I have put some thought into the questions that were recently asked about our counseling services. As our Web site says, "we combine biblical principles of care-giving with clinical methods." To expand on this, I need to define the elements that are in conflict today.
Humanism reached its apex at the turn of the 20th century. It seeks to replace God with man as the measure of all things and many were trained to do exactly that in the area of Counseling. I have addressed much of this in my course, "The Forgotten Factor in Medical and Mental Health." A traditionalCounselor/Psychologist who doesn't believe in God, is very likely to misunderstand Christian beliefs. They may think "That's just religion. You need to have more pride in your own potential, The church just doesn't want you to get your needs met." Because there are no simple answers, I believe that any general statement needs to do more than indict "secular counselors" since we don't want to create a false division. We can learn much from them, and try to encourage that they can learn from us. To truly integrate a Biblical approach to counseling, one must undergo professional training to help determine methods that are compatible, and choose to discard those that are not. This is similar to what Larry Crabb describes as, "spoiling the Egyptians" as the Israelites did when they left Egypt. The Israelites were instructed to take the things they would need for their journey, much like Christian Counselors take those methods that are compatible with Christian teaching (i.e. Cognitive or Behavioral therapy, etc.). They may need to inform the counselee if they are embarking on a biblical path that drastically involves methods other than traditionally recognized methods. Their job is to provide therapy for a particular disorder and to subscribe to best practices just as any practitioner would.
Another type of counseling may emanate from within our churches. To a degree, every Christian ought to be "fully equipped" to encourage others. Yet, we find some Christian counseling is based on what Ed Smith calls "performance based spirituality." Those who confess their struggles are often told they are not living a Christian life because they aren't "relying enough on faith in God". If this advice is followed, the troubled person continues to ignore their emotions and seek answers in further Bible study etc.
It is common to find Christians in conflict because they have two sets of internal beliefs. One tenet promotes faith: that truth is only "God so loved the world" ....etc. The other is cognitive and intellectual: what is experienced. The dichotomy between "the world that is not a safe place since the day I was abused" greatly contradicts with "He leadeth me to green pastures". Obviously, bad things do happen to Christians. We are not immune to all the turmoil and stress of this world, nor are we born into perfect families. There is no question that Christians fare better when facing tribulations by having faith and dependence on God. Even so, internal conflict will continue until we experience God's revelation knowledge.
A person who claims to offer Christian Counseling needs to be trained in offering interventions that help a person gain more dependence on God, increase their ability to effectively live by faith, and have more acceptance of how God can teach them through trials. They are encouraged to teach "how God can cause all things to work together for good". The counseled person can then re-write their story to reflect what God is trying to teach them. This isn't just "head knowledge" of God's Word, but experiential, lived-out trust in God from actually practicing a Christian life. Even beyond that, a Christian Counselor must be able to diagnose and treat mental and emotional problems that go deeper and to recognize why a person's desire to live a Christian life is stuck or struggling.
So, if I had to distill an answer, it might be that: Christian Counseling is for those who want to abide by the teachings and traditions of Christianity, who desire to gain full reliance on God, but at the same time,are struggling to understand the deeply complicated workings of the human psyche. Due to recognizable disorders or common problems faced by everyone, they seek answers from God, not from humanistic teachings of self reliance and self protective defenses. They help to reveal the tendency to repress the truth instead of embrace it. Therefore,a Christian Counselor must be aware of the difference between counsel that distributes the word of God (much like a lawyer distributes advice), and a counselor who ministers healing. Effective counseling encourages us to enter into trust and dependence on God and to recognize that our own control led us to failure. From my experience, this type of training may not be easily found apart from seminary trained Clinical Pastoral Counselors who are educated in an integrative approach. This goes beyond Biblical Counseling that doesn't attempt to treat mental and emotional disorders, but provides counsel solely from the Word of God.