As a Christian Counselor, the question begged is what makes a counselor “Christian”? Is it a declaration of orthodox theology and a biblically based understanding of Christ’s atonement? Is it the ability to apply consistently scripture to every life situation? Is it the obedience to the command to proselytize all unbelievers and disciple those of faith?
The question of what makes a Christian Counselor “Christian” is a ground-level query that needs direct attention so the application of our understanding permeates our therapeutic intentions.
This blog post is not designed to be authoritarian in its declaration of a definition, but a brief rendering of the four main integrative views of Christian counseling so that the discerning therapist can evaluate their current position and consider both their beliefs and benefits.
The reader upon completion of this post may well end up with more questions than answers. But indeed, when someone asks us what it means to be a Christian counselor and what indeed makes us “Christian”, a thoughtful response delineating our position, or even lack there of, behooves us.
There are 4 traditional integration views of how a believer may go about juxtaposing the truth of Christianity and the findings of Psychological Science. A more detailed understanding with a suggested fifth-view can be found in the book edited by Eric L. Johnson and David G. Myers, Psychology and Christianity: Five Views (2010).
Sometimes known as a "bible-only" approach, authors such as Jay Adams and David Powlison have popularized this view. This view is the most suspicious of Psychology as an establishment and protects the tenants and doctrines of the faith most closely. It is skeptical of using secular or scientific research to change the language or treatment of human problems. Sin, the human nature, our enemies of the soul (the world, our flesh and Satan) and an understanding of the work of the Spirit are central to their responses.
Biblical counseling is to be applauded for its cry of "sola scriptura", and yet its use of "sola scriptura" in its approach to dealing with issues is also its biggest stumbling block. Using the authority of scripture as its reason why the use of scripture is most times enough can sometimes oversimplify a problem or miss other effective forms of help.
While they would say "all truth is God's truth", they would hold that this does not assert that all truth is equal in value and that the authority of scripture is, therefore, mostly the only true source of help given to man or needed by man. Some nouthetic/biblical/"bible Only"/separatist proponents throughout history would be Zwingli, Simons, Amman, and Tertullian.
A "bible-over" approach, this view would say that the bible is our filter and authority through which all truth must pass. Stanton L. Jones would be a contemporary proponent of this view. But, as "all truth is God's truth", the validity of scientific research and pharmaceutical findings are valued as significant and helpful.
Integrationists are hard to nail down as they each must determine their own hermeneutics and personal psychological leanings (Adler vs. Freud vs. Horney.) Integrationists are usually culturally sensitive and outreach oriented and focused on the practical aspects of psychology.
While their open mindedness allows them to be creative in their care to mankind’s emotional and psychological pain, it is dangerous in that their boundaries are often indeterminate in their individual approaches without much accountability as a group. Historical figures that some would quote as upholding this view could be Augustine, Luther, or Calvin.
3. Christian Psychology
Relatively new in comparison to the first two integrative views, this perspective finds upholding the traditions of the faith (the history of our doctrines) as pure and unspoiled as the foundation from which psychology must flow. Those arguing for this position would be Eric Johnson and Robert C. Roberts.
These enthusiasts see Christian Psychology as an entity of itself, separate from secular psychology, and yet not with a separatist mentality. They will use the findings of recent research, but instead of looking at man's problems with the vision of someone in the 21st century, man's fallen nature with its ensuing issues needs to be seen from a holistic historical view that starts and comes from the foundations and traditions of our faith.
Drawing from puritan pietism as well as 20th century authors such as C.S Lewis would be common practice for these twenty-first century counselors. Any Christian theologian or early father who draws their practice of faith from a historical Christian system of thought would be listed as an advocate for this style of integration
Highly motivated by the modern-day research done in scientific laboratories, this view holds in special regard science and its findings. These believers would disregard the idea that integrating truth from two differing pools of belief is possible, nor would they say it leads to an integrity of human understanding. Mixing truth does not lead to clarity and wise practice, but merely dilutes the strength of each discipline and carries potential harm.
Holding both Christianity and Science as true, yet distinct, they give an "explanation" of a problem in light of different "levels" (1 level: science, 2 level: spiritual, 3 level: relational, etc.) However, while they would say scripture is our authority, they are in danger of understanding scripture through the glasses of science.
Distinct, yet true, each level gives its own perspective and then with each level giving its own voice, diagnosis and treatment can ensue. However, most skeptics of this approach would say science is the "main" level from which understanding and treatment is taken. Historical sponsors would include those who declare a Christian faith while pursuing the practice of their faith within the secular discipline of science.
Bio: Elizabeth Smith received her M.A. in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Systematic Theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. Elizabeth is the Program Head for Children's Ministry at Moody Bible Institute where she has been teaching for over 10 years after working full-time in Women's, Children’s and Youth Ministry as a counselor, teacher and Pastor's wife. Elizabeth has been married for 28 years to Brian and has 3 young adult children.