Just being "Christian" isn't good enough

Last month I spoke on a panel of psychotherapists at a workshop about mental health, hosted by one of the nearby Adventist churches. It was a worthy topic that was perfect for Mental Health Awareness Month. As the program drew near the close, someone asked "how do you find a good psychotherapist?" The psychiatrist, the clinical counselor, and I, all offered suggestions. Then a sister from the audience came to the microphone. But before she asked her question, she offered a comment that, in addition to the suggestions offered by the professionals on the panel, one could look up sites that list Christian counselors. And she proceeded to offer the web address of one she knew about. I cringed. In the interest of time the panel answered the next question, but I regret not having taken the time to point out reasons why her well-intentioned suggestion was probably not the way to go.

First, I fully acknowledge the discomfort some Christians feel about seeking therapy at all. Some feel guilty about looking for mental health help because they feel its displaying doubt about God's healing power. Although we never take that stance when seeking cardiac or gynecology help, even though there are a lot more Biblical instances of miraculous pregnancies than mental health miracles, and even if you believe demonic possession = mental illness and count those miracles as demonic. But that's another article…

The other equally pervasive barrier to Christians taking advantage of mental health resources is a fundamental misunderstanding of what happens in therapy. Some Adventists point to Ellen White's warnings found in Ministry of Healing (and reprinted in numerous compilations) cautioning against yielding one's will to another and engaging in mesmerism (hypnotism) and psychology. Some also fear psychotherapists will try to impose their will and ungodly morals onto their patients.

These fears actually have some legitimate origins. In the 1800's mesmerism was a very popular component of psychological work. Hypnotism was practiced well into the 20th century. At the same time, Freud, Skinner, and others wanted to establish psychology as a "hard science" and eschewed any associations with spiritualism and pathologized religion. Furthermore, it was commonly taught that psychologists were akin to "secular priests" who had the obligation to impose their perspectives onto clients. But a lot has changed since then.

Today, your psychologist won't dangle a swinging pocket watch in front of you declaring that "you are getting sleepy". Long gone are the days when therapy clients reclined on a chaise rambling to a tight lipped cardigan-clad therapist scribbling on a legal pad. Therapy is more interactive. We don't use hypnosis anymore. And respecting the cultural and religious beliefs of clients isn't just taught in training, but is also built into the professional ethics codes of all psychotherapy fields. Not only is religion not pathologized, it is encouraged that therapists help clients use (the client's) religious coping as an appropriate part of the therapy process. Empirical research has repeatedly shown that religious people actually demonstrate better life quality – both physically and psychologically. Consequently faith has become an ally, not an enemy, of mental health.

In 1977, the Adventist church convened a study committee (oh, how we love those!) that reported on the changing nature of psychology. The committee acknowledged the accuracy of Ellen White's statement in her era, but recognized that psychology was far different 100 years later.

Despite this, people still have lingering doubts about going to psychologists. So if/when they bring themselves to concede the need for a mental health professional, they try to assuage their hesitancies by seeking a "Christian counselor". This is something seen within a variety of faith communities –not just Adventism. Numerous "societies" and "associations" of Christian counselors try to capitalize on these fears by advertising themselves as safe places for believers to find a therapist. But these lists aren't always properly vetted. Just like the term "personal trainer" or "life coach", there's no training or licensing necessary to appoint oneself a "counselor" or "therapist". So these sites often list individuals who have no qualifications besides paying the association fees to be listed. Someone needing help who enlists the services of these counselors might just luck out. But more often they aren't helped and are even harmed by people with no training and weird ideas. People in need have been subjected to destructive techniques that leave them emotionally and psychologically worse off. This doesn't mean every Christian counselor is bad, it just means that faith shouldn't be the sole criterion for choosing them.

It's important that any psychotherapist be an actual licensed professional (or a clinician in training working under the supervision and license of a professional). This means a licensed professional counselor (LPC or LCPC or LMHC), licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), clinical psychologist, or psychiatrist. Does this mean that all licensed professionals are good? No. But at least they work by a code of ethics, use empirically based practices, and can be reported to their professional board in the case of malfeasance.

That doesn't mean that there's no place for life coaches etc. I actually know some really good life coaches. However, interestingly enough, they are also trained psychotherapists who got into coaching to focus on the scope of that field –which is not to provide psychotherapy. Life coaching is more directive. Life coaches are focused on goal achievement and helping people accomplish certain objectives. Sometimes these are professional goals, sometimes personal ones. This is different from therapy dealing with etiologies of emotional states, exploring healing from trauma, assessing pathology, or addressing mental health issues.

