What Is Christian Counseling?

People seek counseling for various reasons, such as receiving help with important relationships like marriage, healing from past trials and trauma, and learning how to cope with mental illness in healthy ways. Just like there are different approaches to counseling, there are also different worldviews behind some of the methods, strategies, and exercises that advisors and therapists use to help people.

Christian counseling is a Bible-based approach to helping people who need a trained, credentialed, experienced advisor or therapist. It incorporates key elements of a biblical worldview into discussions, techniques, and exercises about relationships, emotions, anxieties, fears, personalities, healing, and more.

What are the similarities and differences between Christian and non-Christian counseling? What is the goal of Christian counseling? What moral framework underlies non-Christian counseling? What is unique about Christian counseling? What does the Bible say about counselors and counseling? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and more.

Also see What Are Christian Values? to learn more.

Christian therapist
What is the goal of Christian counseling? See below

Christian and Secular Counseling: Similarities and Differences

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “counseling” as “professional guidance of the individual by utilizing psychological methods especially in collecting case history data, using various techniques of the personal interview, and testing interests and aptitudes.” [1] Counseling usually involves meeting one-on-one with a trained professional, though group and online counseling formats aren’t uncommon.

Non-Christian counseling offers people guidance for physiological needs that isn’t consistent with what the Bible teaches about God, people, sin, and more. Christian counseling understands people through a biblical lens. For example, a Bible-based approach acknowledges that God created every individual in his image (Gen. 1:26-27) and, as a result, has inherent dignity even though they are a sinner (Rom. 3:23).

The goal of Christian counseling is different

Non-Christian counseling often has admirable goals, such as helping spouses, parents, and children through trials. However, in some cases, how a Christian counselor and a non-Christian counselor define important terms like health, healing, and forgiveness can be significantly different.

For this reason, while non-Christian counseling can help a follower of Jesus, many Christians prefer a fellow believer to counsel them.

One Christian counselor describes the goal of a Bible-based approach this way: “Our goal in counseling is threefold: 1. To get the counselee to see God’s character and compassion through the lens of Scripture; 2. To get the counselee to see himself and his problems as God does; 3. To get the counselee to feel God’s conviction and comfort as he peers intensely into the mirror of His Word.” [2]

What morality underlies non-Christian counseling?

Unlike Christian counseling, no uniform set of morals underly the insight, advice, and guidance of non-Christian counseling. Instead, the moral framework may be the counselor’s, the physiological worldview of the counselor’s mentors (e.g. a supervisor), or influencers (e.g. Sigmund Freud).

Furthermore, non-Christian counseling tends to reflect the moral framework of the counselor’s generation. As society’s values, priorities, and sensitivities change, so do the non-Christian counselors. Suppose that society values a relationship, definition, or identity ten years from now that it currently doesn’t. In that case, a non-Christian counselor is more likely to adopt the new prevailing views than not.

Christian counseling uses the Bible’s definitions of morality. Though applications vary from person to person, the definitions of right and wrong underlying Christian counseling don’t change, shift, progress, or evolve, because they are biblically based. Non-Christian counseling values an ever-evolving moral landscape; Christian counseling doesn’t.

Also see Where Do Christians Worship? to learn more.

marriage counseling
What is a God-centered approach to counseling? See below

What is unique about Christian counseling?

Christian counseling is about more than saying a prayer at the start of sessions, quoting a Bible verse now and then, or seeing a counselor who is a professing Christian but doesn’t integrate their faith into their practice. Instead, Christian counseling is a holistic approach that views the entire person through a biblical lens, including their nature, constitution, and relationship with Jesus.

The example of the heart

The “heart” is an important part of a person’s constitution. According to the Bible, the heart is so central that it’s the source of a Christian’s faith in Jesus (Rom. 10:9) and the place where their love for God emerges (Matt. 22:37).

  • Romans 10:9, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
  • Matthew 22:37, “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'”

In the Old Testament, the “heart” is the center of emotions (1 Sam. 1:21), desires (Psa. 37:4), thoughts (Gen. 6:5), decisions (1 Chron. 12:38), and more. Similarly, the term “heart” in the New Testament includes a person’s thoughts (Mark 2:6-8), emotions (John 16:6), desires (Rom. 1:24), decisions (2 Cor. 9:7), and more.

Non-Christian counseling doesn’t subscribe to the biblical definition of the heart. It doesn’t acknowledge the core part of a person, or it redefines the term according to their own understanding. At most, non-Christian counseling approaches may use a general, godless definition of “heart” that isn’t biblical.

A God-centered approach

Christian counselor, Edward Welch, explains his approach to advising people in his book, Addictions. “A biblical approach to change focuses on someone other than ourselves. Change starts, proceeds, and ends with Jesus. We look to Jesus and away from ourselves.” [3]

Welch isn’t suggesting that the individual — their relationships, hurts, needs, and more — aren’t involved. Rather, he is saying that the way to improvement, healing, maturing, and more occurs through Jesus, not apart from him.

Also see Why Do Christians Worship on Sundays? to learn more.

Christian therapy
What does the Bible say about counselors? See below

10 Bible verses on the benefit of counselors?

  • Proverbs 15:22, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”
  • Proverbs 13:10, “By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom.”
  • Proverbs 11:14, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
  • Proverbs 20:5, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”
  • Proverbs 12:18, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
  • Proverbs 12:15, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
  • Proverbs 27:9, “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.”
  • Romans 15:14, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.”
  • Proverbs 24:6, “For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.”

Also see What Does Judeo-Christian Mean? to learn more.

[1] Source
[2] Counseling the Hard Cases, Edited by Stuart Scott and Health Lambert. p. 183.
[3] Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave by Edward Welch. p. 142

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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