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Abstract

Counseling has grown to become one of the most important services to humankind. It is through these services that most people have become aware of their strengths and become masters of their destiny. Counseling is a professional service that involves two or more people whereby one is the service provider or counselor, and the other is the client or the counselee. The client may be one individual or a group of individuals. Counseling has been used in almost all aspects of life including schools, military training, organizations, jobs and churches. Counseling can be instructive, preventive and remedial. Counseling is applicable to almost all areas of life. In most cases, counseling is applied in relationship, vocational, grief management, marriage among other areas. Counseling is a profession which involves helping others to realize and solve their own problems, as well as to improve oneself from the current situation. It is guided by ethics and legal issues that are put in place by professional bodies such as American Counselors Association. This paper aims at discussing the aspects of Christian or church counseling. It explores the qualities of Christian counseling, ethical and legal issues in church counseling, and qualities of a good counselor among others.

Introduction

Counseling as a profession has been growing widely in the last few decades. People have embraced professional counseling as a means of coping up with their problems and getting help on how they can cope with them. According to Florida’s School Counseling and Guidance Framework, counseling is a professional service that involves two or more people whereby one is the service provider or counselor and the other party is the client or the counselee. The client may be one individual or a group of individuals. Counseling has been used in almost all aspects of life including schools, military training, organizations, jobs and churches. Counseling in the church may also be known as pastoral counseling. It involves giving advice by a Christian or church member (Richard, 2006). According to Irene (n.d), Sunday (n.d), church counseling involves applying Christian teachings in the counseling profession not only to help clients in making their own decisions, but also to master their own destiny.

According to Ed (2013), counseling in the church may be carried out by church leaders, trained counselors employed to offer counseling services, or Christians giving professional advice to his/her fellow Christians. In the church setting, counseling mostly takes shape in most aspects that affect Christian teachings in day to day living. This may involve issues that affect adolescents. This issue revolves around sexuality, relationship, grief and family planning. It may also involve people who are married but are going through hard times.

Counseling in the church not only instills strength to the client, but also offers spiritual awakening. It presents biblical teachings, which relate to the situation of the client. All of this is aimed at giving people strength and courage to face their problems and be masters of their destiny. Christian counseling has a lot in common with professional counseling, though they differ in the following ways. First, they are based on the declared truth of scripture and the demonstrated technique of Christian ministry. Christian counseling bases its teachings and guidelines on biblical teaching. The relevance is from the Bible with all decisions based on the teachings according to the Holy book.

Secondly, they know that many people get into problems when attempting to meet their needs through the ways that are not Godly. Although some of the problems that are faced by many people can be explained from different points of view, Christian counseling tend to take one perspective. They believe that human suffering occur due to humankind actions that go against God’s will. Their advice revolves going back, trusting in God, and basing lives on God’s teaching and will. Christian counselors, besides instilling individual and personal belief, tend to inform their clients that without going back to the will of God, human suffering will never end.

Thirdly, they believe that a person who is born again and loves God can provide Christian counseling. In Christian counseling, it is only people who follow Christian values are of high faith, and only those who deeply believe in Christ can offer counseling. There is a belief that one can offer counseling to others only when he or she is guided by the will of God, believes in the teaching of Christianity, and acts according to the Bible teaching.

Fourthly, counselors carefully observe the human condition to see how the Scriptures can be applied most profoundly. In Christian teachings, a counselor applies scripture teaching and Christian faith in almost all aspects of human life. They base their guidance on prayers and biblical teachings. They believe that it is only with the help of the belief in God that one will be free from earthly suffering.

Importance of Christian Counseling

Counseling can be termed as a relationship between two people where one is the client while the other is the counselor. Counseling can be instructive, preventive and remedial. Counseling is applicable to almost all areas of life. In most cases, counseling is applied in relationship, vocational, grief management, marriage among other areas (Jennifer, 2007). According to her, counseling is a profession which involves helping others to realize and solve their own problems, and to improve from their current situation. Christian counseling, on the other hand, is giving advice to Christians by Christians, or giving a Christian advice. Counseling can be done almost everywhere, but, in most cases, there are some guidelines which dictate how counseling is done, who should do it and ethical issues (Jennifer, 2007). Counseling that involves various age groups is carried out differently. The way a child is counseled differs from the way a teenager is counseled. In addition, the above two groups are counseled differently from adults. It is important to note that different situations require different strategies. Nevertheless, all these strategies are guided by well laid down rules, regulations, and guidelines.

Themes of Counseling

Church or Christian counseling like any other counseling has themes under which the process is based on. These themes guide the way counselors handle their clients, how they structure the goals of the counseling process and how they conduct themselves during the process of counseling (Edward, 2006).