As you look for a professional it's important to know these differences. The same techniques used to find your physician can be used to find a psychotherapist: referrals from another health care provider, lists provided by insurance websites, word of mouth, and trial and error. And, just like with your physician, you may have to go to many people before you find someone you're comfortable with. Not finding a fit the first or second time doesn't mean you should give up! Your mental health is too important to not follow through. And it's also too important to entrust to just anyone – even if they are listed on a "Christian" website.

Pastor Courtney Ray finally gets to sleep again after successfully defending her dissertation for her PhD in Clinical Psychology.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7485

Thanks Courtney, for also pointing out that just being licensed also isn’t good enough. And just having a doctoral degree isn’t good enough. There are physicians who give substandard care for several year before eventually, if ever, being reported and the same goes for mental health professionals. Caveat emptor!


THANK YOU!!! There are some many misconceptions about therapy in general and among Christians in particular. It’s just not Adventists. I had a potential client call wanting to know not if I was a Christian, but he/she wanted a “Spirt-filled Christian.” I assume he/she meant a Pentecostal of some flavor. It was a deal breaker for him/her.

I do take issue with you statement that hypnosis is not practiced anymore. Some, but certainly not many, clinicians still use hypnosis for a variety of presenting complaints. Obviously, the modality is used under very controlled circumstances and bears no resemblance to a Vegas sideshow where the people on stage cluck like a chicken or bark like a dog. That’s assuming those people are even real audience members and not plants. Interestingly, some research has demonstrated that people under hypnosis actually have elevated activity in the frontal areas of the brain associated with reason and decision making. That’s hardly giving one’s self control.


Where psychologists have been successful in getting rid of the “swinging pocket watch,” our GC leaders are just discovering the benefits of putting their constituents to sleep by using different “swinging pocket” watches especially when dealing with hot topics pertaining to the corporate church. For instance, asking a certain chairman to rescind a committee’s actions, asking legal counsel to threaten constituents for emailing our leaders, reassignment of a division president to a local church as a pastor, sending students for further education ala “Bernie Sanders free tuition,” etc., etc.,

Congratulations on successfully passing your PhD in Clinical Psychology.


Congratulations on your successful completion of the doctorate, Courtney!

What a dangerous pastor you must be by now. :innocent:

My surprise with your explanations is about Christian associations offering services of Christian therapists or counselors, who are not licensed or certified. From my understanding of long ago (25 years ago) most States have licensing or certification laws. How can a therapist or counselor practice in such States, if they are not licensed or certified (the British meaning of the term certified is quite different, incidentally :wink:) ? And how can an organisation survive any law suit?

But yes, indeed, “Christian” is not a designation of quality (nor of a lack thereof !), but a designation of a certain world view and probably motivation. It may also indicate a certain anthropology (not necessarily an Adventist one, mind you)… As to hypnosis … still used by quite a good number of therapists - at least in Germany. But maybe good old Milto Erickson has more disciples in Germany than in the US…


In my experience one the most important distinguishing factor that separates good psychotherapist from ineffective or even bad is whether their practice is evidence based. There are a myriad of kookie therapeutic modalities practiced even among licensed therapists.

A therapist with strong notions of certain beliefs can be especially ineffective if the client does not share those beliefs. The therapist’s job is not to bring their own beliefs into the therapeutic environment but to work with the client in the context of the client’s cultural background, beliefs and life experience.


At a seminar on homosexuality sponsored by an SDA conference, a “Christian” psychologist was featured.

Her remarks were so BIZARRE and unscientific that an attendee legitimately asked why neither the American Psychiatric Association nor the American Psychological Association endorsed her views.

Her reply: “well I would rather accept the Bible view”!

Trouble is, nowhere in the Bible does it say that same sex sexual orientation is caused by childhood parental sexual abuse!

What an insulting indictment of parents of gay/lesbian children! As if they do not suffer enough, questioning what role if any they played.

I had several Ph D psychologist friends review the recording of this “Christian” psychologist’s remarks and all stated that she should have her state license to practice rescinded.

Church leaders are so committed to condemning our LGBT offspring, it appears they will employ even the most blatantly bizarre forums to further their position.

But then again, they have yet to apologize or admit error for the fiasco in Reading Pennsylvania forty years ago, where huge sums of tithe payer money was wasted on “Change therapy”. Many Adventist young boys were sexually molested by the church appointed administrator of this failed enterprise.
We will never learn how much further tithe money went to settle the subsequent lawsuits!


