Finding a competent Christian counselor can be quite a challenge. Indeed, not all counselors are created equal (i.e., a counselor may not have any specific training in your particular area of need, like stepfamily dynamics or an eating disorder).
Before discussing a few ways to find a counselor, keep in mind that finding a local church ministry can also be helpful. A small-group study, support group, or Bible class that offers support, guidance, and fellowship is an important addition to counseling. It won’t replace the individual attention counseling provides, but it can complement what you are receiving there.
To find a Christian counselor in your area, you can search a number of websites:
- American Association of Christian Counselors (or call 1-800-526-8673).
- Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselor Network.
- Smart Stepfamilies list Recognized Smart Stepfamily Therapy Providers.
Marriage therapy intensives are also available to couples who are able to travel to a given location. Intensives offer a choice of individual couple or group couple therapy and usually last three to five days. Think of it this way, in five days an intensive offers the same amount of therapy it would take nine months to accumulate in an outpatient setting. Though it can be cost prohibitive, I have found intensives to be a good option for couples, especially those who have already tried outpatient therapy and are still struggling.
Intensive programs are becoming more common, but here are three trusted options:
If you’re having problems finding someone in your area, ask your physician or minister, “To what counselor would you send a friend to see?” Even then, however, the person they suggest might work well with a number of presenting problems but not with your particular needs.
This isn’t meant to be a slam against counselors; I happen to be one of them. It’s just a reminder that all counselors have a scope of competency. You need to find one whose scope includes the issues you are facing. And most importantly, you also want to find someone who shares your Christian worldview.
Questions to ask a Christian counselor
A good way to find a counselor is to call and talk with them; interview them, if you will, by asking a few questions. This often gives you enough information to decide whether to see them. But even then, you may have to go to a session to increase your confidence.
I often tell people that who they see depends on a lot of considerations. Subjective ones include whether they want to see a woman or man, young or old, etc. Objective ones include schedules, location, fees, insurance, etc., etc. It never hurts to call and speak to a counselor just to “get a feel for them,” but at the end of the day, you might have to go for one session then decide if you want to go back. If there’s not a good fit, you should try someone else. Trust is paramount.
Use the questions below as a guideline for checking out a potential Christian counselor. A short summary of the kind of answer you want to hear follows each question. Begin the phone call by saying, “Hello. My name is ____, and I’m considering making an appointment. I was wondering if I could ask a few questions about your clinical practice.”
With their permission, proceed by asking:
1. “Are you a Christian?” If yes, “How does your faith make a difference in how you conduct therapy?”
Obviously, you want a counselor who shares your Christian value system. But it is my experience that many “Christian counselors” operate from a humanistic worldview and conduct therapy no differently than would a secular therapist. If they are not able to articulate their faith and how it is integrated into therapy, thank them for their time and move on.
2. “What kind of therapy training did you receive in graduate school?”
There are many different schools of therapy. Counseling and clinical psychology, community counseling, rehabilitation counseling, clinical social worker, and marriage and family therapy are just a few. Other counselors call themselves biblical counselors and primarily use the Bible in their work with people. In addition, many pastors received basic training in helping relationships, but their scope is limited. You don’t have to evaluate their training, but you do want to hear a coherent methodology for their practice. If they stumble through their response, they might not be equipped to help you.
3. “What specific training have you had in [my particular issue]?”
The counselor may respond by saying, “I attended a two-hour workshop last year on this issue but believe I could serve your needs well.”
Attending a continuing education workshop is better than nothing, but you are hoping to hear them say something like, “I had a required course in my graduate training on therapy for [your issue] and have had a great deal of experience in working with patients with this concern throughout my practice” or “I studied this issue in a post-graduate course.” Bottom line: You want someone experienced with your concern.
4. “What books on this topic would you recommend?”
This will let you know how much they have read on the subject and whether they have a standard book or two they recommend. A good counselor with experience can likely recommend a few books off the top of their head.
5. If applicable, “Will you see our children as well?”
Because affected children and teens have their own individual issues to work through, finding a Christian counselor who will see children and teens (or at least knows how to incorporate their concerns into family sessions) is important.
When you find someone you feel comfortable with on the phone, attend the first session and then decide if they can help you long term. Above all, bathe this decision in prayer as you seek someone who can provide wise counsel.
This article originally appeared as “How To Find a Competent Christian Stepfamily Therapist” on SmartStepfamilies.com, and is adapted with permission.
Copyright ©2023 by Ron Deal. All rights reserved.
Ron L. Deal, LMFT, LPC is President of Smart Stepfamilies™ and Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®. He is a bestselling author, highly sought-after speaker, and therapist specializing in marriage enrichment and blended family education. He conducts stepfamily therapy training for licensed professionals. Learn more here.