While a distinction is not necessary in other fields of behavioral health or medicine, the field of counseling is different. You will rarely or never hear about Christian social work, Christian Psychology, Christian nursing or others. Yet, Christian Counseling is a real and active profession that, while often misunderstood or misidentified, is not a licensure track profession. I think it is important that we define our terms and understand what people what people mean when they advertise that they are a “Christian Counselor”. Many counselors identify as being professional counselors and hope to specialize to a Christian population. Other counselors identify as Christian Counselors, Biblical or pastoral counselors and mean something very different. Often students entering into schools do not know the difference and with their lack of knowledge, make a poor decision. Often, they are good people and are swayed by calls for Christian distinction and separation from evil secular versions of truth. Later, they find their education from a Christian, Biblical or pastoral counseling program does not lead toward licensure and they often feel betrayed by schools and advisors. They find out that they are often unable to make a career out of their education outside of a pastoral setting.
I have been around the field of Counseling for many years and I am very familiar with all areas of Biblical Counseling, Nouthetic Counseling (Adams, J. 1970; Adams, J. 1977), Pastoral Counseling and integrationist approaches to Christian Counseling. I was one of the founding members of the American Association of Christian Counselors. I have done workshops and conferences at both the national and State levels on the topic of the Christian Counseling continuum and the ethical issues related to the topic. I founded and owned “Christian Counseling Associates” in Arizona and have seen the practice of an integrational approach from both sides. I was a student of Logos Bible Institute (which later merged with Los Angeles Baptist College to form Master’s College). I worked with the youth department at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley California in 1992-1993 when there was a monumental change in the Christian Counseling movement based on a 1988 court decision (Nally v. Grace Community Church, 1988) of a 1979 suicide after he was advised by a pastor of the Church to seek prayer and bible reading over traditional mental health treatment. I was in the middle of the purging of professional counselors who were Christians being demonized as “Psychoheretics” (Bobgan & Bobgan, 1987; Bobgan & Bobhan, 1989; Ganz & MacArthur, 1993; Hunt & McMahon, 1985; MacArthur, 1998) in a dark movement of our profession. This inquisition also happened within the Southern Baptist Convention (Southern Baptist Convention, 2002) where in 2002 they started their own purging with the removal of professional Counseling programs from most Southern Baptist Seminaries and many colleges and replaced them with Biblical Counseling only programs. At one time, Southern Baptist Seminary held one of the most prominent and respected leaders of the ethical practice of Christian counseling in Dr. Wayne Oats. Soon after Dr. Oats died, his legacy was abandoned by the seminary where he served for decades and built thriving counseling programs. I had friends in the original programs who were greatly harmed by the purge of Biblical counselors who felt that anything in psychological research was anathema.
I am also a witness and academic monitor to the current controversy related to CACREP accreditation of some programs which are Christian Based (Kaplan, 2014; Scott, Sheperis, Simmons, Rush-Wilson, & Milo, 2016; Sells & Hagedorn, 2016; Smith & Okech, 2016a, 2016b). These controversial programs include those at Regent University, Grace College, Liberty University and more. This controversy is regularly discussed at professional conferences listservs and workshops.
I mention my credentials and expertise and knowledge of the history of Christian counseling, to simply let the reader know that I am keenly aware of the dynamics of this debate. I believe that everyone seeking counseling services or those who seeking to be a counselor themselves, need to understand the dynamics of the debate and the wide definitional differences of these religious counseling terms.
For me, I try to balance respect for our those who grew up with a Christian Heritage but try to stay out of the spotlight of this religious debate. I respect and honor the Christian Heritage of the country which has been the majority of our citizens. I have also expected my faculty and students to also honor and respect it as well, just as I have asked for their respect of minority cultures. I believe that if students want to be respected for their culture, they also need respect the culture of the community and of the majority. I believe this is first modeled by me and other leaders in the counseling and psychology field.
I know that counseling programs have a unique position that is different from all other academic programs where religion and spirituality are rarely mixed within the profession. Yet, it has always been my goal to give informed consent to all about the debate. In later blog posts, I will go over specific elements about the continuum of Christian (or other religious) counselors that offer services. I will also write about the ethics of such practices and explore the educational, accreditation and licensure debate.
Dr. Martin Cortez Wesley
Adams, J. E. (1970). Competent to Counsel: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling: The Jay Adams Librar. Ministry Resources Library – Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.
Adams, J. E. (1977). What about nouthetic counseling: A question and answer book with history, help and hope for the Christian counselor. Baker Book House.
Bobgan, M., & Bobgan, D. (1987). Psychoheresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity (1st edition). Santa Barbara, CA: Eastgate Publishers.
Bobgan, M., & Bobhan, D. (1989). Prophets of Psychoheresy I. Santa Barbara, CA: Eastgate Pub.
Ganz, R., & MacArthur, J. (1993). PsychoBabble: The Failure of Modern Psychology–and the Biblical Alternative. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway.
Hunt, D., & McMahon, T. A. (1985). The Seduction of Christianity: Spiritual Discernment in the Last Days (1st Edition). Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers.
Kaplan, D. M. (2014). Ethical Implications of a Critical Legal Case for the Counseling Profession: Ward v. Wilbanks. Journal of Counseling & Development, 92(2), 142–146. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1556-6676.2014.00140.x
MacArthur, J. F. (1998). Our Sufficiency in Christ. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway.
Nally v. Grace Community Church (1988). (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2017, from http://law.justia.com/cases/california/supreme-court/3d/47/278.html
Scott, S. K., Sheperis, D. S., Simmons, R. T., Rush-Wilson, T., & Milo, L. A. (2016). Faith as a Cultural Variable: Implications for Counselor Training. Counseling and Values, 61(2), 192–205. https://doi.org/10.1002/cvj.12037
Sells, J. N., & Hagedorn, W. B. (2016). CACREP Accreditation, Ethics, and the Affirmation of Both Religious and Sexual Identities: A Response to Smith and Okech. Journal of Counseling & Development, 94(3), 265–279. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcad.12083
Smith, L. C., & Okech, J. E. A. (2016a). Ethical Issues Raised by CACREP Accreditation of Programs Within Institutions That Disaffirm or Disallow Diverse Sexual Orientations. Journal of Counseling & Development, 94(3), 252–264. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcad.12082
Smith, L. C., & Okech, J. E. A. (2016b). Negotiating CACREP Accreditation Practices, Religious Diversity, and Sexual Orientation Diversity: A Rejoinder to Sells and Hagedorn. Journal of Counseling & Development, 94(3), 280–284. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcad.12084
Southern Baptist Convention > On The Sufficiency Of Scripture In A Therapeutic Culture. (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2017, from http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1119/on-the-sufficiency-of-scripture-in-a-therapeutic-culture