BCC Staff Note: The following post by Dr. Jim Newheiser is the first article in a several-part series that addresses whether biblical counselors should consider state licensure. As a coalition, the BCC has invited several of our Council Board members to share their diverse perspective. We encourage readers to “join the conversation” and post thoughtful comments.

A Matter of Personal Freedom

I have friends in the biblical counseling movement who have gone to the effort and expense of obtaining state licensure as Counselors or as Marriage and Family Therapists. First, I acknowledge that this is a matter of personal freedom for a counselor. I also admit that I see some of the advantages of being recognized by the state. Licensed counselors are usually in a better position to make a living because they can bill insurance for their services, something which unlicensed biblical counselors, who often face financial challenges, cannot do. Licensed counselors also are recognized by courts1Mental health provider means a physician and surgeon specializing in the practice of psychiatry, a psychologist, a psychological assistant, intern, or trainee, a licensed marriage and family therapist, a registered marriage and family therapist, intern, or trainee, a licensed educational psychologist, a credentialed school psychologist, a licensed clinical social worker, an associate clinical social worker, a licensed professional clinical counselor, a registered clinical counselor, intern, or trainee, or any other person designated as a mental health professional under California law or regulation. and public schools in cases in which counseling is mandated, while unlicensed biblical counselors are often excluded in such situations.

I also acknowledge that state licensed counselors have to undergo more extensive training and a much larger number of supervised hours than most biblical counseling training programs require.  While I am convinced of the complete sufficiency of the Scriptures in providing the prescription for spiritual problems, I am sure that some of this training provides useful information both describing and observing various behaviors and conditions.

My Choice and My Reasons

Recent developments in my home state of California have confirmed my choice not to pursue state licensure as a counselor. Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 1172 “that will protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) minors from ‘reparative’ therapies administered by mental health professionals aimed at altering sexual orientation or gender identities and expressions.”2http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/30/jerry-brown-sb-1172-gay-conversion-therapy-california_n_1926855.html This new law is based upon findings supported by the American Psychological Association and other professional groups that suggest that such reparative therapies are ineffective and harmful to young people. The law states:

“Under no circumstances shall a mental health provider engage in sexual orientation change efforts with a patient under18 years of age. Any sexual orientation change efforts attempted on a patient under18 years of age by a mental health provider shall be considered unprofessional conduct and shall subject a mental health provider to discipline by the licensing entity for that mental health provider.”3http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201120120SB1172

The law states that a licensed counselor is not to help change the sexual orientation of a minor even if both the parents and the counselee (up to age 18) want counseling of this kind. This law does not apply to those who are not mental health professionals licensed by the State of California, which means that purely religious counselors are not covered.4Actually, one of the objections to the law was that it might drive such families into the arms of religious counselors who are said to be homophobic.

As biblical counselors we believe that any sexual activity outside of a marriage covenant between one man and one woman is sinful. We also teach that the gospel not only forgives sexual sin, but also sets free those who were once slaves to sexual idolatry of all kinds, including homosexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9-11  Romans 6:1-19). Biblical counselors work with sinners of all kinds, including minors who are tempted by homosexuality, to help them to know God’s forgiving and transforming grace.

What will a state licensed biblical counselor do when parents bring their gender-confused teenager for counseling? Will the law allow him or her to take off the counselor’s state licensed mental professional hat, replacing it with a pastoral counselor cap? If he or she does counsel the young person that homosexuality is sinful and contrary to God’s design, while showing how through Christ thoughts and desires can be transformed, will the counselor be subject to discipline for unprofessional conduct?

While I know that there are different approaches to how biblical counseling is practiced, I believe that it is wise for biblical counselors to remain free from state licensure and control so that we will be free to counsel according to our biblical convictions. Our authority is Scripture alone, not whatever arbitrary standards the state and secular professional organizations may choose to enact.

I also believe that is wisest to make it clear that our counseling is religious in nature, rather than seeking to look like licensed professional counselors. Practical ways to distinguish ourselves from state licensed counselors include having our counseling ministries under the authority and oversight of a local church and operating on a donation basis, rather than charging (professional) fees for our services. As our culture continues to become more hostile to biblical truth more licensed Christian counselors may find themselves having to choose between compromising their convictions and risking loss of license and livelihood.

Daniels in Babylon?

I recently had the privilege of participating in some discussions with committed Christian counselors, some of whom are state licensed. I was impressed by the commitment of these brothers to biblical truth centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ and I was encouraged by their skepticism towards many psychological labels and methodologies.

One brother made the argument that state-licensed biblical counselors can be like Daniel among the wise men of Babylon, seeking to be an influence for good. My response is that Daniel didn’t willingly choose to go to Babylon to serve among the Babylonian wise men.

I have met state licensed counselors who either became Christians or became committed to gospel-centered biblical counseling after they had completed their secular training. These men and women may fit the description of being Daniels because they are committed Christians among people whose ideology is at sharp variance from Scripture. They may have the privilege of pointing the many clients who are seeking a licensed counselor to biblical solutions centered in Christ. They may also have useful interaction and influence among other licensed counselors, especially professing Christians.

Part of their testimony will be to emulate Daniel and his friends by not compromising their faith, even when Nebuchadnezzar (the State) demands that they bow down to idols of unbiblical practices. I have licensed friends who will continue their practice, but realize that the time may come when they would lose their license rather than compromise their faith. Though this would be a hardship and affect their livelihood, it beats being thrown into a fiery furnace or a den of lions.

But If You Aren’t in Babylon, My Advice Would Be Not to Go There

While I agree that those who are already state-licensed may be wise to seek to be an influence for good in Babylon, I believe that aspiring counselors would be better served by receiving extensive biblical training and avoiding state licensure. I have asked a few of my friends who are licensed how they would advise those who want to be trained as counselors. Their usual response is that most of their formal training did little to equip them to counsel biblically and that they would recommend that those who want to learn to counsel receive training which is biblically rich.

Join the Conversation (Added by the BCC Staff)

What are your thoughts on Dr. Newheiser’s post about biblical counseling and licensure? What are your thoughts on biblical counseling and licensure?