The Theological and Christian Roots of Counseling
Counseling, in general, and Christian Counseling, in particular, is not a new discipline. This discipline existed in the early church and had been used and written about by the early fathers since the establishment of the church 2000 years ago. Studying the nature of Counseling requires investigating its theological, spiritual, biological and psychological roots differentiating between the spiritual and secular counseling (the former deriving its source and teachings from the Holy Bible) for the sake of understanding and application, and the distinction between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox Counseling.
The Theological Background
Theology, by definition, is the science concerned with the nature of God, His existence, character, and influence on the world. The theology of therapeutic psychology and counseling reveals God's care for the human soul and His role in the healing process. Orthodox Counseling, on the other hand, shows the role of the church and her sacraments in this healing and changing process.
Along with being a science to be studied, theology is also innate in every human being. It is what we believe (or disbelieve) about the existence and nature of God. Therefore, it follows that counselors bring in their theological perspective and understanding while conducting the counseling operation. That is why counseling courses well grounded in the true knowledge of God, the Holy Bible, the church and the Fathers' teachings guarantee wise, well prepared, more effective counselors as well as successful counseling operations. A pious counselor who has a good relation with God and puts himself in God's hands is sure to receive God's assistance in developing and growing him into the proper humble, skilled Christian counselor. Thus such a counselor will be able to transmit to his patients the living experiential theology that he lives and partakes in. This is because our relation with God is not a static theoretical dogma, but primarily a dynamic, living relation with the Holy Trinity. St. Paul, the apostle and counselor expressed this truth in his words to Galatians saying "My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you" (Galatians 4:19).
Advantages of Studying Theology: Christian theology provides:
- Clear Vision about the world, the human nature and the causes of psychological, emotional and relational problems. Much of what goes on in counseling is about pain. A lot of people are under one type of pain or the other. A counselor's response and hence his prescribed therapy will depend on the type of pain.
- Pain because of sin requires repentance.
- Pain because of corruption of the world requires Perseverance.
- Pain because of Satan's envy requires putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20).
- Pain because of God's disciplinary hand requires acceptance of discipline.
- Pain as a test of faith requires obedience and submission.
- Divine Truth concerning certain practices which the world nowadays is trying to embrace and justify as acceptable practices and welcomed styles of life. For example, divorce, homosexuality. God's Word considers these abominations "that He hates divorce" (Malachi 2:16). Hence, a Christian counselor will not encourage divorce but will seek other ways to patch a torn marriage and make it work.
- Divine Instructions revealed in God's Word in the Holy Bible which serves as the manual with which the human device operates in order for us to function properly according to instructions and attain happiness here and life everlasting thereafter.
- Revelation of God's Great Deeds for healing the human soul. The church serves as a healing institute and the sacraments are living mysteries. Therefore it is through presence and membership in the church and active participation in His body and blood that the soul obtains healing.
- Answers to frequently asked questions such as "what is the meaning of life?" Living an unhappy, meaningless, unfruitful life is like possessing a precious device without knowing its purpose nor function. Not knowing why exactly we are here on earth robs us of the joy God has assigned and designed for us. Counseling searches into the value of life and present the answers to those seeking them.
- The True Meaning of Life Solomon, the King, presents three precepts that help us understand the meaning of life and its value.
- God made man upright, in a state of incorruption.
- We fell into sin and subsequent death because of lack of submission.
- The whole world became corrupt.
Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, "For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin" Romans 3:12 is similar. Not only did man fall in sin and death but the whole world became distorted and corrupt by sin. St. Athanasius, in his book "The Incarnation of the Word" talks about the same theme.
The Conclusive Solution
With the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; Solomon proceeded to lay the foundation for the Theology of Counseling:
"'Vanity of vanities', says the Preacher. 'All is vanity' and moreover, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge, yes he pondered and sought out and set in order many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find acceptable words, and what was written was upright-words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd. And further my son be admonished by these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments; for this is man's all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:8-14).
This biblical truth is the platform from which a counselor operates in order to define to the counseled person the nature of things, shows them how to look at life from an objective biblical perspective and sets to provide healing to hurts and solutions to problems through the Word of God.
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States