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10 Core Principles of Christian Counseling to Improve Your Therapy Sessions

Katherine Cullen - Writer for Top10
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Woman praying.
About 64 percent of Americans identify as Christian. Yet most mental health practitioners aren't likely to share this majority's religious faith. This is why Christians are more reluctant to seek psychotherapy—out of a concern that their therapist may not understand their belief system. And so, they miss out on the many benefits that counseling, specifically Christian counseling, offers.

Finding the right therapist is hard enough, let alone one who shares your beliefs and values.

That's why many people search for therapists who openly share their faith and are trained to provide psychotherapy that incorporates their faith's key elements. One such faith-based psychotherapy is Christian counseling.

Online therapy platforms can help connect Christian therapy seekers to like-minded practitioners who facilitate sessions through a Christian lens. These practitioners incorporate prayer, scripture, and relevant faith-based social teachings and values into each session.

Here are 10 core principles of Christian counseling that can improve your therapy sessions.

» Need support through God-focused therapy? Check out our top picks for the best online Christian counseling services.

1. Acknowledging the Soul

Christian counselors support clients in cultivating spiritual wellness and healing their souls—the spiritual essence of humans, which connects a person to God.

This contrasts with non-religious psychotherapies, which focus primarily on clients' emotions, cognitions, and unconscious feelings.

2. Drawing Closer to God

Christian counselors help clients move closer to the triune God (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) by exploring their relationships with him.

These counselors support clients in adopting practices that improve their proximity to God by motivating them to attend religious services, do more volunteer work, spend more time with their families, reflect on scripture, and examine their conscience.

Here, they meditate on how they've adhered to God's calling and where they feel they haven't.

Depending on the therapist and the client's denomination, clients may also be encouraged to seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

3. Challenging Unhelpful Beliefs

Many Christian counselors are trained in evidence-based interventions that incorporate religion. Religious cognitive behavioral therapy (RCBT) is one such example.

RCBT aims to modify unhelpful thoughts and beliefs that give rise to problematic behaviors and suffering—particularly thoughts and beliefs about God, sin, or other religious concerns that foster excessive guilt, self-punishment, or social isolation.

For example, if a client is hung up on all the reasons they may not be saved, a Christian counselor may remind them that Christ forgives their sins and that they are just as eligible as anyone else for his mercy.

The goal is to increase clients' hope, motivation, pro-social behavior, and inner peace.

» Here are the best online cognitive behavioral therapy services.

4. Praying Together

Christian counselors may pray aloud with a client or allow time for silent prayer.

They can also engage clients in prayerful meditation with prayer methods such as Lectio Divina (literally "divine reading"), where the counselor reads a scripture passage several times and prompts the client to reflect on what the passage evokes in them.

5. Incorporating Scripture

Scriptural passages relevant to clients' concerns are often read in or between Christian counseling sessions to help clients gain insight into their challenges. This allows them to make more informed decisions about how they wish to proceed in their personal lives.

For example, clients struggling with excessive guilt or feelings of inadequacy may be directed to specific biblical passages that speak to these feelings and offer guidance on managing and moving past them.

6. Valuing Family

Christians consider families to be society's fundamental building blocks, whose core is unconditional love. Christian counselors understand this and, like secular therapists, help clients resolve family conflicts through conflict resolution, communication, and problem-solving strategies.

Still, Christian counselors may have a deeper understanding of the Christian value of honoring one's parents and will encourage forgiveness. In contrast, secular counselors may be more inclined to advise cutting off conflictual family relationships.

7. Understanding a Pro-Life Perspective

Christian counselors understand different opinions and views when it comes to the tough and controversial subject of terminating a pregnancy. As Christian clients may be more likely to hold pro-life views, counselors will approach conversations around conception and family planning with sensitivity to this perspective, albeit without pushing their personal agenda.

8. Respecting Christian Values

Respecting the range of Christian ethical considerations—like considering sex before marriage, cohabitation, or same-sex attraction to be taboo—is a key component of Christian counselors' competency.

While no therapist should tell a client what to do, understanding and respecting the tenets of Christianity that influence a client's decision-making process enables Christian therapists to support them better as they navigate personal problems.

» Try these hacks to get the most out of an online therapy session.

9. Addressing Religious Trauma

Some Christian therapy clients may have experienced religious trauma, including coercion, abuse, or exploitation by religious leaders.

Competent Christian counselors will be aware of the impact religious trauma can have on Christian clients and able to help address this trauma in session—or refer clients to providers better equipped to treat religious trauma if needed.

10. Cultivating a Sense of Community

A more individualistic bent of secular psychotherapies aims to help clients prioritize their well-being independently of the environments and communities they belong to.

In contrast, Christian counseling acknowledges that those around the client are integral to a Christian client's faith, ethics, and healing process.

Is Christian Counseling Right for You?

If you identify as a Christian or would prefer that your therapist holds Christian values, Christian counseling may be for you.

Remember that not every Christian counselor will be a perfect fit. So, if something feels off in your sessions, look for signs that you have the wrong therapist and seek a new Christian counselor accordingly.

Be sure to communicate your faith preferences and level of comfort incorporating prayer, scripture, and specific Christian values into your sessions with any therapist you meet. And don't hesitate to ask your therapist if they have experience with the concerns you'd like to unpack.

The more open and honest you are with your therapist, the better they'll be able to help you—and the better sense you'll get of whether they're the right fit for your needs.

Katherine Cullen - Writer for Top10
Katherine Cullen is a psychotherapist in New York City and co-author of The Truth About Exercise Addiction: Understanding the Dark Side of Thinspiration. Her work has been published by numerous outlets, including Psychology Today, Cosmopolitan, and Self.

The author of this article has been paid by Natural Intelligence to write this article. Neither the author nor Natural Intelligence provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or your local emergency number immediately.