Dr. Kimberly Riley
As I think about some of the families that I have worked with and even my own family, one thing that has always been consistent is the formation of family rules, values, and norms. Christian families will often use the Bible as a guide for creating their values, which also includes ideas around what it looks like to raise their children.
The Bible talks quite a bit about families. Families in the Bible traveled together (the children of Israel), went through hardships (Noah and his family on the Ark), experienced betrayal (Cain and Abel), and were sometimes completely torn apart by tragedy (remember Job?).I believe God knew that families would be searching for examples and answers to make it through their own family struggles, so He included many real life stories in the Bible. The Bible gives specific instructions to parents on how they should raise their children in some areas, but other areas seem to be a little less clear.
What does the Bible say, if anything, about counseling? Did anyone receive counsel from wise people? The Bible includes many incidents where someone is gaining wisdom or knowledge from a trusted person, often directly from God through a chosen person (I am reminded of Paul’s letters to the church).
I think Christians everywhere would agree that Jesus was the best counselor of all times! He embodied all of the great qualities every therapist should. Jesus was an amazing listener, He helped people reflect on their choices, and He supported people in His community through their hardest times. What an amazing gift He was and continues to be to those who are in need mentally and spiritually.
With God already providing so much help through His Word and His Son, we can find ourselves wondering what the benefits would be to seek out family Christian counseling from a pastor or therapist in today’s time.
Do we have all that we need to be successful families in God’s Word alone, or is there a way that we can combine all that God offers in the Scriptures with practical tools from a Christian counselor to achieve wholeness? Together, we can dig a little deeper into what family Christian counseling is and how it can be helpful in raising godly children.
What is Family Christian Counseling?
Family counseling, in general, differs from individual counseling because it looks at the whole family system rather than concentrating on the individual person and their needs. When a counselor works with a family, their main interest is in helping the family structure change, believing that the influence on the family will be lasting and each member in the family will be changed as well.
Family counselors are able to bring children and their parents, husbands and wives, and siblings together in a way that encourages positive interactions with one another.
When families come in for their first session with a counselor, they will share what they believe the problem is, how it is affecting each person in the family, and possibly do a genogram (a diagram showing the family’s history) together. Families may initially come in for many different reasons, ranging from life cycle transitions, family structure issues, communication problems between family members, gender inequalities, cultural differences, substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, or infidelity.
Family systems change just like the people in the family. Maybe you are wondering how you will cope as you get older or your children grow up and get ready to leave the home. Will your family make it through the many ups and downs?
Family counseling looks at the stages of the family life cycle, which includes leaving home as a young adult, joining families through marriage, being in a family with young children and adolescents, preparing for children to leave the home, and living together in your family later in life.
Specifically in Christian counseling, the counselor is aware of the fact that spiritual beliefs influence the way families cope with adversity, experience suffering, and gain meaning about their circumstances. Prayer and meditation may often be encouraged as a way for families to work through some of their struggles if it has been a meaningful way for them to achieve healing in the past. I have found it to be extremely important to check in with the family about their spiritual beliefs and practices within their current family system and the family system they came from.
Christian counselors will want to explore the family’s spiritual dimensions by looking at the sources of distress, and resources used for healing, well-being, and resilience. As a Christian counselor I would be curious about these things as well. I might begin by asking questions similar to these:
- Does your family have a church that everyone enjoys and feels comfortable in?
- What is your family’s belief system?
- What were some of your family’s expectations when you were growing up?
- Does your family regularly pray together? If so, what are some of the things you pray about?
- What are disagreements like in your family?
- How has your family made it through tough times in the past?
- What are some of the roles each member in your family has?
After the family and Christian counselor build a therapeutic relationship, the family can begin to work towards their goal. Family Christian counseling is very similar to other types of counseling, it just intentionally includes the family’s belief system as a way to reach total wholeness and healing. The Christian counselor is aware of their own spiritual beliefs, but the belief system of the family is what is focused on and used throughout the time the family and counselor work together.
The Bible talks about benefits of getting counsel from others in several different places:
Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.– Proverbs 15:22, NKJV
Where there is no [wise, intelligent] guidance, the people fall and go off course [and go off course like a ship without a helm], But in the abundance of [wise and godly] counselors there is victory.– Proverbs 11:14, AMP
The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.– Proverbs 27:9, NLT
What are some ways to raise godly children? What does that even mean?
