Carl Rogers (1902–1987), the father of relational or client-centred therapy, having seen his method and read him, was very Christian in his approach to therapy – he served his clients. So valuable was his client’s experience, it was Rogers’ very platform into their world:
“Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person’s ideas, and none of my own ideas, are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me.”
Out of such intrinsic ‘unknowing’ interest in the client’s experience, the counsellor is in the perfect circumstance to build relationship, open space, demonstrate genuineness, warmth, and empathy, and to nurture trust that’s assured of safety. And from there is the starting point. But where it ends is a journey that both counsellor and client travel together – in the Christian setting, replete with openness to spirituality, theology, and psychology.
Such a model might have appearances of entwinement, and of course it’s not that. Because the Christian counsellor is a servant to their client, they know the client sets the agenda, but that, in that, the counsellor always adds some value wherever they go.
A Christian counsellor will not judge or condemn an attitude or behaviour; they are moulded by their own experience, and the power of love for acceptance. Only where there is first, acceptance, is there room to entertain what might be challenged and grown through.
With a Christian counsellor, a client should never walk out hurt. A Christian counsellor so values the relationship that there is the option of apology for a mistake made in therapy. There will be such an appreciative approach in the counsellor that the client has a positive experience or no experience at all. Certainly, if nothing else is gained, relationship is enjoyed. In this way, the counselling relationship is utterly unique. There is power, but not in the traditional way; the Holy Spirit’s power is present when the counsellor’s power is vested in the client by their servant-hearted attitude.
Christian counsellors believe in faith, hope, and love, in healing and restoration, and that is precisely what they hope to encounter with every client, every single time; something transformational – in both of them.
Even if a person were not of practicing Christian faith they would benefit from such an approach. The exemplification of the fruit of the Spirit should be in the Christian counsellor – they exude joy, peace, love, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, generosity, and self-control. Such ‘fruit’ compels an attitude of grace toward the client, which is seen as flexibility, and that is love. The client cannot lose, ever.
Christian counselling goes beyond keeping the client in a holding pattern. Through the relationship, which is inherently accepting, the client experiences hope for healing. The relationship is genuine, warm, empathic, and wholly giving. The philosophy is that the client cannot lose, ever.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.
Photo: from Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality in Christian Counselling, by Mark McMinn, Ph.D.