Why do we have to study theology? I don’t need that to be a good counselor?
These are words I have heard from students studying counseling and/or psychology in both university settings and seminaries. What would you say?
Biblical and theological training in professional programs?
Most Christian institutions offering counseling or psychology graduate programs require some level of theological engagement. Otherwise, why exist? Some do so via specific course work while others embed the theological or biblical material into classic counseling courses. At Biblical, we do both. We require traditional counseling courses such as Marriage & Family, Helping Relationships, Psychopathology, Social & Cultural Foundations, etc. In these courses we explore counseling theory and practice from an evangelical Christian psychology perspective. We also require students to complete courses like, “Counseling & the Biblical Text” and “Counseling & Theology: Cultural Issues” where they engage biblical texts and theological study as they consider how it forms counseling theory/practice and shapes the character of the counselor.
Is all counseling theological?
Yes. And David Powlison in the most recent CCEF NOW magazine (2-4) talks about this very fact. Here are some choice tidbits,
…counselors deal with your story. In fact, they become players in that story. By word and deed, even by their line of questioning, they inevitably offer some form of editing or rescripting, some reinterpretation of your story.
Counseling is inescapably a moral and theological matter. To pretend otherwise is to be naive, deceived, or duplicitous.
…all counseling uncovers and edits personal stories…. All counseling must and does deal with questions of true and false, good and evil, right and wrong, value and stigma, glory and shame, justification and guilt.
All counseling explicitly or implicitly deals with questions of redemption, faith, identity, and meaning.
Thus, if value-free counseling is not possible (the very questions we ask lead clients in one direction or another), then it stands to reason that every counselor ought to explore the theologies (doctrines, interpretations, beliefs, etc.) he or she brings into the counseling room. Who is God? How does God operate? What is the purpose of the Bible? Does it have anything to say about my life, my attitudes, my relationships? What is sin? What is my purpose in life? What does God think about my suffering? And on we could go.
But counseling is NOT theologizing
But lest you think that Christian counselors spend a great deal of time plying clients with the right answers, on sin hunts, or catechising clients, let us remember that exhortation rarely makes for good counseling. In fact, most clients are well aware of their sins–even those who do not call themselves “believers.” And those who have correct theology are not less likely to have trouble in their relationships or less likely to struggle with racing thoughts or depression or less likely to get caught in addictive behavior.
Instead, good christian counseling consists mainly of,
- loads of stimulating questions designed not to get the “right” answer but to awaken the client to how they think, act, believe, relate, etc.
- Short observations to stimulate more critical understanding of the personal narratives being written, and
- Collegial exploration and practice of new narratives, perceptions, and behaviors.
Wait, just what is Christian about these three points? Couldn’t unbelieving counselors agree with this list? Sure they could. What makes these three activities Christian is the submission of both counselor and client to core convictions and practices of Christ followers.