A couple of weeks ago, I published a Facebook post about the need for individual and couples’ counseling and how churches can and should help.
I got a huge favorable response to that plea. Today, I want to go deeper into this issue.
Why am I making this plea?
As I hear from folks struggling in their marriage, it’s often clear that a spouse or couple should be in therapy with a licensed professional who can address their specific issues. Maybe one of the spouses has an addiction or there has been childhood sexual trauma or abuse. Maybe the couple has fallen into destructive patterns that could be addressed with proper intervention. Maybe there are mental health disorders interfering with relationship interactions. Maybe the couple simply needs a mediator to help reveal underlying issues or teach healthier communication and conflict resolution.
Yet up to half the time I recommend counseling to someone, I hear back that they can’t access this resource. Sometimes, there aren’t options near them, but more often it’s simply that they cannot afford it.
It’s frustrating to see how many people need a resource but cannot get it. What if churches really devoted themselves to providing the help individuals and couples need to thrive?
We need well-informed, godly counsel.
Let’s be honest: the Bible doesn’t say, “Go thou to therapy!” But it conveys that we should go to God for His counsel (e.g., Job 12:13, Psalm 73:24) and also to fellow believers who have wisdom about our situation. In our time, place, and culture, we have resources with wisdom that simply weren’t available to people in the past.
For example, getting a master’s degree in counseling helped me to understand how people make decisions, undergo change, and replace bad habits with better choices, as well as how past wounds affect our perspective. I learned about mental health diagnoses and what approaches might be useful in addressing them. While my foundation has been, and always be, God’s truth as revealed in Scripture, my grad-school training provided additional insight that I have used in my ministry.
Other Christians have different or deeper knowledge and training to address various issues, from lay counselors who walk alongside those in emotional pain to trauma-informed specialists who address sexual abuse, and everything in between. While our faith sets the destination we aim to reach in our lives and relationships, well-informed, personalized help can lay out the path to reach that destination.
Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.Proverbs 15:22 (NASB)
“You can’t afford not to!”
If we believe that quality Christian counseling can play an important role, why aren’t individuals and couples getting it? A fair number would go but can’t manage it.
Unfortunately, when a spouse says they cannot afford counseling, they often hear retorts such as:
- You can’t afford not to!
- Divorce is more expensive than counseling.
- Isn’t your marriage worth it?
To people who’ve said such things, I wonder if you’ve ever had less than $10 in your bank account. I have. While in college, a meal at Taco Bell for me was two 49¢ tacos and a water because that’s all the money I could spare. I was never poor (had everything I needed), but I was definitely broke.
It’s tone-deaf at best to tell people scrambling to make their next rent payment or put food on the table that they don’t care about their marriage if they won’t find money from somewhere to pay for counseling.
Yes, some couples simply aren’t prioritizing their marriage, but many truthfully cannot afford it. And it’s not reasonable to expect the counselor to provide their time, effort, and expertise for free (“the worker deserves his wages,” Luke 10:7).
Why is counseling so expensive?
A quick aside on the cost of counseling. If many people say they can’t afford counseling, does that mean counselors charge too much? While some make good money, that’s not the primary reason counseling costs what it does. Rather, a counselor must deal with such expenses as:
- Education/training to become a counselor, ranging from a short course (e.g., lay counseling or coaching) to several years for a PhD
- Certification or licensure, which has an upfront cost but may involve annual fees as well
- Continuing education, required for licensure and/or beneficial to stay informed in your field
- Office space and supplies to host therapy sessions
- Insurance, both general and malpractice
- Books and other resources required or desired to provide quality counseling
On top of that, insurance often doesn’t cover personal therapy or does so at such a low level that many counselors simply choose not to accept insurance. (See Why Is Therapy So Expensive? | HuffPost Life.) Plus, you really can’t see 40 clients for 40 hours per week; yet when you’re not seeing a client, you not making money.
For reference, the average salary for a Licensed Professional Counselor in my home state of Texas, according to Salary.com, is $53,650. Meanwhile, the cost of getting my graduate degree from my alma mater (University of Houston) is now over $20,000. And that doesn’t consider any of the other costs outlined above.
Honestly, most therapists are not going into this field to get rich but to help people.
Why should churches help?
