Biblical Counselors and State Regulations

October 12, 2015

Ed Welch (CCEF)

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Ed Welch (CCEF)

Biblical counselors are men and women who want Scripture to shape our counseling practice, and we prefer to work in settings that give us the freedom to be open with our convictions. These settings include local churches, Christian colleges, nonprofit counseling centers, and more. Within them, some biblical counselors are licensed (professional counselors, social workers, psychologists), most are not.

Issues We Will Increasingly Face

Across all these settings and credentials, counseling is getting more complicated. State counseling laws and their range of interpretations are making our lives feel crowded. The genius of the American separation of church and state would seem to keep the state at bay, but, for a couple good reasons, the state has interests in what biblical counselors do.

We get paid, or, at least some of us get paid for service. When money changes hands, the state wants to protect its citizens. So, whoever gets paid for counseling by the person being counseled is always going to sense the state’s interest. We could argue that there are completely unregulated groups who charge fees—palm readers and fortune-tellers come to mind—and if they are not regulated by the state then that creates precedent for more freedoms for ourselves. But our name creates some problems.

We call ourselves counselors, and counselors are, in this culture, a professional lot. No matter what adjective is in front of it—biblical, Christian, grief, lay—the public perception is that counseling is something different than chatting with your neighbor or a wise friend. Instead, it is perceived as a relationship between a professional and a client, and the general public assumes certain rules of professional conduct. Granted, this is only perception, but this is a case in which perception is reality.

What Shall We Do in Response?

In response, we can develop more detailed ethical standards that distinguish biblical counseling from other kinds of counseling, which we are. However, if we get paid for counseling we always have to keep our eye on the standards for all those who call themselves counselors (e.g., the American Counseling Association), and these standards can conflict with our reading of Scripture.

We could delete the word counseling and opt for pastoral care, which is always waiting in the wings. But this would be difficult given that we have been using the word counseling for about fifty years. My own inclination is that we can wait until a name change is necessary.

Meanwhile, we proceed prudently. We want those we counsel to be as clear as possible about who we are and what we are doing, we want those we train to be known by their humility and love, we must avoid offering recommendations in areas where we are less experienced, and we want to seek ongoing advice about our increasingly crowded world.

Join the Conversation

How should we respond as biblical counselors to the increasing possibility of governmental attempts to regulate our counseling?