The question is, “Do I need to be certified to be a counselor?” The answer is, “No, not necessarily. You are already certified.” Let me explain, speaking from a Christian worldview.
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A license is a permit from an authority to proceed with a specified activity. The governing body permits someone to work within the realm of the individual’s sphere of jurisdiction, using the resources they have provided.
For the Christian, the governing authority is God, and the sphere of jurisdiction is His world. He has given the body of Christ permission, or better said, He has commanded us to go into all the world to teach the ways of Christ (Matthew 28:19-20).
Counseling, a synonym for discipleship, is one method by which the believer can influence God’s world for the sake of Christ. Let’s take a look at the Governing Board and the resources the Lord provides for us to accomplish the vital task of discipleship, or what some call counseling.
Our Governing Board
The Father is the Director of the Board, laying the ground rules, while actively directing all things according to His plans (Isaiah 40:21-23).
The Savior is the primary point-of-focus for us to look to, learn from, and model as we experience transformation into new and different people (2 Corinthians 3:18, 5:17).
The Spirit is the Empowering Agent, who goes before us. He lays the groundwork for change. He envisions, equips and empowers us in the process of change, and He is the One who ultimately brings change in those we serve (John 14:16, 16:7-11).
Our Governing Board’s Resources
Psychology Book – (Psyche – Logos: the Word concerning, or the study of the soul) The Father, Son, and Spirit collaborated to write the ultimate Psychology Book, which gives us all we need to know about human behavior. (See 2 Peter 1:3-4; 2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Illumination – The Spirit provides us special insight, wisdom, and discernment to understand human behavior as we interpret that behavior through the lens of our Psychology Book (the Bible). (See John 13:12-15)
Conscience – Our consciences are the moral thermostats that were hard-wired into each human. (See Romans 2:14-15) It acts as a compass to determine right and wrong behavior (See 2 Timothy 4:1-2; Hebrews 4:7).
The Counselor – The discipler interacts with the conscience of the disciple and the Spirit of God while applying the Word of God to help restore the person back to the person God intended them to be (Galatians 6:1-2).
Our Worldview and Methods?
Here are five things for you to consider as you think about pursuing counseling credentials or certification:
- Our culture would never approve of our worldview or methods. While there can be advantages to having licenses, as long as you do not compromise your beliefs or sin against your conscience in acquiring them, it is not necessary to have them (2 Peter 1:3; Romans 15:14).
- Guard your heart against the temptation of finding your identity in your credentials rather than in your Christ.
- In my professional experience, I have had only one person ask me about my credentials, as far as my training, qualifications, and ability to counsel people. Nearly all counselees are looking for a good counselor while showing virtually no interest in your GPA, credentials, or diplomas. Your competency to care for others will be the number one credential that will give you opportunities to do soul care.
- I am not promoting an anti-education approach or a “you only need to trust God” worldview. That perspective is dumb and careless. Training Christians to counsel is what I do for a living. Getting better at the craft of discipleship is every Christian’s duty, which never ends until they meet Jesus. Christians are always seeking, learning, growing, changing, and exporting.
- It is unfortunate that there are pockets in our culture, who have a caricatured interpretation of ignorant, ranting Christians, blithely pontificating old truths. On one level, there is a legitimate reason for this caricature because we can be too simplistic, as well as uncaring. Being certified or credentialed, as the solution to this problem is somewhat misguided.
Ultimately, your ability to counsel others well will be determined by God’s favor in your life (James 4:6). When someone asks me about certification, in most cases they are asking the wrong question or, minimally, they are not framing the query in the best way. They should ask,
Will your training help me to identify if Christian counseling is a field I should consider and, if so, will your training help me to become a competent Christian counselor?
That is the question that should be at the top of the training, educational, certification, “what I want to be when I grow up” pyramid. Of course, several factors influence the answer to that question:
- The amount of money a person can spend on the training.
- The amount of time a person can devote to the training.
- The God-given ceiling and competency of the person seeking training.
- The grace of God, which ultimately takes any counselor from good to great.
- The kind of role the person will have in the counseling community, e.g., leader or secondary roles.
The right kind of biblical counseling training for qualified people is essential. There is no doubt that one of the leading negatives that cripple Christian sanctification is biblical illiteracy.
People who come to me for counseling do so because they do not know how to apply God’s Word in practical ways to their lives, families, or situations. There are many reasons for this, the main one being ineffective training and application of God’s Word within the Christian community.
