Christian Counseling: Why Protestant Christians Underutilize Counseling

Although there continues to be an increase in the use of religious counseling over the years among those who hold strong religious beliefs, it remains underutilized.

Research studies show many reasons for the too little use of mental health services. I will address three common reasons: the belief problems will resolve on their own, public and self-stigma and lack of confidence.1

I believe that given sufficient time, most circumstantial problems will resolve themselves with some effort and sometimes without effort. But not so for engrained, traumatizing or recurring problems. In my experience, I find too many continue to suffer unnecessarily after they do their best to accept and adjust to their unresolved problems, especially if they feel a little better from self-help solutions. As a rule of thumb, if a problem remains after five or six months of attempts at resolution, seeking outside help would be prudent. And if any problem is impacting one’s ability to function at home or work, then seeking immediate help can be not only rehabilitative, but preventive—limiting possible consequences within a marriage or family or with an employer.

Anger, anxiety and depression are emotions all experience from time to time. But they can become chronic and troublesome to oneself and others around them. The research shows these emotions are nothing to mess around with, as they can be deadly serious. There are direct links between these emotions and physical health problems, such as coronary heart disease and a reduction in life expectancy. Waiting for treatment for these problems is not recommended.

Though the stigma of having mental health or spiritual problems has lessened over the years, it is still of concern to some contemplating or receiving treatment. If a person views needing help of any kind as a weakness, or believe his or her faith is lacking because one should only trust God and not seek other’s help, or fears others may know he or she is in counseling, he or she will resist entering counseling, at least for a time. Scripture says we are all weak in many ways and need help, whether His or others in the Christian community, be it medical, financial, career, or mental health. The truth we all know is we all have problems, without exception. As long as sin and evil exist there will be some substantial problems for which professional help is a good option or even necessary. Perhaps, if in the church people were more open about their sins and problems, as James 5 encourages, it would be far more acceptable to get help of various kinds. In addition, counseling is confidential. Except in rare circumstances, such as a planned crime, a counselor is duty bound not to disclose any client information with anyone, save permission from a client.

There are numerous paths to establishing confidence, as well as uncertainty about or distrust in counseling. Many rely on the experience of a couple of people they know who attended treatment, whether the outcome was good or bad, to decide if they will enter counseling. A better way to evaluate it is by taking the time to educate oneself by reading about it and talking to several people (if one is comfortable in doing so). Then one is ready to formulate initial questions, such as "What is the counselor’s orientation?"; that is, what approach does he or she take—cognitive, behavioral, insight or psychodynamic, eclectic, etc. The approaches are quite different, and some people are better suited to one approach over another. Also, consider talking via phone with three or four counselors for an initial, brief (5 or 10 minutes) interview to ask pertinent questions and get a feel as to whether or not you and the counselor might be able to connect, or click or be able to work together. The working together is called the therapeutic alliance and is highly significant regarding a positive treatment outcome.

1 Royal, Kenneth D., and Thompson, Juan Michael (2012). Measuring Protestant Christians' Willingness to Seek Professional Psychological Help for Mental Illness: A Rasch Measurement Analysis. Journal of Psychology & Christianity, 31, 195-203.

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