Faith and Counseling What’s the big Deal?
“I am a Christian, and I will feel more comfortable with a counselor that is Christian.” I have heard this comment enough times to lead me to write about faith and counseling. I don’t claim to be the expert on the subject, but I have some experience, and I can share from that point of view. Over the years, I’ve pondered questions related to faith and counseling such as:
- Should I ask clients about their faith?
- Does it matter if my faith is known by the individual(s) seeking counseling?
- Am I competent or strong enough in my own faith to incorporate it into the counseling process?
- Does it matter if I have a different faith or belief system than the individual I am counseling?
While I have answered these questions for my own counseling practice, and it continues to develop and change as I grow and change, I know there are counselors that disagree with me, and that is ok. We cannot all be the same or believe the same, and in counseling variety is essential. Below I share my answers to these questions with some explanations as to why I choose to operate in this way. For those seeking to counsel, I encourage you to ponder these questions as well and decided if these are questions you should consider when deciding which counselor to work with.
Should I ask clients about their faith?
· Yes. As a part of my intake process, I ask if the individual has a religious or spiritual belief system. I do this because I believe if the individual does have a religious or spiritual belief system it can be a great asset or resource that we can tap into during the counseling sessions. For example, if the individual is a Christian and finds prayer is useful and can help her get through a difficult situation then I want to be able to encourage her to pray or at least have a conversation about whether this is something she is capable of doing during difficult times. I may even offer to pray with her if that is something she desires.
Does it matter if my faith is known by the individual seeking counseling?
· Yes, and No. I know, no one likes those types of answers, but it’s true. There are times when individuals specifically ask me what my religious or spiritual beliefs are. Like the quote above, some people want to know that the person they are trusting with their secrets has a similar faith, belief system, or worldview. However, I have had clients that do not subscribe to any religious or spiritual belief system and have voiced- what I believe is of no interest to them or has no impact on them. I think both are valid and should be respected. Also, for transparency, I make sure to list on my website that I offer a faith/grace based approach to counseling.
Am I competent or strong enough in my own faith to incorporate it into the counseling process?
· Yes. As a part of my counseling practice, I offer Christian-faith-based- counseling. What that looks like depends on the individual’s needs and desires for counseling. For example, some of the individuals I work with express a desire for prayer and I will pray with them during the session. Some individuals come with concerns about topics such as forgiveness or grief, and I can counsel from a Christian worldview that offers hope and healing. However, I am not a pastor; therefore, I do not offer pastoral counseling and will refer them to their local church for specific spiritual guidance and counseling needs.
Does it matter if I have a different faith or belief system than the individual I am counseling?
· No and Yes. I know, I did it again. Please bear with me. No, it does not matter to me if my faith differs from the individual I am counseling. However, it is sometimes in the individual’s best interest if I help them find someone that has their same religious beliefs. For instance, my knowledge of other religious or spiritual belief systems is broad but limited. What I may believe to be abnormal because of my limited knowledge may actually be normal within their religious or spiritual belief system. I have had a couple of incidents like this, and I have found that helping the individual find another counselor has been beneficial for them. This has been a humbling but necessary experience. I have learned that I cannot be all things to all people and that’s ok. To work with someone that is not a good fit is not fair to the individual or to me. I will spend time discussing the individual’s belief system and how that may come into play during our sessions. I will share my limited knowledge and ask the individual if they would feel more comfortable with someone else that has more experience or knowledge about their beliefs. Sometimes that is a yes other times it isn’t a big deal for the client, and we move forward in building trust within the counseling relationship.
Each is different and not everyone coming to counseling is experiencing a spiritual issue or crisis that they want to be addressed during their counseling sessions. However, as mentioned earlier, if there is a religious or spiritual belief system that can be tapped into as a resource then I think the discussion is worth it. Also, counseling gives people a safe place to explore their beliefs or lack thereof without judgment, and that may include religious or spiritual beliefs. However, if we (counselors) are uncomfortable with the subject matter and we avoid it we may be preventing those we are counseling from exploring their beliefs and how their beliefs are influencing their behaviors or choices.
In my next blog article, Pastors and Counselors building Healthier & Stronger Congregations, I discuss how church leaders and counselors can work together to encourage and support healthier, happier, and stronger congregations.