Friday, July 10, 2015

Response to a classmate who is an athiest ...

Susie (not her real name),

I am sooooo glad you posed these questions!  You really challenged me to work hard this final week of our course!

I have outlined the questions that you raised to the best of my ability in order to clearly provide the answers that you seek.

Would I only be working with the Christian population?
Would I hold Christian-based counseling techniques separately when working with the general population?
What are some Christian-based techniques for example?
What about Christian counseling’s efficacy?
Where are the boundaries / integrations in what is considered Christian counseling? 

Let me begin with a good definition of Christian counseling.  Gary Collins (1993), a pioneer Christian counselor, defined Christian counseling as counseling that is provided by a deeply committed, spirit-guided servant of Jesus Christ, who applies their God-given abilities, skills, training, knowledge, and insights, to the task of helping others move to personal wholeness, interpersonal competence, mental stability, and spiritual maturity.

My practice would not be limited to the Christian population, but would be made available to clients who would have a full awareness of my Christian worldview.  Just as I would be required to make my credentials and areas of experience known to potential clients, I would also make this information available.  As a Christian, I know how limited the choices are in Southeast Texas for good, sound Christian counselors who are grounded in the truth of Scripture.

According to Garzon, Clinton, and Hawkins (2011), Gallop polls consistently find that 90% of U.S. citizens believe there is a God, 80% try to live according to their faith, and about 85% self-identify as Christians. These percentages suggest that the majority of clients coming to therapy will have some sort of spiritual perspective.  However, the statistics for mental-health professionals are substantially different.  Delaney, Miller, and Bosono (2007) found that only 46% of clinical psychologists identified themselves as Christian, 38% endorsed other religions, and 16% were agnostic, atheist, or had no religious faith.

Many people are unaware that there are various types of Christian counselors. Some are lay or peer counselors who mostly work in the church. Recovery counselors work largely with addictions. Pastoral or biblical counselors also work largely in the church. Fourque and Glachen (2000) found that 42% of people seek help from clergy first for their emotional problems showing they have a desire for their faith to be addressed when they are in need.

Then there are professional counselors and clinicians who are state-licensed professionals across the disciplines of psychology, social work, mental-health counseling, marriage and family therapy, psychiatry and nursing. I was sorry to hear about the two incidents that you related, but I would question whether or not the counselor was a licensed professional in these situations.  It sounds like they failed to treat the whole client and were focused mainly on the spiritual issue. 

Here is my personal philosophy regarding the selection of a counselor.  If I needed brain surgery, I would not see a chiropractor.  I could justify that my D.O. or my dentist is a doctor, but he certainly isn’t qualified to meet my need for brain surgery. If I am a Christian, and struggling with a spiritual issue, I would look for a counselor who I can trust to help me find answers that are based on the truth of God’s word.  As a Christian, I believe that God’s word, the Bible is God’s standard for living. As such, I can find principles in his word to live by and that help me find solutions to life’s problems. 

The climate and setting for a Christian counselor should be the same as any other, characterized by a sense of safety, unconditional positive regard, and respect for the clients’ value system.  The goal of therapy would not be to impose my values on the client or to get them to believe what I think is right, but to help them determine if they are living up to their own values and whether those beliefs are leading to behaviors that negatively affect their lives or relationships with others.

Here is an example: If a client presents with symptoms of depression, I am going to use every tool available in my toolbox to offer help, including referring the client for a medical check-up and possible medication. I’m going to use the therapeutic techniques and skills that we are learning in our coursework, as well as applying scriptural principles, and offering to pray with the client if they are open to do so.

A wide variety of spiritual interventions exist for Christian counselors to use when appropriate. These could include prayer, devotional meditation, Bible study, forgiveness therapy, therapist spiritual self-disclosure, confrontation of sin, values exploration, church involvement, confession, spiritual resources and media, pastoral consultation, and referrals. The American Association of Christian Counselors offers resources for additional training which includes areas such as biblical counseling, addiction and recovery, and stress and trauma, etc.

