I am a Christian. I’m also a Licensed Professional Counselor with Supervisory Status [LPC-S], licensed in the state of Texas. Obviously questions emerge as to how I practice as a counselor with the belief system I hold in a field that, for the most part, has embraced a postmodern worldview. I am asked such questions as what do you do when your clients are not Christian? In fact, most of the people I work with report no spiritual beliefs at all while others have sought me out because I am a Christian. Others want to know do you seek to proselytize your clients? This is a question to which I can answer emphatically no. For a Christian who is a counselor, the goal of counseling is never evangelism. Still others inquire how can you help but judge your clients if you’re a Christian? Every therapist possesses values off which they operate. Given that fact, the question how can you help but judge relates to everyone who works as a professional counselor. Moreover, the question relates to how one lives life period while seeking to embrace his personal values. The conversation around values, particularly when it revolves around religious and spiritual values, is a delicate one indeed. I strongly take the position that not only can a Christian work with individuals from all walks of life who hold various and sundry values, but also I believe that no client has anything to fear working with a Christian counselor anymore than he would working with any other therapist.
The Dirty J-Word: Judgment
As a Christian counselor how can you help but judge your clients is the way the question is commonly put. Like many questions and statements, one has to peal back numerous layers of premises that underlie them. One premise is that Christianity is all about believers going around condemning and judging people. Like anyone else, I live in a world populated by countless and contrasting worldviews. Although I disagree with many worldviews, I don’t find that fact any more relevant for a Christian than I do for a pure rationalist, an Objectivist, or a radical atheist. Everyone lives in a context whereby they meet up with worldviews that counter their own. It appears many times that individuals tend to equate judgment with any disagreement whatsoever. That’s a tendency that adolescents fall into. In fact such short sighted views define adolescence. What’s more at stake here is the fact that people of all walks of life hold contrasting and even diametrically opposed moral values. Yes, people hold different moral standards. The question that matters is not whether people hold moral standards that are in opposition to one another, but how they go about holding such views while interacting with those with whom they lack common ground and disagree. Individuals who hold different moral values have assessed – judged – and have reached the position they in fact hold. If for that reason one believes that a person who holds a different moral standard from his is judging him, then is he not also judging the other by holding a different moral standard? The word judgment carries a lot of baggage that is wrapped in all sorts of caricatures. The fact is that most people will take a stand on what they believe to be right or wrong. We see someone beating a dog, slapping a helpless person around in public, or stealing money from someone. We have made a judgment – taken a stand – as to what we think about such actions and how we should respond. Our stance emerges from our worldview. But when most people talk about judgment, such matters are not what they are talking about. Suffice it to say, I believe that God will ultimately judge the world and its inhabitants. What that means for me is more about how I’m to live, knowing that I too will be judged. This notion segues into other questions that are posed to Christian counselors.
Counseling is Not Proselytizing or Evangelizing
I will gladly talk to anyone about my faith, why I believe the things I do, and who I believe Jesus Christ to be and what he has accomplished. Given that I hold a Judeo-Christian worldview, that is something that I simply do, no different than someone who talks about why they believe in Nirvana, Objectivist rationalism, or radical atheism. Like any counselor who abides by the Professional Code of Ethics, however, I do not view counseling as foisting my values onto my clients, seeking to either persuade or convert them. If I did such things as a Christian counselor, it would be equally but no more egregious than if someone sought to persuade his clients that God doesn’t exist. My job is to meet my clients where they are with what they are bringing into the counseling room. I hope to help them live out their own lives according to their own values whether or not I agree with them. To do otherwise I or anyone else would be violating the client’s autonomy. Some clients seek me out because I’m a Christian. Others do not. Sometimes clients may want to inquire about the belief systems their therapists hold. I’m willing to have that conversation as long as the client wants to have the conversation. The notion that Christian counselors somehow are the ones who are overly concerned with proselytizing their clients is a gross fiction, even given some of the stories that people may hear. In addition to those stories, I’ve heard additional ones regarding therapists who seek to persuade their clients to have certain outlooks on life. It’s a trap into which anyone can easily fall, Christian or otherwise.
Working with Clients Who Are Christian
Quite frankly, I enjoy working with clients who hold a Judeo-Christian worldview because of the common ground that we hold in seeking to navigate the world and all the struggles it brings our way. Common ground, however, doesn’t mean that believing clients and I agree on everything. Christians disagree on numerous things, and not just unimportant matters. In fact, Christians, like anyone else, have to conclude at times that they and their Christian acquaintances simply do not see eye-to-eye on some things and never will. Common ground exists between them however to which they can constantly refer as to how to interact when such disagreements emerge. My goal is to respect all individuals, Christian or not, simply because I believe they are created by God whether or not they believe they are so created. Otherwise, I would be treating them less than I’m called to treat them. Christians or otherwise, I believe people find it smoother sailing to work with those who hold similar worldviews to theirs because of the common ground that exist between them. I think that’s simply a part of being human. We can all learn how to better interact with those with whom we disagree. Such interaction is a constant learning process and one of personal growth.
Many people claim that it’s okay to disagree on the smaller matters of life, but not on the heavier issues regarding how to live. I couldn’t disagree more. In fact this is one area where those who claim such things and I would have to agree to disagree. I believe that it’s the mark of civilization to have the ability to disagree on the weightier matters of life and still coexist. I think today we are reaching a point where that ability is lacking more and more in our civilization. It is a weighty thing that you and I might hold totally diametrically opposed moral values. It’s no small matter at all. Such opposition however carries no apodictic conclusion that I wish you ill or hate you on some level. Hate is a word thrown around today in ways that makes one wonder how elastic a term can become and sill have any semblance of meaning. It appears that hatred as it’s commonly used now means that if you disagree with me on important matters, then you hate me. For sure, if we disagree, both you and I have taken a stand on something. We have made a judgment. There is no logical conclusion that we must hate each other because we fall on opposite sides of an issue. We may want to spend more time with other people who have similar worldviews to ours. Such is the nature of being human. To recognize that we hold diametrically opposed worldviews yet can still discuss and realize where we part ways is the mark of civilized people. Divisiveness appears to be ruling much of our dialogue these days. F. A. Hayek once said that a civilization can easily be destroyed. It does not follow that once destroyed it can easily be built again. If we cannot radically accept that the world comprises people who hold diametrically opposed moral standards and values, then we must question what that means for social interaction and ultimately, our civilization.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/March 14th, 2019