My granddaughter received her Phd in psychology 10 years ago. She is a Christian psychologist (which describes her, not her practice) and works with children and families of a large school district, always with many problems.

Why isn’t it a requirement that pastors pursue studies in marriage and family counseling rather than the ubiquitous Hebrew and Greek? The former is far more useful in future work than knowing the correct meaning of a Bible word.

A few large churches do have such a pastor on staff or listing of therapists they could recommend. Many individuals can tell horror stories of the “counseling advice” given them by pastors who are ignorant on good family therapy practices.


The illustration at the star of this article is very inappropiate.

No man should be going to a female for counselling or treatment The Bible is very clear in that matter.

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“No man should be going to a female for counselling or treatment The Bible is very clear in that matter.”

I have yet to see anywhere in the Bible that this is stated. It would be helpful if you would identify your sources.


You forgot to add the 3 GUYS and the 2 SISTERS that the GC gives free trips around the world spew out a lot of guilt and shame and make it difficult to impossible for Queers [this takes in all the alphabet] to even think God loves them, that it is possible to have a relationship with God and another person. For parents to want to understand WHAT did THEY do Wrong to have this kind of child, that God is punishing them?
Open Queers are NOT accepted by the Local SDA Congregation to participate in all activities as one of them. So they feel they have no place with their Family, no place with their Church that they grew up in, no place in God’s Universe. The only place they find is the “World”, and they find the love and acceptance and healing in the “World”. Or, as SDAs say, in a Babylonian Sunday Church where they find a loving God, and accepting God, an accepting surrogate family, a place where they can participate in all 7 of the Christian Sacraments.
Why is it that the God of Seventh day Adventists is not a loving and accepting God for all persons, and the God [Trinity] of the Babylonians, Sunday Keepers, embraces every one, and invites every one to The Table? To FULL participation? And both Seventh day Adventists and the Babylonians use the same Bible, the Same Scriptures?
I can bring any of my Babylonian Queer friends to potlucks on Sabbath, invite to Nursing Home singing with my SDA friends, invite to special events at church. But I cannot invite them to become my SDA brother or sister. So SAD! So SAD!
About 10 years ago, when I was doing HIV+ ministry with an Episcopalian church group, I met this unchurched person. We hit it off and became good friends. I would bring him to SDA church activities. We went on 2-3 trips a year to weekend SDA group activities in NC, Delaware, Vermont. I took him to GC in Atlanta one year. He became interested in the Episcopal group so I took him to church on Sundays, took him to confirmation classes, we joined the choir. After about 2 years, I became his Sponsor at his Baptism in the Episcopal Church. It has always saddened me that I will never be able to be his Sponsor at his Baptism in the SDA church pool.

Yes! Kim. I would like to know also. My daughter has been an MSW for a number of years. And counsels both MEN and woman. And she is very good at it.

Elaine – bring a woman friend along. LOL!


So it’s safe for women to go to a male counselor?


I agree with the content and the title of this informative article. We do need to remember that in crisis inbtervention and resolution words and definitions matter a great deal.

The word “counseling” can have multiple meanings, including offering advice and encouragement, sharing wisdom and skills, setting goals, resolving conflict, etc. Counselors usually probe the past (whether the problem happened a week ago or during childhood) in an attempt to repair the present. Sometimes they explore possible affects of physical and chemical imbalances that can cause physiological problems. A major part of counseling is resolving and restoring conflicts between people.
Christian counselors understand that the Bible has a lot of practical wisdom about human nature, marriage and family, human suffering, and so much more. By using biblical concepts in counseling, they can instruct people in the way they should go and also hold them accountable. Psalm 119:24 says, “Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.”

A Christian counselor’s major strategy is to help their clients substitute biblical truth for error as they go about their day-to-day lives. They know that the truth, when known, believed, and obeyed, sets people free. When people are set free, they are fulfilling their true calling. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). As a general rule, both Christian counseling and secular counseling share the same desire to help people overcome their problems, find meaning and joy in life, and become healthy and well-adjusted individuals, both mentally and emotionally.

Counselors come from different backgrounds, education, and life experiences. Some have graduate degrees and have spent years learning their craft, others are persons who excel at listening and having empathy, some are more accessible and approachable than others. It is good to remember that when Jesus was in crisis and needed help, his disciples fell asleep and some even ran away. t is at such times that the title of this article **“Just being “Christian” isn’t good enough”_** is worth remembering!

