The practice of unlicensed counseling

The practice of counseling, therapy, psychotherapy and other related terms is restricted to those with proper licensing in most, if not all, US states. Makes sense on most levels, right? You wouldn’t want to go to an unlicensed doctor for your appendectomy. In opposition to Holiday Inn’s ads, you wouldn’t want just anybody doing professional work on you. License control is supposed to protect the public from harm. Bad docs and bad therapists should lose their license and not be allowed to practice.

But with counseling and therapy, it gets a bit sticky. Lots of different professions do similar activities. Unlike surgeons, you have people from widely divergent schools of thought and training doing very similar things. LCSWs, LSWs, LMFTs, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, LPCs all do talk therapy. They all diagnose and intervene per their view of what is wrong and what needs to change (thoughts, behaviors. feelings, etc.).

And it gets stickier. Pastors, clergy, and religiously trained individuals do many of these as well. While they may not give DSM or ICD9 diagnoses and bill insurance companies, they do talk therapy with people who are depressed, anxious, angry, on the verge of divorce–just like all of those licensed people above.  In my world, there are pastoral counselors, biblical counselors, pastors who counsel, christian counselors, etc. Most of these in PA are not licensed by any body. (In PA we don’t have a pastoral counselor license as some states do.)

In an effort to tighten controls, there is a state effort underfoot (HB 1250) to tighten who can practice as a counselor. There were already controls but now the new bill would disallow someone like myself to hire or supervise an unlicensed (but in my opinion competent) person UNLESS they were actively in the process of becoming licensed.

Why does this matter?

1. There are many competent people doing counseling related work that are not licensed (nor could they be since their training is of a religious or pastoral nature). Should the state control these individuals? Right now they haven’t been actively going after these folk. The law will continue to remain vague: Here’s the restriction for LPC practice:

Only individuals who have received licenses as licensed professional counselors under this act may style themselves as licensed professional counselors and use the letters “L.P.C.” in connection with their names. It shall be unlawful for an individual to style oneself as a licensed professional counselor, advertise or offer to engage in the practice of professional counselor or use any words or symbols indicating or tending to indicate that the individual is a licensed professional counselor without holding a license in good standing under this act. [underline indicates new change in this paragraph]

Who decides what “engage in the practice of…or use any words…” constitutes? Obviously, one cannot intentionally lie but does the term therapy indicate a license?

2. There are many who provide pastoral care who are not ordained clergy. They have graduated from seminary-based programs that are not professional counseling programs. Yes, the current standard makes clear that it does not seek to limit the work of those acting under the legal auspices of a religious institution (i.e., are ordained by the church). But, should the state regulate those who provide biblical counsel but are not ordained? As long as these individuals make clear (informed consent) what it is they do and what they do not do, shouldn’t they be able to make a living? Research indicates that lay people can have tremendous success in helping those with depression and anxiety.

I’m all for protecting the public. But while licenses limit who gets to perform certain duties, it does not eliminate unethical or harmful practice. Further, much of psychotherapy is art as well as science. Artists can learn their trade in a variety of locations. What we need to do is to make sure the public can clearly identify the kind of counseling (and limits of) each counselor does. Second, those who provide biblical counseling ought to have some authoritative body. It would be great if they were recognized and “licensed” by denominations or organizations (e.g. the AACC who is trying to do this).

But I would hate to see the many seasoned, unlicensed counselors lose their ability to ply their trade.

That raises a question of analogy. Can anyone make a legal living cutting hair for a fee without a license?


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling and the law, counseling skills, Psychology

80 responses to “The practice of unlicensed counseling

  1. I found your blog very interesting. I wrote the following a while back and have blogged about this topic as well. Below is the article I wrote.

