What is Christian psychotherapy and how does it differ from “regular” psychotherapy?
The term Christian counseling has varied meanings. I offer every client counseling and psychotherapy from a Christian worldview because I am a follower of Jesus. Christ shapes my view of the world. The skills I teach for managing emotions and thoughts and for generating behavior that is congruent with one’s core values are also consistent with skills that Jesus taught to His followers. Many Christian counselors have strong Biblical foundations either through seminaries or Bible colleges and universities. Depending on the institution, the amount of actual clinical training and education varies widely.
The need for psychotherapy often arises when our current skills for managing thoughts, emotions and situational responses are not working for us and life becomes unmanageable. Without the proper skills, previously-learned ways of coping with thoughts and emotions can worsen anxiety, depression and can profoundly affect mood.
Licensed clinical therapists/counselors with comprehensive clinical training in CBT and DBT can blend these skills with a Christian perspective to help clients manage emotions and thoughts and respond to others in ways that match their Christian values. This experience will vary depending upon the personal faith and testimony of the therapist and the client.
Shouldn’t I just seek pastoral counseling?
I am always in favor of talking to your pastor. A pastor is the shepherd of his flock which is made up of the body of believers who attend his church services and worship with him. He should know the people in his flock and be willing to pray with and for them. He should also provide whatever help is appropriate to his flock or turn to others in the church for assistance with this. This includes referring people to qualified licensed counselors who specialize in providing clinical treatment for persistent mental health and behavioral issues. Most pastors do no have this type of training. Some may have little or no training in mental health issues at all and will advise you to seek outside resources only AFTER you have gathered the courage to share your problems with them. This can feel upsetting and confusing.
In my practice, I make a promise to clients that if, after reading God’s Word and spending time in prayer, a spiritual matter remains unclear, I will send them to a qualified Biblical counselor to help them take the next spiritual steps. We are not alone and a Christian therapist should be courageous in the Word of God and humble about their own abilities. If there are spiritual questions left at the end of the session, the Word is your “lamp.” Biblical counseling is yet another step you can take.
Do you endorse psychiatric medications?
Medications can treat some of the symptoms of anxiety and depression, but usually not all of them. I do not prescribe medication and I will not recommend that you consult with a qualified provider about medication unless, in my clinical judgment, I believe it might help you. Even then, the decision to pursue medication therapy is yours to make. I will respect your right to choose what you feel is best for you.
How does therapy work? What do I have to do in sessions?
Therapy consists of building trust, validating your concerns, and setting goals. It’s about building a collaboration in which we are both partnered toward getting you the life you want. It can be a restorative experience even if it’s hard to think about many painful topics. In our sessions, we will be observing thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in order to solve problems in your life. We will take a non-judgmental stance on thoughts and behaviors (a DBT skill) to avoid shame and to keep trust open between us. You will get used to me saying things like, “and what do you think about that behavior…was it useful?” You will hear me use words such as “skillful” and phrases such as “it makes sense that you might feel that way.” You will experience validation as I imagine what it is like to be you, with what you have gone through and what you are facing. You will experience in me a fearlessness regarding thoughts, feelings, and behaviors because they are normal and we are given dominion over them through Christ. This boldly genuine approach is grounded in the belief that I am a sister in Christ first, therapist second. It asks that you try to answer questions candidly and be willing to look at issues from different angles. And you will need to be willing to practice the skills you learn in therapy on your own, throughout the week.
Will you have me doing yoga or meditating or other secular practices?
No. There are components of all therapy approaches that I choose not to use. I do not suggest that clients participate in yoga or perform any type of exercise or meditation nor do I encourage any type of “mystical” experience. When clients ask for strategies to help them relax or distract from unhelpful thoughts, I teach distress tolerance skills that you can do any time of day without special practices or mantras.
How long does therapy take?
Therapy is not like what you may have seen in the movies. People rarely are in therapy for more than 6 months but sometimes it is much less than that. Again, you will decide when therapy has reached its conclusion. The average is 6 to 12 sessions but can be more depending upon your goals.
What if I try counseling and don’t like it?
The only way to know if therapy or counseling is right for you is to try a session. See if you can build a working and collaborative relationship with your therapist. The experience of sharing your journey and learning new skills will be at times frustrating but mostly eye opening. If it is not, tell your therapist.
In my practice, clients can NEVER fail at therapy. I assume they are always doing the best they can. If I need to change, I will count on your feedback to help me be a better therapist!