One of the most common issues that arises in letters to the Barnabas Ministry is finding a counselor or therapist.

The Barnabas Ministry itself does not provide any counseling or therapy. This is simply not the mission of the Barnabas Ministry and is best done with a qualified therapist, face-to-face, on an ongoing basis. The Barnabas Ministry provides resources such as articles, book recommendations and other information.

In addition to the resources provided on the website, the Barnabas Ministry highly recommends counseling or psychotherapy for those who have been deeply hurt by bad church situations. This article helps readers be equipped to find and benefit from such counseling.

A counselor or therapist (this article will use these terms interchangeably) provides a listening ear and expertise at helping people sort out issues.

Counselors Are Not Evil

In many unhealthy churches, counselors are demonized as unspiritual or the like. This is not really very surprising, considering that spiritual leaders who engage in spiritual abuse don't want anybody second-guessing them or undercutting their influence in people's lives. But these perspectives may linger in the minds of those who have been subjected to such mistreatment, so it needs to be addressed.

Contrary to popular misunderstandings and untruths often spoken, therapists do not "tell people what to do, recklessly dispense drugs (only a psychiatrist or medical doctor may prescribe medication), teach people to avoid responsibility, or blame everything on one's upbringing or mother. Therapists do not seek out to destroy the faith of people, nor do they seek to impose their faith upon others; such behaviors are more characteristic of unhealthy churches and spiritual leaders than an ethical therapist.

Therapists help their clients work through issues that are troubling to them. They can refer clients needing further help to the appropriate mental health or medical professionals. They have no agenda except to help their clients.

Many have been so hurt by people they once trusted that the very idea of seeking out a counselor is frightening or very unappealing. Many are concerned about finding a good counselor, evaluating a counselor's credentials, protecting their confidentiality and various other aspects of the process. This article will address these and other issues in seeking out a therapist.

Traits of a Counselor

Many factors make one counselor different from another. For example, age, gender, education, state licensure, ordination by a church, various certifications, number of years of experience, experience dealing with spiritual abuse issues, experience in dealing with specific complicating factors (e.g. domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual abuse, etc.), the professed faith of the therapist, convenience, expense, whether that therapist takes insurance, whether the client feels comfortable in being open with the therapist. These are just some of the traits that make one counselor different from another.

On the question of "Christian counseling" if this is important to you, you may want to weigh this factor more heavily than other factors. Yet I encourage readers to recognize that someone who does not advertise themselves as a "Christian counselor" may in fact be Christian just the same, or may well be able to help you quite a bit anyway. Conversely, a Christian counselor may not necessarily be able to help you quite so much as someone with many other good traits.


Counselors typically have a master's degree (MA) in some related field such as psychotherapy.

Generally, individual states have unique criteria for licensing counselors. Some require specific training, others do not. A licensed counselor has to adhere to certain laws and requirements like any other licensed professional. Licensure may be designated with LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) or LCSW (Licensed Counselor of Social Work).

Some counselors receive specific certifications in addition to licensure- for example, a CAC (Certified Addictions Counselor). This means these counselors have special training and expertise in these areas, not that these are the only situations they are qualified and able to counsel.

Some counselors may also belong to various professional organizations such as the APA (American Psychological Association), AACC (American Association of Christian Counselors), or the like. These don't imply any further qualifications or expertise, but they are a resource the counselor uses for networking, additional information, code of ethics, etc.

Selecting a Counselor

Most people are reluctant to just open the Yellow Pages and turn to "Counselors" or "Psychotherapy." I generally recommend that Barnabas Ministry readers get a referral for a counselor. While not foolproof, it provides some measure of reassurance when going into a counseling relationship.

There are many great resources for getting a referral. These would include a personal physician, a minister, a friend, or a family member. In addition, many employers offer access to a wide range of mental health services through an Employee Assistance Program that can provide a referral. Your insurance company may be able to provide a referral as well.

Many people want to keep the selection and use of a therapist confidential. This is wise and sometimes quite advisable, and can be done by insisting that whoever you talk to about this keep the matter private. You may want to call a minister at another church that you do not attend, or consider an associate of your personal physician as a resource. You may also want to consider a therapist whose office is not in your part of town to reduce the risk of running into acquaintances while going to or from therapy.

I strongly recommend against seeing a friend who is a therapist. A good therapist won't do this anyway because they will value your friendship more than your business. Plus, this creates what is known as a "dual relationship." This is a good way to ruin a friendship and have an ineffective counseling experience. You may ask your friend for a recommendation, but even then it would be good to avoid discussing the matter much with your friend after the recommendation has been made.