    Christian Counseling: A Call for
    Separation of Church and State

    By Ty Weckerly

    The universal Christian Church and state behavioral and mental health boards across America are failing to recognize the fundamental difference that exists between the ideologies of clinical psychotherapy and Christianity, and how this difference relates to licensure restrictions for Christian counselors. The primary difference between the ideologies of psychotherapy and Christianity is that psychotherapy teaches that 1) man heals man and 2) man heals himself, while Christianity teaches that Christ ultimately heals man. Although there are other ideological differences between psychotherapy and Christ-ianity, the source of healing is generally recognized as the most significant difference. For Christians, the source is God, and for psychotherapists, the source is man. This difference is significant within the arena of mental health because the “state” – defined in this article as the political and legislative bodies and/or boards overseeing behavioral/mental health in America – has accepted the secular systems of belief held by psychotherapy and its various humanistic orientations. As a consequence, the state has taken jurisdiction over and regulation of the field of psychotherapy, which includes specific licensure processes directed towards secular counselors. However, this article argues that the state should not impose jurisdiction and licensure restrictions over the field of Christian counseling because of the inherent ideological difference in psychotherapy and Christian counseling, and that the field of Christian counseling should instead be regulated by the Church.
    If the state has accepted the system of beliefs held by psychotherapists, and consequently taken juris-diction over this system, is it possible and morally acceptable for the state to also agree with and take jurisdiction over the system of beliefs held by Christian counselors? I argue that it is not possible. The state cannot have it both ways. If the state agrees with a secular belief system as it pertains to counseling, it cannot at the same time agree with and support a belief system rooted in God. Consequently, I argue that Christian counseling as a practice should not be regulated by the state, but instead by the Church, and that a separation of Church and state should be recognized within both fields – psychotherapy and Christian counseling. Unfortunately, there currently is no separation. This article describes five primary factors preventing this separation from occurring. It should also be noted that this article is written by a member of the Catholic Church and provides suggestions for both Christians in general as well as the Catholic Church specifically regarding alternatives to state regulation within the field of Christian counseling.
    The five primary factors preventing a separation between psychotherapy and Christian counseling by the state and Church are the following: 1) The state, Christian counselors, and Christian counselees fail to recognize that a fundamental difference exists between the “systems of belief” maintained by Christian counseling and psychotherapy. 2) Christians and Christian counselors are largely unaware that the state only has jurisdiction over psychotherapy. The state should not have or accept jurisdiction over Christian counseling, or any other form of religious counseling for that matter. 3) The various terms and lack of clear definitions for Christian, Biblical, and Pastoral counseling prevent unity within the universal Christian Church as it pertains to Christian counseling. 4) The state is infringing upon the Church’s and Christian counselor’s ability to administer Christian counseling through its licensure restrictions. 5) The Chuch has not fully accepted its obligation to regulate the field of Christian Counseling. This article discusses these fac-tors in more detail and provides potential solutions to the challenges mentioned above.
    Many Americans are under the notion that psychotherapy is essentially a science and that it has been validated by science. This is simply not true. Instead, psychotherapeutic orientations are rooted in a “system of beliefs”, just as Christianity is rooted in a system of beliefs. Examples of these psychotherapeutic systems of belief are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Client Centered Therapy, and Psychoanalytic Therapy. Each system provides a theory, or explanation, for how a person achieves and maintains mental health. Although science attempts to inform these theories, psychologists admit that science is not equipped to validate or invalidate the systems of belief proposed by any psychotherapeutic orientation. Similarly, science is not equipped to validate or invalidate the system of beliefs held by Christians. Still, it remains a common misconception that psychotherapy has been validated by science, whereas Christianity is based primarily in belief. The truth is that both are systems of belief and these systems are fundamentally at odds with each other.
    As mentioned, these systems are primarily at odds with each other because of their ideological differences regarding the source of man’s healing. Psychotherapy professes that man heals, and is therefore considered secular. Psychotherapy does not rely upon or ac-knowledge God as a healing source within the context of counseling. Rather, psychotherapy is defined by secular psychology, has its origins in secular Freudian psychoanalysis, and is currently secular in practice. Christian counseling, conversely, proclaims that God heals. Its orientation is based in the teachings of the Bible and a belief in the intervention of the Holy Spirit as a healing source. Christian counselors and clients believe that life’s problems, ranging from depression, to marital problems, to anxiety, to crises of faith, deserve at the very least spiritual attention and at the most a spiritual cure. The notion that man heals himself without God, as psychotherapy proclaims, is anti-Christian.
    The universal Christian Church, and the Catholic Church specifically, is not fully aware of and willing to challenge the influence of psychotherapists on their laypeople. It has become a common practice for Catholic priests to refer their struggling laypeople to secular, and sometimes atheistic, psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists. Catholic priests often make these referrals because they lack a Christian counseling alternative. In addition, many priests will admit that they do not have the time required to meet the needs of many of those struggling within the Church with spiritual brokenness, sinful behaviors, and other problems of life. As a result, they are often forced to make a referral outside the Church.
    Catholic priests do not recognize the spiritually destructive impact their referrals to secular mental health professionals, or even state licensed professionals who do Christian counseling, may have on the collective spirit of the Church. When faced with adversity, many Catholics are sent to secular therapists, and miss out on the opportunity to recognize healing that comes from God, which then strengthens their relationship and dependence upon God. Instead, they are led to believe that their healing came from themselves as taught by their psychotherapists. As a result, they may return to this anti-Christian belief system when faced with adversity again.
    The Evangelical Church has taken a different path, which the Catholic Church should consider. The Evangelical Church is currently certifying its own Biblical counselors, and has separated itself from the certification process of the state. In doing so, they protect their ministries and provide reliable services for their counselees. In short, they are refusing to allow their counselors and Biblical counseling methods to be regulated by the secular state. Instead, they are reg-ulating their own counseling ministries.
    Although Biblical counselors have developed greater autonomy, they are still being challenged by the state. Dr. David Edgington, a certified Biblical coun-selor in Phoenix, Arizona, was recently challenged by the state. The Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners, hereafter referred to as the Board, recently ordered Dr. Edgington to “cease and desist” his Biblical counseling ministry under the charge that he was administering psychotherapy without a license in the state of Arizona. The state initially claimed Dr. Edgington was illegally practicing psychotherapy without a state license. Dr. Edgington was summoned to a meeting before the Board, which he described in his emails to me and others as a generally “hostile, inflammatory, and threatening” meeting. The purpose of this meeting was to determine if he was in fact practicing psychotherapy without a license.
    Dr. Edgington explained to the Board that he was not practicing psychotherapy, but instead was providing Biblical counseling, which is distinctly different from and in many ways opposed to psychotherapy. Dr. Edgington explained that two distinct aspects of Biblical counseling, reliance on the Word as provided in the Bible, and reliance on the Holy Spirit for the purpose of healing and sanctification, make Biblical counseling markedly different from psychotherapy. Furthermore, Dr. Edgington explained that he was protected under the Constitution, which acknowledges a separation between church and state. He explained that the teachings of the Bible are protected by the Church.
    A decision was then made by the Board, which holds enormous significance and is at the crux of this article. The Board voted by unanimous decision that Biblical counseling was not in fact psychotherapy and that the state did not have jurisdiction over Dr. Edgington’s ministry. Dr. Edgington was given per-mission to continue his counseling ministry. This decision is extremely relevant for Christian and Pastoral counselors. If the Board acknowledges that they do not have jurisdiction over individuals practicing Biblical counseling, then the Board must also acknowledge that they do not have jurisdiction over individuals practicing Christian and/or Pastoral counseling. In short, the Board does not have jurisdiction over any form of therapy rooted in the belief that God heals, which is consistent with Biblical, Christian, and Pastoral counseling. However, the definitions of Biblical counseling, Christian counseling, and Pastoral coun-seling are a source of confusion, which detracts from their common purpose and application. The following provides definitions and analysis of these terms.
    Biblical counseling is generally associated with Evangelical Christianity and was largely expanded by Jay E. Adams. Biblical counseling is also referred to as Nouthetic Counseling. Biblical counselors emphasize the teachings of the Bible and healing that occurs through the Holy Spirit. Biblical counselors have their own certifying bodies such as the International Association of Biblical Counselors (IABC) and the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC). Consequently, Biblical counselors generally do not operate under the licensure of the state.
    Christian counselors attempt to combine the teachings of Christianity with the teachings of psychology, yet maintain that Christ ultimately heals. Similar to Biblical counselors, Christian counselors emphasize the teachings of the Bible and healing by the Holy Spirit. In contrast to Biblical counselors, Christ-ian counselors are generally licensed by the state, which I argue is a contradiction. Christian counselors licensed by the state unknowingly promote two contradicting belief systems – Christianity and psychotherapy. Some have referred to these Christian counselors as State-owned Christian counselors or Secular Christian counselors. Although these titles sound ridiculous and condescending, they demonstrate the glaring contra-diction.
    Finally, Pastoral counselors may be priests, rabbis, ministers or pastors who also attempt to combine the science of psychology with their religious beliefs. Few states acknowledge the license of Pastoral counselor, so many Pastoral counselors believe they must first acquire a traditional state license to practice psy-chotherapy such as an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) or LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist). Again, I argue that Christian Pastoral counselors do not need to seek licensure by the state, but instead should consider licensure through the Church.
    The contradiction of a State-owned Christian counselor or a Secular Christian counselor could place these Christian counselors and the state in a significant double bind. If Christian counselors continue under the licensure of the state, they demonstrate to themselves and the Christian public that they do not recognize the impossibility of administering both psychotherapy and Christian counseling. Alternatively, they can operate outside of their state license, but may have difficulty locating Church organizations that will certify them. The state will also be in a double bind. The state can give up their jurisdiction over Christian counseling, but doing so requires them to relinquish their authority over Christian counseling. Alternatively, the state can claim they do have jurisdiction over Christian counseling, but by doing do so, the state is essentially saying that they have jurisdiction over the teachings of the Bible and the Holy Spirit.
    This article also argues that the state has per-petuated a lack of appropriate separation between psychotherapy and Christian counseling through its licensure restrictions, and has wronged Christian counselors seeking a license from the state in the process. The state has wronged these Christian counselors in several ways? First, the state has obliged Christian counselors into an implicit agreement in which potential counselors are not fully aware of the agreement made. More specifically, a licensed Christ-ian counselor must make an implicit agreement to accept the system of belief provided by psychotherapy, which is that man heals himself without the assistance of God. This anti-Christian belief is unacceptable to most Christians. Unfortunately, many Christian coun-selors licensed by the state are unaware that they have made this implicit agreement once they acquire a state license to administer psychotherapy. They must make this agreement with the state because the state admits they only have jurisdiction over psychotherapy, and consequently, can only license individuals to do psychotherapy. Thus, once a Christian counselor acquires a state license, an agreement has been made.
    Second, the state requires Christian counselors and Pastoral counselors seeking a license through the state to be educated in and practice a system of beliefs that is markedly different from Christian beliefs before they are given permission to practice Christian counseling. For example, Christian counselors are required to dem-onstrate a proficiency in a belief system which states that God does not heal man before they can practice a belief system which says He does. This is similar to saying that someone can agree to follow their own faith after they first denounce it. The state prescribes that the state-licensed counselor must first be trained in secular belief systems, also called psychotherapeutic orien-tations. This training generally occurs in secular ins-titutions by instructors maintaining secular beliefs. Once the initial education process is complete, Chris-tian counselors must take the state’s licensure test demonstrating their knowledge of secular psycho-therapy before they can move along to the next stage. After secular training and testing, Christian counselors often continue to receive training and guidance at the intern and supervised levels by secular institutions teaching secular belief systems. After all this training and indoctrination has occurred and a license has been issued, the state will then allow Christian counselors to practice Christian counseling independently. The entire process of state licensure, which allows Christian counselors to practice independently, can take four years and sometimes as many as seven or eight years if they want to be licensed as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Christian counselors cannot and should not accept this level of secular indoctrination, and must recognize the impossibility of serving two masters.
    Finally, the state restricts the separation of Christian counseling from regulation through the state’s alliance with insurance companies. Insurance companies will only provide funding for those counselors that are licensed by the state. Consequently, Christians who need or desire to use their insurance to assist in paying for counseling will be required to see a counselor licensed by the state. In other words, insurance comp-anies financially support a secular system of belief, which is not held by Christians. This system drastically limits the decision-making ability of individuals who desire a Christian form of counseling, but cannot afford it.
    Of course there are no easy solutions to the issues mentioned above, but further attempts to resolve these issues must be made. The following provides brief suggestions for the terms, people, and institutions involved.
    Christian counseling, Biblical counseling, and Christian Pastoral counseling
    In order to strengthen and unite Christian forms of counseling, one overarching term for Christian coun-seling, Biblical counseling, and Christian Pastoral counseling should be used. I believe the term Christian counseling adequately summarizes the three forms mentioned above. Christian, Biblical, and Pastoral counselors believe the Bible can and does address all problems people experience. A singular term, Christian counseling, will both better combat secular influences and strengthen the growth of Christian counseling across denominations.
    Do not license Christian counselors. Acknowledge that this is outside your jurisdiction. Inform the public that the state’s jurisdiction is limited to psychotherapy.
    Catholic Church
    The Catholic Church needs to offer a Catholic Christian counseling education and certification process for its counselors in much the same way that the Evangelical Church is doing with NANC and IABC. The Catholic Church needs to keep the certification process separate from the state.
    Catholic priests
    Recognize the potential spiritual hazards of re-ferring your laypeople to secular counselors. Be aware that even those who claim to do “Christian counseling” may actually be performing counseling closer to psychotherapy as a result of their education, training, and licensure process. Promote Christian counseling as an official ministry under the jurisdiction of the Church.
    Christian clients
    Determine if you would prefer a Christian counselor to a secular psychotherapist. Research any counselor you are interested in seeing. Determine if the counselor is licensed through the state, or licensed through the Church. Understand that if the counselor is licensed by the state, then the counselor meets the state’s requirements for practicing psychotherapy. Next, ask your counselor where they were educated. In many cases, the counselor will be educated in state programs that teach belief systems and methods of secular psychotherapy. Also, ask if the counselor has been trained in Christian counseling, and if the counselor has any form of certification in Christian counseling. In addition, ask your state-licensed coun-selor where they did their counseling internship and whether or not the supervision was Christian based. Ask your counselor if he or she is Christian and promotes Christian ideals in counseling. Also, ask about his or her healing orien-tation is. If the counselor tells you he or she does “client centered”, “cognitive behavioral therapy”, “humanistic”, or “psychoanalytic therapy”, then the counselor plans to utilize a secular psychotherapeutic technique. In other words, their healing philosophy is rooted in a secular system of beliefs, not Christianity.
    Potential Catholic Christian counselors/clients
    Urge the Catholic Church to develop a Church-sponsored education and certification process for counseling, which would enable a base of certified Catholic Christian counselors.
    Christian counselors licensed by the state (State-owned Christian counselors/Secular Christian counselors)
    Refuse to make the implicit agreement with the state to do psychotherapy if you want to continue doing Christian counseling. Inform your state licensing boards that they do not have jurisdiction over Christian, Biblical, or Pastoral counseling. Consider becoming licensed by a church-regulated Christian counseling certification agency. Check the statement of faith of that agency first to make sure it is not in violation of your own belief system.

    In summary, the purpose of this article is to demonstrate that the state does not have authority over the field of Christian counseling and therefore should not regulate Christian counseling. Christians do not give licenses to state authorities on secular matters, and there would be a massive uproar if the Church were to license and regulate secular psychotherapists regarding their methods and practices. Even the hint of such a Church-regulated licensing board for psychotherapists would incite mass resistance from state authorities and secular counselors on grounds of the necessity for separation of church and state. Yet, this form of regulation is occurring in the opposite fashion. As mentioned, state authorities are restricting the belief systems of Christian counselors, which is a violation of their religious rights. Christian counselors need to recognize their religious freedom to counsel as proclaimed by the Gospel.
    As things stand, it is unclear where the jurisdiction of the state ends and the rights of the Christian counselor begin. This ambiguity must be clarified by making clear divisions between the counseling jurisdictions of state and church. There must be serious institutional changes that take place if there is to be a future for Christian counseling as a vibrant and effective ministry of the Church. The state must have no part in the counseling ministries of the Church. The Church and its members must explicitly state that any infringement is nothing short of religious persecution. Also, the Church must begin to institute its own educational systems and licensure processes for regulating its own counselors. The lines must be drawn, and the ignorance and indifference must be addressed. All of these important steps must be taken before Christians can enter a new era of counseling. This new era of counseling ensures that Christians are guided by the timeless truth that God is the source of all healing.

