Choosing Between
Secular and Christian
Marriage Counseling

In Part One of this article we discussed what Christian marriage counseling is, and provided some background on the education of pastors and what they see as their goals. In Part Two we looked at the two forms of counseling that they practice, biblical counseling and Christian psychology. We also talked about lay and professional Christian counselors. Now, we will finish by discussing whether secular or Christian marriage counseling is better for you.

A Gallup poll in 1992 showed that 80% of its respondents want to talk about their own beliefs and values in counseling. Over 60% prefer a counselor with spiritual beliefs and values.[1]

Religious and spiritual beliefs are foundational beliefs. They deal with the origins of the universe and of you. They deal with the meanings of right and wrong, good and bad. They deal with God and how He relates to all of creation, including you. These matters affect every other belief you have, whether you realize it or not. It simply makes sense to get marriage counseling in which you are comfortable enough to discuss anything, especially foundational beliefs. “[I]t is not unusual for a therapist to be faced with issues that may have strong roots within the religious beliefs of their clients.”[2]

You may have heard stories of therapists saying that religion causes problems and the like, and you don’t want to put you or your spouse in a position of having your faith ridiculed, questioned, or shaken. 7% of psychologists actually think religion is harmful to one’s mental health. But, while 82% think it is beneficial,[3] only 33% of psychologists believe religious faith is among the most important factors in their own lives. That is a little scary when you consider that 72% of Americans believe religious faith is among the most important factors in their lives.[4]

Since religion and spirituality may be entwined with your problems, a counselor who personally doesn’t understand the importance of faith may not be able to help you.

Such was the case for a couple whose counseling had initially focused on communication and interpersonal relations. Both spouses had personality problems. He was diagnosed as having depression, and his abusive attitude toward people served to release tension and bolster self-confidence. She was also depressed, but was restrained in showing emotion, turning her anger inward and feeling unworthy. Her meekness masked a fear of abandonment. Neither one had had very happy childhoods.

Earlier marital therapy failed to pick up on the importance of their religious beliefs. Their life experiences assisted in their misunderstanding and distorting their religious beliefs. Guiding their lives by these distortions, in turn, assisted in further skewing their personality problems. Once their foundational beliefs were examined, clarified, and corrected, each spouse’s defensiveness noticeably eased. They were able to see what they were doing to themselves and to each other. They began to improve both individually and in their relationship.[5]

Some Final Considerations

Overall, Christian marriage counseling that uses secular theories with religiously tailored interventions has been shown to be as effective as secular counseling.[6]

Therefore, it is a matter of personal preference whether you want Christian marriage counseling or secular marriage counseling.

If you want Christian marriage counseling, however, you will need to decide what the mix of spiritual guidance and psychology should be for you. At the moment, research offers only two pieces of advice: 1) highly religious people respond well to religious interventions while non-religious people do not, and 2) the more closely your counselor’s religious beliefs match yours, the better your chances of success may be.[7]

The Marriage Guardian advice is to discuss it with potential counselors. At the moment, you may not see how your foundational beliefs are affecting your marriage. The case study above shows it can be a tricky connection to make. The deeper you examine the roots of your relationship problems with your spouse, the happier the both of you will be. And it may be that the roots include religious or spiritual beliefs.

If your religious beliefs, values, or commitment differ from that of your spouse, you could be better off using a Christian marriage counselor. He/she is likely to be more sensitive to such matters than a secular counselor, and can help you sort out your religious conflicts as they arise in counseling.[8]

So, feel comfortable in wanting Christian marriage counseling to begin with, and feel justified in asking about a counselor’s faith in order to assure yourselves that the Christian marriage counseling you seek will be genuine and effective.

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[1] ^ Timothy Clinton and George Ohlschlager, "Competent Christian Counseling, Volume One: Foundations and Practice of Compassionate Soul Care". WaterBrook Press. 2002. P. 29.
[2] ^ Michael Dimitroff & Steve Hoekstra, “The Spiritually or Religiously Disordered Couple,” Ch. 7 in Jon Carlson & Len Sperry, eds., "The Disordered Couple". Brunner/Mazel, Inc. 1998. P. 121.
[3] ^ Harold Delaney, et al., “Religiosity and Spirituality among Psychologists: A Survey of Clinician Members of the American Psychological Association,” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol. 38, No. 5, Oct. 2007.
[4] ^ A.E. Bergin & J.P. Jensen, “Religiosity of Psychotherapists: A National Survey,” Psychotherapy, Vol. 27. 1990.
[5] ^ Dimitroff & Hoekstra. Ch. 7.
[6] ^ Hook. Pp. 96-97.
[7] ^ Hook. P. 101.
[8] ^ Hook. Pp. 106-107.