Pitfalls of Christian Counselling

Pitfalls  of Christian Counselling

by Michael Hart, MA,CCC

Christian Counselling has been validated by scientific studies as being beneficial in dealing with a wide range of mental health and relationship issues. However, as with other types of counselling, it is not without its  dangers. This article will examine three pitfalls of Christian Counselling that should serve as warning signs to clients.

The first warning sign is if the Christian counsellor chastises a client for something he or she revealed during the counselling Counselling sessionprocess. A good counsellor will know how to explore issues and lead clients to make changes to their lives without directly saying things that will make them feel guilty. This is not to say that a client should not experience any form of guilt during counselling. What is meant here is that the counsellor should not be the source of the client’s guilt. For example, a good Christian counsellor will never make statements such as, “You should have known that it is sinful to do that'” or “Jesus would be disappointed with you.” These kinds of statements are not helpful in the counselling process and may cause clients to shut down, rather than feeling open to reveal other things in their lives that they may not necessarily be proud of.

Furthermore, for a person struggling with low self-worth or sense of failure, these kinds of statements may exacerbate these negative self-concepts. Renowned psychologist Carl Rogers uses the term, “Unconditional Positive Regard,” to denote a counsellor’s support of a person regardless of what the person says or does. Rogers believed that if a counsellor fails to give “Unconditional Positive Regard”, he or she will perpetuate the negative self-concepts that clients hold of themselves. Rogers taught that this approach is a key part of the therapeutic process, and that without it a client cannot move on to emotional and psychological health.

It should be noted, however, that “Unconditional Positive Regard” doesn’t mean that a Christian counsellor has to leave his or her morals at the door and condone sinful or self- destructive behaviour. Instead, what is meant here is that clients should not be made to feel inferior or worthless because of anything they reveal during the counselling process. A good counsellor will be able to lead a client to right living through skilful questioning instead of lecturing or preaching to them. It was said of Socrates that he would never tell others the answers to their questions, but would instead lead them to discover the answers themselves through a series of questions he posed to them. In like manner, well trained Christian counsellors will ask questions that will lead a person to make right decisions and change self destructive behaviour.

The second warning sign is if a counsellor begins to promote the doctrines of a particular denomination or church. If at anytime the counsellor begins to push his or her religious agenda, then the line of professionalism in counselling has been crossed and the counsellor has now entered the territory of proselytizing. Good Christian counsellors will never impose discussion about their church or their beliefs about a doctrinal issue. This is not to say that a counsellor should hide his or her religious identity. Some Christian counsellors are pastors who are trained in psychology and are openly known as belonging to a particular church group. Others are professional counsellors who work within church settings where their affiliation to the church is openly known. However, in therapy, good counsellors will not cause their counselees to feel pressured to change their church or cause them to feel that their religious beliefs are wrong because they do not line up with that of the counsellor.

The third warning sign is if a Christian counsellor imposes prayer or religious material without first getting the consent of the client.  Some clients, even Christian clients, may not want to have prayer during their counselling sessions. Some may have come to counselling being angry at God for tragedies in their lives and are not at the place spiritually where they want to pray. Others may have come out of abusive cultic situations where they were forced to do certain things. Consequently, a Christian counsellor who initiates prayer, may trigger the client’s memories of being controlled. The counsellor may feel good about praying, but such clients will likely not attend another session, and may not give a reason for doing so. Whereas prayer can be a very effective tool in the counselling process, Christian counsellors need to be sensitive to the spiritual state of the client and time their use of prayer appropriately. Some clients who are not ready to pray in the first few sessions may initiate prayer themselves after the counsellor has helped them to work through their psychological and emotional wounds. Christian counsellors can learn about tactfulness and timing by analyzing Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well (John 4); it was the woman and not Jesus who initiated the spiritual part of the dialogue. Jesus skilfully conversed with her about her life, and in the process, she developed a realization about who Jesus was and recognized her spiritual needs. Christian counsellors would do well to take heed of Jesus’ actions here.

In conclusion, Christian counselling is not to be looked down on as being less effective than any of the other approaches to counselling. In many respects it is more effective because it takes into consideration the spiritual needs of clients. The fact that spirituality is a part of every culture on earth, and has been a part of every culture that has existed, testifies to the fact that human beings seem to be wired to believe in the existence of the spiritual. As a result, counselling that avoids the spiritual is missing a very important component of the human psyche. Nevertheless, Christian counsellors need to make sure they do not preach to clients, promote their religious agenda, or impose spiritual practices, instead of focusing on the needs of their clients. 

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About Michael Hart

Michael Hart is a highly qualified psychotherapist whose training and experience allow him to use the respected Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCC) designation of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. As Director of Elim Counselling Services, Michael not only offers counselling to clients, but leads Kingdom Life Workshops and hosts a counselling radio show, Life Transformations. Michael is a dynamic presenter and a gifted communicator who presents serious topics in a way that is easily understood and very entertaining. His academic writings and research have earned him two St. Peter's Awards from St. Paul University in Ottawa for excellence in the area of Christian Spirituality. Michael is mentioned on the Christian Counselling Network as a Christian Counsellor having the qualifications and training in both theology and counselling and as such is recognized as being a Christian Counsellor who not only goes by the name but is truly qualified to offer professional Christian Counselling.

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