Christian Counseling: Collaboration and Referral

After a brief hiatus I return to reviewing Malony and Augsburger’s book, Christian Counseling: An Introduction. Chapter 7 begins with the assertion that the lone ranger Christian counselor is problematic. “First, totally private practice is not a responsible, trustworthy way to offer counseling…[and] second, the counselor’s theology is inadequate.” (69). Rather Christian counseling ought to be practiced in community (with pastors, supervisors, psychiatry, laity, etc. involved). The authors then go into the many reasons one needs to refer. However, they do not merely mean refer to other mental health providers. No, they also want to see counselor referring to spiritual directors, pastors, and other wise Christians when appropriate.

But can’t a counselor also provide spiritual care? The authors say it confuses the client. First, they believe that conversion is not properly done in counseling. Exploration of beliefs and consideration of ideas are good, but not evangelism. Usually this point is made by those who belief that evangelism would hurt the therapeutic bond. The authors do not deny this opinion. They believe the therapist who converts clients damages the ability to be a “critical and objective mirror” to the client. They also believe that conversion ought to happen in the community that will welcome them into the shared beliefs and practice–not in the isolation of the counseling office.

So what do the authors think Christian counselors should do/be? An authentic witness. This does not just mean that the counselor is sincere or genuine. Authentic here means a pointer to Jesus Christ as model for living. The counselor does not impose beliefs, does not coerce, does not control client’s final decisions. But neither does the client pretend to be neutral or disinterested or pretend that client choices are neutral. Rather the client presents humility, “self-effacing honesty” and willingness to observe the others search for the “transcendence.”

Commentary: In earlier chapters the authors admit that all counseling is evangelistic. However, here they are trying to make sure that we do not fall into the trap of trying to coerce clients into our way of thinking. They want counselors to follow the way of Jesus. However, I didn’t find the chapter to give much of any idea of what the “Jesus way” really is. I would have prefered that they look at Jesus’ way of talking and leading others–whether sinners or religious leaders. They are right the counselors should use their power to force a client into a decision. I think of a counselee who was struggling with how to live with his severely brain-injured. He wanted me to weigh in on whether God wanted him to live for the next 25 years (or more) in a sexless relationship with a wife who couldn’t function as well as his young children. Authentic counseling as a Christian means I did not first tell him what I thought. Rather, I encouraged him to explore what he thought and wanted, how he was reacting to the various voices in his life, and if he could discern the voice of the Lord.  We discussed the reasons why to stay and the reasons why he might leave. But, he wanted to know what I thought. After exploring many things, I did tell him that I did not think he had grounds to leave but that I did think he must think about how he was going to live and not just subsist. This person chose not to heed my advice. It made me sad but I knew that he had come face to face with his faith and with God.

Authenticity? Speaking the truth in love. Giving the freedom to make poor choices. Not majoring on the minors. Realizing that God is the one who does the changing in people, not my eloquence.

Once last thought. I do believe that we counselors provide significant spiritual care for our clients. However, we should never be lulled into the idea that we are enough for them. Counseling is done apart from the larger community (or on the fringes) and our job is to help those people continue in or join the larger community’s rhythms of life.

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Filed under book reviews, christian counseling

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