Some families may use Christian counseling as a way to understand how they can raise their children in a way that will be pleasing to God. The whole family would likely come in and together determine family rules, roles, and goals. Most people have some idea of how they would like to raise their children, but their ideas aren’t always in line with how their spouse dreamed of raising children, so conflicts may arise.Some parents might seek counseling before they begin a family to talk about their expectations for their family to come, while other parents may not come in until they are at a point in raising their kids where they need help. Either way, the Bible is full of stories about families raising children.
Parents in the Bible specifically prayed for their children and received instruction from God before they were even born (think of Abraham and Sarah). Parents struggled through controversy and disappointment for generations and looked to God for help. Children mentioned in the Bible needed guidance, much like today, and their parents often made mistakes – but they were almost never left without some type of lesson from God on how they could have done things differently and insights into what their future would look like.
Jesus, when He was an adolescent, decided to stay in the temple without asking His parents. Mary and Joseph were concerned and looked everywhere for Jesus once they realized He was missing. In that moment, I think Mary and Joseph felt some of the same feelings parents today feel when they believe their child is in danger.
Jesus’ parents had a conversation with Jesus and He explained His feelings behind why He stayed in the temple. After the conversation between Jesus and His parents, the Bible says, “He went down to Nazareth with them, and was continually submissive and and obedient to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:51-52, NIV).
Wonderful things can happen when parents and their children sit down and talk. Coming in to Christian counseling as a family can help parents and children learn how to communicate and understand each other on a level that promotes respect and growth in the relationship and the individuals.
The Importance of Effective Communication
Working with children in the therapeutic setting can be challenging, since children and adults think and express themselves differently. Children might require the space to draw or play as a way to help their parents and the counselor understand them.Parents may also need help in understanding how to share their feelings in a way that makes sense to the child. Even when Jesus explained His reason to His parents for staying behind in the temple, the Bible says His parents didn’t understand what He was saying to them.
Including Children in the Counseling Process
Being able to communicate effectively is important. Counselors should feel comfortable including children in the process, as it is not always effective to sit with just the parents alone and discuss their children or have children present in the room but not include them.
A study from the 1990’s gave shocking statistics stating that children were often excluded from treatment. Results revealed that 40% of counselors in the study never included children in therapy, and 31% of the counselors allowed the child to be in the session, but never interacted with them.
A different study showed that children, even when excluded, still have the desire to participate in the session and understand what is going on in their family better. This type of willingness is a positive step for a parent who may be coming in with concerns and labeling the child as the problem in the family.
It is always beneficial to include the whole family when trying to solve a problem that involves multiple members of the family system. Meeting with parents and their children can help the counselor provide more accurate tips for change.
Jesus says, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, unless you repent [that is, change your inner self – your old way of thinking, live changed lives] and become like children [trusting, humble, and forgiving], you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives and welcomes one child like this in My name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble and sin [by leading him away from My teaching], it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone [as large as one turned by a donkey], hung around his neck and to be drowned in the sea” (Matthew 18:3-6, AMP).
Jesus loves children and encourages adults to be childlike, so why wouldn’t parents and counselors include them in something as life-changing as counseling, especially when the desired outcome of the parent is to raise godly children?
Have you ever wondered exactly what it means to raise a godly child? Does it mean having a child who does everything right? Is a godly child one who gets all A’s in school and is a star athlete? Maybe you believe a godly child is a child who everyone loves and adores.
God gave some very practical rules around raising children; everyone has a role in the outcome, as well. God gave directions to both parents and children.
Here are a few of God’s views from the Bible on the parent-child relationship:
Train up a child in the way he should go [teaching him to seek God’s wisdom and will for his abilities and talents], Even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6, AMP
Children, always obey your parents, for this pleases the Lord. – Colossians 3:19, NLT
Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged. – Colossians 3:20, NLT
Parents should be clear about how God would like for them to live their lives as well, so that they can help their children along the way.
Here is a reminder of what God asks of parents:
And you must love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, and all of your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. – Deuteronomy 6:5-7, NLT
If you and your family are ready to try family Christian counseling or have the desire to raise godly children, counselors at Seattle Christian Counseling are ready to go on the journey with you.
We have many counselors experienced in working with families and children who can help you with something like creating or maintaining family rules, defining and understanding family problems, or simply providing space for you and your family to safely dialogue about your fears and concerns.
Sori, C. S. (2006). Engaging Children in Family Therapy. New York: Routledge.
Walsh, F. (2009). Spiritual Resources in Family Therapy Second Edition. New York: The Guilford Press.
“Becoming a Family,” courtesy of Benji Aird, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hold My Hand,” courtesy of Ben White, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “All the Family,” courtesy of Nathan Anderson, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hug,” courtesy of O.C. Gonzalez, unsplash.com, CC0 License