Many have asked me how I became a Biblical Clinical Counselor. To answer this question, it might be a good idea to first share how I stumbled into counseling as a ministry vocation. After the LORD saved me in 2004, I thought I wanted to enter the mission field. I had to abruptly leave a deployment in Kuwait due to health reasons, and I naively believed I needed to go back and share the gospel in a Middle East country. I changed my major from teaching high school history to English to eventually become TESOL certified, which I thought would be my missionary “in” to a closed country. That never happened because three months after remarrying, I was pregnant with my son and moved across the country to Virginia.
I learned that my new husband’s church was affiliated with a Bible college. Being an unchurched new believer, I had no idea there were actual colleges that taught the Bible. How exciting! I was devouring as much Bible reading as possible, but I wanted to know more. Toward the end of my second trimester of pregnancy, I enrolled in the fall semester at that Bible college but had to drop out after being put on bed rest for early contractions. After having my son, I continued classes and began learning not just the Bible but how important theology is in the life of a believer. I learned that some Christians were so confused about sin, salvation, and sanctification that they got baptized several times, believing that their previous baptism “didn’t work” or getting baptized over and over again can be used to “re-dedicate one’s life to God” after a season of hard times. I didn’t know much theology then, but as a brand-new believer, I somehow inherently knew that baptism shouldn’t be used in that manner so I was confused why the Christians around me that were believers longer than I didn’t know that.
Our family eventually moved to Texas, and I threw myself into over-the-border mission opportunities at various local small-town churches. I kept ministering to Christian women in Bible study settings with various past and present trauma. They came to Bible study to help understand their trauma experiences and symptoms, but I had no answers since I was in the trenches with them, wrestling with my past trauma experiences and symptoms. I felt like I was the blind trying to lead the blind. The final straw that led me to pursue a counseling degree was a mom who ended up on my doorstep, seeking help for her teen daughter, who a local county worker had sexually abused. I had a few encounters with this girl at church and noticed some red flags, but I figured it was none of my business since I was new in town and didn’t want to cause a stir. This happened around the same time that I was dealing with my repressed memories of being raped at 17, which worsened my physical trauma symptoms. I felt useless.
During this tumultuous time, I came across a parenting book by Elyse Fitzpatrick, Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus, which dramatically changed how I parented. Fitzpatrick taught me the power of parenting through the lens of God’s grace instead of unrealistic conformity through harsh rule-following. Her wisdom in the book piqued my interest in her story, and I wanted to know how she came to understand the law/grace conundrum, especially as it is applied to Christian parenting.
I did a bit of research, trying to learn more about her. I learned that she earned a certificate in Biblical Counseling through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF) in 1990 and, around the same time, joined the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (now called Association of Certified Biblical Counselors – ACBC). In 1997, she earned an MA in Biblical Counseling from Trinity Theological Seminar, an online seminary way before online seminary became a legitimate schooling method.
While reading her book, I didn’t know prior to 2008, she had been immersed in The Master’s College (TMC) and Grace Community Church (GCC), where she taught a few courses and spoke at conferences sponsored by the school and church. 1 Even if I knew this information then, it would not have mattered because I had no knowledge or prior presuppositional awareness of TMC, Grace Community, or ACBC’s counseling methodology.
According to her website, she shares how she migrated away from the counseling methodology of Grace Community Church and the Master’s College. 2 In 2008, she wrote a book titled Because He Loves Me: How Christ Transforms our Daily Life, which was her attempt to respond to her opinion of TMC, GCC and ACBC’s “overemphasis on the imperatives of Scripture” and the tendency to “quantify every human life problem in terms of sin.”
She went on to publish Give Them Grace in 2011, which is when and how I discovered who she was. I had no idea then that this book blacklisted her and ended her relationship with GCC. She describes that someone at GCC accused her of “declining in sound theology” and being on a “slippery slope toward apostasy.” I knew none of this history when I first read her book. I just appreciated her approach to parenting during a season of my motherhood when I was struggling with unrealistic expectations from my young children. I didn’t want to be a legalistic parent who demanded performance-based obedience while my children’s hearts moved away from Christ and his gospel. I also didn’t want to be the parent who gave her children unrestrained liberties that I saw in other Christian parents and whose children grew up to love the world too much, it derailed their lives. Being a newer-ish Christian, I knew the world had nothing to offer my kids, so I tended to err on the side of legalism. I wanted my kids to love Jesus the way I did, so I knew my parenting had to change.
