Monday, April 13, 2015

9 Beliefs of Christian Counselors














What Christian Counselors Believe, Value, and Practice

Part I: Beliefs

I once asked a conservative evangelical Christian Chaplain how he handled counseling when he was pretty sure a dying patient was not a Christian and would soon spend eternity in hell? He sincerely said he would have to think about that question.

A female health care provider told me she switched to work with children from elder care because she believed that unlike the elderly, children would go to heaven if they died. In this case, her Christian beliefs appeared to have a causal effect on her career.

Counselors normally focus on the needs of clients and help clients find solutions in a supportive setting. Theoretically, rapport ought to be enhanced when counselors and clients share common values and beliefs. 

Why ask what Christian Counselors Believe?

The primary reason is to address the rapport factor. As noted in a previous post, many Christians prefer counseling from someone who shares their Christian beliefs and values. When it comes to lifestyles, conservative Christians hold beliefs at variance with the general culture. And some believe that certain ways of living are linked to personal distress.

A secondary reason is the observation that many people draw strength from their faith; thus, it makes sense for a therapist to help clients draw on their faith when applicable. For example, such concepts as forgiveness, hope, gratitude, love, and reconciliation are of interest to psychologists and people of faith. 

A third reason is to explore how beliefs related to the practice of counseling and psychotherapy.

What is a Christian?

The idea of Christian counseling suggests we ought to know what we mean by the concept, Christian. Some people will define Christian by quoting a portion of the Bible. Over the years, theologians have argued about core beliefs. Arguments over refined points of doctrine often result in a leader creating a new religious movement in societies that have freedom of religion. There are creeds and statements of faith online. In short, some people identify as Christian based on the faith of their family or their baptism in a particular faith group. Others come to faith later in life, which may involve a confession of faith and a verbal expression of some set of beliefs about God and Jesus. Some just say “I’m a follower of Jesus,” as if to distance themselves from the arguments over doctrines.

In this survey, we asked about the religious identity of the counselors and we asked about beliefs. You will see the items are similar to themes asked of the public in other surveys.

SURVEY QUESTIONS

How do your beliefs compare to Christian Counselors in the US?

Last year, my colleague Chris Arnzen and I conducted a survey of Christian Counselors and Psychotherapists from organizations based in the United States but which might include some members from Canada. Overall we obtained responses from about 250 people. Some clinicians did not respond to every item.

I’ll list the questions so you can record your answers. We asked people to respond on a five-point scale from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree” with the answers. Following the questions, I’ll show you how the counselors responded.

1. I believe Jesus is the son of God.
2. I have had a born again experience.
3. God heals some people without human intervention.
4. All Christians are called to share their faith with others
5. Clients who do not accept Jesus as their personal savior will spend eternity in hell.

And some questions about the Bible

In prior posts about Christian fundamentalism, I reported that fundamentalists focus on the Bible (or the sacred texts in other religious traditions) in a close to literal fashion. And when they make statements about social values and behavior, they rely heavily upon the Bible with little to no regard for the findings from science or other disciplines. In short, God’s Word trumps man’s wisdom. This is the context that led us to include questions about the Bible. I’ll give you the questions before revealing how the counselors responded.
Four questions about the Bible as the Sacred Writing for Christians. As before, we asked for ratings on a five-point scale from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree.”

1. Everything in the Sacred Writing is absolutely true without question.
2. The words of the Sacred Writing have at least some contradictions and/or errors.
3. The Sacred Writing should never be doubted, even when scientific or historical evidence outright disagrees with it.
4. If what the Sacred Writing says disagrees with the findings or discoveries of science, then what science says is probably closer to what is really true

RESULTS

How did the Christian Counselors respond?

Core faith: Here’s a summary of their answers to questions about basic beliefs. Scroll up to see the actual questions.

Belief (n = 251)
Strongly Agree/Agree
Neither or Disagree
No
Response
1 Jesus is the Son of God
83.7
.4
15.9
2 Born again experience
78.5
4.8
16.7
3 God heals w/o human
96.7
3.3
15.9
4 Christians called to share faith
80.8
3.2
15.9
5 Clients hell-bound w/o salvation
52.9
29.5
17.5

Bible: Here’s how they responded to questions about the Bible (the generic term is, Sacred Writing). Scroll up to see the four questions.
Belief (n = 251)
Strongly Agree/Agree
Neither or Disagree
No Response
1 SW absolutely true
63.7
24
12.4
2 SW some contradictions/ errors
30.5
61
12.4
3 SW  never doubt
45.2
42.8
12
4 If SW disagrees w/ findings then science probably true
7.7
79.9
12.4

Thoughts

Anyone who identifies as a Christian counselor or psychotherapist likely holds conservative beliefs. That’s a hypothesis. Even though mental health clinicians might identify as a Christian they may not offer explicitly Christian interventions. But a clinician whose professional identity is portrayed as a Christian Counselor has claimed something unique. I want to discover that unique quality and how it impacts their services.

You can see that our sample is quite conservative overall but a significant group of Christian clinicians do not hew to traditional Christian beliefs. The question about evangelism (sharing faith) and hell were important to identifying the level of conservatism within our sample.

Although heaven and hell are long-standing teachings of the church, nearly half of the sample did not endorse the belief about salvation and hell as often phrased by U.S. evangelicals. Of course, I made it personal by referring to clients even as I did when asking the evangelical Chaplain about his beliefs regarding the dying patient. It seems to me, that highly committed Christians who really believe in evangelism and the reality of hell would feel very uncomfortable suppressing the urge to witness in some situations.

Remember my story above about the woman who changed her job to work with children? In case you are unaware, the Bible says nothing explicitly about the age criteria for entering heaven or hell at the end of earthly life unless certain belief criteria are met. 

My point is, beliefs matter. And a counselor's beliefs might influence what happens in a counseling session.

When it comes to the Bible, the counselors are also fairly conservative, although about one-third did not see the biblical text as absolutely true. The wording of the items can be debated endlessly but I think you can get the sense that the counselors in the survey were divided in terms of doubt. You also see a general unwillingness to accord scientific findings more weight that the Bible when a perceived conflict occurs.

Findings like these lead to more questions and a wish that we had asked a question in a slightly different way. We did permit open answers on many items so the counselors could explain a nuanced view.

In future posts, I will report more about the values of counselors and what they include as interventions.

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Reference


Sutton, G. W., Arnzen, C. A. (2015, April). Evidenced-Based religious accommodative psychotherapy: Practice and belief. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies, International Conference, Denver, Colorado.

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