The Fruits of the Spirit: Some Considerations for Christians who are Counselors
The individual views expressed in this particular article are based on the work and worldview of the writer and do not represent the general beliefs of every ChristianWorks staff member or counselor.
I have spent quite some time thinking about what it means to be both a counselor and a Christian and what that looks like in practice. It is a topic that courses through my brain cells literally every day since I began training as a professional counselor. Goodness–even before then, probably. I am perpetually considering how my counseling practice is informed and impacted by my Christian faith—and, of course, what that means for my clients.
Throughout my time in the mental health field, I have had the privilege of gaining powerful insights from mentors and supervisors who have been willing to engage in this topic with me. They have challenged me to consider how my personal views on topics such as death, salvation, worship, marriage, and family life show up both covertly and overtly in the counseling room. Through these practices, I have come to determine that an examination of our worldviews and how they relate to our counseling work is incredibly important.
How does what I believe about *insert topic here* shape my work? As counselors, we should be asking ourselves this question as often and easily as we reflect feelings during a session.
You and I could chat for days upon days about the intersection of theology and psychology and the implications of such. And I would thoroughly enjoy the conversation!
But ultimately, I think one of the major things that counseling-as-a-Christian comes down to is the representation of the fruits of the Spirit.
These are the foundational points that I have come to for my own practice:
- We are people of the Spirit (Galatians 5:25)
- As such, the fruits of the Spirit should be evident in all that we do (Galatians 5). That does not exclude the counseling room. (Galatians 5:23).
- We are people who believe in a God who is able to do more than we are able to imagine (Ephesians 3:20). We are never alone.
But do I really act like these truths are just that: true?
Allow me to share with you some ways I think the Spirit’s fruits can be evident in the counseling room when we are showing up to work as people of God.
Galatians 5:13 “Through love serve one another.”
As Christians, we are meant to be servants driven by love for God and each other. As counselors, this is displayed by our service to the greater community by helping individuals, children, couples, and families process hurts and pursue individual goals.
As an Adlerian-leaning therapist, I am reminded of one of the components of Adler’s theory of Individual Psychology: Social Interest. Social interest is just that: “a feeling of cooperation with people, the sense of belonging to and participating in the common good” .
When we serve through love as counselors, we operate with selflessness and give attention to the needs of others to help them better operate in their social and familial environments. We serve the individual, but also the community at large.
As disciples of Christ we understand that joy differs from happiness in that it is not conditional on external circumstances, but on an internal “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
This does not mean we exude a façade of toxic optimism in the counseling room, but that the balance of our own emotional stability is not based solely on the ups and downs of life.
This kind of joy, in my opinion, is an antidote to burnout for Christians who are counselors.
Some weeks in the therapy room are incredibly hard. They are often triggering to our own hurts and can stir up anguish for us long after the client has left the building.
But with God, we are able to both mourn and celebrate with our clients in a single day, knowing that the battle for our souls is already won, and the traumas and hardships of this life do not define the end of any story.
“The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
“For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime; weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
A peaceful presence in the counseling room is more than just appearing calm.
I like to think about my micro-interactions with clients over the grand scale of the counseling relationship.
Do I appear scattered and unorganized in managing administrative tasks, or do I offer a comfortable experience for my clients that make them feel safe in their dealings with me?
A quick Google search of the definition of the word “peace” describes it as “free from disturbance.” As a counselor, the peace I receive from the Lord is exuded in the way I handle myself from the beginning to the end of my time with a client.
As for my own personal peace, I remember that “He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world” (I John 4:4), and
“The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
With the supernatural kind of peace we have from Christ, we are able to offer a peaceful counseling experience to our clients.
You already know that counseling is often very slow work. It requires a kind of patience that is biblically described as “longsuffering” (Ephesians 4:2;).
As an ethical and effective counselor providing empathy to a client, longsuffering is to be expected. You will second-handedly experience many of the emotions your client is daily experiencing, because you have elected to be a safe haven into which those emotions can pour.
The Lord, who is all-powerful and all-knowing and holy, is patient with us as he longsuffers through our obvious human-ness and sin.
We, however, are called as counselors to be patient with other humans through their human-ness while we likewise, behind other doors, wrestle with our own human-ness and the effects of a fallen world on our
lives. We do not claim to be all-knowing or all-powerful. Instead, we share in the longsuffering as best as we can with the help of God himself, who has for generations shown patience with his people.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but should all come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
Is it just me, or do all of the fruits of the Spirit begin to feel like they are overlapping? Kindness seems to meld together with goodness and patience so well that I begin to have a hard time differentiating between them all if I think about it too much.
