Psychotherapy What Is Christian Marriage Counseling? By Tiara Blain Tiara Blain LinkedIn Tiara Blain, MA, is a freelance writer for Verywell Mind. She is a health writer and researcher passionate about the mind-body connection. Learn about our editorial process Updated on February 26, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD Medically reviewed by Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD LinkedIn Twitter Dr. Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and a professor at Yeshiva University’s clinical psychology doctoral program. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print AJ_Watt / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Is Christian Marriage Counseling? Techniques What Christian Marriage Counseling Can Help With Benefits Effectiveness Things to Consider How to Get Started What Is Christian Marriage Counseling? Christian marriage counseling is cognitive behavioral-based counseling for married Christian couples. This counseling incorporates psychotherapy with Christian belief practices. This form of counseling is typically facilitated by a Christian therapist or pastoral counselor, just as in individual Christian counseling. Christian marriage counseling aims to develop relational techniques that strengthen communication, consideration, and commitment to one another while enhancing individual spiritual growth. Couples can begin the process of resolving conflict, resentment, and miscommunications of the present and past. They learn how to forgive and heal from circumstances that are negatively impacting the marriage. Techniques of Christian Marriage Counseling The following are interventions that one could expect to experience in Christian marriage counseling to broaden communication and spiritual connection. Relationship-Strengthening Exercises Christian marriage counselors conduct in-session therapy exercises that take place during counseling, as well as at-home assignments. One example of an in-session exercise would be to express specific qualities each person admires about their partner and then discuss the qualities they don’t like. At-home exercises may consist of counselors assigning clients scriptures to study together at home, along with promoting participation in other religious activities, like prayer. Other assignments would usually be tailored to enhance communication and help better understand the other’s perspective. This could simply be implementing learned communication skills into everyday life. Christian Religious Practices Christian marriage counselors may engage in certain religious acts with the couple, such as prayer and Bible reading. These interventions are not only practiced by counselors who are pastors or clergy leaders but clinicians as well. They often incorporate Bible scriptures as a reference to relevant subject matters pertaining to marriage. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often incorporated into Christian marriage counseling. Religious cognitive-behavioral therapy (RCBT) is integrated with cognitive-behavioral couples therapy (CBCT). RCBT enables an individual to explore their faith and relationship with God in a constructive and non-judgmental manner. RCBT in marriage counseling will help individuals learn how to evaluate unhealthy thinking and emotions towards oneself and one’s partner and approach negative viewpoints with optimism and positivity. What Christian Marriage Counseling Can Help With Marriage Communication Relationships Spirituality Faith Acceptance Forgiveness Anger Stress Trust Resentment Compassion Self-esteem Benefits of Christian Marriage Counseling Christian marriage counseling is beneficial to Christian couples who are experiencing marital troubles due to issues that may pertain to communication, resentment, or lack of consideration for the other’s feelings. Christian marriage counseling offers benefits to all Christian couples. Counseling is just as helpful to those who aren’t necessarily encountering the above issues but are seeking guidance and insight to strengthen their relationship with their spouse, as well as with God. A study that examined religious communication and marital satisfaction in 342 heterosexual couples, determined that religious communication greatly influences the quality of a marriage. Forgiveness of oneself and one’s spouse was found to be an aspect of religious communication that equated to increased marital success. Researchers found that a person having an individual relationship with God is positively associated with greater religious communication. Christian counseling enables individuals to come together and discuss difficult subject matters such as forgiveness, religion, and spirituality, by acting as a mediator and guide to facilitate progression and healing within the marriage. Effectiveness Although there was not much research in the late 1990s about Christian marriage counseling, and even less presently, Christian marriage counseling has shown to be effective. A study including various Christian couples who either participate in secular or Christian marriage counseling found that most couples preferred going to Christian marriage counseling to gain spiritual intervention, but not necessarily on a pastoral level. Pastors and clergy leaders dedicate a respectable portion of their time to marriage and family counseling. However, there are some instances in which it is in the best interest of the participants that counseling is facilitated by a trained mental health practitioner. A therapist or mental health professional should be involved when there appear to be undiagnosed mental health concerns. In regards to diagnostic criteria or blatant harmful behavior, counseling should include a counselor who is equipped with adequate qualifications. Some researchers have suggested the need for a stronger collaboration between marriage and family therapists (MFT) and clergy. Although therapists are well trained in mental health matters, there isn’t necessarily any religious training required for Christian MFTs who conduct Christian marriage counseling. Pastors and clergy members are at least educated to an extent about behavioral and emotional health, but most marriage and family therapists, who offer religious and spiritual insight, do not have any background