Bringing my thoughts together about Christian counseling is no easy task; nor should it be. Of course, some of the obvious questions include: How does Christian counseling differ from any other type of professional counseling? Do Christian counselors work with clients only within the faith? If Christian counselors work with those outside of the faith, do counselors seek to proselytize their clients? What happens in the counseling room with Christian counselors?
What I’ve said here is simply a short introduction to the fact that over the next few blogs here at Contemplations, I’m going to explore what it means to work as a counselor who lives, walks in, and strives to align with a Christian worldview. What does it mean and not mean for me as a professional counselor? What does it mean and not mean for the clients who seek me out to work with me? I have laid out a plan for a series of four articles through which I will explore and present my thoughts on the topic of working as a counselor who holds an Orthodox and Reformed Christian worldview. Since this is a monthly blog, there is no telling what will change in four months, so my plans here may go the way of those so-called best laid plans that hopefully are flexible but not loosey-goosey, solidly structured but not rigid. And then again, I may decide one month to write about something totally different. After all, it is my blog.
The first and second blog articles explore the notion of worldview and why I work the way I do. The third article in this series will address working specifically with Christian clients. The fourth and concluding blog on this topic will explore various books by Christian authors I’ve read that other Christians might find helpful as they search out how to live out their faith in today’s tumultuous world.
A Christian in the Counseling Field
I have sought to conceptualize how I work and how I see my work in various ways over the years. I have tried to answer such questions as those above, as well as others. For example, do I call myself a Christian counselor? Or am I a counselor who happens to be a Christian? Or am I a Christian who happens to be a counselor?
For me, I have finally landed on the latter conceptualization. My life as a Christian includes my professional life as a counselor, not vice versa. This framework for thinking, or what I call my worldview, allows me to understand both my approach to living as well as the professional role I embody. My worldview without contradiction enables me to work with both believers and those who do not embrace the faith. What it does not mean, however, is that at one time I put on my Christian counseling hat, while at other times, I conveniently take off that hat for those who do not embrace Christianity as their faith. No, I don’t seek to proselytize clients who are not Christians; however, I’m sure not adverse to the possibility that such clients might want to discuss with me what I believe and why, thereby exploring the faith for themselves.
There is no Christian counselor hat anymore than there is simply a Christian hat that I put on and take off as it suits me or fits the people with whom I work. I have and seek to live by my worldview that I cannot help but, and purposely will, bring into the counseling room. I don’t check my worldview and values at the entrance to the building where my office is located. As a professional counselor, I also do not view counseling as proselytizing clients. Although if for whatever reason clients want explore and to know more about Christianity, not only am I not adverse to that, but also I welcome it. It is the worldview by which I seek to live and have my being.
In an blog article sometime back, (here), I discussed several themes that at various times on this blog I will explore, seeking to develop a fuller understanding of the human experience or human condition as Hanna Arendt describes it. Those themes include, mind, meaning-making, thought and action, finitude and humility, values, and worldview. Since I am writing about my worldview today, an obvious question is, what is a worldview? No doubt, there are tons of philosophical works out there people can read and study to get at how different thinkers conceptualize the notion of worldview. One particular Christian author I like reading along these lines is James W. Sire. His well-known work, at least among Christians, regarding various worldviews is titled The Universe Next Door.
In his exploration, Sire provides a working framework for understanding what comprises one’s worldview. He proffers the following definition:
A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of propositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being. (p.17)
Recognize then through Sire’s definition that people can be more or less aware of what their worldviews are, how they guide them through life, and why people may act as they do. Hence, if one desires to live in full awareness of how his beliefs align with his actions, then one should desire to become aware, as best as possible, of one’s worldview. Otherwise, we are walking blindly through the universe, not fully aware, or perhaps for the most part unaware, of why we live and act as we do. Moreover, to become more fully aware of our worldview not only allows us to bring it into our consciousness, but such awareness also allows us to live out our worldview more consistently. To come to grips with our worldview allows us then to take significant steps toward self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-understanding. If we are clear in our minds as to what we believe and why, then we will better have the ability to live in alignment with what we believe. Hence, worldview as a one of the themes that seek to describe the human condition also encompasses the theme of thought and action.
Let’s break down and explore the various components of Sire’s definition.
Worldview: As a Commitment
If we understand our worldview as a commitment of the heart, then it emerges from our deepest core that defines who we are, how we live, and the ways we desire to engage the world and other individuals. Clarifying our worldview allows us to bring together in unison our deepest and most impassioned emotions, core beliefs, spiritual experiences, and our willful actions. From a Biblical perspective, the heart is the driving force of a human being. We understand our worldview as a commitment into which we plunge so that we engage the world around us and all that populates it.
Worldview: As a Story or Set of Propositions
As we gain clarity of our worldview, then we can better articulate to others what we believe, why we believe it, and how we want to carry out our beliefs in day-to-day action. We can declare a set of propositional beliefs that conceptualize how we view the world and how we hope to navigate its existence. As a narrative, the more we understand our worldview, the more clearly we can tell our story as to how and why we exist in the world as we do. Propositional truths about the world and ourselves help us create meaning about our existence so that we know not only what we believe, but also why we believe it, and how we should then live (Francis Schaeffer).
Worldview: Held Consciously or Unconsciously
If we are to possess all this clarity around our worldview, then we must do the exploration that brings what we believe, feel, and hope to accomplish from a position of unawareness to awareness. We all struggle to become aware of our core beliefs and values. This is an exploration we will never complete on this side of life. It is a struggle, however, about which we can continually gain clarity if we strive to do so. It is a struggle we must engage if we are find meaning in our lives.
