The other day I was asked a most unusual question. “Does it make any difference in therapy if your client is a Christian?” Often people who phone our office are curious about the therapist’s faith base or lack of it. Never had I been asked about how the faith of my clients affected their therapy. It made me stop and think.
Being a Christian can mean many different things in our culture. I am defining it as a person who has chosen to accept Christ as their personal Savior. Because of that decision they are accountable to Jesus Christ and make Him central in their life. They choose to live as a Christ follower.
Certainly faith in Christ doesn’t make these people immune to trouble, to pain, to mental illness, to disappointment, to tragedy, or to heartbreak. Yet it can make a radical difference in a client’s mindset, attitudes, words, and actions.
As I began to reflect on the question of how a client’s faith in Christ can make a difference in a therapy session, I immediately thought of eight benefits. Perhaps you can think of others. I would value your comments after you read this blog.
1. A Christ centered client has God as their Higher Power.
Therefore God is the One who is ultimately in charge. When I sit with a married couple that each are dedicated to becoming the person God wants them to be, they choose to face their own anti-love tendencies. Why? They choose to because Christ desires it, not necessarily because their spouse deserves it. They look through different eyes at even the difficulties in their relationship. Difficulty is perceived as an opportunity to grow into a more loving, Christ centered person.
Because Christ is their Higher Power, neither partner is posturing to be “one up” in their relationship. Rather than therapy being a constant battle about who is right and who is wrong, the focus changes to how well do I listen? Can I welcome my mate’s truth and be influenced by it or not? Can I speak my truth in love or can I not?
What an enormous attitude shift takes place. Marriage therapy becomes a place where a couple is coached on how to receive their mate’s truth and how to speak their own truth. Therapy becomes a place where a couple learns how to receive love and how to give love.
They see their spouse as God’s child, a true gift from a God of love, and not as their possession. They are committed to learning to know, understand, value and hear their partner. They want to be an empowering presence in their mate’s life. They stand for their mate’s growth. They see their mate through God’s eyes as an imperfect, valuable, loved, forgiven treasure. They have no wish to control another they are too busy pursuing self-control. They see themselves as God’s love connection to their mate and have a quiet awareness that the way they treat each other is a reflection of how they treat God.
3. A Christ centered client sets boundaries on their own anti-love tendencies.
When a client longs to love as Christ loves, they set boundaries on their own attempts to control, on their intrusiveness, judgments, selfishness and their unwillingness to be influenced. When a client is developing the discipline of self-control, the atmosphere in the counseling office is transformed. They come to therapy to grow personally not to get the therapist to change their partner.
4. A Christ centered client is realistic in their estimation of themselves and their mate.
No one is in denial about their personal anti-love tendencies. Neither one of the couple think they have achieved sainthood. No one operates from a self-righteous, morally superior position. Neither spouse has their “act totally together”. They both know that they need a Savior. Both partners have been leveled at the cross. Both mates have value and both have found unconditional love, forgiveness and grace as a result of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. They are aware that “truth spoken in love” by their mate, may make them temporarily uncomfortable, yet it could have personal and eternal significance.
5. A Christ centered client makes mistakes, but they know that they aren’t a mistake!
Their ultimate emotional security is not found in in their mate’s love, but in Christ’s unconditional love. After making a mistake, our adequacy is established by God’s love, a love in which there is no condemnation or shame. There is only grace and forgiveness. Because both clients operate from this foundation, therapy consists of facing patterns that get in the way of loving and valuing each other.
They know that humans run out of love. At those low times, rather than leaving their marriage, they submit to what Christ asks of them. When they are tempted to shut down, isolate, withdraw, or attack, instead they “speak their truth in love”. Even if one spouse has no personal investment in growth, the Christ centered client owns their own anti-love tendencies and asks for forgiveness for them. They initiate acts of love when they’d rather pout. Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend write about this in their outstanding book, Boundaries in Marriage. (1999 Zondervan)
“When loving God is our orienting principle in life, we are always adjusting to what He requires of us.”
As each partner follows through with the daily choices that Christ asks them to make, they grow and as a result their relationship deepens. When forgiveness is offered and grace is evident, their relationship can’t help but benefit.
7. A Christ centered client checks all input against God’s Word.
They don’t just assume that because the therapist suggests it, it’s necessarily true. They are open to input, but they sift and sort that input. They check the therapist’s advice against God’s Word. They submit to a much higher authority than the therapist with whom they have chosen to work.
8. A Christ centered client prays for the sessions.
When the Holy Spirit is welcomed into a place where three are gathered together in Christ’s name, that opens the door for transformational growth. They enter a sacred space called a therapy office. As they work with their therapist, they know that God, the ultimate Conscious Lover, is transforming them into His image.
Does it make a difference if my client is a Christ follower? Yes, it makes a radical difference.
Until our next Conscious Lover’s blog…