Brewing hope - let's talk about religion and therapy
At Sanctuary Christian Counseling, we are often asked just what makes us Christian therapists. It’s a tough and somewhat complicated question.
Some therapists are Christians who happen to practice therapy. Some are Christians who practice secular therapy.
We are mostly Christians who practice Christian therapy, although, as you will see, sometimes we don’t, when that serves our clients best.
We thought you’d like more information, so we sat down and chatted about it. Here is the conversation …
What do you think differentiates Christian therapists from those therapists who just happen to be Christians?
Susan: “That’s hard, because it depends on how someone defines themselves … there are so many ways people understand what being Christian means. Being a therapist who is Christian, I come to the process with the Christian worldview (there is one God, who has made humans in God’s image (so we are of infinite worth) and who wants the world God created to be whole so is in the process of healing and redeeming, and I am part of that process somehow). That also implies a certain ethical/moral stance. Being a Christian therapist just makes my stance explicit. In some ways that makes it easier, and people are drawn to that; sometimes it makes it more challenging because of the assumptions many make about what the label ‘Christian’ means.”
Andrea: “Often Christian therapists have advanced training and study in the Bible and Christian practices. Christian therapists are intentional about practicing therapy through a biblical lens when appropriate and welcomed by the client. I am sensitive to my client’s needs and what my client is comfortable with. Not all of my clients are Christians and including faith in therapy is never forced or required, however, this is an important topic that we explore together at the onset of therapy.”
Ellen: “I agree with both of you. Being a Christian is who I am … and I try to be authentic in therapy in all ways, including that. However, as Andrea says, I also don’t force anything with my clients – we can bring God into the therapy room or not, as they are most comfortable with. However, He is always there with me, as I frequently rely on His direction and help in session, whether the client is aware of that or not. For me it’s authenticity – being transparent about my motivations and beliefs (as Susan says) but still crafting therapy to help each individual, some of whom may not want an openly Christian approach.”
Where do you think you fall in those categories and why?
Andrea: “I am a Clinical Mental Health and National Certified Counselor. While I have completed a two- year study of the Bible and have completed additional Biblical studies, these courses were separate from my educational training and professional development as a counselor. I think it is important, regardless of religious beliefs, to address the spiritual component of our mental health. I feel blessed to work in a Christian practice that allows more freedoms to be able to practice therapy from a biblical lens and help my clients that are seeking God’s direction as they navigate their healing journey. “
Ellen: “I have been striving for years to be authentic in all the areas of my life, so I hope I’m a Christian therapist. I do have my Marriage and Family Therapy Master’s degree from Evangelical Seminary, and it did include a goodly amount of Biblical study in addition to the clinical work. However, I also want to allow those of my clients who don’t see faith as integral to their healing to just benefit from my clinical skills, and not be forced into a religious mold.”
What do you do to integrate your Christian faith into your therapy?
Susan: “Implicitly my faith is in everything I do. I pray for clients during and between sessions. I rely on God as a source of wisdom and greater insight. I also do my best to see each one as God sees him/her/them, as a precious and infinitely worthy creation whom God has intended for true health and wholeness. Explicitly, as invited, I may pray with clients, use illustrations from Scripture, recommend devotions or particular ways of praying as interventions (the Psalms are wonderful for our mental/emotional health!) or talk about their view of God.”
Ellen: “Susan’s right. My faith is a part of who I am. I also pray for clients who wish me to, either before, during or after sessions, and I quite frequently use my Christian worldview to craft interventions and ideas that will help those of my clients who wish to keep faith on the table. Of course, some don’t want there to be a spiritual element in their therapy, and that’s ok, too. In those cases, pretty much the only way my faith is integrated into my therapy is in my inner dialogue (which is occasionally with God) and through my own, out-of-session prayer for those who agree to let me pray for them.”
Andrea: “I do believe that integrating faith in psychotherapy can be very beneficial in helping clients find purpose and meaning in life and relationships. This may include referencing scripture and exploring how God is here to help us heal.
Often we discuss the meaning of grace and forgiveness from a Christian perspective. In couples counseling, this can include exploring God’s design for marriage. And of course prayer is often a part of the session as well.”
How do you handle clients who would rather not make faith a part of their therapy?
Andrea: “This is a sensitive issue and I am supportive of my client’s beliefs and cultural and religious differences no matter how they may differ from my own. If they do not wish to incorporate faith as part of their therapy, I support that.”
Susan: “Spirituality is part of therapy, as each person has a spiritual life whether they recognize it and use it or not. I try to address the spiritual life of all my clients whatever their belief system.”
Questions? Comments? We’d love to hear from you.
We at Sanctuary Christian Counseling would like to help you live your best life. Give us a call or email!
Sanctuary Christian Counseling
9974 Molly Pitcher Highway, Suite 4
Shippensburg, PA 17257