Are there different types of Christian counseling?

In a classic article written for Christianity Today in 1975, Gary Collins suggested that today’s Christian counselors fall into five categories. The first category Collins called “the main stream.” Main stream pastoral counselors generally have taken Clinical Pastoral Education training (CPE). The CPE approach takes a pastor with a theological education through an essentially secular training program in counseling. The clinical pastoral education movement has historically been theologically liberal and somewhat antagonistic toward conservative evangelical theology (Collins, 1975).

The next category that Collins outlined were the “evangelical pastoral counselors.” The most outspoken of such counselors is Jay Adams, professor of practical theology at Westminster Seminary. Adams advocates Biblical Counseling, in which only the bible is used to support a counseling approach that is primarily educational and confrontive.

The third category of Christian counselors are the “Christian professionals.” Examples of the Christian professionals would include Clyde Narramore (considered to be the father of Christian counseling), James Dobson, Bruce Narramore, Frank Minirith and Paul Meier, and Gary Collins. The Christian professionals have been trained and have received degrees and credentials in the secular counseling approaches, but who also have a strong commitment to biblical evangelical theology. Each of these counselors have developed a model for integrating their knowledge and skills from the field of psychology with biblical truth.

The fourth model Collins defined were the “theoretician researchers.” The theoretician researchers are those who have taken a scientific, scholarly and research approach. These are generally university professors who are in the process of developing and testing theory.

The fifth and final category that Collins outlined are the “evangelical popularizers.” The evangelical popularizers would include Bill Gothard, Tim LaHay, Charlie Shedd, and Norman Wright. The evangelical popularizers produce useful but simplistic self help material for the lay public.

Since the writing of Collins article in 1975, all five categories are alive and well. Evangelicals have increasingly steered away from the clinical pastoral education movement. Seminaries have strongly embraced the evangelical pastoral counseling and the Christian professional movement in counseling. Many seminaries have developed masters and doctoral programs integrating both theology and the practice of psychology and counseling. Christian graduate schools have flourished with strong enrollments in the areas of psychology, counseling, and marriage and family therapy. In spite of the increase in Christian counseling, a number of authors have been critical of whether or not Christianity and psychology are compatible at all.

Lawrence J. Crabb (1977) suggests that Christians have taken one of four positions: The first position is referred to as “separate but equal”. The bible and theology are considered valid in the areas in which they speak, and psychology is considered valid in the area in which it speaks. The separate but equal counselor may switch back and forth between psychology and theology. An attempt is made to separate the two disciplines and keep them separate.

The second approach is the “tossed salad” approach. Crabb suggests that this approach is like a salad bowl in which a variety of ingredients are thrown into the bowl and tossed about. The problem with the tossed salad approach is that psychological notions are often accepted uncritically and without an understanding of the conflicting world views (i.e., humanism, existentialism, modernism, etc.) which are often represented in psychology. Consequently a number of unbiblical ideas may creep into this counseling.

The third category that Crabb refers to is the “nothing buttery.” In this approach the Christian counselor accepts nothing but the scripture as the basis for Christian counseling. The writing of Jay Adams would fall in to this category. Adams suggests that psychology has nothing to offer the Christian counselor, and psychology is always in conflict with biblical ideas. If one is true to this position there is never a need to study any counseling approaches, medicine or psychology.

The fourth approach and the approach that Larry Crabb takes is the position he calls “spoiling the Egyptians.” In the spoiling the Egyptian’s position the Christian counselor is first thoroughly grounded in the Word of God. Just as God made provision for the Israelites carried out of Egypt the spoils the Christian counselor critiques the findings of modern psychology and takes from them tools which are consistent with our biblical perspective. The Word of God is absolute in authority, and the only truly and fully reliable source of knowledge. Psychology on the other hand is a field that attempts to use the scientific method to investigate a variety of man’s problems, and seeks to determine what works in helping people resolve their problems. This approach recognizes that scripture is “ALL TRUTH,” but may not contain “all truth”. Knowledge exists beyond the scripture about many subjects including psychology, medicine, family life, etc. The Christian counselor operating from this approach takes what is useful and consistent with scripture while discarding the rest.

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