Short answer: yes. Long answer: maybe, and here’s why.
In popular culture today, people are praised for going to therapy. But in Christian circles, I've found that it's a different story.
When my husband and I got married, we learned the value of premarital counseling and marriage conferences. So imagine my surprise at my parents' reaction when I recommended they start couples' counselling.
“Counseling? That’s for people with serious problems or people getting divorced. We don’t need that!” They felt that 45 years of marriage disqualified them from needing counseling.
Maybe you've heard similar things from other Christians.
“Why would I go to counseling when I have Jesus? He is enough for me.”
“My issues aren’t that bad.”
“I don’t want to turn to ‘worldly’ solutions for spiritual problems.”
In this article, I'll share some important things to consider as a Christian seeking therapy and how counselling helped me in my walk with Jesus.
Christians are still human
The reality is that even when we fully give our lives to Jesus, we still experience deep hurt, pain, and trauma. Jesus never promised that we would not face mental health crises or emotional exhaustion. Being a Christian doesn’t shield us from abuse or addiction. And he doesn’t ever promise that we won’t face spiritual warfare! So let’s look at what he does say.
In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. - John 16:33 (emphasis mine)
Tribulation is guaranteed. There has never been a doubt that we would face trouble.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. - 1 Peter 4:12-13 (emphasis mine)
Turning to another person for help and guidance does not mean that you are turning your back to Jesus.
This passage is talking about living a countercultural life. People around you who aren’t living the Spirit-filled life will be uncomfortable (1 Peter 4: 3-4). If you’re following in Jesus’ footsteps, you can expect to face rejection and spiritual warfare like Christ did (Matthew 4:1-11).
Don’t get me wrong – Jesus has the power to heal and deliver you from your struggles and pain. He’s already saved us from eternal hell! But in his wisdom, grace and perfect will, he may allow us to live through suffering, sometimes even until our last day on earth.
Here is a helpful article: 4 Encouraging Truths for Christians with Mental Illness
Professional Help “versus” the Holy Spirit
Trusting in Jesus and consulting health professionals are not mutually exclusive actions. You can have both Jesus and therapy. They complement each other, actually.
If I injure my back or struggle with my eyesight, I feel free to consult a doctor, and though it would be nice to have a Christian doctor, I care more about their credentials as a health professional than their faith background. Why should I approach my emotional or mental distress any differently?
Turning to another person for help and guidance does not mean that you are turning your back to Jesus. If you’ve surrendered your life to him, he lives within you! His Holy Spirit has been promised to you and guarantees you eternal life with Jesus (Ephesians 1:14). You’re already his and that will never change.
I believe that professional help can be a way God uses to make people more like Jesus. If you’re reading this article, chances are that you want to change or you know someone else that wants to change. You want to grow. You want to heal. And, at the same time, you want to be more like Jesus.
You may find this article on Stigma, Bipolar Disorder and Radical Love helpful.
How therapy changed my life as a Christian
I’ve seen both a Christian therapist and a non-Christian therapist. Both have been helpful in different ways and there are pros and cons for each. Any time you allow somebody to speak into your life, to give you advice, there are risks to consider. Here’s how therapy worked for me:
Therapy was not my first resort.
I know that Jesus, my great High Priest, has been interceding for me for all my life. I never once doubted that he could heal and free me from my anxiety and codependent tendencies. Before reaching out to a therapist, I talked to trusted Christian friends. I talked to my husband. I talked to my pastor and other Christian mentors in my life. I did not want to look at my friends as therapists, constantly asking them for advice and guidance. So, I decided it would be best to look elsewhere. I began researching different ways to cope with anxiety. I read and listened to resources from Christians and from medical professionals. I had taken in a lot of information and I was ready for someone to guide me to put it all into action, but wasn’t sure how.
Do you worry about worrying? Here is an article on Why Anxiety Makes Us Feel Guilty.
I prayed a lot before looking for a therapist.
