Guilt and Shame: A Christian Therapist’s Perspective

The views expressed in this article are of the individual writer and not necessarily representative of each counselor who works at ChristianWorks for Children.

The first time I watched the movie Moana, a scene toward the end of the movie absolutely entranced me. The underlying themes of identity, shame, and healing are blatant. If I didn’t know any better I would think it was a gospel allegory, too. But more on that later.

For some quick back story, our heroine Moana has just discovered that the supposed fire-monster villain is not who she seems. The monster is actually a lush, green island-creature whose source of strength and light had been stolen from her. Without her “heart,” this island creature became unrecognizable, dangerous, and terrifying. Moana reminds the monster who she truly is, and the transformation that follows is quite emotional if you are someone who has ever dealt with feelings of shame.

Watch the first two minutes of this clip for full effect. I cry just about every time.

I have crossed the horizon to find you

I know your name

They have stolen the heart from inside you

But this does not define you

This is not who you are

You know who you are

Guilt and Shame: What is the difference?

I am reminded of a video that a former ChristianWorks employee once created to describe the difference between guilt and shame for parents; her definitions have stuck with me ever since.

In this video, Madelyn quotes Kurt Thompson, author of The Soul of Shame:

“Guilt says I did something bad, and shame says I AM bad.”

Guilt and shame may have similar roots related to feelings of regret, but at the core, shame speaks straight to our sense of identity.

Brene Brown, a wildly popular clinical social worker and researcher, shares a similar idea in her Listening to Shame TedTalk :

Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior… Guilt [says] I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame [says] I’m sorry. I am a mistake.”

Shame is often accompanied with a feeling of powerlessness. If someone believes that they are failing because of who they are, and not necessarily what they have done, they may feel as if they are unable to change, and out of control. Side-emotions of hopelessness and helplessness may result, as well.

One professional journal on this topic identifies that shame “implies perceived lack of power to meet the standards of one’s ideal self, whereas guilt implies perceived power and willingness to be harmful” [2].

As for what shame feels like,

“People describe this state in terms of losing respect for oneself...feeling degraded, diminished or humiliated. Experiencing shame includes also a need to hide, disappear, or ‘to vanish into thin air’” [1].

Shame is heavy and raw. It tells us we aren’t just flawed, but irredeemably so. You can imagine how the experience of long-term shame can be dangerous.

These distinctions between shame and guilt are vitally important for counselors when helping a client who is struggling one or both of these emotions. When an attack on identity is present, as it is with shame, a person’s negative self-talk and point of view can impact all areas of their lives, and quickly spiral.

Biblical discussions of shame and guilt

Scripture highlights themes of shame and guilt, as well.

Consider 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 for a moment. The apostle Paul, in this letter to the Corinthians, identifies godly grief, or guilt, as an emotion that spurs a person to repentance.

For the Christian this is good news, indeed. It tells us that guilt in and of itself is not inherently bad, but serves to aid a Christian in self-reflection and movement toward sanctification and holiness.

Psalm 51 is an entire psalm of repentance, written by King David in response to his guilt of adultery and murder. Its raw, heartfelt petition to the Lord is a reminder that guilt need not be the end of our story as people of God.

Romans 10:11 tells us that “those who trust in Him [Christ] shall not be put to shame.”

That is it. The answer is Jesus.

For the Christian, a shame-induced attack on identity is a particularly spiritual one, because we operate under the truth that our identity is in Christ.

Colossians 2:6-10, Ephesians 1, Galatians 3:27-28, the whole book of Romans, and dare I say the entire New Testament point to the good news that we are made new creatures through Christ Jesus. We put on his identity when in faith we follow and obey Him and are baptized into His family; we take on His name. Our identity is now His.

Shame has no place because shame says we are helpless and hopeless. Christ says we are His.

This doesn’t mean a Christian will never experience the feeling of shame; it means that our healing, like our hurts, is spiritual in nature.

Kurt Thompson says that,

To this God, whom we meet in Jesus, we must direct our attention if we are to know the healing of our shame. We must literally look to Jesus in embodied ways in order to know how being loved in community brings shame to its knees and lifts us up and into acts of goodness and beauty.

But I am a Christian, and I still feel shame. What now?

From time to time most people feel the experience of shame. My biggest and boldest suggestion is to let the light in, and do it both in your faith community and in counseling, just as the above quote suggests. Do not allow the enemy keep you in the darkness that tells you lies about who you are.

I John 1:7 says that “if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

There are three entities discussed in this verse: ourselves, Christ, and our community of faith.