Just as a hospital or doctor’s office collects information about a person’s ethnic, cultural, and religious background, my intake interview forms would include this type of information.  If a hospital knew that a patient was a Jehovah’s Witness, they would know that the person is likely to refuse a blood transfusion for religious reasons. In the same way, if a client in counseling indicated that he/she is an atheist, I would know that it would likely be offensive to offer to pray for that client. This is demonstrating cultural competence and respectf for my client.

In Caring for People God’s Way, Clinton, Hart, and Ohlschlager, (2005) outlined seven traits that anchor what is done in Christian counseling today. It is scripturally anchored, meaning that we believe that the Scriptures are the food and water of spiritual life. It is spiritual forming, meaning the Spirit of God does the work through the counselor as the helper. It is short term (6 – 10 sessions), solution-focused, and strength-based. It allows clients to tell their stories, because God reveals himself to us through our life story. Finally, it is scientific, meaning that it is submitted to the rigors of research and empirical evidence in the same way as any other counseling theories or techniques.

Also, in our coursework, we have been exposed to the important role that spirituality plays in the recovery of clients. A meta-analysis was conducted by Worthington, Hook, Davis, and McDaniel (2011) on religiously accommodated treatments. The results showed that when counselors adapted religious treatments, their clients had reduced psychological symptoms, and the effects are at least as strong as with secular treatments. Religiously accommodated treatments produced more positive spiritual changes and the most consistently effective psychotherapies or couple treatments have been Christian-oriented cognitive and cognitive-behavioral therapies (which are empirically supported treatments or ESTs) and forgiveness therapies. Worthington’s REACH forgiveness model as well as the Christian PREP approach have been proven to be efficacious and have also been designated ESTs.

My final comments would be to express my sincerest disappointment regarding your own negative experiences with Christianity.  You mentioned experiencing a lot of guilt and anxiety as a result of the beliefs you were taught. If you were my client, I might explain to you that God’s word says that there are two types of guilt, false guilt, and true guilt.  True guilt brings about Godly sorrow and is intended to lead to repentance or a turning from sin. False guilt condemns and is shame-based. False guilt occurs when Satan continues to accuse a person of something for which he / she has already obtained forgiveness.

Sin separates us from God but Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sin so that we could receive forgiveness and be brought back into a right relationship with our creator God. When we truly accept His forgiveness we experience freedom to enjoy the abundant life that God intended for us. Afterward, He continues to work in our lives to grow and mature us and provide the help and direction we need for life. That doesn’t mean that we won’t experience difficult circumstances, because we live in a fallen world, but He provides the strength we need, and brings helpers in our lives to help us overcome life’s hardships (and trust me I have had my share). Innocent   My personal experience of faith doesn't cause me to feel anxious or continually guilty. For me Faith stands for Forsaking All I Trust Him. It means allowing God in the driver’s seat of my life, trusting Him to get me where he wants me to go, and just enjoying the journey.

Truthfully, I don't know how it all will come together, but I know without a doubt God placed this goal and dream on my heart, and I am just taking it one day at a time and seeing what doors He opens for me.

Clinton, T., Hart, A., & Ohlschlager,G. (2005) Caring for People God’s Way: Personal and Emotional Issues, Addictions, Grief, and Trauma. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Collins, G.R. (1993). The Biblical Basis of Christian Counseling for People Helpers. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Delaney, H.D., Miller, W.R., & Bisono, A.M. (2007). Religiousity and spirituality among psychologists: A survey of clinician members of the American Psychological Association. Professional Psychology: Research & Practice, 38(5). 538-546.

Fourque, P., & Glachen, M. (2000). The impact of Christian counseling on survivors of sexual abuse. Counseling Psychology Quarterly,13, 201-220.

Garzon, F., Clinton, T, & Hawkins, R. (2011) Spirituality in Counseling. In The Popular Encyclopedia of Christian Counseling. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House.

Worthington, E.L., Jr.,  Hook, J.N., Davis, D.E., &  McDaniel,M. (2011). Religion and spirituality. Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 67(4), 204-214.

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