    • Sandra

      I appreciate the information you provided in this article. I am a Psychology major who wanted to become a Christian counselor. Now that I have read your article, I will pursue this through a Christian organization that will allow me to operate with Christian beliefs. I am so grateful that I read this. I did not know the difference in being licensed as a counselor and a christian counselor. I believed you just help me make up my mind about going to school for my masters degree!! I now have other options.

  2. I forgot to leave my email as well if you would like to comment. My email is Again my name is Ty Weckerly. Thanks!

  3. Phil,

    I believe this will become an even more “delicate issue.” However, reading the portion of the law you quote, I’m not sure it needs to be an “issue” at this point. A “pastoral counselor” has no reason to claim the title “licensed professional counselor.”

    The key, I believe, is what someone calls them self and whether their training and experience qualifies them for that label/title.

    A lay personal with biblical equipping in one another ministry might be wise to use terms like “lay encourager” or “lay discipler” or “spiritual friend” or “spiritual director,” or “soul care-giver” that accurately and aptly and biblically and historically describe the ministry being done.

    A pastor with training in pastoral care and biblical counseling might be wise to use labels like “pastoral care and biblical counseling,” “soul phyisician,” “spiritual friend,” “spiritual director,” or “soul care-giver,” etc.

    What do other people think?


    • Dear Bob,

      I know that I can not call myself a Psychologist or Psychotherapist. But what would or could happen if I call myself a Biblical Counselor?
      What can anybody do about it? Afterall, I am a Christian so I can counsel. I counsel from Scripture alone, so am I not a Biblical Counselor?

      fyi, I did a film documentary entitled: MAKING MERCHANDISE OF MEN’S SOULS, PART I PSYCHOTHERAPY VS. SCRIPTURE. Trailer available on our site.
      Kindest regards in Christ,
      James Sundquist

      • James, happy you stopped by. I think there is room for a wide variety of believers bringing all sorts of mercy (that’s what I see counseling and pastoral care as). I do think that someone who is Christian and practiced helping others apply biblical concepts to their lives could well be called a biblical counselor. And yet, there are some consistencies in how that term has been used (kinds of training may vary some but usually includes a core set of classes/supervised practice).

        It is not clear, but from the title you liste above I am concerned about smearing all who charge for their counsel. I encourage you not to lump all who might use psychotherapeutic techniques as against Scripture. That slanders a large group of Christian counselors in an unjust manner. In addition, assuming that those who charge for counsel are only merchandising the soul is offensive and also slanderous, just as it would be if you accused your pastor of only preaching the Word to get a paycheck. While I concur that there are those who are only in it for the money (preaching that is), to smear all pastors and paid ministry leaders violates the 9th commandment. Not accusing you of doing so but it has that appearance from your comments above.

  4. D. Stevenson

    fyi- The New Jersey Professional Counselors Committee adopted new regulations for counselor licensure on October 5, 2009. Effective 2012, applicants for licensure will be required to have graduated from a counseling program accredited by CACREP.

  5. Thank you for writing about this, Phil. I’m an LLPC in Michigan and am always interested in how other states are handling this.

    Like Bob, I interpret the wording to mean that a person cannot call him/herself “licensed” without being actually licensed. That seems to afford some degree of freedom, if a counselor selects another type of title.

    I’m always curious who’s behind movements like this. Is it a group of LPCs looking to protect their interests?

  6. I’m a huge advocate of the state staying out of the church’s business. That being said, there simply needs to be some kind of “truth in advertising” as to who can claim the various titles of “therapist”, “counselor”, etc. etc. When you go to a doctor who claims to be a “neurologist” you’d like to know that he’s a board certified physician with the requisite medical school training and not a graduate of the Billy Bob’s Holistic Spiritual School of Neurology.

    To give some sense of how different the practice of counseling is from a standard psychologist to some pastoral “nouthetic” counselors, I wrote a compare and contrast paper of two classes that I audited. One is an basic Intro to Psych course from MIT the other is a Pastoral Counseling class from Reformed Theological Seminary. The differences between the two approaches are stark. Yet people from both these schools of thought may claim the title of “counselor.” caveat emptor

  7. Carmella

    Hey Phil!

    I think this is a critical issue, as I am in the process of applying for my LPC now and finishing my first semester of a doctoral program.

    I think the main issue is that of informed consent, making sure people really know what they are signing up for. In terms of pastoral work, often the term counselor isn’t even necessary for the pastor to provide the services. To say the relationship is pastor-congregant instead of counselor-client doesn’t negate privilege/confidentiality, but may nore clearly delineate what the perspective is, what amount of advise-giving can be expected, even some other dual relationship and boundary issues which are so different in the church versus in the counseling relationship!

    I think that if we respond as the church by embracing the changes in semantics and responding accordingly, very few negatives can occur.

    On the other hand, the positives will be that an individual now knows what to expect, understands that the pastor doesn’t have to operate the same way as a counselor, and can have a clearer perspective of why certain things are said. I believe this is in the best interest of the client, who can experience extra confusion when not knowing what to expect in the role of pastor-client vs. counselor-client (which can be, appropriately, SO different!)

    I’ll be interested to hear ongoing thoughts…..

  8. Louie Buses

    Informed consent should be the answer. However, the secular counseling system holds enough antipathy toward Biblical/nouthetic counseling that they will continue to press to eradicate us under the guise of protecting the public from “unqualified” and “superstitious” practitioners. We will have to fight to stay free of the state. I have a BA in psychology, an M.Div. and certification from three biblical counseling organizations, but my psychologist acquaintances despise what I do.

    The article concerning separation of church and state was good. He only made one mistake. When it comes to separation of state secular counseling from church Biblical counseling, the state licensure will have it both ways.

    What effect do you think the “Hate Crimes” legislation, which just passed the senate, will have on these issues?

  9. Carmella

    (I’m not intending to direct this right to Louie, but he makes a great point…)

    I think your point of the legitimacy of the M.Div. education/credentialing in the practice of counseling is important.

    I’ll give an example from my work. I work at a professional/faith-based agency, which functions from a multi-disciplinary perspective. ( if anyone is interested) At Intake/assessment, we identify a person’s goals, problems, and focus of counseling. We then align those goals with the particular theoretical orientation that suits their needs (as well as the experience of the therapist)- LPC, LSW, LCSW, LMFT, MDiv, Spiritual Direction, Prayer, etc.
    THIS is what enables the informed consent process to provide for the need of faith-based services or purely professional services (which happen to be delivered by Christians… which is another conversation in and of itself).

    The point is not to blame MDiv’s for not being qualified, to stifle the ability of people to integrate their faith into their practice, or for people to seek out spiritual counseling. The point is that certain people are not trained in certain things. A prayer counselor might not know what to do with major symptoms of Bipolar I, which is harmful to that person seeking help and possibly not knowing where to find it. I know I am outside my competency with certain severe and pervasive mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, and would want to help that person best by connecting them with a provider who can actually help them (because of my ignorance, I can’t).

    There are many seminaries and Biblical universities that are APA accredited in Psychology- which certainly incorporate spirituality into conceptualization and practice. I just don’t want you to fear that the motivation is to “erradicate” Christianity, when I think it is actually to ensure competent practice.

    • Interesting discussion. Bias exists on all sides. I remember that APA wanted to remove “footnote 3” which enabled faith-based accredited programs to discriminate on the basis of faith. This was about the time Wheaton College was going for its accreditation. The change was not approved or was withdrawn but was later brought up again and withdrawn (I think they realize that they can overstep their powers and have their accrediting privilege revoked should they have messed with the constitution).

      So, there are some in power who do not like to give any power to those in the biblically oriented counseling movement. That said, I don’t think there is a vast conspiracy to do this. Carmella, you are right, mostly there is an interest in competency. Unfortunately, we have yet to have an agreed upon definition. Psychiatric diagnosis competency? Client satisfaction competency? Ethical competency? Biblical competency? Lacking that, it seems your work place has figured out how to match people up. That sounds good.

    • Louie Buses

      Thank you, Carmella.
      My error was attributing the “eradication” motive to the “secular counseling system”. These men and women are simply blinded tools of the great deceiver, who attacks the work of Christ from all directions. I obviously believe training and credentialing are very important. Let’s simply be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”, as we deal with the state on licensure. How many laws have been enacted with wonderful intentions and then perverted to the purposes of the liar. For instance, do you want to equate freedom of speech with pornography ?

  10. Carmella

    Ooooh- this is great stuff.

    Phil- I appreciate the note on biases. I think mine comes from fear- mostly fear that I would hurt someone out of ignorance to their issue or an aspect of it. That’s why I read things like this blog, enjoy talking to people who are Biblically oriented (so we can figure this thing out together) and continue to be educated, praying that the Spirit gives discernment through accountability, supervision by Christians, and peer consultation with Christian professionals.

    Louie- I appreciate the “wise as serpants, innocent as doves” tie in. I believe that as Christian professionals, we seek together to pursue God in how to do that.And I pray that we keep talking and working through ways to do that.

  11. Louie Buses

    Licensure obviously does not equal competence.

    I have a couple that recently came to me trying to put their marriage back together. She had run off with another man and filed for divorce. In the court proceedings which followed the judge required a psychiatric evaluation. The psychiatrist labeled her “bipolar”. After two counseling sessions, I came to believe that she was not bipolar. I asked her what testing the psychiatrist had done to determine his diagnosis. She said, “None. He said he was bipolar himself and could tell from interviewing me.” He put her on an antidepressant.

    I told her that I was not a licensed psychologist but asked her to take a screening test so I could better understand what she was experiencing. I gave her the HCL-32 test for bipolar disorder. High score possible is 32, at 13 there is a 70% chance of bipolar disorder, she scored a 4. When she asked about the results, I told her that we were going to work on the depression she was experiencing, keep on her meds, and do what the doctor told her about the bipolar side. [What else should I have done or said?]

    As a result of the psychiatric diagnosis, she has been court ordered to undergo a evaluation requiring a bank of tests including MMPI, Rorschach, TAT, etc. costing many dollars that the couple can not afford. In God’s grace, there has been repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation (in both partners). They are studying and working on knowing and applying God’s word to their marriage and lives. Her depression has become a minor issue (at this time). They are planning to remarry at the end of the year.

    • Good points Lou. While Psychiatrists rarely use tests and usually use indepth history taking, I’m pretty sure that diagnosing someone because it is what you struggle with is NOT one of their preferred techniques.

