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COUNSELING

Choosing a Christian Counselor

By Pastor David Martin
Guest Columnist

When you as a Christian realize that you or someone you love is in need of counseling there are several issues that need to be addressed.

First is the stigma that seeking professional help may bring. In certain Christian circles professional help is viewed in a negative light, even when it is Christian. One has to see these counselors as a gift from God to bring His healing presence in your life.

Second is the task of finding a competent counseling professional who will truly integrate their faith into the counseling process. Unfortunately, not everyone who claims to be a "Christian counselor" operates with a personal and professional commitment to Christ-centered soul care. In order for a Christian to make a good decision about a Christian counseling professional, there are some important factors that need to be understood as well as the various options that are available to you.

Most communities have a number of counseling resources. Churches may provide a pastoral counselor, a counseling professional who works out of the church, lay trained counselors or a particular support group. Professional counselors may be available in various settings, including private practice, clinics, government agencies, treatment centers, etc.

When choosing the most appropriate counselor for you or a family member or friend there are a number factors that need to be addressed:

The individual's needs -- How severe is the problem? Is it life threatening? Is the individual motivated to get help?

The individual's resources
-- The person's finances, medical insurance, time, their family and other support systems all need to be considered.

The church's resources
-- Types of counseling that the church offers, what support groups they have, as well funds to assist in paying for professional counseling all need to be considered.

The community's resources
-- What resources are available in the community? Are there competent counselors and psychiatrists available? In addition are there community mental health services that are accessible to this person?

COUNSELING ROLES

In order to choose the most appropriate counseling resource, one must understand the variety of roles within the overall field of counseling. Understanding these will assist a person in choosing what is best for them or the individual they are referring.

Pastoral Counselors -- This title is used by many who have a whole variety of qualifications. There is an organization "The American Association of Pastoral Counselors" that requires the same training as most licensed professionals in order to have their licensure. Most of these people are ordained ministers with full masters or doctoral training. Most work in a private practice but usually have connections to churches that refer to them and may even give them office space in the church. However most people who use the term "pastoral counselor" are ordained ministers with additional training and experience in counseling.

Lay Counselors or Caregivers
-- Many types of helping ministries have been developed in order to mobilize people in the church to meet the needs of people. Although some of this may focus on meeting physical needs there is a growing motivation to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of people in the church and in outreach into the community. Many churches are utilizing a training program such as "Stephen's Ministry" or the American Association of Christian Counselors' "Caring for People God's Way." In most cases these are free services that the church offers to their congregation and people in the community. This is providing a much-needed service for many that cannot afford professional counseling. However, many churches are being careful to train these lay counselors to know when they must refer to a counseling professional.

Support Groups
-- These groups are playing a vital role in meeting some of the practical needs of people. These are typically issues based such as addictions, divorce recovery, etc. The group itself becomes a critical source of support for many of its members.

Professional Counselors
-- These professional clinicians are qualified due to their education, experience, licensure and certification. In selecting a Christian counseling professional you should be aware of the different degrees and licenses that individuals may have. Unfortunately, each state has different licenses with different qualifications and thus there are few national norms. There are some fairly common terms that are used to describe different professionals, their degrees and their licensing.

DIFFERING PROFESSIONAL COUNSELORS

Licensed Social Workers (LSW, CSW, LCSW ) -- These individuals have earned a master's degree in social work (MSW) or behavioral science. They are preferred by many in state institutions and agencies. They are required to take a state exam, have a certain amount of clinical experience and supervision.

Licensed Professional Counselors
(LPC) -- These individuals generally have earned minimally a master's degree (MA, MS, M.Ed). They have completed 2000 hours of supervised counseling experience and have passed a state exam. Most insurance companies accept LPC but some prefer the LCSW over them.

Marriage and Family Therapists
(LMFT) -- These professionals usually hold a minimum of a master's degree and specialize in assisting families and individuals overcome relational problems. This license usually requires two years of supervised experience after earning one's degree.

Licensed Clinical Psychologists
(LCP) -- These individuals have a doctoral level of education (Ph.D, Psy.D, or Ed.D) and specialize in diagnosis, research, and applied counseling. They have the most versatility and may be private practitioners, school psychologists, institutional or hospital psychologists.

Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselors (LCDC, CADAC) -- These counselors have a bachelor's or master's degree in chemical dependency. Most of these counselors use 12-Step programming. Chemical Dependency counselors may be in private practice but may also work for private hospitals, state or municipal programs, or outpatient clinics.

Board Certified Psychiatrists
(MD, DO) -- These are medical doctors who have advanced training in behavioral sciences. They are qualified to prescribe medications and supervise mental health treatment

TIPS FOR CHOOSING A COUNSELOR

There is a vast difference between a Christian who is a counselor and a Christian counselor. Some counselors use the term Christian because they have learned this may expand their practice.

There are a number of things you need to consider before choosing a counselor:

  • Which type of counselor do you think would be the best? Choosing between a pastoral counselor, lay counselor or a licensed professional is a choice you must make.
  • What is the payment structure? Does the counselor accept insurance payment and is he/she accepted by your insurance? Is there a sliding scale based on ability to pay? Does you church assist people who need counseling?
  • Is there a trusted person (pastor or friend) who recommends this counselor?
  • What kind of licensure or certification does the counselor have?
  • What experience does the counselor have in dealing with your specific issue?
  • Does it matter to you if you have a male or female counselor? It is also important for you to know some things about what this professing Christian counselor believes and how that applies to the way that he or she practices their counseling. Psalm 1 declares that, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly." You may call the counselors office and tell them that you would like to ask the counselor some questions before you set up an appointment for counseling.

Some of the information you may be able to get from the office worker:

  • What is your general approach to counseling?
  • How do you integrate Biblical truths into your counseling?
  • Are you involved in a church? Which one and in what role are you involved?
  • What part does prayer play in the way that you counsel? Do you pray with clients?
  • What is their perspective on the miraculous?
  • What is their view on certain on any key moral/ethical issues of concern for you. Issues such as abortion, divorce, remarriage, homosexuality, discipline of children, roles of husband and wife.

This is an important decision for you and being thorough in choosing a counselor you or someone you trust doesn't know. Set up a phone interview with the counselor before you start the counseling process and ask some of the questions we have listed. May the Lord bless you as you seek His healing in your life.

The 700 Club Prayer Center is available 24 hours a day at (800) 759-0700.

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Counseling Referrals

The 700 Club Prayer Center brings your concerns to God in prayer. If you need ongoing support, we encourage you to contact the pastor of your local church. If you don't belong to a local church, please check out our church finder.

With the guidance of your pastor, you might also consider seeking professional Christian counseling. You can also read a helpful article about Choosing a Christian Counselor.

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