Christian counselors are doing God’s work and must use the Spiritual Gifts with which they were blessed to be able to reach their clients. While it may be difficult to always reach a client right away, when a Christian counselor can be effective and help someone understand what God desires for them, it can be a very fulfilling and satisfying experience. But the Christian counselor must know what method they plan to use with each client and figure out quickly if they need to switch methods to become more effective in reaching the client. As is the case with secular counseling, Christian Counseling has many different methods that can be used.
While some of these methods are preferred by more counselors than others, they all have some similarities and some differences, including in their goals, concepts, strategies, and how to develop a counseling program within a church community. This paper will attempt to explain those similarities and differences, with the methods being compared to Lawrence Crabb, Jr.’s method that he wrote about in his 1977 book entitled Effective Christian Counseling.
Part I: Goal of Christian Counseling
From the very beginning of his book, Crabb tells Christian counselors that they must ask the question “What is the client ultimately asking for?” (Crabb, 1977, p. 20). Christian counselors must try to determine what a client is trying to get out of counseling. If the client is attempting just to receive happiness out of counseling, they may not have the correct mindset as they start counseling. One of the goals that clients should have is to become closer to Christ. As Crabb states, “An obsessive preoccupation with “my happiness,” however, often obscures our understanding of the biblical route to deep, abiding joy” (p. 20). Counselors must direct their clients to follow the Word of God and to follow in the path that He has set down for them.
Christians are told that if seek the Lord and wind up sitting at His right for all of eternity, this will grant us eternal happiness. To be able to realize this, Crabb tells Christians that they must strive for and obtain spiritual and psychological maturity. To obtain this, Christian counselors need to push their clients to do two things. Crabb says that Christians, to mature, they must obey God in the present moment and also strive for “long-range character growth” (p. 23). If Christians mature spiritually, it will make it easier for them to follow the path God has set down for them and their happiness, in this life as well as the next, will increase.
Rogers’ Client-Centered Therapy (RCCT), Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) all have very similar goals. All three methods speak less about concentrating on long-term (next life) goals and focus much more on the immediate goals that a client wants in the near future. Instead of maturing spiritually and psychologically, RCCT, CBT, and REBT focus more on just corrective actions and teach that “undesirable responses can be unlearned and replaced with more desirable ones” (Andrews, 2010, p. 112).
Clients are taught ways to avoid continuing the same behaviors that they may have acted on in the past instead of learning why God wants Christians to obey Him. Learning how to be more like Christ and what rewards await us in the next life is a great motivator to help Christians mature and achieve all of their goals for this life and all eternity with God.
While Christian counseling may have a different overall goal than RCCT, CBT, or REBT, this does not mean that Christian counseling cannot use some of the concepts of the other methods. Using multiple methods and finding the right method to reach each client should be the overall goal of any type of counseling, be it religious or secular. If this is not the overall goal of the counselor, the client may want to consider finding another counselor who will better assist them.
Part II: Basic Concepts
One of Christian counseling’s most important basic concepts is getting deep into a person’s psyche and figuring out exactly what is missing from them not just mentally, but spiritually that may make them less happy than God desires them to be. As Crabb (1977) describes, Christian counselors must figure out what kind of personal worth does a client sets in themselves, how significant do that client consider themselves in the grand scheme of God’s creation, and how secure is the client in their own skin (p. 61).
Every client may have a different way of defining their own personal worth, and this is something that a Christian counselor must be able to recognize. Effective Christian counselors will be able to figure out where their client feels the safest and where the client feels like they have the most significance within God’s Kingdom. Without being able to do this, it will be very difficult for a Christian counselor to effectively reach their client and initiate change within that person’s life or actions.
REBT can be very effective when used in coordination with Christian counseling. Although the founder of REBT, Albert Ellis, was originally staunchly anti-religion, “his philosophical stance toward religious beliefs has somewhat softened” (Johnson, Ridley, and Nielsen, 2000). Mr. Ellis has even stated “that even devout religious commitment may be helpful for many clients” (Johnson, et. al.). This shows that even someone who originally rejects the idea of God being helpful to those suffering in their lives can be shown the light.