      Of the listed tests, the MMPI might be the only one that really gets at mania or hypomania. I personally like to give the Rorschach but it isn’t helpful in this situation.

      Glad to hear of good results.

  12. Carmella

    oh man, Louie.

    Phil- maybe at some point you can do something on the importance of proper assessment utilizing the actual criteria to determine a disorder. sheesh.

    Honestly, I think you did the right thing- not totally dis’ the other professional, not have her change her meds, and after that… I would have had a release signed for the psychiatrist, and contacted him noting that I was not sure what I was treating because I wasn’t seeing the same symptoms. Maybe she had 1 previous hypomanic episode, qualified for Bipolar II, and was asymptomatic or in a depressive episode at the time. Patients don’t always understand their diagnosis- WHICH IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PROFESSIONAL!

    I know a lot of MD’s who struggle with explaining diagnostic stuff. I also have a major pet peeve with mis-diagnosis, and even quick diagnosis.

    I think, sadly, the MMPI and other batteries can at least clarify. I know they are expensive, but at least they can clear her record if she was misdiagnosed.

    Also- you did a great job of treating the marriage, when that was your role. Sounds like you did the best you could given the circumstances… but that’s my take on it.

  13. Bobby Eaton

    On the other hand, there are things not taught in schools or mainstream psychology that are the fundamentals of life for every person with the capacity to learn concepts.

    Learning unconditional love, discernment, and responsibility of thoughts, emotions and actions are things that are discouraged in society and even Christian religion, that can be shown to fundamental for all persons who have moral responsibility in a social environment who understand the need for interdependence.

    How can you reconcile the duty to teach people to be responsible for their thoughts, emotions and actions, when Christianity teaches people to blame outside sources? Do you know why people get addicted to drugs, alcohol, religious delusions, etc? It’s because when you blame outside sources for your thoughts, emotions and actions, you look for outside sources to save, change or distract you.

    Earlier this week, a Greek Orthodox priest who is a Doctor in Psychology at a childrens’ mental hospital had such a problem debating religion with me that he gave up and resorted to personal attacks, claiming Satan was my master and using threats that I would wake up in my last breath in the face of demons. He even resorted to claiming that I had a God complex due to my father abandoning me and that I was projecting.

    Unfortunately, he had no family history or confessions from anyone I know to prove this claim and the last counselor I want to listen to is one who has symptoms of delusional schizophrenia. I question his ability to be capable of helping any child learn moral and social confidence and structure. I question any pastor/priests ability to do so.

    Psychology and Christian belief do not mix. Even God is schizophrenic in the OT. This god is jealous, angry, vengeful, biased, and can easily be shown to be malevolent, unjust and not omnipotent or omniscient using Scripture. This alone can confusion in an individual who is also taught that Satan has these same attributes and wants to be like God.

  14. D. Stevenson

    A little late here for the conversation, but I’ll make a comment anyway.

    An advantage of requiring a license (of some sort) is that then there is some form of accountability. Otherwise a person could pose as a Christian counselor and be really a rogue.

  15. Jackie

    i just found this article. is someone still out there who wants to talk about this?
    please check with the National Christian Counseling Association. They are a good organization who have accountability requirements for their counselors, help with questions and lots and lots of information about informed consent. it’s a treasure for commissioned or ordained people who choose counseling as their way of serving God.
    pastoral counseling is distinct and markedly different from psychotherapy/psychology, though some of the same cognitive techniques can be used. the ultimate source of healing is the Lord Jesus. when you counsel from that perspective, there is a distinct separation from state-licensed counselors who, usually, cannot share their faith with clients.
    do some research!

    • Jackie, thanks for stopping by. Organizations like NCCA do help with the accountability but of course they do not have much teeth. They cannot levy fines, they cannot publish the names of unethical or immoral licensees. State licensing bodies can do this. It is false to say that licensed counselors cannot share their faith. I am. I do. What is not ethical is coercion, manipulation, etc.

  16. Jerry Ricks

    My life was destroyed and my child ended up dead because of an unlicensed counselor. When you are unlicensed there are no formal standards of practice, no formal accountability, no protection for inncoent consumers.

    I can maybe be okay with unlicensed counselors as long as they

    1) Have a sign on their door that explains that they are not licensed.

    2) Charge no money for their services. Charging money lends an aura of “professionalism” to the practice.

    • Sorry for your loss. It is all in the consent process as well as being honest. As a counselor, I have a consent form for counseling services which explains my credentials and expectiations. It says that I don’t replace medical or psychiatric advice. At the end it says that counseling through the XXX agency may not be successful with everyone.
      The more regulated we become as a nation is less opportunities people have to make an income. I have my master’s degree in counseling from Biblical Seminary. I was recently laid off from a job with the state. Although I have applied for jobs, i haven’t found one yet and so I am counseling privately as a christian professional counselor.
      A license doesn’t determine whether or not someone is a good counselor.
      To get your license takes about 3000 hours and more than 10000 dollars . After you graduate in order for you meet licensure requirments, you may have to take additional classes and you have to pay a licenses counselor which averages between 30-100 dollars for every 20 hours you counsel. Not everyone can afford this therefore it is not fair to stop someone from making a living as long as they are ethical in their practice.
      Counseling is an art and takes time to master. Even counselors with 10-20 years under their belt have trouble with helping certain clients. The lesson learned is that as a professional you have to learn when an issue is beyond your scope of practice. In nursing school, I learned that if you are not sure than don’t do it. The example we were given is that if you are asked to do an IV push but never did one before get an experiened nurse to do it or guide you along. It is the same with other professions or counseling. At this time I would counsel someone with severe depression and if I do I was ensure that I have a mentor or refer the person to see a psychologist. I believe that what happens is that pride and greed gets in the way and we take on more that we can handle.

    • Joel

      Jerry, I appreciate your passion and your sincerity but there are far more dead clients as a result from going to a licensed therapists then an unlicensed biblical counselor. My wife of 25 years went to two different licensed psychologists after being is a bad vehicle accident that took the fire department 45 minutes just to cut her out of the car. As a result she was diagnosed with PTSD. The secular therapy she received made things worse and she ended up dying as a result of the medication they had recommend her doctors put her on. So while I hear you, and I’m truly sorry for your loss, a license is no guarantee you won’t end up just as dead in the end!

      • I’m so very sorry to hear of the sorrows and loss of life so many have endured due to emotional anguish. While a licensed mental health professional cannot bring with him or her a guarantee of happily-ever-after, neither can a “biblical” counselor.

        I put quotes around the term biblical because just hanging out a shingle saying one practices that kind of profession does not make it true. We have all met and/or seen the fallout of “biblical” authorities being abusive or anything but godly or wise.

        Of course, the answer is not to license someone. Neither is the answer to put a potential counselor through seminary or biblical counseling training.

        For one to be truly helpful to someone who is struggling emotionally, he or she must be talented, trained, teachable, and trustworthy. License or not, the only way to know if a professional imbibes these characteristics is to look at their record.

        If for whatever reason that information is not avaiavailable, I would always choose licensed over unlicensed. At the very least they have been trained via textbooks and practical experience, and have proven a willingness to learn.

      • David Brockway Psy.D

        You are absolutely right in many aspects. Good luck to all.

  17. Some simple criteria I have learned to consider are personality, theoretical approach, experience with my specific situation, and license.

    A little online research yields plenty of information on the theoretical approach options. Personality differences that interfere with treatment can (and should) be discussed prior to a therapist/client relationship starting. It is very painful and discouraging to have spent a few sessions only to discover this is not going to help. Searching for therapist number 2 or 3, requires energy many struggling people do not have.

    Experience is vital. While students and beginners in the field are good people with great intentions, just like one wouldn’t ask an inexperienced driver to tackle ice road trucking, those who deal with serious mental illnesses need to seek out professionals with experience in that specific area. This is too important to trust to a novice.

    State licensing is also crucial, as it requires experience to achieve it, and shows that this counselor has more than good intentions. Unfortunately, as thoughtful and talented as pastors and other church leaders may be, they do not usually have any or much training in this regard. The wisest potential spiritual counselors will admit this and send any of us with deeper mental issues to a more specialized professional, especially if we are in need of a crisis counselor or crisis intervention. Having someone kind to talk to is a key ingredient to feeling supported, and I am not in any way dismissing anyone as viable listeners, encouragers, or reinforcements. Nonetheless, being able to apply truth to specific and extreme emotional needs requires more than a theological degree.

    • I am a biblical counselor and I tend to deal with issues that are “minor in the company of a Licensed Professional Counselor. I am guided by what I can and can not say and you are right the moment the client appears in a deeper state of mental discord we send them to the more specialized professionals. I really do more consulting per the local counseling agencies. Our informed consent states the following:
      We are fully capable of finding a state licensed professional is you so desire as we have three on premises, remember we are only biblical counselors

  18. shell

    Ty, not sure if you’ll see this (over 3 years later) but I want to thank you for putting in words so clearly what I’ve experienced in the real world. Ironically, i found this site while checking out the pros & cons on licensure, as I totally realize I would be more easily received as a ‘licensed counselor.’ I have been a student of the Word of God for almost 34 years, I was completely set free from the effects of sexual assault and emotional abuse, simply from studying God’s Word and believing what He says about Himself and about me.
    I call myself a ‘biblical tutor’ to avoid the entire licensing issue…
    I minister to many women from all walks of life (including agnostics and atheists) by showing them what God says about them. I witness miracles on a regular basis. I receive many comments regarding how 30 minutes changed a perspective (and behavior) that years of couseling couldn’t- including Christian counseling.
    Nancy’s right- a theological degree doesn’t necessarily mean one’s able to apply truth. But knowing God’s Word and being filled with His Spirit does… God’s Word is TRUTH. Man’s wisdom is just a counterfeit…

    • Shell, this topic needs to be discussed, and I hope more people find this site. I too have been a student of the Word since a child. Of course, back then it was Bible stories which implanted into my heart a faith in the most amazing and powerful God, and the inerrancy of the Bible. The Word is living and active, and never will it cease to strike me with awe at how vital and irreplacable it is as the source of wisdom and faith.