Similarly, married couples may want to consider seeing different therapists. This allows each person to have a dedicated therapist. Just as you and your spouse have different physical needs, you also have different psychological needs. Keeping the therapy separate helps you to get what you need.

You will probably want to investigate what your insurance covers concerning psychotherapy, and see if the therapist youare considering accepts that insurance. You may also have a flex medical plan that can be used to pay for counseling.

Setting it Up

Most therapy is done on a regular basis, with appointments in the therapist's office every one to four weeks for 50 minutes. Just starting out, a two to four week interval may be just right, but if things are more intense perhaps a weekly appointment would be right.

At the outset, it is good to have a clearly-defined scope of issues you want to address. It may be helpful to actually write these down or at least keep a mental list of them. Since many things in our lives work together, it may be helpful to consider other areas that would be helpful to address e.g. how you relate to those in authority over you, how you relate to peers, how different church experiences over the years have been similar or different, how your view of God may have changed, etc. If there are other significant issues , you probably need to mention these too. For example, a significant loss, drug or alcohol use, marital, job, financial or other problems, etc.

There is always the potential of going through the effort of getting a confidential recommendation, only to get into the first session and to have a "bad vibe" about the therapist. In these cases, a good solution would be to try the therapist for a session or two, and then decide to move on if you think or feel that the situation would not be helpful.

Since therapy includes telling yourself the truth, and then relating that truth to another, if you find you are uncomfortable with a therapist just make that known. You may want to ask that therapist for a referral to another counselor, or you may want to use your other resources.

Getting Honest, Even if it Hurts

Mentioned briefly above, the idea of getting honest with yourself Is very important in counseling. In fact, one prominent writer has said that most neuroses (the sort of psychological problems that most of us experience) are the result of people not being honest with themselves about things or seeking to avoid pain.

Accordingly, your psychotherapy sessions are a place to get honest with yourself first and foremost, and to confront these issues little by little as you can handle it. Many counselors use the analogy of "peeling an onion" to describe it. Some areas of our lives are so personal, so deep, and so volatile, that we just can't get into them without dealing with many other things first. That's OK; start with the "outer layer of the onion" and take it from there.

As you build a relationship with your therapist, you will develop the rapport to discuss things in a way that is comfortable. Your therapist may try to help you focus on one thing or another to the exclusion of something else; this is part of the skill a therapist has to offer you. Let them help you "peel the onion."

Keep it Professional

It is not uncommon to feel quite bonded with a therapist. Yet you must respect this relationship and keep it as a professional, client-therapist relationship, even more than you might for a personal physician or a dentist. Resist the temptation to bring your therapist into your social life (such as meeting outside of the counseling environment) for anything from lunch to graduations, weddings and funerals, housewarmings, anything. And do not become romantically or sexually involved with a therapist.

If the therapist should ever do anything that is a breach of professionalism, such as offer "free" breast or pelvic exams, make sexual advances or betray your confidentiality, this can and should be reported to a supervisor (if the therapist is in a clinic situation), to the state licensing board or even the police as necessary. You should end such counseling relationships immediately.

What About Your Spiritual Life?

If your faith in God hasn't been destroyed by your spiritual abuse experience, prayer, meditation, worship and Bible Study can be of great help as well. By recommending counseling, this does not mean leaving God out of the picture at all. But since spiritual abuse often poisons these normally helpful things, these might not seem like useful components. But rest assured; God wants you to get well. He knows the hurt and damage more than you do.

Most spiritual abuse has to do with continually pounding on people for their sins (or "sins") and shortcomings. Victims of spiritual abuse know all the Scriptures that condemn everybody (because abusive leaders always preach on them), but they may not know the graceful side of God nearly as well. Learn to give yourself God's grace and let him bring you into a healthy spiritual relationship with him. There are also some excellent books for this recommended by The Barnabas Ministry in the "Spiritual Abuse and Recovery" section.


Most of the time in life, mature adults are able to deal with various issues on their own or with the help and encouragement of people in their social network-- friends, family, church and the like. But every now and then, there are circumstances which are significantly damaging, troubling, persistent or difficult to understand where the help of a professional counselor or therapist is beneficial. If you are going through a time in your life now where these or similar conditions are true, perhaps seeking out a therapist and going through a period of counseling is just what is needed to help you heal and grow through this time in your life.