What is Faith Counselling?

What is Faith Counselling?

One Counselling Psychologist’s Perspective on Faith Counselling

Historically, the field of psychology has not been very accepting of organised faith. Freud, the father of psychology, openly believed faith to be ‘an illusion’ and ‘comparable to a childhood neurosis’. His view of faith was that ‘it seems not so much to be a lasting acquisition, as a parallel to the neurosis which the civilized individual must pass through on his way from childhood to maturity’. With such a foundation for a view of faith within the field of psychology, for many years, psychotherapists have pathologised a large part of many people of faith’s experience, viewing it as immature, infantile, and something to that is to be endured until one matures beyond such childish belief. Faith is compared to the ‘magical thinking’ that is part of the normal development of young children.

Faith has a way of polarising people into camps. In opposition to Freud, Adler believed that religion/faith could be used to bring about good or bad the same as any other belief system or cognitive formations. In his writings as someone who was raised Jewish and converted to Christianity, he explored how believing in God could cause positive change through biblical principles, primarily the command to ‘love thy neighbour’ and seeking to emulate God’s perfection.

As a Christian counselling psychologist, I believe that faith can sometimes cause distress in a person’s life which may be explored within psychotherapy. However, I believe it often may be a source of resilience and strength which may be utilised within psychotherapy to aid the change process from a place of distress to a place of increased peace and sense of wellbeing. Either way, religion/faith has a place in the therapeutic relationship if it is a part of the experience that the client wants to bring to therapy.

While I was training, I searched for a psychodynamic therapist who would work with, or even welcome, my faith as a resilience factor. This was a more difficult task in the UK than I would have had in the United States! I remember one therapist bluntly stating he would ‘do his best to make me question everything I believed’. I’m sure he meant this to be helpful, but I heard that as ‘I will do everything possible to tear down this pathology despite the strength and beauty you believe you derive from it’! Needless to say, I did have therapy with someone I felt wanted to attack a part of my experience I believed to be foundational to who I am.

I did decide to have therapy with a therapist who, though not a Christian herself, was open and accepting of my faith and viewed it similarly to myself as a resilience factor to be utilised to strengthen me through prayer, fellowship with other Christians, and scripture reading while undergoing the change process. She set the template for me of how I now handle issues of faith when clients bring them into the room. Though she questioned me at times and I questioned my faith at times, it felt like an exploration of my faith and a bid to understand more clearly how I draw strength from it rather than an attack on my faith and therefore my self. I hope to do the same for my clients.

By Dr Melanie Baker

Counselling Psychologist

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