CHRISTIAN COUNSELLING FOR
HEALING THE HURTING
by Jim DeFrancisco, Ph.D.
Why do Christians need to consider counselling? The simple
answer to this question is because people are hurting - and this
includes Christians. According to the American Association of
Christian Counsellors (AACC), there are over 27 million children
who are fatherless (39% of children under age 18 live in a home
without a father present and approximately half of these haven't
seen their father in the last year). Another 25% of children are
sexually abused by someone they love or should be able to trust.
Since we are living in a society that produces sexual addiction,
over 10% of the members of many congregations are sexually
addicted and the Internet has tremendously increased
accessibility to pornography.
Up to 20% of Americans will, at sometime during their life,
experience clinical depression, and women seem to experience
(feel) depression more frequently than men (men often act out,
but hide inner feelings). Clinical depression is distinct from
just "feeling the blues" in that symptoms are severe enough to
disrupt one's daily routine. Often hard to define, these symptoms
include decreased energy, fluctuating body weight, depleted
concentration, irritability, bouts of crying, and thoughts of
suicide. According to Hart and Weber; studies show that those
born after 1950 are 10 times as likely to experience depression,
as compared to their predecessors. Individuals between ages 25
and 45 seem to occupy the greatest percentage of depression,
though adolescent groups possess the fastest rate of depression
Depression causes pain for both those enduring the disorder
and persons closest to the sufferer, and it often consumes both
the life of the victim and his/her family. Unfortunately, most
sufferers do not seek treatment or believe their depression to be
treatable. A recent survey at a church I attended indicated that
at least 15% of the congregation had been clinically diagnosed
Estimates are that 1 person out of 6 will experience some
type of debilitating anxiety, for example, panic attacks or
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. We are plagued with stress -
"hurried sickness" - a persistent belief that there's never
enough time. And this is a formula for brokenness, e.g., crowded
lives, fatigue, insensitivity, irritability, isolation, and
loneliness. Maladaptive anxiety has become a common plague that
affects approximately 19 million U.S. adults - or up to 25% of
the general population - and is distinct in that it progresses to
consume one with overwhelming irrational fear, panic and dread.
In many instances, symptoms are intense to the point that
they cripple one's personal relationships, career, and quality of
life. Even in its severity, anxiety can go misidentified by a
sufferer, becoming deeply routed in one's personality. For
example, currently 25% of persons who visit an emergency care
unit presenting chest pain are actually suffering from Panic
There is marital conflict that has affected virtually all of
us in some way. The average divorce rate is 35% (actually higher
than that in Christian circles) and 18% of those divorced are
divorced multiple times. Currently, for African Americans,
single-parent households outnumber married-couple families. In
addition, almost half (46%) of persons from the Baby Boomer
generation have undergone a marital split, and millions more are
expected to divorce in the next 10 years.
Many children continue to battle with resulting unhappiness,
years after the divorce of their parents. The younger generations
are likely to reach record heights of divorce, and, according to
Scott Stanley in personal communication with Dr.Tim Clinton, it
is estimated that as much as 50% of marriages that begin this
year will end in divorces Even in marriages that don't end in
divorce, there may be profound sorrow in many marriages. We have
many childhood struggles. We have produced a generation of lonely
"Latched Key Kids" children of "In-Between Parents," leading
to approximately 18,000,000 children today needing some form of
therapeutic intervention. Parents must remember that kids spell
love "T - I - M - E." There are many struggling adolescents who
are searching for their identity. Approximately 1,000,000 teenage
girls become pregnant each year and 50% of them have abortions.
Suicide is the #2 killer of our teenagers.
The deterioration of fatherhood in America - involving 72.2%
of the children within the U.S. population - is considered by
some, our most serious social ill. Encumbering the development of
youth, fatherlessness promotes mental disorders, crime, suicide,
poverty, teenaged pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, and
Youth from single-parent homes have more physical and mental
health problems than children living with married parents, and
another study confirms single-parent children are 2-3 times more
likely to develop emotional and behavioral problems. In addition,
almost 75% of children living in fatherless homes will live in
poverty and are 10 times more likely - compared to children
living with 2 parents - to experience extreme poverty.
