Well it’s not the same as secular counseling but since secular counseling is usually framed in the traditional shell of Christian counseling there will be similarity.
Christian counseling is the response to an emotional crisis serious enough to cause a disruption in life, behavior or relationships.
Counseling isn’t reducible to just getting together to talk about things but it’s not just giving out sage advice either. There is an important interactive element and the intent to move toward some kind of resolution.
So it isn’t psychology? Well certainly there’s a healthy bit of psychology in it because psychology is the applied understanding of the human soul and why we do the things we do. We can’t get by without a bit of Christian psychology and certainly Jesus spent a lot of time teaching us the inner contours of man’s battle with himself.
Here’s one of the most important things about counseling, it’s supposed to go somewhere. It’s self involved but not self resolving. It should never be an ultimately selfish endeavor. From a Christian perspective every bit of the counseling process is to restore the relation of the person to God, their neighbor and their own well being but in that order. Of course these are inter-related aren’t they? Could we think that a person could be O.K. in the absence of a good relationship with God? He’s our Father but along with that our closest and most enduring relationship. We quite literally exist because He holds us in existence; the Apostle Paul spoke to this by saying that, “in Him we live, and move and have our being”.
As such most conflicts of the soul are by nature of the case something to work out with God, but it’s not really that simple, is it?
It’s not usually the God-conflict that brings one into counseling care but more immediate personal or inter-personal relationships.
When a person can’t get along with themselves or another that’s where the rub comes in. Anxiety, despair, depression, anger, loneliness and sadness are the most common personal symptoms bringing someone into a counseling situation. Most substance abuse and sexual problems also flow from these which are not directly addressable as “sins” when we talk about what we mean by them in a counseling situation but conditions of the soul, the causes and resolutions to be addressed.
When a person isn’t relating well to others that’s what we’re talking about when we get into “marriage counseling”, “family counseling”, “group counseling” and intersession.
Let me say something very controversial and generally disliked but incontrovertibly true: every conflict in a marriage is ultimately a problem in the relationship with God between one or both of the parties. So in a marriage when some kind of crisis has risen to the place where one or both of the spouses are reaching out for counseling the elephant in the room is always going to be “Where are we missing the will of God for our lives?”
Happiness is very important; the Bible doesn’t anywhere imply that being unhappy is a good in itself, but happiness isn’t to made an idol either. It’s where and when and how we want to be happy that is usually the fatal flaw in our spiritual resilience. If we want to be happy in a way that harms our selves, our neighbor or our relationship with God that’s going to be something that will inevitably need to be addressed.
This comes up quite a bit with drug and alcohol counseling. We might see the entire sweep of drug and alcohol related problems (different but related to any addictive behavior from tobacco to pornography) as seeking happiness through artificial and illegitimate means. There is a happiness that is true and a happiness that is false; there is a holy happiness and a worldly happiness that merely covers the place where happiness should be.
When we come to a marital interest and unhappiness in the relation there might be hidden somewhere or in plain sight, something somewhere that speaks of a dissatisfaction with God and His hand in our life. There are many ways to study the avoidance of our Heavenly Father’s good pleasure in what He made us, where He has us, what He wants us to do, where He wants us to go, what He would have us suffer for the sake of Christ but therein lies the “secret” of life, if there is one.
It is that humble submission to the details of divine providence is an unavoidable element in the emotional well-being of any Christian life.
While it is certainly not all there is to happiness in the Christian life, no happiness that is deep or lasting will be had without it.
It is the vantage point from which all of the other joys that we think of as easy or lesser find their frame and reference. So we move toward an understanding and apprehension of this one thing as the platform for building every other thing, and them toward joy and peace.