When clients say they want a Christian marriage therapist, they generally mean they want somebody who shares their values and won’t be negative or judgmental concerning their belief system. They want to comfortably relate to their therapist and feel understood and supported. If that is what you are looking for, I think we will get along great!
In some cases, clients want to be sure that their marriage counseling is biblically based. To some, that means everything that’s done in the counseling process relates to teachings in the Bible and focuses on obeying what the Bible says and praying that God will help them do what the Bible says.
This view can raise raise some potential issues. Some Christians have been taught to be wary of a Christian marriage therapist who has had any training in psychology. They view them as “humanists,” who have views that are contrary to Christian views. This can actually be a danger for Christians who go to secular universities and graduate schools and end up trying to integrate their Christian beliefs and values with secular philosophies and humanistic ideas.
However, in my case, I went to a Christian Graduate School that made it a point for students to integrate psychological theories around sound Christian doctrines. We found that some humanistic psychological ideas are not compatible with secular psychological ideas and theories.
Obviously, this view can lead to some marital problems based on what each partner wants to focus on in the Bible. Husbands are sometimes accused of using scriptural passages such as the popular passage in Ephesians as proof that the man is the head of the home and the wife must submit to him, on the other hand, most Christians view that passage as giving three examples of mutual honor, respect and submission relating to: husbands/ wives, Masters/slaves, and parents/children.
The danger with marriage counseling that focuses solely on Scripture is that it can easily become an approach that polarizes the couple and the therapist is seen as the person who determines who is right and who is wrong. The fact is that a marriage counselor is not a referee, but rather a teacher and coach.
After spending over 48 years dealing with marital issues as a pastor and a marriage specialist, I find that I’m able to integrate biblical values and morals with the results of the Gottman research very effectively. Simply put, when one looks at the results of the Gottman research, it is clear from a biblical perspective that the master couples are living by Christian values and beliefs, whether they are professing Christians are not, whereas the disaster couples are primarily living by current secular cultural values and beliefs. A simple way to describe this observation is to say that successful couples focus on the other person and meeting their needs and caring for them, as opposed a secularist continually focusing on their own needs and whether or not “their needs” are being met.
From a relational standpoint, Christianity is all about relationships, that is “healthy relationships.” Jesus tells us that when a person loves God with all of their heart soul and mind and his neighbor as himself, they fulfill the whole Law of God.. That is to say, the main thing God requires of a person is that they have a proper relationship with Him, ourselves, our spouses, our children and everyone around us. Furthermore, the Bible teaches that God helps us live this way with each other through the teaching of His Word and His indwelling Holy Spirit.
The problem Jesus had with the Pharisees was as they were more into trying to prove that they were right and everybody else is wrong, or worse yet, that they were better than everyone else because they kept the teachings of the Law “perfectly.” They may have been the teachers of the law, but they were not loving, empathetic Christians who served other people.
So, in summary I would say that since I was a pastor who taught through the entire Bible from cover to cover numerous times during my 45 years in the ministry, I can relate to Christians and understand their perspectives and needs. However, at the same time, I’ve been working as a marriage counselor with believers and nonbelievers with no particular negative reactions from either group. I value both the teachings of Scripture and the discoveries of relational research. I don’t see them in any kind of opposition to each other.
Finally, I have found that I am very comfortable with Christian and non-Christian clients and they are comfortable with me. Often, secular people have stereotypes of Christians, especially ministers. I prefer to relate to them as a person building a relationship and trust before they find out that I have also been a pastor. That way, they don’t reject me as a potential marriage counselor before they even know who I am. My key to effectively relating to Christians or people of any other persuasion is to make sure that my focus is on them and their perspectives, feelings and needs, rather than on trying to persuade anyone of my personal perspectives. In that way, non-Christians don’t feel like I am trying to proselyte them, but at the same time they come to trust me enough to really open up in some of their difficult areas and allow me to be therapeutically helpful because I’ve been loving toward them rather than judgmental.
I hope I have made clear where I stand on these issues so you can be comfortable making the choice whether or not you want to work with me. In any case, I sincerely hope that you get the help you need to build a strong and happy marriage.
Please reach out today to set up an introductory meeting with Jim.
Jim Ramsey has over 40 years of Marriage Counseling experience, with a focus on Christian Marriage Counseling.