Worldview: True, Partially True, or Totally False
Worldviews can be false. This is where the friction sets in, particularly for those of us who are Christians. We simply believe that some worldviews are false and will not lead to lives of fulfillment. Additionally, simply because we are Christians does not mean we get everything right about life at one moment and have no more clarity to gain or mistakes to correct. As Christians, the more we understand and gain clarity around our worldview the main struggle then becomes how we apply what we understand to our day-to-day living. This is a constant struggle that never lets up in this life. Although not so popular in our culture today, Christians believe in a reality that is outside of us to which we must align. Hence beliefs and actions have consequences. Galatians 6:7 warns us: God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. From a Christian perspective there is objective truth that lies outside of us that we don’t create in the way that postmodernism depicts today. Although there are subjective aspects to our engaging the world, the struggle is to know reality and align with how it calls us to live. As Christians we search for truth in all things.
Worldview: Lived Consistently or Inconsistently
The more clearly our worldview shapes up for us, the more we become aware of those areas in our life where we are and are not living in alignment with what we understand to be the case. This too is a struggle. How many of us have acted in ways that we thought aligned with what we believed only to realize later due to consequences that we misstated, misunderstood, and misjudged how we went about things? The clarion call to live consistent with our worldview is one of those nagging experiences that continually haunts us to get things right. Inconsistency leaves us open to all sorts of charges, both from our own consciences and from others who observe how we live. Living our worldview consistently is not about being perfect. It is about a continual and gracious search for what is true.
Worldview: As a Foundation on Which We Live
Our worldview forms a foundation on which we stand toward life. Everything we believe and thereby do forms either a rock or shifting sand on which we stand. If our worldview is compromised, only partially true, or largely false, then rather than a rock, we stand on shifting sand. For the believer, Jesus Christ is the rock. Again, living in a fallen world means that Christians do not have everything right, but we hold a certain worldview that we believe to be true. Our lives on this side of eternity involve living out what we believe and continually correcting where we need to our understanding of what life is made of and how we are to navigate it. From a Christian perspective constantly sharpening our worldview must entail developing our relationship with a personal God who is real, and who works in our lives on a continuous basis. We can choose to know him deeply, or like any relationship, we can choose to let it wane. If we do not fully live according to our beliefs we will face consequences of that choice.
In the Counseling Room
As I stated in the introduction, there is not Christian hat to put on and take off for the sake of some conveniences we may feel or face. Given Sire’s definition of worldview with its various components, why that is the case should be clear now. Since my worldview provides the foundation on which I stand for understanding right and wrong, morality and immorality, and the various ways I go about interacting and treating others, then the idea of changing that foundation for the sake of changing contexts makes no sense at all. Although our worldview provides us with flexibility in a multifarious world, it is not something along the lines of Proteus in Greek mythology who could change into various creatures depending on where he finds himself at the moment. Consequently, as stated, I don’t check my worldview at the office entrance. I bring it into the counseling office because it is with me everywhere I go. If it’s not, then it’s not my worldview. I think it’s only fair that clients know and understand that about me.
Additionally, clients should know that I don’t view counseling as proselytizing them to my worldview. The work of counseling entails working together with people who have different and even conflicting worldviews. Where such differences may severely impede the therapeutic relationship then therapist and client should broach that conversation. Clients should know, however, that whereas I do not ask them to desert their worldview in working with me, neither will I desert mine as I work with them. First, such desertion cannot be done unless one becomes a hypocrite. Second, people cannot become something they truly are not. The world comprises experiences of people holding various takes on the world. The counseling room is the same, sort of a microcosm of a larger reality. What’s more important is that clients wouldn’t want me to chuck my worldview in the counseling room because then they would be working with someone who is not a complete human being.
What my worldview does mean, however, is that I can work more easily with those who hold a similar worldview to mine, that is other believers. Indeed, that is one form of counseling work that I enjoy, and in this series of articles on working as a Christian who happens to be a counselor, I will explore what Christians may expect in working with me, as well as Christian Interns whom I might supervise. Suffice it to say here that given the various components of Sire’s explication of worldview, it is something serious that forms the ground on which we stand and have our being as he says. It is the lens through which I look at and understand the world, all those who populate it, and all the actions that people generate within it. It is not something I take lightly that I can put on now and then as suits me.
Sire goes on to say that if we want clarity regarding our worldview, then we must profoundly reflect upon how we actually behave. This truth touches on one of the themes regarding the human condition that I explore in this blog, namely thought and action. If we have questions about what our worldview entails, then we need to check how we actually live. Then we need to decide if we truly want to accept or change the way we live.
Sire goes on to explore seven questions about the universe and living in it that a worldview should answer. I will explore those questions and apply my Christian worldview to them in the second blog article of this series that delves into working as a professional counselor who is first a Christian.
Our worldview shapes how we engage life, understand ourselves, and interact with others. It forms our values and dictates how we act in the world if we are to be consistent with its precepts. My worldview is who I am. I state clearly I am in Christ, identified with him, and live and have my being in him. Hence, that reality is what I seek to bring, not only into the counseling room, but also into my entire way of living.
Do I fall short of how my worldview calls for me to live? Suffice it to say: that’s a blog article for another day.
Sire, J.W. (2004). The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog.(Originally published in 1973). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/June 14th, 2020