What is integrated Christian counseling?

The term integrated Christian counseling describes an approach to counseling that seeks to be grounded in a biblical worldview and include aspects of modern psychology that are compatible with that worldview. Integration is spoken of in regard to the theoretical stance of the counselor and his or her techniques, Christians in the academic field of psychology, and even the roles of counselors and the church. Stanton Jones gives this as a working definition: “Integration of Christianity and psychology (or any area of ‘secular thought’) is our living out—in this particular area—of the lordship of Christ over all of existence by our giving his special revelation—God’s true Word—its appropriate place of authority in determining our fundamental beliefs about and practices toward all of reality and toward our academic subject matter in particular” (“An Integration View,” Psychology & Christianity: Five Views, 2nd ed., IVP Academic, 2010, p. 102).

Jones proposes that modern psychology, both academically and in practice, engages with existential questions such as where humans came from, what we are, and where we are going. Of course, Christians believe the Bible gives us the answers to these questions. Thus, our engagement with modern psychology should be grounded in biblical truth. However, Jones states that an integrationist view does not think that the Bible gives us everything to fully understand humans. The study and practice of psychology are seen as legitimate for growing our intellectual understanding of human functioning as well as providing practical tools to help humans function better (ibid., p. 101–102). In short, an integrationist views the Bible as the standard of truth. At the same time, he or she is willing to accept verified truth claims from sources outside the Bible. The maxim “All truth is God’s truth” comes to mind.

An integrationist approach recognizes that there are inherent biases in scientific fields. Data and facts can be derived by using the scientific method, but the interpretation of that data and those facts is often subjective. Psychology also touches on many things that cannot be determined by the scientific method, such as life purpose or the definition of health. Thus, integrated Christian counseling does not simply accept the teachings and findings of the modern psychological field; rather, it critically evaluates them through the lens of a biblical worldview. This would apply both to the research coming out of psychological fields and to the theoretical structures of certain forms of psychology. Where something in modern psychology conflicts with a biblical truth, the Bible is chosen as the authority. Where something in modern psychology is compatible with biblical truth and helpful to the client, it can be adopted. Integrationist counselors are seeking to avail themselves of all the tools they can to help ameliorate the effects of living in a fallen world.

The concept of integration includes not only how much of modern psychology can be integrated into Christian counseling, but how much Christian spiritual practice should be part of counseling. For example, is it appropriate to assign a client spiritual disciplines like daily Bible reading as “homework”? Should the counseling sessions include prayer?

Clearly, the degree of integration will vary among counselors based on their specialty, their biblical training, and their psychological training. There is vast difference in theory and practice among secular counselors, as well. It is always wise to talk with any potential counselor about his or her approach to counseling, and the counselor should broach this subject in the initial meeting during the informed consent process, as well as throughout any remaining sessions.

Counselors who wish to integrate should be diligent in their study of God’s Word as well as in their study of modern psychology. Being in close contact with other believers, other counselors, and other believing counselors is extremely beneficial both personally and professionally. Every Christian should be actively following God and seeking His will and His glory in everything. Counselors or not, we are all called to grow in our relationship with God and to love others. This often happens through the study of God’s Word (the Bible), regular time in prayer, and fellowship with other believers. The more we know Him and the more we submit all of our lives to Him—including our work—the more we will reflect Him in all that we do. The better we know God, the better we can truly love and help others, something counselors seek to do.

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