A life ends by suicide approximately every 20 minutes in the
United States. For men, suicide is the eighth leading cause of
death. For women (as compared to men), suicide attempts are 3
times as common. Also, suicide is the third leading cause of
death for children 10-14 and adolescents 15-24. These high rates
of self-destruction are exacerbated by social isolation, being a
victim of child abuse, having feelings of hopelessness, or
sustained depression. Shawn Shea writes that suicide can be
considered as an only option for those feeling deeply alone or
The Catholic Church's sexual abuse crisis, of course,
immediately stands out for its seriousness and pervasiveness. Not
only are there thousands of suffering victims of hundreds of
serial sex-abusing priests, but the cover-up and shuffling of
these priests to new parishes to replay their crimes over and
over is a scandal that has implicated dozens of bishops and
archbishops, and two American cardinals!
The Protestant church has no reason to be proud of its own
status. Nearly 6,000 Southern Baptist pastors leave the ministry
prematurely every year. More than 200 pastors are fired every
month! A former SBC president asserted that a third of the SBC's
62,000 churches have staff suffering from significant stress or
Often congregations and ministers do not offer grace,
compassion, and restoration to their leaders. The mentally and
emotionally disabled are often too embarrassing and
unrepresentative of the bright and shiny Christians the church
wants to show off to the world. Stepping down to care for those
with ugly dispositions and repulsive traits is exactly opposite
to the step up we want to take.
Counselling others with the 'Word, spoken in love' requires
us to put our pride and ego aside.
Living in denial, today's powerful and pampered generations
have become "tranquilized by the trivial," though they find
neither solace nor healing - crying, "Peace! Peace!" but there is
no peace. People are hurting and searching frantically for hope
and new life.
We have looked at some of the problems. Unfortunately, we
have just scratched the surface, and it doesn't look very
For in much wisdom [is] much grief: and he that increaseth
knowledge increaseth sorrow. Ecclesiastes 1:18
SITUATION ANALYSIS IS NOT ENOUGH: ACTION IS REQUIRED
What can we do about all of this pain? The people of God
need to go way beyond surveys into the realm of revelation and
action. It begins with the acknowledgement that there is a God.
It continues with the relationship of God as our Father.
When we appreciate that there truly is a power higher than
ourselves and that He loves us, we are on the way to the
solution. We are called to minister to others and some of us are
called to do that through various forms of counselling.
We have many seekers who are searching for spiritual
fulfilment but feel emptiness (See Ecclesiastes 1:10-15). Many
have turned to a quick fix using drugs - prescribed or illegal -
and are medicating themselves because of a sense of emptiness and
unfulfillment. And, then, we also have "The Baby Boomer Blues"
because the generation that had it all and grew up with slogans
like "Go for the Gusto," "The Sky's the Limit," "Anything you
want you can get," "Go for it!" are finding those slogans to be
empty promises. Our expectations wither away because time reminds
us that we are not timeless. We are coming face to face with
mortality, aging, sacrificed relationships, and "downshifting."
"....So obviously the problem is spiritual and so must be the
cure." - Dallas Willard
As today's generation (more prosperous than those before
them) search for purpose, meaning and value, many are
experiencing a pervasive sense of emptiness and isolation. We
live in a world flooded with distress - father absence, abuse,
violence, marital discord, and emotional problems leading to an
epidemic of escapism through consumerism, drugs, alcohol, sex,
and suicide. Earnest Becker accents this thought concluding,
"Modern man is drinking or drugging himself to death ... or he is
shopping which is the same thing."
CHRISTIAN COUNSELLING - Key Concepts and Guiding Principles
Years ago I heard a preacher encourage his congregation that
the church is a hospital for sinners and not a rest home for
saints. The saying stuck with me ever since, and when I
repeatedly read prayer requests at a local church, I came to the
conclusion that the church is in radical need of counselling
services. However, these services must be based on the Word of
God and empowerment of the Holy Spirit and not merely the wisdom
of this world.
The more I became involved in Christian counselling it
became increasingly more apparent that there is a definite need
in the church. Statistics over the past few years have indicated
a high amount of depression and anxiety within the church. Marital
problems, in particular, are rampant within the church and
statistics over the past few years indicate that divorce rates
are now slightly higher within the church than those unchurched.
The good news is that over the past several decades, research
studies have repeatedly proven the effectiveness of counselling.
Religious and faith-based psychotherapy, in particular, have
skyrocketed, showing again and again the great value that ensues
when "faith meets counselling." It is unfortunate that we
continue to have a large gap between persons needing help and the
lack of trained individuals available to provide quality care.