      However, as I grew in knowledge and the Holy Spirit taught me, a sense of clarity on some scriptures did not occur until I heard them in the context of professional counseling. I will give you one example, 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 ESV: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” From unlicensed counselors and pastors and Bible teachers over the years, this scripture has been approached as a command, and an example (St. Paul’s) to emulate. I do not remember anyone telling me how to accomplish this. I’ve been told what to believe, and how to act if I do believe it. I’ve been told what to think, and I have taught these concepts.

      It is the application of that truth I haven’t been able to grasp until a professional Cognitive Behavioral Therapist explained negative core beliefs and in prayer I was able to uncover many of them. It wasn’t until he taught me how to challenge them using the Word and diligence that I realized what taking thoughts captive really looks like. To continue this example, I know now that I think in black and white terms and can better “hear” what God is expressing in the Bible.

      I’m glad you have been used of the Lord to help so many people. Some unlicensed counselors are talented. I would expect, however, that you are a better counselor now than you were when you were younger. Experience has taught you much. If you had worked toward a license back then, you would have had more of the knowledge immediately that it has taken you awhile to discover. As for the 30-minute lessons, of course much of what has changed my approach to life has been offered to me in 30 minutes or less. It doesn’t take long to hear truth. Behavioral changes take longer, however, and as I grow and practice CBT in light of the Word, I see more and more areas in which I can apply it.

      The counselors who have helped me have earned their licenses through hard work, achievement, and knowledge. by the way, it is the patient’s responsibilty to know the Word- to compare it to any teaching.

  19. Dear Phil and Bob,
    In response the “lumping” Christian counselor with Psychotherapists, I encourage you to consider this article on Simony and Scripture:

    Charging for spiritual counseling is simony whether or not the counselor is a Christian.

    • James,
      Respectfully, licensed therapists have invested a great number of years and money into their training, not to mention school loans. They should not receive recompense for that? Simon was greedy, missing the whole point about the Holy Spirit, and had no intention of doing good works with the gift he wished to purchase. This does not describe most (maybe 1) pastors, evangelists, Bible teachers, counselors, therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists, Christian or non-christian, that I have met and/or worked with.

      It is interesting to me that the article you posted ends with an insinuation that people who ACTUALLY read the Bible will agree with the author. It is difficult to take such an argument seriously. However, bypassing the author’s not-so-great wording, and giving him the benefit of the doubt per his attitiude, I would suggest everyone is responsible for knowing the Word.

      By the way, did that author get paid? I don’t know, just curious.

  20. Lee T.

    Thank you for the article. I am a believer and have been counseled by Christian therapists (mainly unlicensed). As someone who has suffered a tremendous amount of trauma by a Christian counselor, I am HIGHLY in favor of someone getting their license and or proper training. It’s one thing to sit and minister to a friend, it’s another to put yourself out there with the label of “Therapist” or “Counselor” or “Doctor”. It leaves those of us in need of actual wise counsel very vulnerable. I do agree that Jesus is the best wise counsel, but for some reason, people have very “shady” ideas of what that looks like. It can be very dangerous if you are someone who is in a position of power, yet you are not licensed to use that power. You can desire to do good and end up doing more harm. That’s why licenses and or proper training are put there as a guide. Sometimes guides like proper boundaries, confidentiality, etc… can be overlooked.

    In short, I really am in favor of people counselors/therapists, etc, being licensed. It gives me peace of mind that I am putting my care in the hands of someone that did the work and went the extra mile to get that license. But that’s just me. Thanks again for the article!!!

  21. Christy

    What are your thoughts about a licensed counselor practicing in a church? I feel like the ethics are a bit blurry…but it is needed!

  22. John Goddard a child of God practicing under supervision in the secular world, I would say you can’t license wisdom. I have awful things done by licensed pros and incredible service by the unlicensed. Informed consent is the answer I think. People have a right to know what they are getting (and not getting) and then make their own decision who they want to work with.

  23. Wisdom cannot be licensed, but experience can be. And education can be. And ethics can be. Those are important, wouldn’t you agree?
    Christy, what ethics are blurred? Because the licensed counselor has secular training? Most of our studies of human behavior have been done by secular scientists. Christians have to know right from wrong and discern.

  24. Not quite there

    This post is important to me because of my own experiences. I grew up inr a tightly controlled, very conservative religious environment. They had their own brand of “counseling” and it was considered sin to not submit completely to what they taught. Going to a licensed counselor would be grounds for church discipline.
    ALL counseling was solely based on the Bible and every struggle was considered sin. The counseling teaches that anxiety, fear, anger, flashbacks, etc. are all sin and simply need to be confessed to find freedom.
    In this system, this is how a case of sexual abuse would play out. For the offender, the counselor would require that he “repent” of his sin. Once he stated that he repented and asked God for forgiveness, that was the end of the matter.
    For the victim, he or she would be told to confess any bitterness, anger, fear, nightmares, flashbacks, etc. IF the victim continued to struggle after confessing these “sins”, then she is considered living in unrepentant sin. If she tells anyone about the abuse, then she is not truly forgiving, so God will also not forgive her for her own sin.
    I have gone through that type of counseling and was left hopeless and suicidal. Victims of abuse didn’t really stand any chance of healing. We were not free to talk through any of what actually happened. We were not free to grieve. The only option of being accepted again into those religious communities was to completely disconnect from the abuse and block it out. Victims were often required to “confess” their sin to their abusers and resume friendly interaction with the abuser to prove that forgiveness had taken place.
    I was locked in that world for many years doing all I could to block out the past. I lived my adult life pretty much blocking out everything from my childhood, teenage, and early adult years. There was no other option. God would condemn me if I ever spoke of anything from the past.
    A couple of years ago, it all crumbled apart for me. All that I had worked so hard to block out and forgive, came crashing in all at once. At the time, I had no understanding of what was happening. I was “sure” I had forgiven, so why was my brain feeling like it had exploded into fragments? I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. I had nightmares, flashbacks, began dissociating, and struggled through every moment.
    Through a series of events, I finally ended up in counseling with a licensed trauma counselor and have been seeing her for awhile now. For months, I sat in her office with no ability to put anything into words. I was terrified I would be sent to hell if she found out any of the abuse I had experienced. I sat there hoping for her to somehow help “fix” me, but had no words to share anything that had happened. The past “counseling” had successfully silenced me.
    My experience with unlicensed / nouthetic style counseling caused as much harm as the abuse did – from my perspective. The only way I can describe it is it felt like I had a gaping wound that the unlicensed counselor covered up, wrapping it tightly so that no evidence of the wound could be seen, however, under the surface, infection grew until it almost destroyed me completely.
    With that being said, I personally have found support through a licensed counselor and from another who is trained as a counselor, but is not licensed. Both have been an incredibly part of me finding healing. My pastor has also provided support that has been healing.
    My experiences color my perspective strongly. I very much want limitations placed on those whose counsel is so horrific and damaging, yet I also realize that there are those who are very gifted and competent to counsel who are not licensed.
    I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not sure that it can come from government restrictions, but I also see the harm that has been done by “counselors” who think they are qualified, but are not. I suppose that has to be included in freedom of religion. All religions hold specific views that would be contrary to what others would agree with. I value freedom. If freedoms are continually taken away because of those who use it to abuse, it is also taken from those who are full of love and kindness – those who spend their time helping to free those who are hurting.

    • David

      I am not licensed and i am not religious, yet can provide proper therapy beyond many counselors. Of course I have my doctorate in psychology, yet neverless, there are many unlicensed therapist/counselors who are very good. You just happen to get in touch with religious factors and that is another story.

  25. trischdustin84

    This is a very interesting topic because I am studying Christian counseling and needed some clarity on if I could start counseling while earning my degree. I have searched and found that as long as I do not Claim to be L.P.C or anything else for that matter, just a “counselor”, then I am ok. I have this God given gift of just knowing how to read, handle and instruct people; all the while I am being bombarded with question because people gravitate to me. Can I counsel without a license as long as I stay within my knowledge and level of care???

    • Whether you can counsel or not depends on your licensing jurisdiction. Every US state has slightly different rules. Some have title acts that control the use of the word, others have practice acts that control the activities of a counselor (as well as the title). So, in some locations, charging for counseling without a license would be prohibited. I think no matter what you call yourself, it is important to distinguish what it is you offer since the word “counsel” can be used to mean a lot of things.

    • Not quite there

      Do you mind me asking what kind of Christian counseling you are studying? Is it a form that acknowledges mental illnesses, the affects of trauma, the need for medication in some situations, etc.?
      I have experienced two forms of Christian counseling. Both were VERY different from each other. The first was nouthetic and taught that the Bible alone has every answer to every problem. They did not believe in any mental healthy diagnosis, were opposed to medication. All struggles boiled down to the sins of the person seeking counsel. I have seen great harm come to those with this belief system and would not call them “counselors”. If I could choose a title for that, I would call it nouthetic Bible educators or something like that.
      However, there are some who receive Christian counseling training that is broader. These counselors may not be licensed, but understand that their part is one piece of what might be needed in a given situation. My pastor, for instance, has a degree in pastoral counseling. He provides a good bit of counseling to those within our church, however, depending on the specifics of the situation, he may potentially be just one part of a team. The team could include a licensed counselor, a medical doctor or psychiatrist, etc. The pastoral counselor would help the individual with spiritual questions. He cannot and would not, however, claim expertise with trauma and/or various psychiatric diagnosis.
      The word “counselor” can mean many things. To some degree, we all “counsel” at times. A pastoral or biblical counselor would have more training to provide more substantial support to someone in need, but they do not replace a licensed, qualified counselor in many situations.
      Here is an example. I see pastoral counselors (good ones) as being well qualified to walk a couple through various marriage struggles, parenting support, etc. However, if in providing that counsel, the pastor or counselor realized there is significant trauma from the past or perhaps a mental illness complicating the issues, at that point, I would expect him to team up with someone qualified to help in those specific areas.

      • David

        I have studies and a certificate in pastoral counseling so I am able to steer in a correct direction for those of a religious nature. I also have my Psy.D in clinical psychology and believe that some people do have the knack of counseling without finishing a degree, etc. As long as they have the correct knowledge and have the ability to direct the person in the right direction, then so be it. Many times people just need someone to listen to them and let them know that they are good enough for themselves to be loved and to be a better person in life.

