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Christian Counseling and Psychotherapy- A Book Review by Sutton

Evidence-Based Practices 
for Christian Counseling 
and Psychotherapy
Edited by
     Everett L. Worthington Jr.,    
     Eric L. Johnson, 
     Joshua N. Hook &
     Jamie D. Aten
Reviewed by 
     Geoffrey W. Sutton

The editors are Christians with a strong research record. They have assembled a collection of chapters by clinicians and psychological scientists to offer a state of the practice review of the scientific evidence for Christian counseling or psychotherapy. This book will be useful in Christian counseling programs and will help referral sources understand important differences among the various services available.

The two-fold goal aims to inform clinicians about Christian practice and the nature of the supporting evidence. After establishing the notion of what constitutes scientific evidence in the Introduction (Chapter 1), the editors present 13 chapters focused on interventions, which are organized into three parts. The fourth part offers three chapters of reflections. 

The book is aimed at five target audiences: psychotherapists, researchers, students, teachers, and educated lay readers. However, I would add a sixth audience—members of the Christian Clergy—professionals in a position to make informed referrals and support church-based counseling programs.

Part one includes three chapters that inform the reader of general considerations in psychotherapy. To help you track the 16 chapters, I will place the chapter number in parentheses following the lead author. Scott Stegman (2) and others identify three critical elements linked to better client outcomes: therapeutic alliance, empathy, and collaboration. They cite evidence that considering a client’s religious beliefs and values in counseling has “promising empirical support.” Siang-Yang Tan (3) offers an overview of the limited scientific support for Christian lay counseling. Although lay counseling in general has been beneficial, only one study has demonstrated empirical support using a randomized waiting list control group design. Part 1 concludes with Fernando Garzon’s (4) summary of the value of Christian Devotional Meditation as an effective treatment for anxiety.

Part two includes three chapters focused on individual psychotherapy. David Jennings II (5) and his coauthors review evidence supporting Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for depression that accommodates a Christian perspective. Donald F. Walker (6) and others describe Christian-accommodative trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy designed for children and adolescents. Finally, Keith J. Edwards and Edward B. Davis (7) discuss evidence-based principles from psychodynamic and process-experiential psychotherapies.

Part three contains six chapters devoted to interventions for couples or groups. Les and Leslie Parrott (8) explain the research behind the SYMBIS model used to prepare couples for marriage. Gary Barnes and Scott M. Stanley (9) report on the research behind the PREP model for couples with a focus on the Christian version known as CPREP. Jennifer S. Ripley (10) and her colleagues review Hope-Focused therapy for couples. James Sells (11) discusses the relational conflict restoration model. He reports on the evidence supporting pain-defense and –grace-trust patterns during the reconciliation process. Fred DiBlasio (12) guides readers through forgiveness interventions with married couples. The section closes with a Christian-accommodative group intervention for forgiveness by Julia Kidwell and Nathaniel Wade (13).

Part four consists of three reflection essays. Ev Worthington (14) and his co-editors look at the promise of evidence-based treatments. Although identifying some treatments as promising and noting scriptural support, the authors are aware of the need for research: “we conclude that the empirical basis for the treatment of clients using evidence-based treatments is relatively weak. (p. 292)” Joshua Hook (15) leads the team in reviewing specific research methods in conducting clinical outcome studies of Christian counseling and psychotherapy. Finally, Eric Johnson (16) and others reflect on evidence-based practice in the context of Christian perspectives. The authors observe that there is a problem of agreement on what constitutes Christian counseling or psychotherapy. In fact, only one survey study examined what Christian psychotherapists do. They suggest the development of criteria for Christian counseling and psychotherapy with an emphasis on what constitutes Christian.

I recommend this book for several reasons. In the past several decades, an awareness of mental health and relationship health has grown in importance. With the end of routine institutional care for those with mental illness, came an increased awareness of mental health and the need for treatment. At about the same time that de-institutionalization began, divorce rates rose and teen pregnancies increased. People turned to their physicians and clergy for help. It is no surprise that the demand for professional help exceeded the supply. But along with the growth in the helping professions came concerns about mental health clinicians ignoring sinful behavior and morality. And it did not help that some early psychotherapists were hostile to religion. 

This book offers a way for clinicians to recognize the importance of using effective treatment. And it provides a basis for determining the relative effectiveness of the interventions clinicians select. But it also illustrates several ways that Christians can connect to interventions that are compatible with their Christian beliefs and values.

Finally, from the perspective of research, the collection of reviews offers a plethora of opportunities for numerous theses and dissertations well into the next several decades. I suspect the next edition could be a multivolume work if new researchers are willing to pick up the challenge.


 Related Post

Christian Counseling and Psychotherapy Books

Additional notes

Several interventions may be modified or used as is with Christians who identify as Pentecostal or Charismatic. I refer to several of these in Counseling and Psychotherapy with Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians.

Christian Counseling and Psychotherapy is a broad term, which means that consumers may not know what services they are getting when a general term like "Christian Counseling" or "Christian Psychotherapy" is discussed.

Some terms similar to Christian counseling are as follows:
Biblical Counseling, Christian Counseling, Christian Psychotherapy, Pastoral Counseling, Religious Accommodating Interventions

The providers of counseling services can vary from having limited undergraduate college coursework or a few workshops to doctoral degrees in related fields. 

Following are a few examples of the various providers.

Lay counselors, Lay ministers, Clergy with some undergraduate classes to clergy with doctoral degrees, Social Workers, Counselors, Psychiatrists, Psychologists

My colleagues and I have published a few studies on the subject.

Sutton, G. W., Arnzen, C., & Kelly, H. (2016). Christian counseling and psychotherapy: Components of clinician spirituality that predict type of Christian intervention. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 35, 204-214. Academia Link    ResearchGate Link

Sutton, G. W., Kelly, H. L., & Huver, M. (2019). Political identities, religious identity, and the pattern of moral foundations among conservative Christians. Journal of Psychology and Theology, xx, pp. xx-xx. Accepted 6 September 2019. ResearchGate Link     Academia Link


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  Academia   Geoff W Sutton   (PhD)     
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