Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Kendal M. Tucker, president-elect of the Idaho Counseling Association, a branch of the American Counseling Association, uses faith-based counseling techniques to help her clients do just that. She helps individuals find relief from difficult thoughts and events that have impacted their lives by using faith to guide them through the process.
Tucker notes that both secular and non-secular counselors can sometimes be misguided about what faith-based counseling actually is. But, she says, once counselors understand how to properly use this approach, it can be a positive, useful tool in their practice.
Describe how you first got involved in faith-based counseling:
Upon graduating with my master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, I pursued my licensing credentials with the state of Idaho. I am aware that the term “faith-based” is multidimensional, but for clarity’s sake in this article, I will refer to it as Christian counseling. From day one of my profession, I have marketed myself as a counselor who provides a multimodal approach, including a strong Christian perspective when specifically requested by the client.
What is a typical session like with your clients?
I conduct the intake session the same with every client. My therapeutic approach centers around cognitive behavioral, sprinkled with other integrative modalities. I combine psychotherapy with a Christian viewpoint when requested. If a client asks for an emphasis in Christian counseling, I invite them to share their definition of “faith-based” counseling. I ask them to describe their needs and wants regarding their Christian faith. I am respectful to the client’s wishes and will share scriptures and prayer as requested. The client is in the driver’s seat as to how much or how little we discuss their faith.
What is usually the main focus or aim?
The main focus is the client’s needs. I consider therapy a partnership and allow the client to dictate the pace of therapy. If the client chooses to talk about their faith in relation to their situation, I follow their lead. My aim is not to tell them right from wrong but assist them in discovering their faith as it may apply to their situation.
What kinds of clients do you see?
My client base consists mostly of children, women and families. I utilize child-directed play therapy for children who have a trauma history. I implement parenting psychoeducation as well as addressing women’s issues. My clients are from many walks of life with varying faiths.
What interventions do you find to be the most effective?
I utilize many cognitive behavioral interventions with all clients. Regarding faith-based counseling, I might suggest to a client to find some scriptures that they feel [are] relevant to their situation and encourage them to integrate the scriptures into their daily life (i.e., through prayer, personal affirmations). Or I might share a scripture with a client and then ask them to describe what it means to them and how they can apply it to their life. Sometimes I invite the client to listen to a particular faith-based song and discuss how it impacts them. Prayer is also a beneficial intervention.
What kinds of misconceptions arise — if any — surrounding faith-based counseling?
I think misconceptions abound regarding faith-based counseling from both sides of the religious and secular fence. There are many terms used to reference a Christian counselor, such as a counselor who is a Christian, pastoral counselor, faith-based [or] biblical Christian counselor. With all these varied terms, it can be difficult to find a definition that is accepted and understood by everyone. I believe God places qualified and gifted people in the counseling field to be an instrument of wisdom and healing. There are those from a secular viewpoint that believe Christian counselors only want to proselytize and tell the client right from wrong. My heart and passion is to provide a safe, therapeutic environment where peace, love, grace and forgiveness are welcome and where I can integrate spiritual principles with evidenced-based practice.
What steps do you recommend counseling students take who are interested in this approach?
If a counseling student wants to explore the world of faith-based counseling, I would strongly recommend they seek out other counseling professionals who are implementing their faith into the therapeutic setting. In regards to the Christian emphasis, I would encourage the graduate students to inquire as to what Christian counseling means to the professional, as well as determining what it means to them personally. This would then assist them in making important steps toward building their niche.
Where do you see faith-based counseling going in the future?
The need for faith-based counseling appears to be increasing. According to the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, 83 percent of Americans believe their faith is directly related to their emotional and mental health. Seventy-five percent state that seeing a professional mental health provider who shares similar values and beliefs is significant to their overall health.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
It seems apparent to me that there is gross misunderstanding in both the religious and secular world as to the role of a faith-based counselor. I am hopeful that there could be more dialogue and less judgment thrown at the discussion. All therapists, whether secular or spiritual, should seek first to understand the needs of each client and then do the best they can to provide avenues for health and recovery.
Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at email@example.com.