biblical counseling vs christian counseling: What’s the difference?

When it comes to choosing between biblical counseling vs. christian counseling, it's important that you know the difference so that you can receive the help you are expecting. We'll start by examining the history of the biblical counseling movement, since most Christians aren't aware of the differences between biblical counselors and christian counselors.

The Neuthetic Counseling movement

The modern day biblical counseling movement has its roots in the Neuthetic Counseling movement started by Jay Adams in the 1960s. Jay Adams was a reformed Christian pastor and author who lived from 1929 to 2020. He was also a seminary professor at the Westminster Theological Seminary where helped start the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation.

Jay Adams had one major complaint with the church of his day: he believed we relied too heavily on secular psychology.

He discovered this problem during his time serving as a pastor. He spent hours preparing sermons for each Sunday morning, yet felt entirely inadequate when it came to helping people who came to his office during the week for help with personal problems.

As he looked to others for help, he noticed an unfortunate trend in many churches. Many other pastors also felt inadequate to help Christians deal with counseling issues. And there was a growing practice of "outsourcing" believers to "professionals" with degrees in psychology and licenses from the state.

In other words, he witnessed the church giving up on its responsibility to counsel its members using the truth revealed in God's Word as our foundation.

Instead, an entire profession of "Christian Counselors" or "Christian Psychologists" had arisen who were attempting to help people while at the same time using principles that had their roots in secular psychology.

Many of Jay Adam's books were written to encourage pastors and lay Christians to take back their God given responsibility to help Christians deal with personal problems. He also provided training material to assist Christians in the process of counseling.

He eventually began the National Association of Neuthetic Counselors (NANC) as a formal organization that certifies neuthetic counselors. NANC eventually changed its name to the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.

How To Become A Biblical Counselor?

The primary certification board that oversees the biblical counselor certification process is the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). The ACBC requires a three stage approach to becoming certified.

  • Completing training curriculum, observations and required reading.
  • Passing an examination and receiving references.
  • Completing 50 sessions of supervised counseling.

A person who is certified by the ACBC is not licensed by the state and therefore cannot accept insurance as a form of payment. However, as we will see soon, there are additional reasons why one my choose a biblical counselor vs a christian counselor.

How To Become a Christian Counselor?

A Christian Counselor is not simply a Christian who counsels, but someone who has gone through the process of becoming licensed by the state. This process involves:

  • Getting a graduate level education in counseling.
  • 2 years of supervised counseling experience.
  • Passing an examination given by your accrediting board.

All licensed counselors must complete this process, but a Christian counselor is one who specializes in helping Christians, may have attended a Christian school  and personally believes in the Christian faith. However, the licensing process is just one of the differences you will experience when you meet a biblical counselor vs a christian counselor.

Similarities Between Biblical Counseling and Christian Counseling

As brothers and sisters in Christ, biblical counselors and christian counselors have many things in common.

  • Both want to help hurting people.
  • Both have received extensive training to help people.
  • Both hold to the Christian faith in their personal life.
  • Both will incorporate biblical truth into the counseling process.

Although are similarities are important, the differences are also profound and can make a big difference in the way they approach the counseling process.

Differences between biblical Counseling and Christian counseling

We've already discussed differences in the way biblical counselors and christian counselors are licensed. However, this is only one of the differences. Perhaps the most fundamental issue boils down to their views of Scripture.

What is our source of authority?

One of the key differences between biblical counseling vs christian counseling is their understanding of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.

The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith as:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

It is derived from Scriptures such as 2 Peter 1:3-4 which tells us that God has given us all things that are necessary for living a godly life. 

When a counselor seeks to provide answers to someone who is hurting, they are ultimately going to draw on some source of knowledge to provide the solution. This source of truth (outside of ourselves) is seen as authoritative in the counseling process. It provides direction and guidance.

But the question is, what provides this authoritative source of truth when dealing with human problems? 