I noticed that my anxious thoughts became more and more overwhelming over the years. I meditated on Scripture, listened to Gospel-centered truth-filled music and sermons, and spent time with other Christians, but once I stepped away from those activities, the anxious thoughts came flooding back. I wanted to learn about other ways to cope and get advice from a neutral third party.
I asked God for a Christian therapist.
When I asked the Lord for discernment, he gave it to me. The first therapist I reached out to for a free consultation ended up being a Christian. Her biography online never mentioned that she was Christian, but I knew it was God’s good providence! It felt like I was talking to a wise auntie from church. Her comfort felt familiar. Her advice had a biblical truth-filled tone to it, even when she didn’t mention Jesus. Although she did not refer to Scripture often, her understanding of the spiritual warfare behind my anxiety really helped me not lose sight of Jesus.
I asked God for a good therapist.
After seeing my Christian therapist for about a year, I began to crave a new perspective. I was curious about the coping mechanisms a non-religious professional would offer me other than to pray. I looked at several therapists’ profiles online and settled on one I currently see on a regular basis.
My current therapist is not a Christian.
I knew there were risks in seeking professional counsel from someone who doesn’t follow Jesus, but I also knew that with her educational background and experience, she would approach my situation objectively. She gave me resources and reflective worksheets that have helped me work through some of my issues, and they complement my Bible-reading and worship times well.
In some ways, her scientific approach gives me a deeper appreciation of how complex we are as humans and how God made us. It’s broadened my perspective beyond my Christian bubble and has helped me share how Jesus changed my life with my non-Christian friends in ways they can understand.
Amy-Louisa helps us understand how to support someone living with chronic illness in her vulnerable blog post.
I knew my therapist would not be my savior.
Seems like a no-brainer to make this distinction, but it is necessary. I knew I needed to consciously remind myself of this fact and avoid thinking that therapy would solve my problems, or even that therapy would make me a “better person”.
I do believe that therapy can help change my behavior, my emotional patterns, and the way I process life, but I know it cannot ultimately save me. Therapy will not make me feel whole, just as other coping methods can’t. Only Jesus promises to give me an abundant life and to help me live life to the full. Only he promises to satisfy and give me everything I need. Therapy is a wonderful tool that I trust the Lord to use to bring me closer to him.
I see therapy as preventative.
I’ve learned that I shouldn’t wait until I am in a desperate situation to seek help. Jesus conquered sin once and for all on the cross, and because his Spirit lives in me, I can have victory over sin, too. Therapy, like sleeping well, exercise, and eating well, does help in the journey toward healing.
If you have a persistent struggle you feel is impossible to overcome, could it be an addiction? Food, porn, gambling are some examples. If you are constantly reminded of an extremely difficult experience you lived through, could you have post-traumatic stress or anxiety? Do you wonder how your childhood or past relationships may be affecting the way you live today?
These are just a few reasons why I personally decided to see a therapist. Maybe they’re some of yours, too, but there’s much more beyond this list that might influence your decision.
So is it okay for Christians to go to therapy?
Seeing therapists - both Christian and non-Christian - has helped me a lot. Healing is a lifelong journey and until I get to heaven, I don’t think I’ll ever experience full restoration. Jesus never promised I’d get that anyway.
I believe that the Lord grants discernment to those who seek it, and if you’re a Christian wondering if you should see a therapist, I encourage you to pray about it.
Maybe someone at your church is a biblical counselor. Consider talking to a trusted friend or pastor. Those who know you best may be able to give you a fresh perspective. If you want to talk to one of our online mentors (who are not counselors), fill out the form at the bottom of this page.
This post talks about why you should talk: You Need To Tell Your Story
Ultimately, you choose what is best for you. If you want to make lasting changes in your life, invite the Holy Spirit to transform you and trust in God’s promise:
Isaiah 43:19 says, See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
Additional Resources: Here’s a podcast conversation between a married couple about following Jesus and going to therapy. I found it helpful and, in your discernment around seeking professional therapy, you might too.
Disclaimer: Some issues that would benefit from therapy may be neurological or genetic. It is important to understand that not all health struggles are the result of a person’s sin, even though they are consequences of living in a sinful, fallen world.