Romans 12:13a tells us to “share with the Lord’s people who are in need,” and Acts 2:44-45 says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” The Church has a specific and direct calling to help those among us who need help.One Way Churches Could Really Help Marriages: "The Church has a specific and direct calling to help those among us who need help." @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
1 John 3:17 puts it this way: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”
Are we open-hearted toward those who could use marriage help? Do we, as the Body of Christ, reach out to those in need?
Consider all of the challenges to individuals I mentioned above and apply them to the Church itself:
- You can’t afford not to!
The health of our church in part relies on the health of its families, and we can’t afford to lose them. Moreover, we cannot afford the hypocrisy of saying that God’s love abides in us while neglecting brothers and sisters in need. Faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).
- Divorce is more expensive than counseling.
Divorce is expensive in the emotional and spiritual cost it exacts. Hearts and homes are broken, and some leave the faith altogether after the pain of a divorce. The cost of helping now can prevent far greater cost in the future (see Luke 14:28-35 NIV).
- Isn’t your marriage worth it?
Aren’t our brothers and sisters, their relationships, and our relationships with them worth it? Doesn’t our marriage to Christ, the bridegroom, call for us to pay that cost? “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Please understand that the cost of staying in an abusive, high-conflict, and/or unfaithful marriage is often higher than divorce. I’m not saying there’s never good reason to leave, because sometimes there is! (See Are You in an Abusive or Destructive Marriage? and Enough is Enough – Gary Thomas.) In that case, therapy can be a godsend for the spouse who should leave.
How can churches help?
How a church can assist depends on its own resources.
While we hear a lot about megachurches, the average church has 65–75 congregants (although many of those are part of larger congregations). Larger churches can provide counseling, and some have full-service marriage ministries and professional therapists. But for smaller churches, their budgets are stretched tight to cover facility costs, staff salaries, and basic charity and/or mission goals. Asking them to pony up money for professional counseling is like asking College Me to splurge on a soft drink—it’s simply more than they can do.
But let’s look at some ideas so that you can see the wide array of alternatives:
Open and staff a counseling center at the church.
For a larger church, hire licensed professionals as part of the ministry staff. Once a counseling center is established, be sure to regularly inform members about this benefit and how to access its services. Smaller churches could pool their resources to establish a counseling center.
Provide onsite counseling with prorated fees paid through church funds.
Invite a Christian therapist to set up their office in your church facility. That person, or persons, would function as their own business with the church agreeing to pay some portion of their fees. Some churches prorate based on membership, financial need, or both.
Research has established that a client who pays at least something for their therapy tends to be more invested in it. If money is not an option, then the counselee(s) might be able to provide a service to the church as partial payment.
Support a counseling center or practitioner in your area.
Find a trusted resource in your community and set up a mutually beneficial arrangement where you help pay for therapy while the counselor prioritizes your members.
Invite local counselors in for seminars and/or classes.
Host a qualified therapist for a seminar or series of classes. Both couples who need therapy and those who currently don’t can benefit from learning communication tools, attachment styles, conflict-resolution skills, and yes, common sexual problems and treatments.
Help members obtain counseling education.
What Jesus said about spreading the Good News could be said about investing in holy and healthy marriages: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2).
We could use more devoted Christians with quality training to assist individuals and couples. But it’s not cheap to get the training and credentials required to become a licensed counselor. If a church can provide some scholarship money to defer a member’s cost, that might be a great way to bring in a good resource in the future. (Check with a financial advisor on how to do this properly).
Maintain a list of recommended resources.
Keep a list of recommended mental health, crisis, and marriage therapy resources that members can access. Let congregants know it’s there and remind them regularly. That person who didn’t hear the first 13 times because they didn’t think the list applied to them may now need to know, so say it another time.
Not all counseling is created equal! Which is why I often use the phrase quality counseling, not just counseling. See Have You Received Bad Marriage Counseling? and/or The Experts Who Are Damaging Your Sexual Intimacy. And for a list of the types of counseling one can receive, see this Facebook post on my Hot, Holy & Humorous page.
Let’s do what we can.
Do we want marriages to make it? Then we have to help them make it. “Marriage should be honored by all…” (Hebrews 13:4).
And for those in marriages that shouldn’t make it (due to ongoing abuse or other intransigent problems), we should help spouses transition out of their terrible situation. “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9).
Let’s approach our church leaders, talk about the need for counseling that is both professional and Christian, and propose solutions to support our brothers and sisters in need.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.Proverbs 12:15 (NKJV)