Biblical counseling, pastoral counseling, Christian therapy, church therapy… aren’t these all the same thing? If you have been confused about different approaches you have seen to counseling within the church, you are not alone! Many churches have a pastor who does biblical or pastoral counseling, others refer out to professional Christian therapists, and church therapy suggests a hybrid model. Your church’s view of mental health may be very different from other churches around you. If you are a pastor, perhaps you have wrestled with finding the right approach for your parishioners.
Let’s start with biblical counseling. This approach was founded in the 1970’s by Jay Adams, who rejected secular psychology and in his book Competent to Counsel he argued that pastors have everything they need to know for counseling in the Bible alone. At the time, Adams was making a very important statement for Christians: our fundamental understanding of human beings must come from the Bible. All Christian counselors must evaluate humanistic philosophies carefully and reject concepts that are in opposition to biblical teaching. That said, today there is so much information and research on the brain, human behavior, and effective counseling strategies that fits very well with a biblical view of persons. However, because of Adams’ rigid stance on psychology some biblical counselors today continue to reject psychology as a whole when it has much to offer.
Pastoral counseling is slightly different from biblical counseling in that it is not a specific counseling approach, but rather a general term for counseling done by pastors that is focused primary on a person’s spiritual life. A pastor may or may not have training in more complex emotional issues, so in pastoral counseling there is more of a focus on giving wise advice and helping a person though a specific brief problem. Usually, when a pastor feels that the person needs more in-depth counseling, he will refer them to a different type of counselor for emotional help.
Many pastors today have a list of professional Christian counselors to whom they refer their parishioners. These counselors have Master’s or doctoral level training in counseling or psychology and many have come from Christian colleges and seminaries. Many Christian programs integrating psychology and theology exist to train Christians who want to study and use both in their work in the mental health field. Christian counselors often have private practices or work at Christian counseling centers and see clients outside a church setting. They are trained to handle complicated emotional and mental health issues including assessing safety and evaluating specific symptoms.
Church therapy is a hybrid model, bringing the professional Christian counselor onto a church staff. I have set up this blog in order to create and establish church therapy as a reproducible model throughout the wider church body. You can read more on the “What is Church Therapy?” page. I believe that Jay Adams was right in his feeling that we must stay faithful to the Bible and that the church needs to be able to directly respond to all sorts of problems. However, I feel that pastors and counselors need extensive training on both psychology and theology to do therapy effectively. Church therapy decreases stigma, increases accessibility, and promotes the idea that the church should be offering the BEST and most effective treatments for mental health problems occurring in the church.