I’ve heard this a few times myself. It could just be me, but tell me if this sounds at all familiar.
Maybe you need therapy for a mental or behavioral health issue. Or you’re looking for family or marital counseling. Maybe you don’t know what you need, but you’d just like to speak to a counselor about some issues you’re facing. You ask your church friend or family member, elder, or pastor what they think, or perhaps you’re just telling them about it in confidence. They say something ambiguously positive but then respond with something along the lines of, “just make sure you see a Christian counselor,” or they ask, “okay, but is the therapist you’re seeing a Christian?”
I understand why some might say, suggest, or inquire about it, but the motivation behind this “concern” is all wrong.
For one, this is a prime example of the disconnect between the needs of the mental health community and some faith believers. As a Christian, would you be concerned with the religious affiliations of your medical physician? Probably not, you’d just want them to be good at their job. So why be concerned with the religious affiliation of a mental health clinician? Presumably because you still primarily view mental health or life issues as the result of a spiritual problem. I won’t say this can’t ever be the case, but that would be the exception, not the rule.
The mentality that a Christian counselor should be sought over a secular one also demonstrates a larger distrust in counseling professions as a whole and the academic disciplines behind them such as psychology or social work. One concern appears to be a non-Christian counselor lacking “discernment” on the spiritual “problem” behind a clinical issue. Or worst, what if a secular counselor affirmed a client’s same-sex attractions, supported a patient’s desire to leave an abusive marriage, or something else that might go against a traditional religious belief? These examples drive many conservative religious people to hesitate in directing others to seek professional, clinical help when they need it.
The fear that this could happen to someone is fairly rational if you grew up in a tribal religious community with a rigid belief system. One tends to be skeptical of anyone outside he or she’s group, particularly those that might offer a belief or opinion that contends with the belief of one’s tribe. But it’s important for conservative faith believes to know that licensed therapists are obligated not to interfere with the personal values, culture, and self-determination of patients, regardless of their religious beliefs.
What this means is a therapist isn’t supposed to dictate a client’s decisions especially if that decision conflicts with a religious or, more generally, a cultural belief. Additionally, therapists aren’t meant to impose their ethics, values, morals, and yes, spiritual beliefs onto a patient of theirs. There are even public health boards for licensures in each state that hold clinicians accountable should they act unprofessionally and unethically by imposing their own biases and beliefs onto a client.
A counselor may offer a query or consideration during therapy that challenges a patient’s notion or belief about something. But ultimately the choices and the courses of action are always determined by the patient. A client can be exposed to solutions by a secular therapist that might not be suggested by a Christian with a rigid belief in right and wrong, or what’s appropriate and not appropriate. But, a counselor cannot manipulate a client into opting for the solution he or she might not be comfortable with because of his or her beliefs.
Now, for the person who does want a Christian counselor because you need someone that can empathize with a religious or spiritual problem, then to seek one is perfectly okay and possibly necessary. Some clinicians specialize in particular issues like depression, substance abuse, or trauma. These specialties also include religious issues like spiritual abuse, crisis’ of faith, or faith-based counseling, etc. If you’re searching for a clinician online, you will also see bios where it lists the client focus or population that a therapist works with regularly and this can include religious persons, generally, or Christians, specifically.
Just be sure, when looking for a Christian counselor, to look for a licensed counselor that either work with Christians as a population or Christian/religious issues as a specialty. The person you’re seeking therapy from, Christian or not, should be professionally licensed and held to the mandates and standards of the licensure they hold. You may come across people who offer Christian counseling that aren’t licensed as counselors. A non-professional who just offers their advice on an anecdotal level may intentionally or unintentionally be prone to manipulate your decisions and impose their own biases and beliefs onto you. This will hinder you more than it will help you in the end.
So, let me just put this out there – if you need to see a therapist of any sort for any reason other than a specific religious or spiritual issue, they do not need to be a Christian. And even if you are experiencing a spiritual issue, a clinician unfamiliar with your religion or your religious beliefs can still be of help and may still be worth a try if you’re unable to find a qualified, licensed counselor who specializes in religious issues or regularly deals with Christians as his or her client focus.
Navigating the therapeutic process and finding a good counselor to help you understand or deal with a circumstance in your life can be tricky but also highly beneficial. The beauty of speaking to a professional counselor is discovering that there are people who can listen to your circumstance non-judgmentally and offer constructive feedback through various therapy techniques to help you find solutions to your problem that don’t compromise your integrity.