1. Church-box: for spiritual issues and small to medium-sized relational problems.
2. Expert-box: for mental health struggles and big-sized relational problems.
The former can be dealt with in-house: with prayer and fellowship, friendship and gospel. The latter needs Professionals.
And in between we ask: ‘have you thought about counselling?’
But it’s not quite that simple.
Counsellors, especially Christian ones can be hard to find. It’s not an easy case of just posting people off. Some years ago, Glen and I searched high and low for a Christian who could speak into our marriage and my anorexia. After months of searching, we were finally referred to a Christian with 30 years of counselling experience. After talking through our issues, he said this: “I’m sorry – but your problems are just too big for me to deal with”. At this stage, we needed prayerful support as well as professional help. But even though we tried really hard to find it, it just wasn’t there.
Even if you find a ‘Christian’ counsellor, they might not be on the same page as you. We discovered this when we went to a Christian lady who said that, even at our request, she would not pray with or talk to us about God stuff. Spirituality, yes. God, no.
And even in the secular world, there can be a lot of pitfalls.
Writing in the Guardian, Max Pemberton, a psychiatrist, says this:
“I would never see a ‘counsellor’ if I was having mental health problems. Absolutely anyone can claim to be a counsellor – it’s an entirely unregulated area. As a result there’s a horrifying variation in the quality, and I have seen too many patients who have been further psychologically damaged by seeing poorly or under-qualified counsellors.
If I were depressed, I’d be very careful to ensure that the therapist I saw had the correct qualifications and was accredited by an organisation like BABCP (British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies).
If I were paying privately, I’d only ever see a therapist who also works in the NHS or has done in the past, preferably as a chartered psychologist, because this means they have trained to a very high standard”.
At its most basic, the term “therapist” can describe any mental health professional that spends their time speaking to patients, regardless of their official title and qualifications. But sometimes you need expert help, (for example with psychosis and issues of medications). You wouldn’t just go to a well-meaning friend with these issues, (even if they’re Christian). Or rather, you would but it would be for prayer and support rather than medical advice.
There can be people in our congregations with a wealth of wisdom and experience; which is great if you can get it. However, (alongside expert treatment) we were helped most by a godly Christian couple who had no idea what they were doing, but prayed with us and gave us hope.
Often it’s not a question of ‘professional’ or church. It’s both.