Preparing Counsellors for the Church

Author: Dr. Susheel K.Tharien

The Church today has preachers, pastors, teachers, evangelists and even a new group of leaders called worship leaders. Excellent. But most churches lack counsellors. Almost all the above mentioned people can double as counsellors. But most do not have the time or training. Yet counselling is an important part of pastoral care and evangelism.

What is the role of a counsellor in the church?

Many regard counselling as fire fighting or trouble shooting, meaning something for which one goes in times of serious problems or crisis. Counselling may indeed be needed at such times but it needs to go beyond it. Health is defined by the World health Organisation as a state of physical, mental, social and spiritual well being and not a mere absence of disease. A counsellor in the church should be a promoter of church health rather than a trouble shooter.

Do we need Counsellors?

That is a good question. Almost like the question “Do we need doctors?” Even when nobody is sick a good doctor will endeavor to help in preventing illness and guide people in maintaining good health. We shall briefly look at some of these areas a little later.

Confusion about psychology and psychiatry in counseling:

Many Christians look at psychology and psychiatry rather suspiciously. Some feel they are anti-christian, worldly, or worse still, tools of the devil! Some of these ideas come from close mindedness or ignorance. Psychology, like human anatomy or physiology, is a scientific study of behaviour, based on observations and experiments. However, many psychologists have gone on to develop their own theories and hypotheses based on some of these, and they need not be accepted as such. But many of these give such good insights into human behaviour, emotions and motivation that they cannot be ignored. A Christian counsellor will do well to be aware of modern developments in psychology and psychiatry and also be aware of what the Bible says. Behavioural science, like the medical science, is a gift from God.

Misconceptions:

Ignorance and over-generalisations have given rise to many ‘popular’ myths. One commonly held myth is that mental problems are more common in the affluent, fast moving west than in India. International studies have shown that the rate of mental illness is almost the same across the world, though the symptoms and attitude towards them vary. Culture has a bearing on how people present their problems, how they seek help and how they cope. We need to keep this in mind as many of the literature on counseling we read are western, and we need to see how we apply this appropriately in Indian situation. For example, being independent is an important need in the west whereas dependence is sometimes actively encouraged in India. The western mind wants to reason out, ask “Why”, like the Greek philosophers like Socrates and Plato. But we in India have a long tradition of “Guru – Shishya” culture, where the Guru knows everything and one dare not question his wisdom – not a very healthy attitude nowadays with the types of Gurus we see!

Psycho somatic approach:

We need to understand that mind and body are inter related and that what affects the mind reflects on the body and vice versa. This is why nearly 25% of the patients attending any general hospital have a psychological problem. Many of them are helped by counseling.

Stress and personality:

Most of us learn to manage with the usual stresses and strains of life. But some times stresses become too much. Some people do not learn to cope with ordinary stresses in life and find even ‘normal’ stresses too much. Both groups need help.

Mood disorders:

Normal ups and downs in moods occur everyday. However, in some, these fluctuations are too large or they last for an abnormally long time, that they become a matter of concern. Some of these are mood disorders and may need professional help by psychiatrists. Counsellor can help in recognizing this early and direct appropriate help as they are often treatable with good results.

Risk of suicide in these cases is a grave concern. 11- 17% among the severely depressed attempt suicide. But the risk is higher if they have attempted suicide before, if they are single or divorced, or if they are alcoholic. Risk is higher in older men.

Heredity plays an important role in mood disorders. Personality of the person, physical, physiological and psychological stresses, recent significant life events and vulnerability factors also contribute.

The currently accepted theory of mood disorders is that they are due to biochemical changes in the brain, particularly in neuro-chemicals like Serotonin. This is the basis of anti depressant medication. Another useful treatment modality is the Electro Convulsive Therapy ( ECT) which, contrary to popular belief is one of the safest and effective treatment methods. In all cases counseling and support are needed.

Serious mental illnesses:

Nearly 1% of the population (this means almost 1 crore of people in India) suffer from serious mental disorders. Their caretakers and relatives too need counseling. The counsellor needs to be aware of some of the symptoms.

10% of people suffer from “minor” mental disorders.

 

“Health needs” of the church:

People need to have a healthy self esteem. In the competitive world today what one often hears is words like, “You are no good” “Can’t you do anything well?” “How stupid can you be?” “Perform or perish” etc. Hardly flattering for one’s self esteem. In such a world one needs to know that he or she is loved by God unconditionally and that He says, “You are my beloved son / daughter in whom I am well pleased” because of Christ.

Busy parents have no time for their children. Their concept of parenting is distorted by what they see and hear. Marriage and family are breaking down at alarming rates in India today as never before. The marriages need to be enriched. These are some of the ways promoting health in the church by counsellors.

Care of the counsellors:

Finally, it should never be forgotten that counsellors themselves will need care. They need to take care themselves first. Counsellor should have healthy avenues of emotional outlets – like sharing with a colleague or seniors, recreation and time for other activities. If Lord Jesus felt that the disciples needed a break and often took them to the hills or on a boat ride, how much more would we need times of rest and relaxation. Our Lord often went up by Himself after a busy day to pray and have communion with the Father. We need to return to “the Centre” every time. If not, we may become Eccentric.