Last week I laid out 3 reasons why counselors should not also be in the role of evangelist with their clients who are non-believers. This week, we’ll follow up on that topic by talking about why counselors in the church setting are an important part of the discipleship process for those who are already following Christ.
The Goals of the Client and the Counselor Go Together
A therapeutic process requires a high level of respect for the client and his or her own goals. This autonomy is important because if the counselor is driving the therapeutic process with his or her own agenda, there is too much room for abuses of power and manipulation. That context is not a safe space in which to heal. However, when a client who is seeking to grow in their relationship with Jesus comes to the church to meet with the Church Therapist, the client almost always desires spiritual understanding as a part of their mental health care. One of the biggest complaints I hear from my clients who have been to secular therapists is that they did not feel their secular counselor could truly understand their spiritual lives. In the Church Therapy model, both the Jesus-following client and the counselor understand with full disclosure from the start that in the therapeutic process the client would like to grow closer to God.
Emotional Freedom and Spiritual Freedom Go Together
One of the key reasons that mental health care is part of the discipleship process for Christians is that emotional freedom and spiritual freedom go hand-in-hand. Usually when emotional brick walls are hit and a person is emotionally stuck, their spiritual life also gets stuck and they have trouble moving forward in their relationship with God. When trusting others is a challenge due to abuse in the past, for example, the client often struggles with how to understand what it means to trust God. Or some who face symptoms of depression or anxiety as Christians can at times get stuck feeling like a second-class Christian due to stigma that blames them for their symptoms. Growing in the ways they treat the symptoms of mental illness frees them up to engage more fully with God when they stop blaming themselves. When clients become emotionally free in a certain area, they are also spiritually growing because their emotional state no longer holds them back.
The Church and the Counseling Process Go Together
One of my favorite aspects of the Church Therapy model is that it is a team approach. The church context provides more than just one therapist working with one client. Rather, a client is a participant in the church community and the Church Therapist can use that context to more fully help the client grow. At times when a client is going through a depressive episode, for example, the Church Therapist can (with the permission of the client, of course!) alert the pastoral staff who can go do a home visit or bring a meal. Or when a client is struggling with social anxiety, the Church Therapist can help recommend a small group or activity that would be safe or manageable for that client. The therapeutic process is a holistic one, in which the whole church body provides space for healing. When a therapist is present on a church staff, it creates an emotionally safe, stigma-free culture in which this is possible.
Mental health care and discipleship are a perfect fit, and it is one reason why churches need to be a part of the solution in responding to mental health needs. Next week, I’ll follow up on this topic and explore why it is so critical for churches to provide quality mental health care.