Although Christian counselors often use skills from the field of secular psychology and counseling, they recognize that the Bible, not psychology, is the final authority. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).

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I respect all therapists (secular, Christian, and those of other faiths) because they have committed to a profession that demands much of them on a personal and professional level. I would be happy to see any therapist who was qualified in the field I needed help in.
However, some issues that clients experience have arisen in a particular context and need to be treated in that context. For example, if an Adventist Christian suffered from mental health issues as a result of a warped understanding of Adventist beliefs, then they would probably relate well to an Adventist therapist (of sound mind and judgment!). Rene G.


With so many denominations and persuasions, the definition & concept of “Christian” is very broad. Same goes for the tag, “Adventist”.
In these times of cynicism; competency and credibility are relevant & significant concerns. In recent years , more surveys are being conducted worldwide about mood disorders. Four, not too distant family members, of mine, are in the behavioral science profession. Three of the larger family group had treatment for psychological disorders. There is a combination of counseling and/or medication treatment, with the later being a somewhat educated guessing game on which medication and how much. I, like others who are way past our adolescent years, have experiences with doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, dentists, ministers, attorneys, school teachers and law enforcement officials that are all over the map.

This behavioral science area is one where it helps to do more than superficial investigation.

One item I wonder about is what percentage of psychiatrists even have their patients have blood tests for hormones levels, vitamins and minerals before they start them on a medication.

Abe is simply carrying the logic of the opposition to womens ordination to its logical conclusion. If one wants to interpret the texts about women not having authority over men as both literal, general and applicable to today, this is where it leads.


Your bias overwhelms any biblical evidence. The very thing of which you constantly accuse others.



Dear Courtney Ray,

thank you very much for direct yor spotlight in this very imprtant direktion. I have my Dr.med. from Vienna University, my training as a neurologist / psychiatrist in local hospitals, thanks to God those who taught me beside were also of top quality - and character. Then the Chambers certificates on Psychotherapy, Psychosomatics and Psychosocial medicine. And I am in the official list of pychotherapists.

As an old man I just look back and like to name some other fears : The SDA patient / client fears to reveal church inside secrets in therapy, also the RCC patient (I also was on the local archidiocese list of reliable therapists"!).

And I have seen desasterous outgoings in “new” therapies : Just recognize your desires and fulfill them !" (Two wrecked lives !) And even there are strong restrictions to get into one of the acknowledged societies, nevetheless the candidates repeatedly were not checked about their possibiities to manage transference - countertransference_. And it is an abuse to enforce the patien / client to fulfill the therapists own unfulfilled desires, to gude his phantasies in a direction where the therapist simply is the voyeur !. Believie it or not : quite some are unhappily (as they see it) married and cannot afford divorce. The results of their therapies :“Just dare to quit the relationship and then get happy !”

My wife, primarily a studied social worker, also has the training and study of psychotherapy. Like me once she woks with “Guided Affective Imagery”, a method you guide the patinet in low hypnosis hrough his daydreams (You GUIDE !! - the patient is acting !) And we have one newly baptized young woman in our church, also a psyhchotherapist. - It is refreshing to exoperience just her method of guiding a discussion on the Sabbat School issue !

Allow me some additions : Everybody in any minstry should study Anna Freud : The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense. - – Denial and disavowal are nó steps to holiness ! Scratching a little on the surface the dark clouds of the unconsious appear !

And we should discuss *Freuds principle of “abstinence” - Do not ask your client for easily buying used cars, for fair real estate prices - or let him know you would like his baptism ! - - A critical theme for those taught to be “missioary volonteers” in every situation !

( I richly konw of problems when one therapist used his position für getting new mebers into church - and now we have the problems with them believing and listening and doing - what their “guru” says, it is an addiction ! a dependancy ! )

More therapist please ! Best trained therapists !


One must be every careful in selecting any professional gender aside. the biographical history of a recently deceased. Psychologist.

  1. disk Jocky
  2. PH.D. Psychology
  3. orthodox Priest, married
  4. faculty Medical School
  5. accepted into the Roman Church as Priest though married
  6. Head Priest at Catholic Hospital
  7. Unusual attraction to young student nurses
  8. lectures laced with sexual overtones.
  9. strong Gnostic influence
  10. he would set on the corner of his desk in such a way while lecturing to young female nursing students as to shove his genitals forward in a gross manner .
  11. He would focus his eyes and attention on the youngest most innocent student. It became painful to watch. Tom Z

Which society has accepted this chaotic man as a psychotherapist ?

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