Prior to the 1970s, evangelicals knew little about counseling. Pastors for the most part would assume that responsibility, but they had little training in counseling per se.
However, beginning in the 1970s and beyond the Christian counseling movement began in earnest, becoming a dominant, if not the dominant segment of the evangelical community.
As a result evangelicals have become much more knowledgeable regarding dealing with people and their problems. However, some counselors seem not to have gleaned much from all that we have learned about Christian counseling across the past half-century.
Let me share with you a case in point. I would be interested in your perspective as to whether a church should retain someone displaying such a serious lack of counseling expertise. I did not sit in on this particular counseling session, but I read the transcript. After the session the counselee revealed some significant emotional, behavioral, and relational problems, even displaying violence. The seriousness of these problems might cause some to think that it might be best for the church to ask the counselor for his resignation.
Concerns regarding Christian Counseling Expertise
Red flags went up at the outset of the session as I noticed this counselor’s response to what was perhaps the counselee’s primary issue. He was angry with God. As I’m sure you know, from the most prominent evangelical counselors on down we are taught that it is okay to be angry with God. Suggesting to the counselee that is not okay will only result in his living in denial—stuffing it. How much better for him to be honest about his feelings?
This counselor, apparently either uninformed or unconcerned regarding this perspective did not convey the appropriate assurance to the counselee. In fact, rather than letting him know that being angry with God was okay, he made the counselee feel guilty about this attitude.
A second concern over the qualifications of this counselor came in regard to a second problem revealed by the counselee, that of feelings of not being accepted by a significant other. We have learned from evangelical counselors how crucial it is for a person to experience unconditional acceptance. Consequently, in order to deal with such cases the counselor should seek to build a relationship with the counselee so as to become a significant other, and then convey unconditional acceptance to the counselee. This experience of unconditional acceptance from the counselor, who has now become a significant other, enables the counselee to accept himself unconditionally, which serves to help him deal with his emotional, behavioral, and relational issues.
Here again the counselor seemed clueless regarding the appropriate means of dealing with this issue. To make matters worse, rather than conveying unconditional acceptance he did just the opposite in indicating to the counselee that acceptance was based on performance. In fact, perhaps the ultimate counseling blunder, this counselor told the counselee that even acceptance by God was predicated on performance. Even most pastors, not to mention counselors, teach that “a person doesn’t have to earn brownie points to be accepted by God.” This counseling concept has actually worked itself into the fiber of evangelical culture, so it is rather inexcusable that this counselor would not know at least that much, but instead convey a judgmental attitude toward the counselee.
A final breach of counseling expertise was displayed in in this counselor’s failure to do much listening. In the session he did most of the talking, with the transcript revealing a more authoritarian, directive approach. Related to this failure to do much listening, the session was very brief.
In fact so brief that I am including the entire transcript below.
So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6-7 NKJV)
So what do you think? Should the church put up with this level of incompetence?