Openness and Personal strength

The first theme is the focus that the counseling should concentrate on. In this case, Christian counseling focuses on personal strength. Counseling, regardless of where it is carried out, should always focus on the individual strength rather than weaknesses. According to Fuda (2008), although in every counseling process there must be a course of discomfort and worry of the clients, it is prudent for the counselor to focus on the strength of the clients and guide them from that point in order to help them make their own choices and be masters of their destinies.

Christianity

The most important theme of Christian counseling is Christianity. In Christian counseling, the main aim is to bring the client back into Christianity. The counselor bases all their views on the scripture readings. All problems are explained as results of going against the will of God and involvement in practices, behaviors and deeds that are not righteous according to the teachings of Christianity. Church counseling aims at bringing the client back to the church. The counselor quotes the script and offers advice and insight with regards to the rules, laws and teachings of Christianity.

Marriage

Marriage issues are common in every society today. In most churches, there are established sessions that educate married couples on the way forward to live their lives as married people. The sessions also include those who want to marry. They are giving those who have problems with their marriage a chance to reconcile with each other. It also offers guidance and counseling to those who want to get married. This is aimed at assuring that marriage that is based on Christianity lasts longer, and help people to live in harmony with each other.

Age-related matters

In most churches, teenagers and young people are targeted for counseling services. Young people are given an opportunity to be guided on how to leave better lives, and a chance to learn more on Biblical teachings is offered. Young people are counseled on sexuality, relationships and other matters that affect the way young people live.

Spiritual awakening and righteousness

Church counseling considers its main goal as offering spiritual awakening and righteousness that make Christians’ lives better according to the teaching of Christianity. People are given a chance to check on their quality of life as indicated in the scripture and Christian teachings. The main aim is to make sure that those who are in the sessions are guided towards having a better Christian life.

Ethics and Legal Issues in Counseling

Although pastoral counseling is a bit different from actual counseling, the code of conduct and ethical issues that govern both practices are the same. First, there are issues with the benefit to others. In the counseling profession, it is ethical for the team involved and mostly for counselors to do what is best for the clients. According to ACA Code of Conduct (2005), every decision they make should always help and benefit their clients. This guides the counselors in the profession towards making sure that their activities, actions, and decisions are for the benefit of their clients, but not for personal gain.

The other ethical issue in the field of counseling involves respect to others’ autonomy. The main goal of counseling is to help people realize their strengths and use them to solve their own problems. Due to this fact, it is crucial for counselors to realize that they are not there to force decisions of their clients but rather to help them choose the right decisions. The process of counseling involves guiding clients in the process of decision making, making sure that they are equipped with the ability to make the right moves in the direction that will result in the right benefits. It is against the profession for a counselor to force ideas, decisions or any other actions of their clients. It is equally important for the counselors to be faithful not only to their clients but also to themselves. It gives a negative impression when counselors give promises that they cannot keep. It is necessary for counselors to instill a sense of faithfulness and show their clients that they can keep promises. To make sure that they are good at these, it is essential for them to be organized, record appointments and always check them before giving other appointment. If one will not make it to the already organized appointment or meeting, it is advisable to inform the parties involved in advance. This gives them time to rearrange themselves.

Before the session starts, clients should be told what is expected of them. They should be given a priority to air their views about the session. The goals of the counseling sessions should also be made by both client and the counselor. This helps the client in owning the process and feeling as a part and parcel of it. It is unethical for a counselor to give out information or any other crucial process that they have come across during the session of counseling. Counselors are obliged to observe the highest order of confidentiality. They are never allowed to share any information about the process without the consent of clients or when the life of others is in danger due to the actions of the clients. Tiffany (2012) expressed her concern that counselors in this case should give their clients all the information about limitations of their confidentiality to help them make proper decisions. By making sure that the client is aware of the confidentiality of the counseling process, it provides him with safety and privacy and thus protects the client’s autonomy. According to ACA, the counseling contract should include any agreement about the level and limit of the confidentiality offered.

Counselors are responsible for creating and observing boundaries with their clients. They are also responsible for monitoring those boundaries throughout the counseling sessions (Code of Ethics and Practice, 2012). Heidi (n.d) argued that they should make it known to their clients that counseling is a formal session and nothing else. They should make it known to their clients of any other expectations that may appear during the sessions that it is only a professional help that is agreed between the two parties and is offered during the sessions only. ACA also states that the counseling sessions must not be concurrent with supervisory, training or other form of relationship, be it sexual or non-sexual. This is because combining any of the above with counseling may erode the goal of the counseling session and portray different pictures to both the counselor and clients.

Counselors, regardless of where they practice their profession are guided by ethics and legal standards that are developed by American Counseling Association. They are supposed to have the relevant training in the profession before they start practicing it. Even after going through the proper training, they are supposed to develop through various professional institutions regularly.

