I received an email some time ago from a minister who asked the following questions:
I have been in full-time ministry for the past 11 years working in youth/family/pulpit/evangelistic ministry. I am currently enrolled (in a) MA in Marriage and Family Therapy (program) and have about 30 hours with 30 to go for completion. I’m not sure if I want to go through the next 30 hours because I’m finding it difficult to swallow all the psychological stuff mixed in with God’s Word. I think God’s word is the authority to listen to and not Freud, etc.I know there are some good Biblically based counseling structures out there but God’s word is still by far the best tool ever. Are you licensed by the state or a Christian Counselor who is certified by the NCCA or group like this? Please let me know because I want to practice as a counselor but only by using God’s word I do not want to be regulated by the state and get a state license to practice. What would you suggest? Thank you for your time and God bless.
I Thought this was such a great question, I wanted to respond with a post instead of just a private email.
First, let me say that I am licensed by the state and that I am not certified by NCCA or a similar group. Both paths have pro’s and con’s and I don’t believe there is one right answer for everyone.
My Path to Christian Counseling
I started on my path at a time when Christian counseling was in it’s infancy. In the late 70’s/early 80’s there weren’t really many options for people wanting to become Christian counselors. In fact, to some degree, the debate of what exactly was Christian counseling was still going on. I earned a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and then enrolled in a M.Div. program at a very conservative seminary. The path I chose was to learn from both fields and make up my own mind about what was helpful to clients.
I think I would ask you to first examine what it is you expect from graduate school. (Seminary -or some other form of Christian education- or certification is still a program of higher education.) I guess my belief is that if you find a program where it is easy for you to “swallow” everything your professors are teaching, then you may be either a little too naive, or the program is not challenging enough. The Bible is infallible, but instructors are not. Grad school requires one be able to organize and analyze information; not blindly follow wherever the instructor leads. I don’t think I had any difficulty sorting the “good counseling structures” from the psychobabble when I was in grad school. And, I found a few things in seminary that were hard to swallow.
Next, I would ask you to think about the setting you want to work in. If you want to provide counseling in a church – where you are the minister responsible for counseling or pastoral care – then you may wish to pursue Biblical counseling certification. If you want to practice independently and charge for your services, then you would pretty much have to have a state license. (I know some who claim that’s not the case, but it seems to me they are skirting pretty close to the edge of the law.)
Then I would ask, how important is it for you to keep your options open? If you seek Biblical counseling certification, you have narrowed your options to serving in a church or denominational setting. If you finish your degree and became licensed, you can still minister in a church plus you will be able to work in an agency setting (thus supplying your income while you volunteer in a church).
Finally, I would ask, why choose? It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. Why not finish your degree, and then pursue certification as a Biblical counselor? Then you will be in a position to determine what is the most helpful for people without having to count on other’s biases in deciding how to help. Who knows? You may even conceptualize a different way of thinking about how Biblical truth can be best used in helping people.
I guess I would sum up my approach to Christian counseling by saying I believe we never stop learning. Grad school and certification programs are just the beginning of our educational experiences. My bias is “why limit myself”.