ther-a-pistnoun: a person who helps people deal with mental or emotional problems by talking about those problems: a person trained in psychotherapy

Sometimes, friends or community members provide the sounding board that we need to process the things that hold us back from mental wholeness. Sometimes, we may need more.

Counseling and Therapy are NOT the Same

Don’t get me wrong. I just want to set the record straight. Most pastors give wise, godly counsel. But a pastoral counselor and a therapist don’t do the same things. We often use the words interchangeably to indicate someone we go to when we have a problem. Before you decide to take your racing thoughts and compulsion to your local pastor, think about this: I took a class in school law, but that doesn’t make me qualified to represent a client in court.

While licensed ministers of the gospel may have taken a class (or two or three) in family and marriage counseling, most do not have an actual state-issued counseling license. This doesn’t preclude the pastor from giving good marriage advice, but it also doesn’t guarantee that the advice they give will solve the problem.

According to the Word of Life Christian Counseling Training Institute, “A state license is not required to do Christian counseling as an ordained or licensed minister or as part of an official program of a church.” A state-licensed counselor has to have a master’s degree and go through a rigorous internship program that requires thousands of hours of supervised counseling.

I don’t want to discount the training and experience that ministers and pastors receive as part of their education. The fact remains, though, that a licensed pastor doesn’t have the same education as a state-licensed counselor. And not all denominations require pastors to go through a credentialing or licensing program.

I have my First Aid and CPR card, but I take no offense when someone with a broken arm visits the ER. In fact, I would offer to drive them! Likewise, a good pastor will direct his sheep to the proper place for the right kind of help.

A good pastor will direct his or her sheep to the proper place for the right kind of help. #write31days #mentalhealth Click To Tweet

What Kind of Help DO You Need?

counselingThe analogy between First Aid certification and a state board license to practice medicine should help you figure out what kind of help you really need. If you have low-level problems, need pre-marital counseling, or have moral questions, consider a visit to your pastor. For more persistent problems such as depression, racing thoughts, serious marital issues, trauma, or abuse, look for an expert.

If you feel that you need healing from your past in order to experience mental wholeness, assess yourself before you seek help. Journal about the problem, try self-help books—they may help you resolve the problem or help you narrow your search for help. But remember that a self-help book won’t always cut it.

When our daughter experienced profound depression she couldn’t focus enough to read more than a page. She needed professional counseling. I wanted to find a Christian counselor, but that proved difficult. For some reason, I distrusted counselors who didn’t claim Christian as part of their identity.

In searching for a ‘Christian counselor,’ I discovered that a state-licensed counselor’s mandate (Christian or not) is to remain neutral. Silly me, for some reason I had the perception that a non-Christian counselor would automatically ask about religious affiliation and try to talk to a patient out of his or her faith as part of the counseling agenda.

You should also seek a counselor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist whose goals include working themselves out of a job. Whoever helps you should teach you to function and resolve problems on your own.

The end goal of #counseling and #therapy should be growth and the ability to work through problems on one's own. Click To Tweet

Who You Gonna Call?

If you still have questions about what kind of counselor or therapist to see, check out this resource.

Nurture Yourself Takeaway #7: Know when and where to find professional help.

Come back tomorrow to find out why resolving trauma and issues in your life with the help of a trained professional is so important.


  1. I do have a sincere question I’m trying to find the answer to. My husband and I have a 13 yr old daughter who has become very interested in porn via cartoon searches she had done. It’s such that she can’t have access to any online device without supervision (she is on the autism spectrum, but at a higher functioning level, once called Asperger’s Syndrome). We approached our pastor many times now (beginning last fall) for him to talk with her on the morality issues and he just keeps putting us off. We’ve asked him for a referral if he can’t talk with her (he was a youth pastor for 19 years), but he never has. He mentioned this past Sunday in his sermon that he is not a counselor and no one should expect anything of that nature from him. Whether he was referring to us or not, I honestly can’t say, but shouldn’t we be able to expect this kind of moral counseling from him, our pastor? Am I expecting too much? We have actually had to reach out to a secular counseling center which scares me because of all that’s being taught today as being normal and right. She meets with them starting Thursday.

    1. I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this issue. One would think that a pastor would have the training to know how to deal with counseling, but sadly, many do not. They can give counsel, but that isn’t the same as ‘counseling.’ A counselor, or therapist, knows the proper steps to help a person overcome an addiction (and porn can be very addicting). A pastor can counsel a parishioner that something is morally wrong, but they won’t have the skill set to help them overcome the addiction. Since your daughter is only 13, you should be able to meet with the counselor alone and explain your goals for counseling. It sounds like your goal is to help your daughter overcome an online addiction (to porn). Licensed counselors understand addictions, and will know what to do. You may also consider setting up internet security walls that help weed out the majority of distasteful sites (we did this when we had children living at home). Do a search online for home internet filtering and see what you come up with.

      1. Thank you so much for your reply. I had just figured since she was so new to it, the addiction hadn’t “set in” yet. But you are probably right in how addicting it can be. I will be talking with the initial counselor first. Our daughter will be referred from there. You have helped me feel a little more comfortable with secular counseling. Thank you again!

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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