Sunday, July 27, 2014

Christian Counseling What to expect

Christian Counseling &Beliefs

I’m on a quest to better understand the concept, Christian Counseling. And I’m interested in the Christian beliefs and practices of counselors and clients. I wonder if there is a significant relationship between counselor and client Christian beliefs and practices, Christian interventions, and treatment outcomes.

The criteria for identifying counseling as Christian are imprecise. A comprehensive conceptual definition is doomed to failure at this point. An operational definition is crucial to comparing findings across research studies that purport to add something of value to an understanding of Christian Counseling. But operational definitions can be too narrow when attempting to be sufficiently inclusive.

I suggest a feature list approach to defining Christian Counseling and Psychotherapy. I approach this conceptualization from the notion of Wittgenstein’s family resemblance. Here’s my current take on Christian Counseling criteria.

The clinician assesses those Christian beliefs and practices of the client that are likely linked to treatment outcomes. This entails an assessment of the client’s Christian beliefs and practices.

The clinician includes spiritual activities (e.g., prayer, Bible reading) linked to building rapport with the client even if those activities are not known to be highly correlated with a treatment outcome.

The clinician selects interventions that are intentionally compatible with the salient Christian beliefs and practices of the client. For example, forgiveness is a Christian virtue. Two empirically supported interventions are compatible with Christian beliefs and practices (Enright, Worthington).

The clinician modifies an empirically validated intervention to accommodate the Christian beliefs or practices of a client. For example, imagery is a component of effective anti-anxiety interventions. Clinicians can assist clients in selecting imagery taken from the Bible.

The clinician demonstrates respect for the client’s understanding of Christian moral values. For example, most Christians groups are officially prolife but individual clients do not necessarily accept an official view of birth control and abortion.

The clinician’s beliefs and practices do not interfere with rapport. For example, there is no prima facie reason why an atheist could not effectively treat a Christian client. A problem of clinician authenticity could be detected by a devout Christian client who expects the clinician to prayerfully invite God’s presence into a counseling session.
Who cares about Christian Counseling and Psychotherapy?

I am not aware of the extent to which specific client and clinician belief-matching affects psychotherapy treatment outcome.

The presence of several organizations involved in Christian counseling and psychotherapy suggests that a lot of people believe beliefs matter. And beyond that, consider the vast quantity of books and videos on mental health topics linked to a Christian worldview. Add to those data the number of Christian Colleges and Universities with programs focused on preparing Christian clinicians.

What do Christians believe?

As a psychologist, I focus on what clients believe and practice rather than the official teaching of a church. The data are clear that within any official church, Christians vary in their personal beliefs. Here are some beliefs that might be relevant to some counseling issues and some clients

74% believe in God. 54% are “absolutely certain” there is a God
72% believe in miracles
68% believe Jesus is God or the Son of God.
68% believe in heaven
68% believe in angels
64% believe in the survival of the soul after death.

58% believe in hell.
58% believe in the devil.
29% believe God controls what happens on Earth.
49% believe all or most of the Old Testament is the Word of God
48% believe all or most of the New Testament is the Word of God

Demographics are linked to beliefs

Age, Gender, Ethnicity, Geographic location, and Political affiliation help identify degree of traditional religiosity. So for example, if you were placing bets that a Christian clinician held a high degree of traditional beliefs, what age, gender, ethnicity and location would improve your odds of being right? Take a look at Table 2b in the Harris poll.
Does it matter?
Do you think it matters if…

A grieving Christian client believes they will see their loved one in heaven after they die?
A Christian chaplain believes her dying patient is going to hell within a month?
A Christian counselor or client believes the Word of God says homosexuality is sin but they experience same-sex attraction.
A Christian counselor or client believes the problem is somehow linked to the devil?
A Christian counselor or client is one of the 74% of Americans who believe in miracles?


My Publications

Sutton, G. W. (2010). The Psychology of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Restoration: Integrating Traditional and Pentecostal Theological Perspectives with Psychology. In M. Mittelstadt & G. W. Sutton (eds). Forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration: Multidisciplinary studies from a Pentecostal perspective. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.

A resource I used and recommend. (I do not earn money for this recommendation.)

Comments and suggestions welcome.

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