We must destroy the secrecy that allows shame to thrive. We must shine light into the dark places of shame and hopelessness to allow the light to destroy it. And we cannot do it alone. Our now-good-friend Kurt Thompson believes that

“we must routinely engage in confessional communities where we can tell our life stories, reminding ourselves of the joy found in the practice of shame-free emotional nakedness”

Speak to a Professional

If you are struggling with shame, we encourage you to speak with one of our counselors. While shame is a spiritual struggle for a believer in Christ, it could also be confusingly intertwined with mental and emotional disorders that a professional can help you sort through.

And as you seek that professional support, I urge you to lean into the identity that you know to be Truth.

I have crossed the horizon to find you

I know your name

They have stolen the heart from inside you

But this does not define you

This is not who you are

You know who you are



1. Czub, T. (2013). Shame as a self-conscious emotion and its role in Identity Formation. Polish Psychological Bulletin, 44(3), 245–253.

2. Miceli, M., & Castelfranchi, C. (2018). Reconsidering the differences between shame and guilt. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 14(3), 710–733.

3. Thompson, C. (2015). Soul of shame: Retelling the stories we believe about ourselves. IVP.

4. YouTube. (2012, March 16). Listening to shame | Brené Brown. YouTube.

How to Help Your Child Navigate Mistakes

“You didn’t make it to the potty, but we will try again next time,” I cheerily say for what feels like the ten thousandth time. Once her back has turned, I hang my head in exhaustion.

Have you ever thought about what it was like to be potty trained all those years ago? I do. Well, at least lately, because my waking hours have revolved around another person’s toilet habits.

Due to this, I have recently read about a lot of different potty-training methods: some with near-magical three-day promises, some that swear by the power of mini M&M’s, and some that suggest your child should ditch wearing pants for a few days.

But you know what all of these methods have in common? Accidents.

Children learn what a potty accident is by having a potty accident. In fact, it is kind of funny that we even call it an “accident,” when three days ago the exact same thing was totally acceptable.

A little unfair, don’t we think?

This, however, is how the learning process begins!

We grow a new skill by learning what it looks and feels like to fail at said skill.

Failure is a natural part of life. We are expected to fail at something we have never done before potty training, walking, driving a car, and probably our first romantic relationship.

Every mistake becomes an opportunity to better understand ourselves and how we need to shift what we are doing to get closer to the goal at hand.

For something like potty training that has a huge body/brain relationship, each “accident” helps a child begin to build interoception, or essential bodily awareness that is the foundation for more complex skills like emotional regulation [1, 4, 5].

Usually, we have a whole lot of grace and patience for the purpose of failure when it comes to something like potty training. But we do not always have the same level of understanding for other mistakes our children, and ourselves, make.

Knowing how to fail well is critical to the human experience. What a privilege we have as parents to watch our children fail, then share with them the joy of turning that failure into a key part of their development.


Modeling a healthy response to failure

I don’t have to tell you that children not only hear, but mentally collect just about everything you do and say. Children are building their understanding of the world and relationships with every passing hour. But I do not say this to scare you! We can use those sponge-brains as an opportunity to model expectations for family culture.

How do you respond when you make a mistake of your own? If it is something like dropping a jar in the kitchen or taking a wrong turn, something that does not directly involve your relationship with your child, try narrating your response aloud like this:

Aw man, that is SO frustrating. Grown-ups make mistakes sometimes, too. I’ll clean that up and be more careful next time.

Or maybe,

Uh oh, Mommy took a wrong turn. I better take a moment to pull over and figure out where we need to go next. Thank you for being patient with me.

This in-the-moment self-reflection allows your child to learn to healthily conceptualize a response to a mistake. Be sure to often describe your initial feeling. You are modeling that it is okay to be mad, frustrated, or sad about it. But then, follow up with how you choose to think about the mistake and behave accordingly.

You can also add recognition that your mistake impacted others around you. It sounds like a lot to think about, but the above examples give some succinct ways to model this. Remember, you will not do this perfectly. You are practicing, too!

Now, what about when you make a mistake that directly involves your relationship with your child? Maybe you yelled at them in anger, using unkind words. Maybe you blamed them for something that was not their fault. You recognize your mistake, and your child does too. What now?


Repair means that you are apologizing with humility and treating your child with respect. Think, how do you want your child to apologize to you and to others? With a list of excuses and drawn-out explanations? Or with direct acknowledgment of the wrong, and with sincerity? Repair also looks like saying how you want to be better at this in the future. It is best to apologize when both of you have calmed down and are in a state in which you can communicate with your upstairs brain more readily.

I am so ashamed of how I spoke to you a few minutes ago. That is not how I want to talk to you. I was wrong and I want to be better at how I speak when I am upset. Can I try it again?

Even better, model how you WISH you had spoken to them with a “re-do!” Show them what your “goal” is that you are working on emulating.