If the church is providing formal counseling services, it can do so by use of paid staff or volunteers who engage in counseling services. If this is the case, the church has to make sure that there is a proper agreement and detailed contract in place between the church and the person who is offering the counseling services. Another legal issue that is of concern in counseling is the consent of the client to be involved in the process of the counseling. It is important and of a great concern if the client gives his or her consent to be guided and counseled. The consent agreement should be signed between the client and the counselor but not between the counselor and the church. In the consent agreement, there is a need to lay down an explanation of what is to be involved, limit of confidentiality, commitment to active participation, client’s right to withdraw from the counseling process, the process of cancellation and withdrawal, and how third party can be involved if it is necessary. All of these agreements are aimed at making the process legal and ethical.

It is against the law for one to be forced for counseling or for the counselor to break the confidentiality agreement. Due to these, counselors are required to make sure that everything is in order, all agreements are signed, and the client is ready and willing to participate in the process. In case there is a crucial need to give out confidential information that have transpired in the counseling sessions, there is a need to seek consent of the client before doing so.

Biblical Values and Insights

All aspects of Christian counseling are based on scripture teachings and guidelines. The counselor tries as much as possible to relate every situation with both the scripture and Christian teachings (Craig, 2011). The Bible becomes an integral part of Christian counseling sessions. There are some guidelines that most churches follow to be able to determine who can be a counselor in the church. They include, but not limited to, one’s ability to defend his or her faith and belief in Jesus Christ. In church counseling, only those who were “born again” are able to counsel others as bringing the client closer to God and teachings of the Christianity is a key aspect of church counseling (Yong, 2007).

Another biblical value that is an integral in the church counseling as, according to Thomas (2007), counseling is the ability to understand the biblical teachings and relate them to the situation in hand. Shamshad, Keith, Richard & Janet (2011) argued that counselors are supposed to have studied the Bible in a formal manner and should have a deeper understanding of the Christian teaching and biblical references. This is critical since, in church counseling, all suffering happens when one involves themselves in doings that are against God’s will. One is supposed to bring their clients back into the light and observation of Christian teachings and God guidance as contained in the Holy Scripture.

Prayers, use of Christian symbols and rituals, deliverance, laying on of hands, and involvement in church life are all Biblically based practices which Christians might draw on in their counseling practice. In most cases, these practices would be used only if the clients were Christians and had given permission for their use. The use of these aspects of Christianity in counseling is aimed at awakening the client spiritually, seeing the light in believing and following God’s will.

Personal Reflection

Christian counseling needs someone who has a strong base in Christianity and a strong foundation in Biblical knowledge. It also asks for a lot of commitment as the field demands strong commitments (David, 2005). Due to this, I will dedicate my time, strength, and expertise to offer counseling services to people who need them. With proper self-awareness, I will be able to help those with distress, stress and those who are undergoing hardships in their lives. Self-awareness will help in the realization of what needs to be done. Together with the clients I will be able to go through the process of counseling successfully, observing all the ethical and legal issues that guide the process.

The nature of Christian counseling dictates that the counselor should be a righteous and peacemaking person to make sure that the people who they counsel found peace in the process. There is a need to make sure that, although one is required to have the above characteristics, he is also supposed to be well trained in the field (McIlveen & Patton, 2007). With all this, I can help a lot of people to solve their problems. This is because it is not advisable for the counselor to do that for them, although counseling requires the client to solve the problems they are facing. With the knowledge and training in psychology and counseling, I will be in a better position to help others who may need my help and assistance as they go through the hard times.

According to Katherine, Elizabeth, Jason, & Joshua (2009), for one to be a better Christian counselor, he needs to be full of motivational spirit and without partiality. This helps one to motivate others in the course of counseling. Without partiality, hypocrisy, and being full of mercy and wisdom, I will be able to be a source of hope for others. I will motivate others who need someone to talk to. Being full of motivational spirit not only gives the counselor a chance to motivate their clients in the course of seeking the truth but also shows their clients that, in belief and in the process of seeking hope and answers, there is a better place to seek help.

Conclusion

Counseling as a career and profession has undergone a lot of development and involves almost every aspect of live. Most people have embraced these services of seeking professional help. Most societal gatherings and organizations have embraced the services of counselors to help those who are seeking such intervention to ease their suffering and look for answers to their problems.

In churches, professional counseling has taken a newer dimension to include spiritual aspect of it. With the integration of Christian teachings, scripture references, and righteousness, counseling in the church not only helps people to seek answers to their problems and become masters of their destinies, but also helps them in turning back to seeking God’s guidance and direction to solve their problems. This process involves not only giving counseling services, but also referencing of daily occurrences to the scripture, which is the direction of true living in Christian life.

Christian counselors need to be more than just counselors. They need to be spiritual guides for their clients, people of high integrity, and knowledgeable role models. Besides all these qualities, Christian counselors are supposed to observe ethical and legal issues that govern the process of counseling. All these help in making sure that clients’ confidentiality is highly protected, and their situation is guided by law and ethics.

References

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