For many people, just making the decision on whether to seek counseling for marriage and family issues is difficult. Once you’ve decided (see “Do I Need Counseling?”), the next difficulty is finding a qualified counselor who can help you.
While FamilyLife is unable to provide counseling, we want to encourage you in your pursuit of a qualified, godly counselor who can help you in your journey to resolve marriage and family problems. We believe it is strength, not weakness, to acknowledge the need for help. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.”
Important qualifications in a biblical counselor
Look for someone who:
- can provide evidence of solid biblical and counseling training and experience;
- loves people, perseveres through tough times, and is confident that Jesus works in His people;
- believes that the Bible, God’s Word, is sufficient for providing wisdom and direction for dealing with life’s issues (2 Peter 1:2-4; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17); and
- gives clear evidence of a personal, passionate relationship with Jesus Christ.
Steps to take
1. Ask God for wisdom to make the right decisions as you seek a biblical counselor. God promises to give you wisdom if you ask in faith (James 1:5-8). As you step out in faith, He will direct your steps to the right counselor (see also Psalm 23, Proverbs 16:3 and Philippians 4:6-9).
2. Seek counsel from your church. The Bible teaches that there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6). If you belong to a church, it is important to seek the counsel of your pastor (Hebrews 13:17), and other church leaders.
God has placed your pastor or elder in the local church to give direction and care for the body of Christ, the members of the local church. Your pastor or elder might be able to offer some biblical direction or resources that can meet your needs or help you with the problem you face. One or more of the elders of your church might also be trained in counseling. At the very least, your pastor needs to know the scope of your problem so that he can pray consistently for you and your family.
The pastor is also the first resource to ask about finding a Christian counselor. He cares for you; He is responsible to God; He probably knows individuals in the area or state that can serve you well and with integrity.
You might begin talking to mature or trusted believers as well. They may have already spent time with a Christian counselor. If the counselor was able to minister to your friend, then he or she may be worth your prayerful consideration.
If your pastor or church is unable to provide you with the name(s) of good Christian counselors, FamilyLife provides lists of national and regional counseling organizations and counselors. These individuals and organizations listed have agreed in principle with our views on Christian counseling and with the principles in our Family Manifesto.
If you do not belong to a church, seek the counsel of godly, Bible-believing Christians. They may also have recommendations of godly pastors who can help you. And consider this: One reason many people face problems in their families is because they lack the right biblical information, encouragement, and modeling to help them succeed. Being involved in a local church may be one of the most important steps you take toward resolving the issues you face.
3. Seek outside counsel, if necessary. In some cases, wise, biblically-sound counsel might not be found in the current leadership of a church. Or, if you do not belong to a church, you may be looking for biblical counsel outside the context of a local body of believers. Look for a qualified and experienced biblical counselor who can help you. For more information, consult our lists of national and regional counseling organizations.
4. Consider whether you need to start with conflict coaching. A competent biblical counselor will help you gain a clear understanding of the biblical and heart issues involved in your problem. In some cases, however, there is such a breakdown in communication between different individuals that no constructive discussion can take place; couples may be so focused on attacking each other, for example, that they won’t listen to constructive counseling about what caused the hurt.
If this is your situation, you may need to find a trained conflict counselor—a Christian mediator—to help you resolve conflict so that you can move toward counseling. The mediation process often reestablishes communication so that a couple can go on to seek counseling for the deep issues or problems that trouble their marriage. For more on conflict coaching, click here.
Issues to consider
1. Your faith. Personal faith is essential to the process of growth in and through trials. Even in the midst of intense suffering and pain, God is willing and able to help you. Look to His Word. It says that God will not allow us to be tempted or tested beyond what we are able to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13); that He will be our strength and our place of refuge whenever we need Him (Psalm 46:1-3); and that He promises Christians that all things, even the most difficult, will work for good (Romans 8:28). As you look to the Lord through the Scriptures, He will give you strength and wisdom to make wise decisions.
2. Your understanding of the problem. The more you understand the problem and how to address it, the more you will be able to promote growth in your marriage and family. Of particular importance is your willingness to admit and confront your own contributions to the issue you are facing.
In addition to the Bible, there are biblically based resources that offer encouragement and instruction. FamilyLife suggests the following materials:
- How Can I Change? by C.J. Mahaney and Robin Boisvert.
- Resources for Changing Lives, a series of booklets published by the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF) on issues like anger, pornography, depression, A.D.D., suffering, domestic abuse, etc.
- The Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF) resource, Changing Hearts, Changing Lives (video or audio).
These resources will help you understand that God’s goodness and sovereignty is involved in allowing pain and suffering in a Christian’s life. They will also help promote healing and growth in the grace and knowledge of God in Jesus Christ.
Questions to ask a prospective counselor
It’s important to make an informed decision about each counselor you consider. If possible, ask these questions on the phone before any appointment, or discuss them during your first meeting. The kind of counselor you will want—one who is humble and committed to the Scripture—should have no problem helping you in this way.
Then talk to your pastor, elder, or wise Christian friend about your conversation with the counselor and his or her answers with a view to God’s Word. Don’t forget to continue to pray for God’s wisdom to make the right choice.
Ask your prospective counselor:
- What is your approach to understanding people’s problems and helping them grow and change through counseling? Please describe this process.
- What are some books or other resources that you recommend on a regular basis or that have most influenced you in your approach to counseling?
- Are you a Christian? How does your faith affect your view and practice of counseling?
- Do you bring Christian truth into your counseling practice? How? What role does the Scripture play?
- Do you pray with those you counsel?
- Do you go to church? If so, where and how long have you been a member?
- What is your educational and professional background? What role does it play?
- Are you married? Do you have children? Have you ever been divorced? How does your marriage and family situation affect how you counsel people?
Counseling is an interactive process. It is built, established, and maintained on the basis of trust. Open and honest dialogue between a counselor and a counselee is the most important component of building trust. If you cannot establish this foundation of trust early on—if you are not confident that the counselor will be wise, biblical, loving, and faithful in your interaction—you may need to look elsewhere.
On the other hand, if you find a wise counselor who uses God’s Word to help you grow in your Christian walk, in your marriage and in your family, Scripture says you will be blessed! As Proverbs 3:13 tells us, “How blessed is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding.”