The topic of mental health and faith-based therapy is finally being discussed openly in the Church after years of silence on this issue.
People are recognizing and discussing the benefits of therapy, and the social stigma surrounding it is fading.
Can I please get an Amen?
Several members of our church’s leadership, including the pastor, have been open about their experiences with mental illness and the care they received.
They’ve encouraged many of us to consider seeking additional care for some significant issues.
I followed their advice, and I am glad that I did.
However, when I started looking for a faith-based therapist, I had no idea where to start.
Even though more people were talking about it, few were willing to share specifics about their individual experiences.
Searching for a faith-based counselor was frustrating. It didn’t help that most therapists who offered their services did not define the term similarly.
There appeared to be as many definitions of faith-based counseling as there were denominations of the Christian faith.
When I asked my friends, there was no consensus on the meaning of faith-based therapy either.
Fortunately, I had a friend who was a faith-based therapist.
But not everyone has access to that kind of resource. And even my therapist friend did not specify the difference or how I would have located one independently.
So, where would I recommend you start your journey in finding a faith-based therapist?
I would start by answering the following seven questions. .
1 What exactly is faith-based therapy?
As previously stated, it is difficult to articulate a definition of faith-based therapy on which everyone can agree.
Here are three possible descriptions to consider.
A counseling session with a faith leader, for example, whose primary authority is their faith. This person may or may not have received any psychological training.
Or a counseling session with someone whose primary authority is psychology or behavioral science but who is also a believer. Although this person’s beliefs may influence their actions, they may lack theological training.
Or an appointment with a counselor who integrates both disciplines into their practice. They could have formal training in one or both of these fields.
Any of these responses could accurately describe a faith-based counselor, and any of them could assist you.
Is there one description that you find more appealing? If so, I recommend you seek that style and approach to achieve the best results.
Faith-based therapy respects and acknowledges a person’s religious worldview.
So you are about to call a prospective counselor; what is your next step?
2 How does the prospective therapist explain faith-based therapy?
They should explain the similarities and differences between traditional and faith-based therapies.
Don’t let them avoid answering this question.
Make sure you understand their response and are comfortable with it.
Don’t be afraid to inquire about how their faith affects their operations.
What distinguishes them from a non-faith-based counselor?
Their response will most likely help you determine whether you have enough common ground to move forward.
3 Is the counselor’s perspective consistent with your faith-based worldview?
One of the simplest ways to determine your potential therapist’s beliefs is to read the about section of their website.
At the very least, they should have a page or FAQ explaining what to expect from the faith-based therapy they offer.
You and your therapist don’t have to agree on every theological point to heal.
However, you and your therapist must agree on who God is, who you are (sinner, sufferer, or saint), and what role the therapist will play in the healing process.
My wife and I disagree on a few minor religious issues. At my church, I occasionally hear something in a message or sermon with which I disagree. However, these minor issues will not cause me to abandon a friendship or partnership.
Faith-based therapy may benefit you if faith guides how you deal with pain, make decisions, and interpret the world.
I, like you, sometimes benefit from a different perspective that challenges my assumptions. However, if your worldview and that of your counselors are diametrically opposed, you are unlikely to achieve your objectives.
4 What is the counselor’s educational background and real-world experience working with people of faith?
It is best not to choose a therapist solely based on religious beliefs. Instead, you should be confident that they have the right tools, skills, and temperament to help you heal.
Inquire about their education and experience. What effect will it have on the services they will provide for you?
Inquire if they have any other faith-based therapy clients and if they have met their objectives.
After explaining your problem, request a general timeline for treatment.
Remember that your problem’s complexity should dictate your treatment’s complexity. So, for example, you wouldn’t use bug spray on an apex predator or a shotgun on a spider. And you may not need a long course of treatment.
Some problems can be resolved in just a few visits. However, others may require individual professional care due to the issue’s complexities.
Life-long addictions, issues with one’s family of origin, abuse, or a child’s sudden and senseless death are unlikely to be resolved in a single session.
5 Are they willing and equipped to discuss the conflict between your beliefs and your lived experience?
A skilled faith-based therapist will create a safe space for you to ask open and honest questions about God without fear of judgment.
The faith-based counselor can challenge your assumptions and encourage you to think about life and faith in new and more profound ways.
They can address the source of inner conflict, the dissonance between what you believe and what you experience.
They will probably utilize the Psalms of Lament, where the authors directly address their pain, complaints, and challenging questions to God.
Having permission to voice and address these concerns is powerful.
6. Do they believe faith and medical science can work together to help you heal?
Faith-based therapy recognizes the complementary roles that religion and medical science play.
Does your perspective counselor recognize the value in both?
For example, God can work through medication, cognitive-based treatments, personal and intercessory prayer, and the Bible.
When I experienced all four of these a few years ago, it was a powerful reminder of this truth.
A doctor prescribed medication to help me sleep without nightmares as I dealt with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
My therapist employed cognitive-based therapy to address the events that led to my PTSD.
She encouraged journaling and praying as an avenue for healing.
I shared my concerns with my small group, and they prayed for me.
I spent time reading the Psalms of Lament. I found comfort in all of these.
One day, in the middle of the therapy session, I felt the overwhelming presence of God as he began to bring healing.
I am grateful that my therapist recognized what was happening and observed a sacred silence at that moment.
I do recognize that without medication and the counseling offered, I would not have been able to have that sacred moment.
Nor would healing have occurred without prayer and the power of God’s Word.
If they say yes, ask them what that would look like for you.
7 Are they willing to collaborate with the religious and medical communities?
Do they keep in touch with a religious community? Again, you don’t need specifics, but you want to ensure they value their faith and yours enough to act on it.
There are two similar temptations here.
The first step is to seek therapy and discontinue attending church.
The second option is to refuse any help that does not come from the Church.
Both positions are unwise.
You’ll need all the help you can get in these trying times. Reach out for help. If your church cannot provide it, look for one that can.
God can heal you through a variety of means. Would you argue against what God has graciously provided?
The combination of both disciplines may produce results that neither method could provide on its own.
What should you look for in a faith-based therapist?
I believe the seven questions we listed can help you on that journey.
Thank you for reading!
Please check out this article on Mental Illness and Faith for additional helpful information.
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My mission is to help individuals and churches become safe havens for the broken.
*This is an updated article originally published in October 2021.