Mental health has become a broader topic in recent years. Where it once was a topic the Church rarely talked about, today, many churches have counselors on staff and offer different ways to support members of their congregation who are facing mental health issues. At Mercy Multiplied, we understand the importance of tackling mental health issues in order to live a full life.
Our approach to healing takes the holistic view- spirit, soul, and body. In our residential program, we emphasize hearing from the voice of God (spirit), meeting with trained counselors (soul), and taking care of one’s body through nutrition and exercise (body).
The integration of biblical perspective with best practices of mental health counseling is one area that makes Mercy different from other programs. These practices together lead to life-transformation and freedom in Christ, rather than a temporary fix or a behavior only change.
Over the years, we have had many people inquire about what they should look for in a Christian counselor. Choosing to seek a counselor is a significant step to take wherever you are in your healing journey. However, we know that finding a Christian counselor who is the right fit for you and your needs can be overwhelming and daunting.
Our Senior Director, Counseling and Program Strategy, Dr. Brooke Keels, weighs in with some helpful advice.
What are some things to consider when looking for a Christian counselor?
It should be clearly stated from a professional standpoint that true Christian counseling does not position itself to heal mental illness with scripture and Bible reading. Nor does it stay away from the spiritual truths that can help someone heal from their hurts.
Your counselor will have different interventions and protocols for the counseling room. Although prayer and spiritual discussions may be a part of that experience, it is not where the therapeutic process begins and ends. Also, note that just because you see a counselor who is a Christian does not mean that they necessarily need to believe exactly as you do. Their job as a counselor is to facilitate your healing, not impose their belief system on you.
How should someone assess their potential counselor’s credentials?
Some recommended questions to ask include: Did the counselor graduate with at least a Master’s Degree in counseling or family therapy? Is the counselor currently registered with the state as an LPC/ LMFT or working towards licensure/certification? (This varies from state to state.) While the letters behind the name do not guarantee effectiveness, remember that Christian counseling should be provided by counselors who have achieved the academic requirements outlined by the state in which they provide services. This means that they are trained to connect, assess, and intervene at a therapeutic level necessary for the counseling process.
What about getting recommendations from trusted friends and family?
People are often nervous about exposing that they are looking for a counselor or asking others about their counseling experience. However, most people are pleased to share! Ask your friends what they specifically liked or didn’t like about their counselor or the counseling process in general. Did they feel they could trust their counselor? Did the counselor challenge them in positive ways? If their counselor does not seem like the exact fit for you (maybe you prefer a different gender, etc.), ask if that friend’s counselor could suggest a colleague. Or perhaps you know a counselor, psychologist, or pastor, you would trust to make a recommendation. These professionals are involved in the therapeutic community and have an understanding of different counselors’ strengths and training. They may have a unique insight into who may or may not be a fit for you.
What if I am looking for a counselor that specializes in a particular issue?
It is entirely acceptable and appropriate for you to call and ask about a particular specialty or focus. For example, you may be wondering if the counselor’s practice is focused on marital issues, adolescent struggles, or addiction. The office staff and counselor should be comfortable talking with you on the phone and answering any questions you have. This includes their spiritual background and beliefs. If it concerns you, feel free to ask for the counselor’s statement of faith. If they are advertising themselves as a Christian counselor, they should be more than prepared for this question.
How might my church’s resources tie into the search process?
Just because your church has a counseling center doesn’t mean you have to seek counseling there. While any therapist worth their weight lives and breathes confidentiality if you just can’t seem to get past the closeness of attending therapy where you worship, know that this is okay. If you are comfortable enough, use the counseling center as a resource, and ask for a referral. Be honest that you just aren’t comfortable attending therapy “so close to home.” More than likely, they will happily help you find a place you will be comfortable with.
What if I want to know more about a counselor’s specific view of the counseling process?
Read the paperwork. When you arrive at a counselor’s office, they are required to provide you with a statement of practice. This includes their theoretical orientation and all of that confidentiality stuff that you generally skip over, but in this case, read it. And if you have questions, ask! Your counselor should be able to explain his/her view of the counseling process and theoretical orientation. Counselors generally love to discuss these things, and it is a priority that you are comfortable.
What if I do not feel connected or comfortable with my chosen counselor at first?
Often, individuals will have a poor experience with a counselor and say, “See, this didn’t work,” and give up on the process, or worse, believe they cannot be helped. Don’t give up! Remember that just because you didn’t connect with a specific counselor doesn’t mean that there isn’t someone who can support you therapeutically. Try at least three sessions. If, at that point, you still don’t feel connected with your counselor, then it may be time to try someone else. It can feel overwhelming to have to open up to someone new, but it will be worth the effort on the front-end once you find someone who will help you through what you are dealing with.