For the biblical counselor who holds to the sufficiency of Scripture, that source of knowledge is the Bible. Whereas for the Christian counselor that source of knowledge is often the "Bible + psychology" (known as integrationism) or simply psychology (which is secularism).

This is not to say that the Bible answers all problems, such as "how do I change a flat tire?", but in the areas pertaining to living a godly life, the Bible is our authority.

This also does not mean that psychology cannot provide helpful observations. However, as a biblical counselor, we can effectively provide counsel to hurting people without any knowledge of psychology because we have the authoritative truth in Scripture.

What is the nature of the problem?

Another key area where biblical counseling and christian counseling differ is in our view of the "problem" that must be addressed in counseling. 

When a person comes to a counselor, they are presenting a problem. However, how should we interpret the problem?

Secular psychology has no place for spiritual concepts such as God, Satan, the Holy Spirit, or sin. Therefore, they have no way of explaining problems from a spiritual perspective.

Instead, the secular psychological explanation for problems we experience often boil down to 2 primary categories: nature and nurture.

The nature explanation for problems states that the problems you struggle with are due to inherent biological problems. According to this view, many of your problems are a result of your DNA. If this view is correct, than you can't solve the problem, you must simply learn to live with it or seek medical help to correct it.

On the other hand, the nurture explanation states that the problems you experience are the result of your environment. In other words, your problems are a result of your upbringing or the thoughts you were taught to believe. The solution therefore is to retrain your thinking/behaving or to alter your environment.

While biblical counselors certainly believe that some problems are a result of biological factors and that your upbringing and environment have an effect on you, we also don't believe this explains the true nature of most problems.

According to truth revealed in Scripture, we must allow for the possibility that many of our problems are not a result of our DNA or our upbringing, but a result of our own sinful hearts.

The Bible teaches that our hearts have been corrupted by sin and that this corruption will affect the way we think, the way we behave and the way we relate to others.

So one of the main differences you may find when you get biblical counseling vs christian counseling is in where we tend to gravitate when trying to understand the true nature of the problem.

What Is The Solution?

If our understanding of the nature of the problem is wrong and our source of authority is wrong, the ultimately the solution we offer will also be wrong.

No counselor, whether a biblical counselor or Christian counselor can provide a helpful solution without first making the right diagnosis.

That is not to say that Christian counselors don't offer helpful solutions. However, alleviating some of the symptoms does not always equate to solving the real problem.

The only way to truly solve the problem is to first understand the true nature of the problem. And the only way to understand the true nature of man's deepest problems is to view the issues through the lens of Scripture.

Again, we must remember that psychology and secular methods of counseling are all built on a shaky foundation that denies the existence of God, the presence of sin, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Even if the counselor is a Christian, if his methods are secular, they will lack the power to truly solve the problem.

Final Thoughts

Lastly, I'll end by making one final observation about the difference between biblical counseling vs christian counseling.

We live in a society that values getting help from "professionals". And in many cases this is indeed a good thing. For example, if I were having heart surgery, I would want to ensure that I was getting help from a professional who was licensed by the state and was experienced enough to be successful.

However, the idea of finding a "professional" has taken over almost every aspect of our lives. We now hire professionals to do our shopping, teach our kids to play the piano and pick out our outfits. We seem to want professionals for everything.

In the area of counseling, this way of thinking has also permeated the church. We have come to believe that we (as believers) are no longer able to help one another deal with our problems. Although the Bible commands us to admonish and instruct one another (Romans 15:14), we now refuse to seek help from anyone without a specialized degree.

It's important to remember that biblical counselors and christian counselors are both on the same team and we serve the same Jesus. I have friends on both sides of the coin whom I admire and respect. And while I have painted with broad strokes in this article, there will always be exceptions to this rule.

However, when choosing between a biblical counselor vs a Christian counselor, your choice will have real implications. What is the ultimate source of authority? What is the true nature of our deepest problems? And what is God's solution to our problems? The Bible has answers to these questions and we need not look elsewhere.

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