      • trischdustin84

        The particular program I am in is Psychology Based in Christian Counseling. Thus far my Psychology 101 Counselor has been the absolute BEST. Just the way she taught made me fall in love with her, you could tell she was a woman of God but was VERY open minded. Everything after that though has been sliding more toward the application of the Bible alone and it is kind of upsetting. While I am a Christian I think that they are slightly biasing the teaching. Rightfully so though as it is a Christian School. I however am trying to keep in mind that I WILL have non-believers as clients and I will have to respect their beliefs as I would appreciate the same respect for mine.

        I live in Missouri and have been looking for information on this topic but cannot find any….limited at best. I have been considering “Life Coach” but it just doesn’t carry the same weight. My counselor and pastor have already spoke with me about this and have agreed that I am very well fit to do this as long as I respect and know my bounds. Of course I am not going to try and diagnose people or write scripts…they would never go through. However I have a God Given Gift of being able to guide people thru some very tough situations in very effective manners at a high rate of speed with great results. Like I said, only way to explain it is a God Given Gift. I really feel I would be cheating people and God if I did not apply this and do some good here. Not to mention as a Student the extra income wouldn’t hurt. I am also not some dumb kid, I have had a pretty interesting life and been thru some unique things, I am 30. Yes I know that is still kind of young in a way but still. Age does not equal knowledge or experience. Neither does a license, title, or degree for that matter. Just saying

  26. Not quite there

    Please don’t hear what I posted as a statement against those who aren’t licensed helping others. I have had many people greatly influence my life who were never trained in any type of counseling. Even being there to listen without judgement is huge!
    There is a need for people who know how to listen without judgement and walk with others during hard times. Depending on the situation, this may often be all that is needed.
    From my own experiences, I desperately needed a licensed trauma therapist who understood PTSD and could help me walk through the path towards healing. I have also needed a biblical counselor (NOT nouthetic) to help me relearn who God is in the middle of it all. The two counselors have worked together to help me find healing. The biblical counselor is someone who has regular counseling training – a degree in counseling who then pursued additional training in biblical counseling.
    The concern I have is about those who obtain biblical counseling training and believe that is enough in all situations. There are many types of situations where this IS enough, but there are many others where very specific training is needed. IF a biblical counselor encounters situations where there is significant trauma, then I hope they are willing to refer to those trained in those specific areas, knowing that they still have something to offer.
    The trauma therapist who I see is trained in a specific area of trauma. She is trained to address PTSD from a specific form of abuse. Even with her being licensed, she would not attempt to counsel those with other needs – such as schizophrenia, alcoholism, etc. That isn’t her field. While she perhaps has enough training to help to some degree, if she were to discover these other issues, she would refer her clients to those who specialize in those areas.
    Even a family physician WITH a medical degree, refers his/her patients to specialists for specific medical concerns. When biblical counselors understand that their training is not sufficient to address every need, I think they are valuable. My concern is only regarding those who believe that their biblical training is all that is needed for all situations.

  27. GettingWorse

    Dear Not Quite There (and others),

    I am also very interested in this, as I have been trying to seek help for a LOT of life- abuse, for about 40 years, or so (I am now in my 60s). NOT QUITE THERE, where did you find these people who finally worked? I have seen everyone– from “regular” therapists to psychiatrists to even, once, a Neuthetic counselor. I have even vomited up demons (a long time ago). Nothing seems to work. I still struggle with dissociation, and sometimes when I seek help (whether from a therapist or spiritual director), it is made even worse. No one seems to be able to help me.

    What does one do at that point; how does the non-professional even find anyone decent (Biblical or not?) I have run into a lot of quacks– licensed or not.

    I believe that clear demarcations and informed consent would really help. I wish I knew when I was in my 20s what I know now. But still, I cannot find help. Everyone please pray for me. Now when I seek help, I end up becoming more confused and “triggered”. I have even had people make me worse. This shouldn’t happen, right? How do I even know when someone can help me? I don’t even know what that feels like, anymore.

    BTW, I live in PA. I wish I could say more, but of course, this is a public forum, and an unsecured site. Thanks.

    • Getting Worse remember pain doesn’t simply go because you seek out help, but understanding that helping yourself as you are doing now is a start. I believe you have made that step, and should continue to stay on that path. Changing you life for the better also comes with changing things around you as well, and that can be both rewarding and challenging. Lastly in the end you get to decide which route you want to go and you will be and are in my prayers. Here are a few scriptures that may help you get the rough patches. It says in Proverbs 17:22 that “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones”. This means that by having a cheerful disposition is actually good for your health, but you already knew that I bet. It can be hard to do but remember what is said in
      Matthew 11:28-30; “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Which explains you to a tee: because you tired, Worn out, and may even be burned out on religion. This is where Jesus says: “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” That’s like saying God’s got your back. I understand that you don’t want to go into detail, but pray about another Christian counselor and may you will get through the hard parts or at the least make them better!

      Blessings to you

  28. David

    Having worked in churches as a musician for years I find the church quite ill equiped to counsel anyone about anything except maybe staying with the church.

    • David

      I am an unlicensed Psychologist and because my doctorate program was not approved by the APA in which i am a member as a Psychologist, I am unable to be licensed. I can legally practice in the state of Vermont. I know of many licensed therapist who are not good at all and so the license spectrum dies not determine a good therapist. I have talked to regular folks who have a better sense at counseling than many professionals. I feel you either have it or not. David Brockway Psy.D

  29. David

    As far as religion, that is a complete different road! I am a scientist thinker and so any Church is good maybe for the Church going folks, but not so good for those who do not go to Church or even believe.

  30. What a splendid blog. At the age of 53, after a long career as pastor/priest, and having completed all masters level coursework in mental health counseling, I decided that the MHC industry and I do not share a like vision. While the industry states that what pastors do is not MHC, the industry is stepping more and more into the spiritual arena, considering themselves quite able. I care nothing about insurance and am putting out my shingle as a “Traditional Christian Counselor.” Counsel is a biblical concept and model going way back; yes back beyond even the ACA foundations. CBT was a Biblical teaching long before Beck & Ellis. At any rate, I set out looking for a like-minded community and I do appreciate this blogger.

  31. I agree that there needs to be a governing body that supports and certifies Christian counselors, as it has been stated that licensure does no mean quality counseling or therapy. They only thing most of the secular boards see are in fact the Billy Bob’s schools of Christian counseling and quick certificates offered by organizations that have no real merit. There is that reality that there maybe a Christian counselor out there that outshines most secular counselors and that would mean stepping on the toes of those secularly trained psychiatrist, therapist, psychologist, counselor, and the like; but that has already occurred. Not to take away from the training received in these professional organizations, but there is a truth in that just because you did the work doesn’t make you cut out for it. When people have true pain as listed by the poster Getting Worse, they need something different, and that may not come from the secular professional, but a pastoral or biblical counselor maybe the answer. Lastly informed consent is a great tool to let your clients know what they are going to be involved in!

  32. I would like to see some solid proof that the public is indeed protected by state licensing boards, vs professional certification by an NGO. Since there are many schools of counseling, I can’t conceive of how they all can reside under one accrediting roof.

    I also have concerns about quality control and objective performance indicators, interorganizational integrity (eg how a counselor disciplined by one board won’t be able to reinvent himself and be certified by a rival board), etc.

    • robertplamondon

      Your concerns are well-founded. Decades of research has failed to establish that professionally trained therapists are significantly better than minimally trained therapists ore even untrained therapists. (See for example.) It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that therapy degree programs are focusing on things that don’t actually matter much in an actual therapy session.

      Licensing boards are generally a combination of Enforcers of Orthodoxy, an Old Boy’s Club, and a means of driving up licensee income by restricting the number of practitioners. As such, their disciplinary actions tend to be pretty self-serving. For example, the Oregon Board of Psychologist Examiners recently issued a self-congratulatory press release about suspending and then revoking the license of Kali Miller, without mentioning that they had not actually shut her down, but only caused her to call herself a “parent coach” and “consultant” instead of “psychologist.” To shut her down, they needed an injunction, but didn’t even try to get one as far as I can tell.

      My opinion is that licensing boards are useless. If action needs to be taken against a therapist, you should take real legal action. Sue them, or call the cops, or try to get the DA interested in getting an injunction.

      Many states have broad exemptions for unlicensed therapists, both religious and otherwise. I talk about this on my site:

      • David Brockway Psy.D

        Being licensed just lets the patients know that person passed a state test. The test is as much business as ethics and knowledge. I would say half of the licensed therapist out there are not that good at what they do. Nurse practitioners and Medical Doctors can give out medication. They come first in the system and Social Workers also perform therapy and all three are members of the Medical association. The system is all about making money over really helping individuals. A Psychologist and Mental health counselors and Neurologist and Psychiatrist are the most educated to perform therapy. Yet some people can go to school all their lives and still not be good at what they went to school for. You did the right thing changing therapist and never be afraid to ask or say what is on your mind. Psychologist and Mental Health Counselors are not members of the Medical association. They if any are members of the Psychology association which has very high ethics of the patient not the Hospital or Centre

      • As a libertarian Christian I have no problem with the state protecting people via preventing encroachment and enforcing contracts, both of which impact on public safety. The problem comes with mission creep, whereby the state assumes more and more control via regulation and fiat, with a judiciary in bed and on board. Government mandates to insurance companies regarding who and what will be covered have exacerbated problems with medical care as well, with no proof of benefit to the citizenry.

        Behind this is also the rapacity/entitlement of the individual who, to paraphrase de Toqueville, ended the American experiment by voting himself his neighbor’s wealth.

  33. My name is Anthony Frank, I studied Christian Counseling and choose not the state licensing track, I’m Board Certified trough the International Association of Christian Profesionals as Pastoral and a Clinical Christian Counselor, I use Psych Central quizzes to have and overview of Clients. I’m also and ordained minister , I have refered several clients for psychiatric evaluation after I discovered they have Biopolar, or Borderline issues, I’m Also pursuing Board certification trough the AACC (American Assosiation of Christian Counselors) and IABC (international Association of Biblical Counselors)….counseling to me is grounded on Luke 4:18 Heal the broken heart, set the captives free, comforting those who mourn and give them beauty for ashes, and proclaim the acceptable year of recent article from Psychology today, they refer to God as a higher power or a force, that enable the client to heal.. Salvation comes from the Greek word Soreteria and means, wholeness, healing, restored, physical health etc..