This is the best possible way to teach your child how to repair, by modeling it in real-time when you yourself have made a mistake.

Using your child’s mistakes to help them build key skills

Teaching a child to manage failure with a combination of humility, dignity, and self-reflection aids in the development of self-regulation skills, the ability to problem solve, and a sense of empathy and forgiveness to others [2, 3].

The idea that “I can learn from this” and “I have the power to change the story next time” empowers a child, instilling agency and confidence for future challenges.

Research shows that a child’s ability to narrate past mistakes as learning opportunities is a predictor of future success.

“thinking about their own agency, about specific actions they have taken in order to succeed in the past, reminds students that they have found ways to accomplish important goals. It supports the idea that they are capable protagonists in their own life stories” [2].

Identity Development

Supporting your child in their mistakes is a key aspect of identity development, as well.

“I messed up” is a vastly different message than “I am a mess-up.”

Helping your child distinguish a mistake from their overall identity or character has a lifelong impact. It is also an opportunity to integrate family spiritual beliefs into your child’s understanding of self.

A few years ago I did an educational video for ChristianWorks about how affirmations about spiritual identity can help a child recover from making a mistake and remember who they are despite their actions. Check it out here!

Practical Reminders

Building on mistakes in a positive way doesn’t have to be an additional aspect of your family life; it is not a new activity to tack on to a growing calendar. It is simply a way to re-conceptualize the rhythms your family already has set in place. Your responses to your children and the way you talk to them about these concepts can begin to enhance their development journey and sense of self.

This article that I found rounds up these ideas into the following, succinct reminders

4 ways to help a child learn from mistakes:

  1.  Talk openly about mistakes
  2.  Reframe mistakes as opportunities for learning
  3.  Spot opportunities around you
  4.  Make it a habit
At the end of the day,

mistake-making is yet another chance to empower your children and infuse upon them core family values.

Who are we?

What do we believe?

How do we treat others?

Most of the time, teaching your child about learning from their mistakes is a lot more modeling and practicing than direct teaching. You are coaching them through the difficult moments and providing examples of how to do it with each passing day.

You are capable of this because I know for sure that you make mistakes, too! Now let’s turn those mistakes into learning opportunities, together!


1. Craig, A. B. (2003). Interoception: The sense of the physiological condition of the body. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 13(4), 500–505.

2. Jones, B. K., Destin, M., & McAdams, D. P. (2018). Telling better stories: Competence-building narrative themes increase adolescent persistence and academic achievement. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 76, 76–80.

3. Making Caring Common. (2022, November 17). How to help kids learn from mistakes. Making Caring Common.

4. Neff, M. A. (2023, February 12). What is interoception and how to improve yours? Insights of a Neurodivergent Clinician.

5. What is interoception? Kelly Mahler. (2021, May 17).

A Short Guide to Professional Services for Parents

Who does what and why would I need them?

Every single child has a unique pattern of strengths and challenges that exist across emotional, mental, and physical domains. Sometimes, these specific sets of strengths and challenges can result in a child receiving certain diagnoses.

Diagnoses, as you probably know, often get a bad reputation for “labeling” children; but this is not the intention of a diagnosis. Ideally, a diagnosis will assist a child and their families in receiving the most appropriate professional services and support.

For example, if a child with Spina Bifida never received a diagnosis, his medical care teams would not be able to communicate effectively about the ongoing concerns and plan for his treatment. The same is true for diagnoses related to mental and emotional health, learning differences, eating and feeding disorders, etc… developmental delays, neurological disorders, genetic conditions, and on and on. Diagnoses help us understand common concerns so that we can better treat the unique individual in front of us.

But receiving a diagnosis does not magically create a care team out of thin air. Parents can easily feel overwhelmed by the professional care options that are available. For a diagnosis like autism, for example, it may take months for a family to identify the best set of specific services for their child. And then as a child grows, his or her needs may shift, and so will the care team.

Budgeting for different professional services is also a major concern for many families who want to utilize their resources most effectively while finding help for their child.

Parents may struggle to choose the “perfect” set of interventions to help their child and family maintain balance.

Which service do we start with?

What is the most important?

What do some of these services even mean?

While no one person can answer those questions for your own family, maybe we can help you better understand what some of these services are.

The following list offers a brief overview of some of the more common professional services that may be recommended for families of children who need some extra support.


This is your child’s primary physician, who is often the first professional you contact. Your pediatrician should be able to point you toward someone who can provide professional assessments for diagnostic purposes.

Often, pediatricians are the referral sources for other professional services. Choose someone who can know and understand your family as your child grows!