The basic concept of REBT began by stating that people shaped their views and actions by the culture within which they were brought up. Depending on a person’s culture, that can help determine their self-worth, their own significance within their culture, and how secure they feel within their culture because of their place in society. Christian counseling can be used to help them understand that God views everyone, no matter what skin color, age, or social class, as equal and as His children.
Christian counseling may have differing concepts from RCCT, CBT, and REBT at times. All counseling concepts, however, look to assist the client in their lives. By using the methods together, the Christian counselor may be able to find that the client is more receptive to the advice that is being given to them and more apt to act on that advice.
Part III: Basic Strategy
The main strategy of Christian counseling is to help the client identify issues going on in the client’s life and how the client can improve their actions to be more like Christ. Identifying issues, behaviors, mindsets surrounding actions can help to change a person’s actions when the same situation may arise in the future. As Crabb (1977) states, one of the most important strategies later in counseling is to “plan what your client will do differently now that his thinking has changed” (p. 157). The importance of identifying the poor thinking processes and figuring out how to correct those processes cannot be understated. Just because the thinking has been identified does not mean a person will act on changing it unless some sort of plan is put into place with the counselor.
RCCT has what could be described as a very unorthodox strategy of helping the client. RCCT states one of the strategies is that “the therapist, in no way, should judge or evaluate the individual” (Kensit, 2000). This seems a very strange request to make of a therapist. While it is good for the client to determine the direction of each counseling session and what they feel like disclosing to their counselor, not allowing a counselor to evaluate the client seems a very dangerous strategy. The client may be more open to their counselor, but they are also not receiving any feedback, be it positive or negative, and may not be able to determine for themselves how their actions need to be corrected and how they can improve their lives.
Christian counseling seems to have the more effective strategy when it comes to helping clients improve their lives and mindset for the long term. Having a counselor help identify should be more effective than just having a counselor sit and listen and not give any true feedback. Without some feedback from the counselor, the client may as well not come into counseling, as they are not truly getting much out of it.
Part IV: Developing a Counseling Program in the Local Church
Christian counseling is really the only method where the church is used and where programs are developed. While it was written nearly 30 years ago, Crabb (1977) states that “In the churches particularly, group work and peer counseling have spread in epidemic fashion” (p. 163). This seems to still hold true today. There are many different types of peer support groups in church, such as young married couples, men’s groups, women’s groups, divorced groups, and many more, and they all use Christian counseling methods to support each other within the group. Having someone who is in the same or a similar situation that you may be in is helpful.
While many of the people in these groups may not have any sort of true schooling in counseling methods, often times there is a moderator who will help move things along and can offer assistance to those who may need a professional to talk to in addition to their peer group. By using the Spiritual Gifts with which members of the church are equipped, peer counseling and having counseling programs within a church community can be just as effective as having individuals seek professional help.
Christian counseling would appear to get deeper into a client’s psyche than secular counseling. While RCCT, CBT, and REBT can be effective in helping someone change their actions for the short term, Christian counseling should prove to be more effective for most clients. Christian counseling looks much longer term than the other styles of counseling. Using Christian counseling in coordination with some of the other methods may assist RCCT, CBT, or REBT to be more effective and successful. Having a basis in looking towards the long term future and figuring out what God wants for His people will never be a bad method of counseling, just so long as you find a way to reach the person, use the resources around them, and are able to figure out what a client uses to determine their own value in God’s creation.
Andrews, L. W. (2010). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. In Encyclopedia of Depression (Vol. 1, pp. 112-113). Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press. Retrieved July 23, 2014, from http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/ps/i.do?action=interpret&id=GALE%7CCX1762700076&v=2.1&u=vic_liberty&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&authCount=1 Crabb, L. J. (1977). Effective biblical counseling. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House Johnson, W. B., Ridley, C. R., & Nielsen, S. L. (2000). Religiously sensitive rational emotive behavior therapy: Elegant solutions and ethical risks. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 31(1), 14-20. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.31.1.14 Kensit, D. A. (2000). Rogerian theory: a critique of the effectiveness of pure client-centred therapy. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 13(4), 345-351. Retrieved July 23, 2014, from