  34. T

    There are licensed counselors who should not be allowed to practice who do damage. I went to a terrible one a few times. He was inappropriate and had no one in practice with him. His wife was his only “employee”. He repeatedly commented on my appearance and clothing, touched my hands and back without asking, and one day told me to “uncross your legs, you look tense”. I was physically abused by my father until around age 13 and he knew this. When I terminated with him, my psychiatrist told me he’d never had a complaint about him. Maybe the other females who went to him we’re flattered by his behavior and they didn’t complain. There needs to be more accountability and more requirements to protect people from these charlatans.

  35. I have read through this lengthy list of comments and remarks with great interest. As a dedicated Christian, I have found myself wrestling with these issues and questions a number of times. I had worked for a number of years in the field of mental health as a non-professional. Then, over a decade ago, I completed a Master’s degree in Counseling at an accredited state university here in North Carolina. I learned a great deal and I benefited in many ways from the interactions with other counseling students as well as professors. However, it was a secular program designed to prepare students to work as therapists in secular environments. There was no Biblical training of any kind nor any spiritual element to the instruction. The material was well taught by dedicated and sincere professors, but there was no spiritual content at all. The belief put forth was, quite naturally, that man-made, man-taught counseling theories and techniques could be used to push clients to a point of healing. I entered the program with the full intent to become a licensed professional counselor. By the time I had graduated from the program (with a near-perfect GPA, mind you), I had come to the conclusion that I was facing a no-win situation. To work in the secular counseling arena, I would have to fully subscribe to secular counseling theory, and frankly, I was both intelligent and wise enough to realize that there were many, many human issues which could NEVER be adequately addressed, treated, or healed by the application of secular counseling theories. Yes, the theories could sometimes identify the cause of a particular problem, or the root of an issue, but were of no real value that I could see in bringing about healing to those suffering from most of these problems. We were taught to “respect”, “value”, “validate” and “accommodate” the choices people made even when those choices were clearly and completely at odds with God’s Word. Homosexuality was a behavior we were taught could not be challenged in counseling any more than one could challenge a client’s choice of hair style or favorite baseball team. We were taught we could not build treatment plans or therapy around any form of spiritual belief system because to do so would be to sit in judgment of a differing belief system in the client.

    Needless to say, after graduating I opted NOT to pursue state licensure because I saw no way I could practice secular counseling without compromising my Christian beliefs, and I absolutely was not willing to do that. I returned to grad school a couple years later and got a second graduate degree in English. I am now teaching English (writing and literature) at the college level. I love what I do, but I have, on several occasions, revisited the option of Christian counseling. This area is something of a quagmire right now with secular groups engaging in turf wars with those who do spiritual counseling. While I respect the opinions, education, and experience of those professionals who have posted here, I don’t believe secular counseling can address or offer adequate treatment for problems that are rooted in spiritual dysfunction. While I am not adamantly and on principle opposed to the idea of medication in some specific instances, I firmly believe the use of such is a second-rate treatment option at best. Jesus never used nor instructed his followers to use chemical-based medicines to treat spiritual, mental, or psychological problems. If all problems ultimately have a spiritual root cause, as I believe, then ultimately there can be true and complete healing only through the application of spiritual principles—forgiveness of sins, redemption, regeneration, infilling with the Holy Spirit, following the teachings of Jesus Christ, application of Biblical principles to our lives, etc. Now. clearly there are charlatans and fools in every walk of life, and the field of counseling is no different. But a state license really does nothing to address that concern. The most unprincipled, irreverent, debauched, perverse human being ever to walk the planet might still be smart enough to complete a graduate degree and meet the necessary supervised clinical hours to acquire a state license. States license drivers every day who proceed to speed, drive drunk, engage in reckless driving, and kill other people in head-on collisions. A license actually does only two things: (1) it indicates that the licensee has completed some required course of study, and (2) it satisfies a man-made, state-made requirement for billing third part payers (insurance providers). That’s it. No license or degree or certification or title in any area can promise that the person holding it is highly qualified or highly skilled in what he or she does—or even that they aren’t capable of doing harm. That’s why we have courts and the ability to sue those who cause injury. There are Ph.D. professors who are terrible educators. There are corporate CEOs who run their companies right into the ground financially and bankrupt them. There are ministers who went into the ministry simply because they saw it as an easy way to a good paycheck. There are televangelists who have been caught with their pants down both figuratively and literally. And there are licensed psychologists and psychiatrists and counselors and therapists who are worthless, have no idea how to help those who come to them, are even harmful, and should be run out of the business. But there are also individuals in all these fields who are excellent at what they do, who have a humble servant attitude toward those they help, who are intelligent and wise and articulate and insightful, and who recognize their abilities are gifts they have nurtured, but also that the gifts themselves are from God and are given for a purpose—to be used to help, to heal, to educate, to strengthen, to nurture, to empower others.

    Now, in recent weeks, I have come again to wrestle with the question of whether I should be engaged in Christian counseling. I have prayed, read a good deal, sought out the advice and counsel of other professionals I trust, etc. But I always come back to the same place—I cannot and will not compromise my Christian beliefs in order to become licensed and practice in a secular setting. I have seen far too many examples of not only the inefficacy of such “counseling” but the greed that so often drives those practices. When counselors base a diagnosis on what is and is not reimbursable, ethics and values go right out the window. When “mental health” professionals choose which clients they will and will not see based solely on the client’s ability to afford their fees, compassion and integrity have left the profession. And in spite of what some may choose to believe, the mental health field is rife with licensed, practicing professionals who operate using these very principles. They are everywhere. They open new counseling franchises like they are fast-food restaurants. If you don’t believe me, do a brief internet search for counseling franchises.

    So, in conclusion, I continue to pray and seek God’s will for me in this area. It may be that I will remain in higher education, or it may be that I will continue to move toward private practice as a Christian counselor. Maybe I will end up with some blending of the two. But let there be no mistake—secular counseling is NOT Christian. It may be done by individuals who are Christians, and they may even be able to offer some degree of comfort or help to some clients, but the problem at the heart of hurting individuals is that of a broken spirit and a fallen nature. Secular counseling theories can never address these issues because they refuse to acknowledge that the fundamental problem with human behavior is a spiritual one.

    God bless you all.

  36. figuringouthowtoblog

    Old blog, I realize, but my point of contention on this subject is with unlicensed counselors who charge the public money, set themselves up to resemble private practices, and do this all under the guise of “biblical counseling.” In doing this, they also tend to bypass any form of oversight, whether state oversight or church leadership oversight. Making an agreement with a church to use one of their offices and charge a reduced fee is not oversight. Saying “I know a good unlicensed counselor” is similar to saying “my aunt is really good at giving back massages.” She may be, but she cannot make money and market to the greater public (Christian or not) without going through the proper channels to ensure safety and accountability of practice. With regard to church oversight, does the unlicensed person at least meets the criteria of 1 tim 3 as a deacon level leader. Are they above reproach and allow others to regularly monitor their practices and offer wisdom. I liken unlicensed Christian counselors to American Idol contestants. Sometimes we see untapped talent, but sometimes we see people who think very highly of themselves and yet are hazardous to others. Without the judges feedback, they go on in life without an accurate picture. Biblical counseling involves the basics of pastoral care and discipleship of Christians. It is not a profession. It is the normative function of all mature and healthy Christians and especially Christian leaders to walk beside and disciple other’s. When past brokenness or current suffering exceeds the normal capacities of your average Christian leader, it is nice to have especially gifted individuals who have training and experience in more difficult situations. This person should either be funded by the church and supported as part of the ministry and oversight of the local leadership, or they should fall under the oversight of a state licensing board. Anything else is unwise. Being a licensed individual doesn’t make you competent but it ensures there is oversight for your actions. Likewise, being unlicensed without accountability doesn’t make you incompetent but it may make you foolish and dangerous. I believe we should be above reproach in all manner of practice. Going through the rigors of even secular education takes hard work and dedication. Going through that same education with the mind of Christ can be the very process that makes you a good biblical counselor and allows you to be above reproach both in the church and in society. If you feel true calling and gifting in this area, please don’t peddle the word of God for money. Give it away for free, become employed by a church or ministry, or get licensed by a state board. I’m a Christian and a psychologist.

    • Robert

      And what happens when the Word of God and the legal requirements of the state you practice in come into conflict? What happens when the state agency governing professional counseling makes it clear that you are expected to treat practicing gay individuals and those seeking same-sex marriage in exactly the same manner regarding sexual and marriage-related issues as you would a male-female married couple? If churches truly saw the value in Christian counseling that is provided by competent, trained, Spirit-filled practitioners, they would much more frequently pay those individuals to be on staff. But as a rule, they don’t. I have run into a very large segment of the Christian community which feels that any sort of Christian counseling should be a part of a pastor’s job alone, and should never be anything that someone seeking counsel should have to pay for. They want to go to a competent, knowledgeable counselor to get help with their issues, but they don’t trust the advice of a secular counseling professional and they don’t think they should have to pay a Christian counselor. The truth is that as soon as a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health provider attaches himself to the state licensing system, he becomes obligated to adhere to and follow the ethics, rules, procedures, and protocols that state agency puts forth. If the state counseling board approves same-sex marriage and gay sexual relationships, such a licensed counselor cannot legally and ethically tell those who come to him that such behavior contradicts the word of God and is sinful. To do so is to invite censure and suspension of his state license on ethical grounds. Yes, you can be both a psychologist and a Christian—but you cannot defy the tenets and rules of your secular state licensing board when you work with individuals, even if those tenets go against God’s word. Bottom line—Christian mental health providers have to eat and pay the bills, too, so they can’t just “give it away for free”. There are extremely few opportunities for such individuals to make a living at their profession within the confines of the church—they don;t exist because the church, as a whole, doesn’t value them and won;t fund them. And finally, to “get licensed by a state board” is to put yourself under the legal, ethical, and professional control of a secular agency that does not recognize God’s word as ultimate truth or as a basis for counsel. I agree with you that oversight and accountability are good, worthwhile, and even necessary things to help assure competence and protect the innocent. However, even state license is no guarantee at all that these goals will be met either. There are plenty of shoddy, shady, unethical, and even dangerous licensed professionals practicing in the public domain. I have met a number of such. The state should not be allowed to interfere with the practice of counseling done by competent Christian individuals, and it should not have any input regarding whether they can be paid for their services. Such individuals are as open to lawsuit when they do damage or are incompetent as a state-licensed counselor is. If a counselor is transparent up front regarding what they believe, how they practice, what their ethical and moral principles are, and what their education and background is—if they give a free, full, and open disclosure, in other words, it is the choice of the individual seeking counseling whom they will and will not work with. The state has full authority to govern those it licensed and can operate using whatever moral code it chooses. The church has the same right, and those Christians who practice counseling have the same right.

