A study of relevant literature indicates that Asian communities have been generally reluctant to seek professional help for mental health problems. The Christian community is no exception. What is more alarming, however, is that while Asian communities continue to be skeptical of professional help, the reality of their family conflicts is not any less threatening. For example, in a letter this writer received from a South Asian Christian teenager, the young girl writes: "I have a good family, but there is only one thing wrong, I am 15 years old; I do not sleep at night... scared about who will next open my door? What do I do? I have prayed, but there's no answer yet. Is this my fate?"
For many Christian parents who are not accustomed to seeking professional help, there may be more questions than there are answers that are reassuring. For example, one may ask, "What is Christian counseling? How does it differ from secular Counseling? Is seeking counseling scriptural? Does counseling negate the scriptures?" Fortunately, the answers the Bible provides are reassuring. For example, in the epistle to the Corinthian church, Apostle Paul writes: "But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just he wanted them to be" (1 Cor 12:18). From this scripture, it becomes evident that the diversity of ministries in the church is intended to be a blessing for the church. Elsewhere, Paul makes it clear that both the ministry of the Spirit and the ministry of understanding have their place in the church (1 Cor 14:15). What becomes clear from these Scriptures is that the ministry of Counseling is just as vital a ministry in the church and that it does not replace other ministries but only supplements them.
What then is counseling? Before counseling is defined it is helpful to state what it is not. This is especially important since counseling tends to be a term loosely defined and often misunderstood. First of all, counseling is not telling a client what to do. It is not imposing on the client the counselor's own values, beliefs or way of thinking. Secondly, it is not giving advice as the word "counsel" generally implies. If so, there is plenty of it available from peers, friends and family!
Stated simply then, counseling is a helping process which involves a professional relationship in which a person who is in need of help and is willing to receive help receives help from someone who is perceived as able to help. What are some of the basic ingredients of this helping relationship? First of all, counseling involves the practice of accurate empathy - the counselor's ability to understand the client's world in the same way as the client sees it and to communicate this understanding to the client.
Christian Counseling may be thought of as "working the fallow ground" or "watering the seed". In order for the Word of God to fall on "good ground" and to take deep root, the soil needs to be prepared. In this way, counseling can be seen as the process of preparing the heart, helping it grow tender and receptive to the good word of God. Counseling in this sense is not 'preaching" to the client but helping the client "face self" and to change. Many who are regular church goers today do not seem receptive to the Word of God. Not because it is not preached, preached well or preached often, but like the seed that falls by the way side, the rocky and the thorny place, it has little impact on the lives of its hearers. In order for God's Word to take effect, it must be experienced as relevant to the subjective experience of its hearers. It is the counselor's role to help this process to occur.
In Christ, our Great and Wonderful Counselor, one can find the practice of accurate empathy. For example, in the familiar story of the woman caught in adultery we can see His deep compassion and non-judgmental attitude. Moreover, we can notice His ability to understand His subject's inner pain her feelings of fear, shame and guilt-- when He said to her: "Woman, where are thine accusers I also do not accuse you. Go in peace and sin no more." Jesus seemed to know well what it felt like to be frightened, accused and condemned to die.
In Christian counseling the client feels the gentle presence of the counselor, his/her deep compassion and warmth. Within this warm, caring relationship, the client learns to relax and to trust, to feel secure and accepted. Within such a relationship, the client opens up to the possibility of experiencing changes - changes that are positive, wholesome and enduring. This is what will help the client overcome the "stigma" of Counseling and want to come back for more of it. This is what Jesus meant when He said: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).