Counseling others through difficult time, challenging personal crises or the simple complexities of everyday life requires patience, compassion and selflessness. These are also all features of a good Christian life devoted to fellowship and the scriptures. These are the ideas at the crux of Mark McMinn's 1996 text Psychology, Theology and Spirituality in Christian Counseling. At its most basic, the text is an outline of the roles, responsibilities and pitfalls that come with Christian counseling. But taken with greater scrutiny, the text can be seen as a blueprint for counseling through a Christian perspective in a modern world with this perspective is often overshadowed. The text is organized according to eight primary sections, each of which details an aspect of Christian life as filtered through a counselor's perspective. Each section of the McMinn text is designed to address an issue area such as Prayer, Sin and Confession. The 8 Section text addresses each of these areas through the lens of the evolving Christian Counselor, who must learn to function in the world around him while protecting and living the Word of God. Each section details the strategies and philosophical undercurrents that must drive the Counseling profession in a spiritual mode.
The strength of the text is that each of these sections incorporates a thorough understanding of the difficulty often presented in living a Christian life given the temptations and pressures around us. The McMinn text shows that it has never been more difficult, or more necessary, to reinforce one's Christian values. But in asserting this, McMinn also demonstrates that the Bible was a markedly more modern document than one might assume. As such, the answers to most of our modern quandaries may be found within its pages. For instance, McMinn points out that the Bible is inherently designed to function in permanence and perpetuity. Its examination of sin, according to McMinn, is no less relevant today than it was when the Scriptures were given to us. According to McMinn, "Christian spiritual writers throughout the past two millennia have emphasized the universality of human sin. If we take these writers seriously, we must confront some problems in a modern-day psychology that considers self-esteem a goal we can attain our own with various self-help strategies. Until we honestly confront the problem of sin, we cannot know the miracle of grace and true acceptance."(McMinn, p. 154)
This underscores the common theme throughout the McMinn text, which is the demonstrated pertinence of the scriptures to contending with even the most seemingly modern or esoteric counseling issues.
To this very point, the text by McMinn does accurately reflect some of the personal experiences that I've had as a developing counselor. In fact, some of the descriptions that McMinn uses to explain the role of the Christian counselor would be highly evocative of my early experiences in the field. For instance, I feel a particular sense of familiarity with the role of change-agent that the author describes. According to McMinn, "the spiritual disciplines provide a way for deep internal change that mere willpower can never bring about. The disciplines are God's provision for enabling us to become what we could never become through human effort. Christian therapists who are sensitive to the spiritual life recognize the importance of personal training in developing habits of holiness." (McMinn, p. 16)
I am reminded here of a personal experience which truly helped me to hone my focus on a future career as a Christian counselor. I observed a close friend suffer a debilitating injury. As a result of a traumatic fall, my friend is now paralyzed from the wiast down and bound to a wheelchair. The change in his life, his plans and his expectations for the future would be dramatic. But at the same time, he would have to find revised ways of pursuing the same life, plans and expectations..
I am proud to say that during this incredibly difficult time in my friend's life, I was able to help him cope with the heavy emotional toll of the experience. I believed in a philosophy both of compassion and realism. Christian counseling tells us that change is the natural state of things, a constant which we cannot control. It would fall upon my friend to find ways of coping psychologically with the fact that his change manifested in the way that it did. I remember telling him at one juncture where he was feeling particularly discouraged, "There is no way to know what Jesus has planned for you, but He knows that you will rise to this test. This will change your life but if you let it, it could also change you for the better. Make every day count."
I am proud to say that my friend would heed this advice, ultimately making the best of a life bound to a wheelchair. Ultimately, he would accept that the change would have a profound impact on his life but that it needn't define him, and most particularly not in a negative way.
How does the book suggest we respond to the pressure to extract our faith from the way in which we counsel? By making a strong case for the value that a faith-driven counseling approach offers to the client. As McMinn warns, there is a danger of missing an opportunity for connecting with or reaching out to one's patient. According to McMinn, the true Christian counselor will not shy away from the value offered by his or her spirituality. McMinn tells that "specialists integrate Christian theology and psychological techniques and help their clients with both spiritual and emotional growth. They cling to the truth of Christ as revealed in Scripture and deliberately allow their beliefs to saturate their counseling methods." (McMinn, p. 5)
In reflection on the text, this would seem to be a guiding imperative. Namely, the article indicates that as mental health professionals, we are always under pressure to concede to the strict separation of the secular world. However, here, McMinn notes that we are doing a disservice not just to our true value systems but also to the emotional needs of our patients. Here, we are inclined to view it as our responsibility to provide a spiritually-driven path for counseling for those that might otherwise be emotionally unreachable.
One of the biggest professional concerns in any counseling context is the risk of burnout. The emotional toll of serving the psychological needs of others with total objectivity and professionalism can be considerable. This is why, the McMinn text shows us, Christian counselors must have undergone a confrontation of their own sins and imperfections. This produces the emotional stability to give of one's self in a counseling context. According to McMinn "if Christian counselors are to take sin seriously in their professional work, we must also be devoted to understanding the impact of sin in our personal lives. The haunting words of Jesus remind us to take the log out of our own eyes before considering the speck in our neighbor's eye. How dare we confront sin in others' lives without looking honestly at our own?" (p. 155)
This denotes that as a counselor, I must immerse myself in a process of self-discovery first. My plan of action for evolving as a Christian counselor is to develop a more intimate relationship with the content of the Bible. It is from here that I will draw the spiritual prerogative for strength. Using the scriptures to reinforce the sense that I'm doing God's work in my counseling will help to keep the threat of burnout at bay.
McMinn indicates that as Christian counselors, we must be always familiar with and considerate of the words of the Scripture. McMinn advises for one's developmental plan of action that "for every page…