      • I agree, but the way in the last few months I have in fact had clients come from state licensed LPCs, and LMFTs stating that though they liked the idea of state licensed professionals, the idea that they could talk to someone who is faith based and licensed through an organization that allows them to handle clients via faith based counseling was an even better idea. Since last I posted i have come to terms with the one thing that many people on hear can never grasp; and that’s many don’t want to loose their foothold in the monopoly that is people’s lives. Having a bachelors in psychology, addiction studies and Christian counseling allows me to see a bigger picture. With secular agencies hovering over the licensed professional it would be wise for the Christian based agencies to come up with a program that governs us as well as inform the secular program that they will be doing so. Yes I have a private practice and in my informed consent I do in fact offer clients the right to seek out a state licensed professional if they feel so inclined. Remember most people sadly enough don’t know the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist let alone whether they should be on medication or not, some may only go to the doctor and never see a psychiatrist or psychologist at all. There are people who only meet with their psychiatrist or family practitioner simply to get the 15 minutes required to say “I ran out of medication” in an age where we know that have of that is placebo, so we provide them with that education that there is much more help out there than they’ll ever know. However I still find myself having to remind potential clients that I have the same training in cognitive behavioral therapy as well and I have substance abuse prevention certifications recognized be the state as well. In the future I hope the state agencies can understand we aren’t going to fight them for our right to counsel those who are hurting, but they will continue come to us as an option.

      • Robert Womack

        I absolutely couldn’t agree more.

  37. courtellis
    I hope you are able to reply to this. I am looking into becoming a biblical counselor. I want to have a private practice. What state are you in? I am in CA where there are tons of laws for licensed counselors. I can’t figure out whether or not to license. I really feel led to not, but I just don’t know. Again I want to practice privately and I am having trouble determining if I can do this without a license.

  38. David Brockway Psy.D

    There are many license therapist who are terrible. Woman make up 75% if therapist across the country now and 80% in some areas. Many of them gave too many red flags and emotional issues themselves and now with new laws being introduced this year and next year, we are all in for a whammy of changes. Find a therapist whom you feel comfortable with and stuck with them. Easy as that. I have verb amazed on what I saw in Florida and that is a licensed state. You have to be certified just to mow someone’s lawn there now.

  39. Melissa

    What about those ordained individuals who actually attend a Christian Counseling school and receive their licensure through them. Making them a licenced pastoral counselor? Licences through organizations like the NCCA National Christian Counselors Association. There is intense training and supervised sessions and exams. We learn about psychology and how to help people based on that and on the Bible as well. A person in clergy that counsels (without calling themselves a therapist or psychologist- early station that they are a Licensed Christian Counselor) with education obtained through the NCCA is licensed through the church and is a Licensed Counselor. Agreed?

    • Hi Melissa, thanks for stopping by. Does NCCA license or certify? I suspect certify but can’t be sure. Licensure is commonly understood as a state recognition. There are other certifying boards (both Christian and non-Christian) but these vary greatly in oversight. Some are more basic and others more intense as you describe. I am unaware of denominations that license counselors. I know some that recognize but not license. And even if they did, there would be some need to explain. This is not to say that denoms and churches shouldn’t have oversight, but to say that the world of licensing Christian counselors is rather murky with very little definition at this point.

    • Robert

      I agree with you. However,a LOT if insurance companies will not pay for services delivered by anyone who is not licensed with the state. Has a secular license in other words.

  40. andydoerksen

    Hmm, how did the early Church ever disciple people without licensed counselors and the “insights” of psychological/psychiatric “experts”…?

    • Andy, welcome to my blog. Not sure the tone (sounds sarcastic) but the question has much validity. There is nothing in or behind this now old post that denies the value of unlicensed, untrained counselors. We could say the same thing about denominations that require seminary training before ordination. How do the early church ever train a pastor without seminary? Even today, the global south is where the heart of Christianity lies. God is growing his church in areas where the whole bible isn’t even available to the pastor or congregants. Amazing. And yet this does not stop us from wanting to give more tools and training to these pastors. Right? Neither should we stop considering how best to train counselors.

      • andydoerksen

        Thanks for the response, Phil. The problem with psychology is that it’s scientifically impossible to study the soul. Yet psychologists believe they can “diagnose” and “treat” what goes on in there. Even the term “mental illness” is suspect because it borrows terminology from the medical field as if the soul were exactly like the body and can become “sick” or “wounded.” There are no scientific grounds for applying the medical model to the soul.

        But in our culture, “licensing” is predicated on acceptance of the medical model and the false assumption that we can have scientific knowledge of the soul and soul-problems.

        Now, if one wants to speak of brain illnesses or injuries, that’s a whole different ballgame. That’s genuine science because we’re dealing with part of the body. But in that case one needs a _doctor_, not a shrink.

        For soulcare, however, what is required is biblical knowledge and experience in applying that knowledge. “Training” may indeed be required – but not necessarily _formal_ training.

        Hence, from a biblical standpoint licensing is meaningless.

  41. MaryAnn

    Is it ethical for a LPC to perform biblical marriage counseling but then claim he is “not practicing under his license “ so therefore “it did not occur”

    • Sorry for the late reply MaryAnn. Not sure I fully understand your question. If a licensed practitioner wants to do something that is separate from what is considered standard practice then he or she should make that clear as part of informed consent prior to treatment. And, it wouldn’t be appropriate then to try to bill insurance for it. But whether it was done as part of traditional therapy or something else, it still occurred 🙂

    • Robert

      The truth is that there may be a number of times when the counsel, advice, direction, and help given by a licensed secular counselor will mirror what a person would be told by a Christian counselor. Not all secular counselors are bad and not all counsel coming from them is wrong. As far as I know, it is legal, at least in some states, for a secular counselor to perform biblical marriage counseling AS LONG AS the scope, the direction, and the foundation of the counseling is made crystal clear up-front. A counselor can have it stated very clearly in his professional disclosure statement that he approaches counseling from a biblical worldview and that the counsel he gives to a couple will be based on biblical principles. HOWEVER, more and more we see states and agencies and legislatures closing those opportunities. Let’s be completely open and honest here—Jesus said very clearly that His words and what He taught and even He, Himself, would be offensive to many people because they would not be willing to accept the truth. Our society is NOT a Christian one despite what some people so desperately want to believe. The more secularized we become, the further away from God’s word we move, and the less willing an antagonistic non-Christian population will be to tolerate truth that pricks their conscience. We have seen bakers get sued for choosing not to bake a cake for a gay wedding. It is very easy to see a licensed Christian counselor being sued for choosing not to counsel a gay couple preparing for a gay marriage. At some point, the question becomes. “Whom will you serve, God or man?” I have no personal problem with a Christian counselor who maintains state licensure—BUT all Believers know that sooner or later they will be forced to pick a side. If I were giving advice, I would tell those individuals to be honest and open about their worldview and belief system, be clear to all counselees about the framework from which they counsel, and be completely frank about their basis in God’s word as the final arbiter in matters of truth. If, knowing those things, individuals desire their counsel, that’s a win-win. But I can easily see the day when that arrangement will be tested by someone who is anti-Christian, wants to see God driven from the public arena entirely, and initiates a lawsuit to force the state’s hand.

  42. davidhughes2241

    8 years later and STILL collecting comments, I’d say you hit a nerve. Something that’s worth examining in this discussion is a definition of “counseling”. A simple clarity check could go a long way here it seems to me.

    I remember seeing a talk from a famous Biblical counselor at his organization’s annual conference in which he defined counseling as “imparting wisdom”. Aha!, I thought. THAT’s why we don’t seem to connect/agree on so many points. We’re not actually talking about the same thing.

    As a (soon to be, I’m in my internship) licensed professional counselor, I do many things; imparting wisdom just isn’t one of them. You may leave my office more self-aware, self-regulated, and hopefully more resilient but wisdom I just can’t promise you.

    I mention this because we can call some things counseling that clearly don’t need to be regulated by the state, but that doesn’t remove the requirement for accountability when the stakes may be higher. When I diagnose someone, it has a real impact on everything from their employment to what drugs doctors might give them. I would argue that that warrants standardization and accountability (hence licensing).

    Just my thoughts, great post by the way. I also like that you pointed out the art vs science dynamic in therapy/counseling. Great site, glad I found it.

  43. Eric Padgett

    Is it possible to obtain more than one license in a single study session? If so, how do I go about it?

  44. Rev. Carlene Appel

    There is a biblical basis for getting paid for Counseling work, unlicensed or not, which the Ministers and Missions Benefits Board of the American Baptist Churches USA, (whom I am Ordained through) highlights as it advocates fair wages for workers of the Gospel. 1Tim. 5:18 “the laborer deserves to get paid.” Also Luke 10:7 Jesus Himself says: “the laborer deserves to get paid,” to the 70 He sent out to cure the sick and proclaim that the Kingdom of God has come near to you.”

    I am planning on opening my own Christ Centered Pastoral Counseling office. I am not licensed but hold an MDiv. and have had lots of counseling training, a CISM certificate, other specialized training certificates, and have been in ministry over 20 yrs. I have been a Church Pastor, Hospital Chaplain and have spent the past 10-1/2 years doing Hospice Chaplaincy. Will I accept payment. Absolutely! Not only does the laborer deserves to get paid, but my utilities providers, mortgage company and other providers expect to get paid by me.
    Rev. Carlene Appel, MDiv.

  45. Dear Philip Monroe,

    I just discovered you incredibly timely article and post re validity or lack of validity of unlicensed counselors. THANK YOU! I am writing a book that addresses simony and counseling with a proposed letter to Profession Licensed and Certified Biblical Counselors I would love to email and run by you.

    Thank you again.
    James Sundquist

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