By Christina Kincaid, MA, Provisionally Licensed Counselor
In a world where mental health is crucial so is figuring out what treatment is available. With today’s stressors; anxiety and depression are at all-time highs. Technology may have increased our ability to connect to people far and wide and possibly increased our productivity however at what has this increase costs us in our mental health? Children and adult alike are bombarded with information at an increasingly high demand.
For people with a strong faith background, it may be unsettlingly to realize that prayer alone may not fix our mental health. Traditionally what some may call Christian counseling I would call lay counseling. Lay counseling would be conducted by pastors, teachers, or even peer counselors. So, this type of counseling may or may not be provided by a credentialed professional. While there is defiantly a place in the field for this type of help it may not meet all the needs of someone who is seeking help.
A Licensed Professional is someone trained and, in most cases, holds at least a master’s degree in psychology, counseling or its related fields. The Licensed Professional is going to have specialized training in mental health issues, illnesses, and challenges that the lay counselor may not have. These types of professionals are taught to listen and look at people and their challenges through more than a spiritual lens. Oftentimes depending on the professional’s own belief system, the professional counselor may only look at the client / patient from a body perspective.
Where is a person to go after all this information. Spirituality is an essential part of your life however your depression and anxiety has increased despite several trips to the altar. In Genesis the Lord states that we were created in the Image of Him (Genesis, New International Version). In I Thessalonians we are told that, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Thessalonians 5: 23, New International Version). Here let’s take notice of the body, spirit, and soul. It would stand to reason that if we are created in Gods Image and God is made of Father, Son and Spirit that just as this scripture states we are made up of body soul and spirit. So, when we have problems whether that would be mental or physical the entire being of the person should be taken into account. To leave out the body is to do an injustice but at the same time to leave out the spirit would also do an injustice to the person. To further prove the idea that body spirit and soul is essential. In Mark 12:30 The Lord reminds us to love God with all our heart, with all your understanding, and all your strength (n New International Version). So, while psychology wants to focus on the mind and emotions (the body) part of a client. Christianity often has dismissed the powerfulness of psychology and Christians tend to get all weird and assume psychology and its’ related fields conjures up Freudian pictures of everyone laying on a couch talking about their childhood and sexuality (Clinton & Ohlschlager, 2002).
While Christian Counseling and Professional Counseling each have their place. Learning the difference is essential to becoming an advocate for your mental health. See even if Christianity is not your cup of tea the Licensed Professional who happens to be a Christian is going to ask you about your spirituality what you think and even how you understand God. Even though there may be a misconception that Christians are judgmental and that they often try to force their beliefs onto people. Ethically the Licensed Counselor cannot do this even those who are Christian (Timothy Clinton, 2002). The Licensed professional is going to care more for the person and set aside their own bias and beliefs and guide the client/ patient along and allow them to make their own decisions about God and spirituality even if that differs from the professional. In fact, I would say this is even acting like God. He is the creator of people (Genesis). However, God gave humans free choice. He never leaves nor forsakes us (Hebrews 13:5, New International Version). Thus, as we move through life God allows us the freedom to choose his way or our own. He’s there though waiting and willing when we are ready to let Him into areas where we once said was off limits.
So, while you may never have thought of the difference between Christian Counseling and Professional Counseling before it may be necessary. Caring for our mental health can be just as essential as caring for our physical health. Make sure that you are well informed about what your options are when you are choosing a mental health professional. Do not fail to remember that you are a tri-union being and you want a professional who also will take that into account will helping you with all your mental health challenges. Do not just air on the side of Christianity or even spirituality but also be willing to pick a professional who is willing to submit their selves to a code ethics and has the training and ability to understand the complexities of mental health and the current research
Clinton, T., & Ohlschlager, G. (2002). Competent Christian counseling: Vol. one. WaterBrook. In-Text Citation: (Clinton & Ohlschlager, 2002)