Physical Therapists (PT)

Physical therapists are movement experts who improve the quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands-on care, and patient education (

Physical therapists can be used for temporary or long-term care in helping a person improve their movement and decrease bodily pain. Physical therapy is often used for rehabilitation purposes but is also helpful for children with certain developmental delays or who struggle with aspects of physical health.

Learn more about PTs here

Occupational Therapists (OT)

“Occupational therapy enables people of all ages to participate in daily living” (

Occupational therapists work with children and adults to better operate within their regular environments. This is a field with so many specific focuses. I find the video below to be incredibly helpful in providing an overview.

Occupational therapists and physical therapists differ in that physical therapists help patients with the mechanics of body movement, whereas occupational therapists help patients perform certain daily activities and skills. The two can go hand in hand, but are not the same type of therapy.


What Can Occupational Therapy Do For You?

Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP)

Speech-Language Pathologists treat many types of communication and swallowing problems ( An SLP can help a child (or adult) speak clearly and more confidently. They also work on the mechanics of feeding in patients who struggle with the physical ability to chew and swallow food.

Learn more about SLPs here

Registered Dietitians (RD) or (RDN)

A registered dietitian (RD) or (RDN), is medically trained in helping individuals and families with feeding and nutritional care. Diagnoses such as autism, diabetes, sensory processing disorder, eating and feeding disorders, and many others often require a need for this type of support. An RDN focuses on your child’s specific nutritional needs. While an SLP may help someone with the mechanics of eating, an RDN will help with what is being eaten.

Learn more about what RDNs can treat in children here

Psychiatrists (MD)

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD) who specialized in the branch of medicine concerned with the study, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness (APA).

Usually, psychiatrists do not provide the bulk of talk therapy, though they are qualified to do so. They prescribe medications to support clients and do not typically see clients as frequently as the primary talk therapist. Many family care teams utilize a psychiatrist alongside a professional counselor. In this scenario, a psychiatrist will generally check in every 3 months or so to maintain medication, and a talk or play therapist will meet weekly with the client to work on mental and emotional health.

Psychologists (PsyD)

Psychologists undergo 6-8 years of post-graduate mental health education and hold a non-medical doctoral degree. Psychologists are specifically trained in administering assessments that help clients and their families better understand the client’s strengths and weaknesses and overall way of operating. It is often a psychologist who formerly diagnoses a child who is seeking services for mental and emotional health, behavioral concerns, or for learning differences. Psychologists are also skilled in seeing clients in a professional counseling setting and can provide traditional talk therapy.

Psychologists differ from psychiatrists in that they are not trained as medical doctors and cannot prescribe medication.

Note: Some professional counselors, specifically those who have obtained doctoral training, are also able to provide and discern assessments. Psychologists, however, are all trained in this area and can also offer projective tests that other licenses cannot.

Learn more about the process of becoming a licensed psychologist here

School Psychologist

A Licensed Specialist in School Psychology (LSSP) can perform testing and mental health services in the school setting. These individuals help students determine if they are eligible for special education services or classroom interventions.

Learn more about LSSP and school psychologists in the state of Texas here

Professional Counselors According to the American Counseling Association, Professional counseling is a professional

relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals (ACA).

For children, professional counselors utilize play therapy to connect with children using the language in which they are most fluent: play.

Counselors can have various licenses, as well as a variety of different niches of care.

However, just because someone is licensed in counseling does not mean that the person is professionally trained in every specific type of counseling, such as play therapy, family therapy, substance use or eating disorders treatment, etc. If you are seeking a professional with a certain focus, make sure to ask specific questions about the counselor’s methods and philosophy of treatment.

Counselors working with children should have experience and training in play therapy.

Learn more about professional counseling here

In the state of Texas there are several professional licenses that see clients for professional counseling:

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

An LCSW is a social worker who pursued licensure to be able to see clients in a counseling setting. Not all social workers are professional counselors. An LMSW (Licensed Master Social Worker) does not have license to independently practice counseling.

Psychologists (PsyD)

See above

Psychiatrists (MD)

See above

Family Therapists

A professional counselor (see above) (who is specifically trained in working with the family system. Sometimes a family is referred to family therapy alongside individual or play therapy.

Behavioral Therapists

Behavioral therapists work strictly with the goal of modifying specific behaviors in a child or adult. Professional counselors can utilize behavioral methods, but many prefer other modes of counseling.

Some behavioral therapy certifications, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), require a person to be certified in the specific modality but not in professional counseling as a whole. These individuals work to alter specific behaviors that a child may present. It is a modality requiring consistency and practice with the child and/or family unit.

Schools often use Behavior Intervention Specialists as well. These individuals, like ABA professionals, are trained in a specific modality of behavior modification and are not professional counselors. Their work is highly focused on changing the way a person behaves or responds to stimuli.

Learn more about behavioral counseling here and here