Spirit for his help in this.  He is the Comforter and the Wonderful Counselor.  He will direct you, and help you.  That is what He does.

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“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.”

–Thomas Fuller

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How Does Your Church See Mental Illness?

Going my way?
This should supply direction and dialogue on the issues faced by every church member. It is a great opportunity we have been given— to minister to every person in the Body of Christ. —Bryan
by Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press  —

Living with depression — or any other form of mental illness — is like viewing life “through a glass darkly,” according to Jessy Grondin, a student in Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School. “It distorts how you see things.”

Like one in four Americans, Grondin wrestles with mental illness, having struggled with severe bouts of depression since her elementary-school days. Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness, along with bipolar disorder, another mood-altering malady. Other forms of mental illness include schizophrenia and disorders related to anxiety, eating, substance abuse and attention deficit/hyperactivity.

Like many Americans with mental illness, Grondin and her family looked to the church for help. And she found the response generally less-than-helpful. “When I was in the ninth grade and hospitalized for depression, only a couple of people even visited me, and that was kind of awkward. I guess they didn’t know what to say,” said Grondin, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Alabama.

Generally, most Christians she knew dealt with her mood disorder by ignoring it, she said. “It was just nonexistent, like it never happened,” she said. “They never acknowledged it.” When she was an adolescent, many church members just thought of her as a troublemaker, not a person dealing with an illness, she recalled.

A few who acknowledged her diagnosed mood disorder responded with comments Grondin still finds hurtful. “When dealing with people in the church … some see mental illness as a weakness — a sign you don’t have enough faith,” she said. “They said: ‘It’s a problem of the heart. You need to straighten things out with God.’ They make depression out to be a sin, because you don’t have the joy in your life a Christian is supposed to have.”

A Baylor University study revealed that among Christians who approached their local church for help in response to a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, more than 30 percent were told by a minister that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness. And 57 percent of the Christians who were told by a minister that they were not mentally ill quit taking their medication.

That troubles neuroscientist Matthew Stanford. “It’s not a sin to be sick,” he insists. Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the doctoral program in psychology at Baylor, acknowledges religion’s longstanding tense relationship with behavioral science. And he believes that conflict destroys lives. “Men and women with diagnosed mental illness are told they need to pray more and turn from their sin. Mental illness is equated with demon possession, weak faith and generational sin,”

Stanford writes in his recently released book, Grace for the Afflicted. “The underlying cause of this stain on the church is a lack of knowledge, both of basic brain function and of scriptural truth.” As an evangelical Christian who attends Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, Stanford understands underlying reasons why many Christians view psychology and psychiatry with suspicion. “When it comes to the behavioral sciences, many of the early fathers were no friends of religion. That’s certainly true of Freud and Jung,” he noted in an interview.

Many conservative Christians also believe the behavioral sciences tend to justify sin, he added, pointing particularly to homosexual behavior. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association famously removed homosexuality from its revised edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As a theologically conservative Christian, Stanford stressed that scripture, not the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, constitutes the highest authority.

But that doesn’t mean the Bible is an encyclopedia of knowledge in all areas, and all people benefit from scientific insights into brain chemistry and the interplay of biological and environmental factors that shape personality. Furthermore, while he does not presume to diagnose with certainty cases of mental illness millennia after the fact, Stanford believes biblical figures — Job, King Saul of Israel and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, among others — demonstrated symptoms of some types of mental illness. “Mental disorders do not discriminate according to faith,” he said.

Regardless of their feelings about some psychological or psychiatric approaches, Christians need to recognize mental illnesses are genuine disorders that originate in faulty biological processes, Stanford insisted. “It’s appropriate for Christians to be careful about approaches to treatment, but they need to understand these are real people dealing with real suffering,” he said. Richard Brake, director of counseling and psychological services for Texas Baptist Child & Family Services, agrees. “The personal connection is important. Church leaders need to be open to the idea that there are some real mental-health issues in their congregation,” Brake said.

Ministers often have training in pastoral counseling to help people successfully work through normal grief after a loss, but may lack the expertise to recognize persistent mental-health problems stemming from deeper life issues or biochemical imbalances, he noted. Internet resources are available through national mental-health organizations and associations of Christian mental-health providers. But the best way to learn about available mental health treatment — and to determine whether ministers would be comfortable referring people to them — is through personal contact, Brake and Stanford agreed. “Get to know counselors in the community,” Brake suggested. “Find out how they work, what their belief systems are and how they integrate them into their practices.”

Mental-health providers include school counselors and case managers with state agencies, as well as psychiatrists and psychologists in private practice or associated with secular or faith-related treatment facilities, he noted. Stanford and Brake emphasized the vital importance of making referrals to qualified mental-health professionals, but they also stressed the role of churches in creating a supportive and spiritually nurturing environment for people with mental-health disorders. Mental illness does not illustrate lack of faith, but it does have spiritual effects, they agreed. “Research indicates people with an active faith life who are involved in congregational life get through these problems more smoothly,” Brake said.

Churches cannot “fix” people with mental illness, but they can offer support to help them cope. “The church has a tremendous role to play. Research shows the benefits of a religious social support system,” Stanford said. They stressed the importance of creating a climate of unconditional love and acceptance for mentally ill people in church — a need Grondin echoed. “There needs to be an unconditional sense of community and relationships,” she said. She emphasized the importance of establishing relationships that may not be reciprocally satisfying all the time.

People with mental-health issues may not be as responsive or appreciative as some Christians would like them to be, she noted. “Others need to take the initiative and keep the relationship established. People don’t realize how hard it can be (for a person with a mood disorder) to summon the courage just to get out of bed,” Grondin said. Christians who seek to reach out to people with mental illness need to recognize “they are not able to see things clearly, and it’s not their fault,” Grondin added.

Mostly, Christians need to offer acceptance to people with mental illness — even if they don’t fully understand, she insisted. “Just be present. Offer support and love,” Grondin concluded. “You won’t always know what to say. Just speak words of support into a life of serious struggles. That means more than anything.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.)
 

A great book:

“Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness” [Paperback] can be found at www.Amazon.com, by Matthew S. Stanford Ph.D

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For more information: National Alliance on Mental Illness (800) 950-6264 Anxiety Disorders Association of America (240) 485-1001  Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (800) 826-3632  American Association of Christian Counselors (800) 526-8673 Stephen Ministries (314) 428-2600

 

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