Mental health treatments are a controversial subject among Christians. Here at 412teens, we strongly endorse seeking counseling and talking to your doctor about any mental health issues you might be experiencing. However, even if you want to pursue counseling, there are so many different resources for mental health assistance that it can be hard to tell them apart. Is counseling different from therapy? Are counselors, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists the same? Is one more biblical than the other?
The definitions of counselors, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists all vary, and no single group is better than another. There are good and bad professionals in every field. As a brief distinction, counselors and therapists generally require a lower level of education before being licensed to work with clients/patients. Psychologists require a PhD level of education, and psychiatrists require a medical degree.
The main differences between a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a counselor are: 1. Varying levels of education, and 2. The authority to prescribe mental health medication.
Psychologists are doctors heavily studied in various mental processes and illnesses. They generally have private counseling practices and can administer assessment tests on various cognitive and emotional issues. As of 2002, psychologists in New Mexico, USA are able to prescribe pharmacological medication, but psychologists generally do not have the authority to prescribe medication.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in an understanding and application of pharmacological medication to treat mental disorders. Usually patients are required to see a psychologist or other counseling professional first before they can be referred to a psychiatrist.
Licensed professional counselors (LPC) are trained to handle individuals, couples, families, or groups. Counselors work with their clients to identify issues, establish goals, and create a plan to overcome whatever obstacles are standing in the way of good mental health. Their ultimate goal is to improve communication and coping skills, build up self-esteem, and encourage behavior change for optimal mental health after a set period of time.
When first looking into mental health treatments, one might think of a psychologist as the only type of person we can go to for advice, but licensed counselors are also very skilled and widely available. Psychologist services are typically more expensive than counselors, and since not all mental health issues require the in-depth knowledge of a fully-licensed psychologist, a licensed counselor may be a better option.
However, if you or your primary care doctor suspects you may have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or another complicated mental health disorder, you’d want to be evaluated by a psychologist for a more thorough diagnosis. If you’ve already been diagnosed and are taking medication or need continuing guidance and support, then a counselor is another option to help you talk through your feelings and arrive at a treatment plan to manage your mental health battles.
Check your health insurance (if you have it) to see what mental health services are covered. Also check your area for local non-profit organizations that may provide free or low-cost medical or mental health services.
Scientific studies of mental health issues didn't happen during Bible times—not in the way we know them today. Therefore, the Bible doesn’t explicitly talk about consulting with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor. However, psychiatry, psychology, and general counseling all have their places in modern day health care practices, just like antibiotics and physical therapy. Different ailments and illnesses require different means of diagnoses and treatment. Pursuing specialized avenues to care for our bodies (and our minds!) isn’t sinful. Taking care of our mental health is a beneficial means of practicing stewardship over what God has given us (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Corinthians 3:9; 1 Corinthians 9:17).
Of course, just like with general practice doctors who help us when we have the flu or a cold, it can take time to find the proper psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor to help us with what we need. Some professionals will be Christians, some of them will not be. Some will be Christians yet keep their faith beliefs strictly separated from a scientific diagnosis of your illness.
Additionally, every person’s mental health struggle will be different, so while one person may specifically want to meet with a Christian psychologist, another may want to meet with someone who does not express a faith bias. Either way, a good mental health practitioner will respect your faith affiliation or let you know if their own bias makes your relationship with them incompatible. Likewise, a good practitioner will respect your decision to terminate the relationship if you feel led to find someone else.
If at all possible, we encourage you to keep prayer and the study of God's Word as a part of your search for a mental health professional. Sometimes we won’t even know what we’re looking for because we have no referrals and are basically flying blind. But James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Translation: If you need help? Ask God! He’s willing and ready to give you the help you need.
Similarly, the more grounded in Scripture you can be, the better (Hebrews 4:12). If your psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor tells you to do something that doesn't mesh with your beliefs, you need to be able to stand firm in your faith. A good mental health professional will respect your beliefs and work within your personal parameters, but the more clearly you can express those boundaries and truths, the better your doctor can help you.
While you do need to show discernment by weighing everything you're advised in counseling against what the Bible says, when you're in a dark depression or an anxiety attack, sometimes the brain literally cannot work well enough to consciously know how. The more deeply you internalize Scripture when you’re healthy, the more naturally you’ll call upon that knowledge and Truth when you can’t think straight.
But remember, regardless of your current emotional or mental state, God’s grace and love toward you remains the same and will never be measured out based on your knowledge or present ability to study and pray. God will be with you ALWAYS.
Romans 8:26-27 says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, helping and guiding us. In those times when our hearts are too broken to form words to beg God for help, we’re not cut off from Him at all. Instead, the Holy Spirit speaks for us, telling God the needs and pains of our hearts.
Psychologists are heavily studied in various brain processes and illnesses and can give mental health assessments. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can diagnose serious mental illnesses as well as prescribe pharmacological medication. Licensed professional counselors are trained to work cooperatively with clients to assess issues, establish goals, and help build up skills to deal with problems for optimal mental health. The Bible doesn't mention seeking professional help for mental health but pursuing specialized avenues to care for our bodies (and our minds!) isn’t sinful. Rather, it is a beneficial means of practicing stewardship over what God has given us (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Corinthians 3:9; 1 Corinthians 9:17).
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