I have devoted my life to educating our Christian community. I am pro-education, especially when it comes to solving our soul problems, as well as how those problems profoundly and negatively affect each other as we interrelate within our communities. From a human perspective (secondary cause), it is the lack of education (training) that is hindering us from mastering the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).
Does Certification Matter?
The better question should center on the training you receive, based on the kind of person you are rather than the certificate, license, or diploma you want to pursue. Let me give you three illustrations to make my point.
During the 2015 Super Bowl, between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots, several outstanding players and plays made that game a great game. Here are three of them:
- Tom Brady is a multiple Super Bowl champion and multiple Super Bowl MVP. He was a sixth round, 199th overall draft pick from the University of Michigan.
- Chris Matthews played college football for Los Angeles Harbor College and the University of Kentucky. He was undrafted. The Seahawks gave him a tryout for the 2014/2015 season. He was working for Foot Locker at the time. He made his first of several NFL catches in the Super Bowl.
- Malcolm Butler made the game-saving interception that gave New England the Super Bowl win. He was initially kicked out of his community college and began working for Popeye’s restaurant chain. Eventually, he made it to the Division II school, West Alabama. From there, he made it to the Patriots rookie camp, and the rest is history.
Fundamental Idea: The one thing these three men have in common is their talent, not where they went to school and not their diplomas. The best Christian counselors are those who have been gifted by God to do Christian counseling.
There many NFL also-rans, who went to Ivy League schools. Their education did not give them what they needed because they did not possess what they needed to succeed in the NFL. The best school is not a guarantee you will succeed.
My friend is a plastic surgeon. He is an excellent plastic surgeon. He has removed two moles from my body, as well as putting stitches in my head from where my pastor hit me with a pipe. (That is the way I like to tell the story.)
I do not know where he went to school, though I am sure he has told me. I do not know what kind of certificates or diplomas he has accrued through the years. Honestly, his training is not a curiosity to me.
What I want to know is whether he has “game,” and he has “game.” That is what matters. I am glad others trained him well, and I am happy he has the God-given ability to apply his training in practical ways. The diploma on his wall–assuming it is there because I have never noticed–is a tertiary matter.
And the Rest of Us
More than likely there was a time when you were in need. Perhaps you needed a mechanic or dentist or doctor. Maybe you needed an arborist or a plumber or an electrician. We all have been in that place where we needed to borrow the brains from people with specific skill sets.
I suspect in many of those situations you asked a friend for a recommendation, and upon that recommendation, you made the call and set up the appointment. Word-Of-Mouth, personal recommendation is the most common way in which individuals acquire services.
I am not sure of a situation like this where I gave thought to where the individual went to school or what certifications were in his possession. Last year I had a problem with my eye. I called my friend, who happens to be an eye doctor. He took care of me.
The things we discussed centered on the problem with my eye, not whether he was competent to perform the work on my eye. He has received training, and he is working within his skill set and passion. This perspective is generally how most of us engage those who can provide us with services.
Diplomas and certifications tend to be more critical to the people handing them out and the people receiving them than the people who are seeking competent help. If being certified or having a diploma is your primary objective, I would challenge you to rethink your motives, as well as your goals.
The more important thing for you to think about is the best fit for a person like you. You train a child in the way he/she should go (Proverbs 22:6), not in a way that does not make sense or the way that does not serve the child or the way that does not most effectively make use of the child’s God-given skill set.
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What are the things in which you excel?
- What do you believe God has called you to do?
- What do others say you are good at doing?
- What do you want to do?
The first call to action is to find the thing in which you excel, which hopefully will connect to something you genuinely love to do. Once you discern that thing or are reasonably close to that thing, pursue the training you need so you can become the most competent person you can be.
There are many places to receive quality training for the thing you want to do. Tom Brady, Chris Matthews, and Malcolm Butler received the training they needed, but ultimately it was their unique gift mixes and providence that enabled them to do great things within their field of expertise.
- Do you need to be certified? No, absolutely not.
- Do you need to be equipped? Yes, absolutely.
If you go into Christian counseling, I assure you that people will not care so much about your certification. People are pragmatists. What they will want from you is competent and compassionate counseling that helps them to live transformed lives in an uncertain and fallen world. You do what you have to do to get to that end, but make sure that transformative training is the end game that you have in mind.
If you would like to explore what it means for you, as it pertains to being trained well in the field of Christian counseling, your first step would be to check out our long distance education training. You can complete our program through the Internet.
We will not make you a great biblical counselor, but we will help you to discover and apply what the Lord has uniquely given to you. If you are interested, please click on the link to learn more, and afterward, if you have more questions, submit your questions and desires to us through the form below.
Also published on Medium.