For example, though there is a great client demand for
spiritual care, a troublesome incongruity exists between
Christian clients and mental health professionals. One survey
shows that while 72% of the American population asserts that
religious faith is among the most important factors in their
lives, only 33% of psychologists state the same. Also, a Gallup
poll suggests that above 60% of prospective clients prefer
counsellors with spiritual values, and 80% want their beliefs
brought into the counselling process. With a great many mental
health professionals deficient in an understanding of spiritual
importance, the notion of finding suitable Christian counsellors
for all clients seems problematic, if not frustrating to the
point that many people in need, simply give up. My own experience
in finding clinicians to refer persons in need of care indicates
that there are very few clinicians who also are strong
spiritually having Christian beliefs consistent with patient
The church from a counselling perspective (using a model
that I adopted from the AACC) is "a community of caring" that
prepares its members for works of service (Ephesians 4:12) to people
who are hurting. This process must be administered gently (Galatians
6:1-2), remembering that we have a Wonderful Counsellor (Isaiah
9:6) that heads the church and ministers to each person 24 hours
a day and seven days per week.
Christian counsellors are motivated by love to minister hope
and provide direction and purpose. They restore meaning, value,
and significance to those who have lost these vital elements in
their life. Christian counsellors understand that the Holy Spirit
is critical, the Bible is the basic guide, and prayer is an
integral part of biblical helping. They know that their ultimate
goal is to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) and that healing is
a part of this process.
Not all counsellors are professionals. In fact, much of the
counselling that occurs in churches is done by peer counsellors
or lay counsellors that are not professional counsellors or pastors
NEED FOR Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge
Counselling is a topic that arouses varied opinions among
Christians. This is especially true when clinical intervention,
medication, and other therapies are utilized. It requires wisdom
to integrate counselling concepts that are both effective and
consistent with Christian values and principles. Anyone involved
in Christian counselling must have understanding of what is
involved in the process and knowledge of specific approaches that
get to the root issues that lead to healing.
PERSONAL QUALITIES of the Biblical Counsellor
The personal qualities needed for a counsellor include the
Fruit of the Spirit, knowledge of God's Word, and wisdom in
applying it effectively in a counselling situation.
The counselee's attitudes, motivations, and desire for help
are crucial factors for success. The relationship between
counsellor and the counselee is also a major factor. The
relationship must be based on trust, compassion, and respect.
Effective counselling is a process that unfolds cyclically,
from exploration to understanding, to action phases. It must
never be rushed. Listening initially is more important than
giving advice. Directive counselling is an important part of the
counselling process, but it must be deferred until issues and
root causes have been identified.
The style and approach of effective counselling models
remain flexible in the techniques and methods used at various
stages or phases. The counsellor must be aware of personal
limitations and be aware of when he/she must refer the counselee
to another counsellor or professional.
SOME BASIC GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR LAY COUNSELLORS
Christian counsellors must be available (often on short
notice for crisis counsellors). They must have demonstrated
ability to manage self. They must be stable and active in church
involvement. It is imperative that they have the ability to
maintain confidentiality. Counsellors are much more effective in
ministry when they rely on the Holy Spirit for divine wisdom,
power, and love in the counselling process. Active listening
skills enable counsellors to encourage counselees to express
their feelings and explore appropriate and available solutions.
Some of the wrong motives for getting involved in
counselling include curiosity,'. need for relationship, need for
power and control, or the need to rescue others.
The following are basic guidelines for Christian lay counsellors:
don't just VISIT
not EMOTIONALLY INVOLVED
Christians who aspire to counselling others must commit to
developing competency. This means always keep learning and
avoiding to attempting to counsel someone in areas in which one
has little or no knowledge. Lay counsellors must not represent
themselves in any way that enters into the domain of professional
clinical practice or represent themselves as licensed or degreed
beyond what they actually are.
NEED FOR TRAINING
Counselling involves tremendous responsibility and no one
should attempt to get involved in counselling others without
basic training. For Christian counselling to be effective, it must
be based on helping others out of compassion, under the direction
of the Holy Spirit, with principles based on Holy Scripture, with
the ultimate goals of relieving pain, encouraging repentance and
forgiveness, and ultimately making more complete disciples.
Maranatha College has a 3 hour undergraduate course that
serves as an overview and introduction to Biblical Counselling.
It is a required course for completion of the Certificate of
Ministry program and can be taken by anyone who desires to help
others. It would be especially helpful for lay counsellors as
well as pastoral ministers to take this training.
Jim DeFrancisco serves as President of Miltha Ministries and
Institute of Christian Principles.
The above article was taken from the September 2007 "ACTS"
magazine, a publication of the General Churches of God, Seventh
Day, Meridian, ID, USA