Fitzpatrick’s parenting book not only helped me apply the gospel of Christ to my parenting in practical, applicable ways, it changed my entire parenting paradigm completely for the better. The relationship I currently have with my young adult children is evident in the fruit of her wisdom in that book. She was the very first author that I came across in my reading who identified as a Biblical Counselor so I began to search for other authors who identified as Biblical Counselors for other struggles in my life.
Due to who was crossing my path in my various ministry activities, I began to think about becoming a counselor, like Fitzpatrick, but I didn’t live anywhere near a school that offered a master’s degree in Biblical Counseling. I figured if she could become a counselor to Christians at an online seminary, I could too. I also had no idea how different the various Biblical Counseling certification entities were. I thought they were all the same. They are not. I will write more on this later.
I knew I had to return to school, but I wanted to get higher education in counseling from a Christian college or seminary. However, I had to first finish the BA I’d been working on for 20 years. In that very challenging season, I was a homeschooling mom with two young kids living in a small isolated town in West Texas with an unfinished bachelor’s degree, struggling with chronic health issues that included undiagnosed PTSD symptoms. Despite that, I slowly took one or two classes here and there at a small-town state university the next town over and finally earned a BA in English.
Since I didn’t have the luxury of moving to attend seminary in person, I found Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS), a sound school that offered an online MA in Counseling. I was at the beginning stages of learning to understand the value and importance of theology, which motivated me to also enroll in their MA in Theological Studies. I knew I could not attend an in person seminary for a strict Biblical Counseling masters program. I knew I wanted to learn, not only how to counseling well, but Biblical theology as well. For these reasons, I felt it necessary to pursue two master’s degrees simultaneously.
By the time I started seminary in 2016, my daughter started homeschool high school, and when she started college, both of my degrees were complete. I went on a short detour in pursuit of state licensure, but through that detour, I learned that I only want to counsel professing believers who take their faith and theology seriously but still struggle with various degrees of mental health issues, like myself. I stopped pursuing a state license and entered a doctoral program instead because I want to research and write about how theology, psychology and counseling can work together for the glory of God using the book of Genesis, Exodus, neuroscience research, and the New Testament lens of progressive sanctification.
Over the years since I first read Fitzpatrick’s book, growing in knowledge of various counseling methods and Biblical theology, I learned a few more things about Biblical Counseling in general – like the similarities and differences in Biblical Counseling certification entities. I’ve also witnessed how some, not all, Biblical Counselors are indeed hyper-focused on Bible imperatives as their sole method of Biblical Counseling, along with some, not all, who view every individual struggle as a sin issue, which I will write about later.
Counseling is hard. Counseling others is emotionally taxing. I can see why some Biblical Counselors lean towards viewing their counselees as “resistant to change” or stubbornly hard-hearted (yes, I’ve heard some use these words) when symptoms persist after sharing the gospel with their counselees and after repeatedly asking them to repent of some sin that keeps them in a state of struggle.
I have also learned that when Biblical Counselors lack competency in recognizing and differentiating overt sin issues from sin nature issues, it is tempting to diagnose a counselee as stubborn or hardened in heart, which can take the burden off the counselor’s lack of competency and onto the struggling saint. This phenomenon is similar to the legalistic parent who uses harsh scare tactics to get their children to obey them by using the Bible to manipulate their behavior.
I once told my young children, who were 5 and 10 at the time, after telling me that they loved me, I responded with, “If you loved me, you would obey me” because I was frustrated that they never listened to me when I asked them to clean their room, over and over and over again. Once those words came out of my mouth, the Holy Spirit immediately convicted my heart because I knew if God used those words on me, my behavior and lack of obedience in ALL things would prove that I probably didn’t love Him as much as I thought. This humbled me because I also realized, at that moment, that it was not my love for God that made me right with God, but His love for me in Christ.
FTR: My kid’s rooms are still messy. I still remind them to clean them. But I no longer base their unclean room as a gauge to prove their love for me. A human relationship is so much sweeter when the foundation of that relationship is based on WHOSE we are as we live out real-time gospel implications birthed by the fruit God’s grace.
The law/grace conundrum is no conundrum at all when we cognitively understand who Christ is and relationally live in response to the Gospel. I model this to my kiddos, my husband, and now…those I counsel.