But maybe that is the point. I like to imagine that God’s nature is only so much describable to the human brain using human language. One day in glory when we will see his nature fully, it will all make sense.
“as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone” (Galatians 6:10).
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” Ephesians 4:32).
Let us often recall that every individual who steps into our counseling spaces is a person created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-17).
We know that after creating the earth and its inhabitants, God called it all “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
And while not every thought or action or reaction of an image-bearer is “good” or holy, I believe that at the core of who we are, God has placed his likeness—and with that, a desire to seek to know Him and reflect back to Him the goodness that he created from the beginning (Romans 2:19-20).
I think that a major part of my role as a counselor is to reflect the goodness of Christ toward my clients so that His goodness within them is sparked. I would hope that, despite my many flaws, that each person I meet recognizes the Christ in me, even if they do not have words to name the attributes as that just yet.
Goodness is contagious because goodness comes from God. May our work in the counseling room activate the goodness in our clients and their recognition of their status of image-bearers in this fallen world.
In the book of Daniel when Daniel and his buddies are facing a deadly fiery furnace, Daniel proclaims that he has faith that the Lord will deliver them. But then he completes his statement by saying, “and if not, He is still good” (Daniel 3:18).
He is still good.
When I feel completely helpless during a client emergency. When my own life feels out of order and I am still showing up to provide care to the people who have hired me. When there is an international pandemic and resulting mental health crisis.
He is still good.
At the most difficult times we face as professionals in the helping field, we must continue to remember that God is faithful in his protection (Proverbs 2:8), mercy (Psalm 40:11), and renewed compassion (Lamentations 3:22-23) for us. Moreover, He is all of these things to my clients, as well.
Our faithfulness is displayed in our ability to renew compassion for our clients as the Lord renews compassion for us. Renewed hope, renewed mercies, and renewed fruits of the Spirit when they despair.
Gentleness does not mean that you lack assertiveness or clear boundaries with a client or in the workplace. It means that you are able to employ boundaries and hard truths with an element of softness and understanding. You are respectful of other image-bearers in your dealings with them.
Phil 4:5 “Let your gentleness be known to all; the Lord is near.”
Titus 3:2 “Slander no one, be peaceable and considerate, and be always gentle to everyone.”
Self-control in the counseling room could look different for everyone. I tend to think that it is much more than stifling a yawn or holding back an eye-roll (though if I must say, a well-placed eye-roll in certain contexts can be a powerful response if done well).
But usually, self-control–if you ask me–is related to fear.
When I am fearful that I am not a “good enough” counselor I am more likely to take on too many clients during hours I had previously chosen to hold open for spending time at home with my family. Then I am not serving anyone well. I become burnt out and bitter, and both my professional life and personal life are impacted.
When I am fearful a client is not moving quickly enough toward goals, maybe I talk too much in a session instead of trusting the process of the client’s own journey. I forget to listen well.
When I am fearful of what my coworkers think of me, I have a tendency to act differently around them instead of speaking boldly and confidently on a topic I am passionate about.
See? Fear is a powerful motivator. It is impulsive. But self-control slows us down. It requires placing trust in our creator who is the most Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6).
We are people of the spirit. We are not alone. And whenever a tricky parallel process or client crisis derails our day, we can slow down and lean into the skills we have been taught. We can call a professional peer to consult with them. And always, we can remember that
“God gave us not a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
1. American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Adlerian psychotherapy. American Psychological Association. Retrieved February 15, 2023, from https://www.apa.org/pubs/books/4317437
2. Keller, T. (2004). Four Models of counseling in Pastoral Ministry. Retrieved February 16, 2023, from https://c4265878.ssl.cf2.rackcdn.com/redeemer.1709191425.Four_Models_of_Counseling_in_Pastoral_Ministry.pdf
3. Loy, J. (2021, March 3). Four models of Christian Counseling (#1 & #2). New Ground Counseling. Retrieved February 16, 2023, from https://www.newgroundcounseling.com/blog/2021/3/4/four-models-of-christian-counseling
4. Loy, J. (2022, July 25). Why use spiritual disciplines in therapy? New Ground Counseling. Retrieved February 16, 2023, from https://www.newgroundcounseling.com/blog/2022/7/25/why-involve-the-spiritual-disciplines-in-counseling