in Clergy or some form of religious training. This may leave one to believe that receiving counseling from both a religious leader as well as an MFT may equate to notable results. Keep in mind that although receiving counseling from both a clergy leader and MFT could lead to greater efficacy, it can also have a polar opposite effect. Just as in any situation that involves receiving advice from different sources, you may at times experience different approaches to a subject matter and suggestions on how to handle a situation. This can produce confusion, increased frustration, and even regression in progress made counseling. In this scenario, it would most likely be better to remain consistent with sessions from just one source. Every couple is different, so deciding what works best is dependent on that couple. In general, the best instance for most seeking Christian Counseling would be to conduct an extensive search for an MFT with an additional background in Clergy. Things to Consider It can be somewhat difficult to find a therapist that integrates Christian belief practices into marriage counseling. If a couple seeks to engage in Christian marriage counseling they should search for a Christian counselor who conducts marriage counseling sessions that are centered on building marital and relationship character strengths that are based on biblical and spiritual concepts. It is also important to consider whether you both would prefer a therapist or pastor as your marriage counselor. Both have similar goals but could offer different benefits to the sessions. Therapists are trained in psychotherapy, which involves a more psychological approach to counseling while incorporating Christian belief practices. Pastors are experts in theology, so pastoral marriage counseling would involve some possible cognitive-behavioral techniques, but mostly theological insight. There is a possibility for marriage and family therapists to work with clergy members in developing marital strengths that coincide with Christian practices. How to Get Started If you're interested in getting Christian marriage counseling, here is how you can get started: Discuss Marriage Counseling With Your Partner Before making any plans regarding marriage counseling, you all must agree to do counseling, even if one is not entirely on board. It is OK if one of you or even both of you are hesitant or even skeptical about marriage counseling, as long as you both agree to try it out. You cannot force someone to go to counseling or therapy, just as you can’t force someone to change, that decision is completely up to them. Assure you both are somewhat open and willing to try counseling before making any decisions. Individual Christian counseling is always an option if your partner does not agree to Christian marriage counseling. Determine if Christian Marriage Counseling Is What You Want It is important to make the decision of whether or not you would prefer marriage counseling that incorporates Christian religious insight. If you would prefer to include your faith and also focus on spirituality during counseling sessions, then Christian counseling just may be the right path for your partner and yourself. Find a Christian Marriage Counselor Whether it be a marriage and family therapist or clergy leader, you and your partner will have to search for a counselor, unless there is already someone you have in mind. First, you must decide whether you would prefer a therapist, pastor, or possibly try both to integrate a more psychological and theological approach to counseling. If you do determine that it is best to choose either a therapist or pastor, which to choose is dependent on whether you both desire greater scientific expertise or biblical. Therapy only works when people put in the necessary work to better their lives. If one is willing to be open to making an effort and welcome change and growth then therapy will not be effective. Individual therapy requires a lot of work, and with couples therapy, it requires considering the feelings of another person in addition to trying to voice your own concerns and emotions. Christian counseling specifically requires putting an effort to understand both you and your partner’s spirituality and relationship with God. Understand That Sensitive Subjects Will Come Up Expect to have conversations that may feel a bit uncomfortable or even frustrating at times. There is a great likelihood that situations from the past will come up in these conversations. It is important to dig deep and determine factors that may be negatively impacting the relationship. It is also possible for disagreements and miscommunication to occur regarding you and your partner’s relationship with God. All of these challenging discussions are a part of the process and vital for growth within the relationship. So, it'll be important to really put in the work to get through these tough conversations. Try to Practice Compassion for Yourself and Your Partner Although it may be challenging at times, remember to consider the feelings of your partner, while also remaining kind to yourself. It is easy to fall into the blame game, and this can be pointing the finger at your partner or being hard on yourself. Either way, therapy isn’t about whose fault it is and why, but how we can build a stronger, more communicative relationship that puts God at the center. Wondering If Your Relationship Is Worth Saving? Here's How to Tell 8 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Guernsey DB. Christian marriage counseling. Journal of Psychology and Christianity. 1994;13(2): 117–124. Worthington EL. Marriage counseling: A Christian approach to counseling couples. Counseling and Values. 1990;35(1): 3-15. doi:10.1002/j.2161-007X.1990.tb00351.x Sutton GW, Aruzen C, Kelly HL. Christian counseling and psychotherapy: Components of clinician spirituality that predict type of Christian intervention. Christian Association for Psychological Studies. 2016; 35(3): 204-214. Weaver AJ, Koenig HG, Larson DB. Marriage and family therapists and the clergy: a need for clinical collaboration, training, and research. J Marital Fam Ther. 1997; 23(1):13-25. doi:10.1111/j.1752-0606.1997.tb00228.x Koenig HG. Religious versus Conventional Psychotherapy for Major Depression in Patients with Chronic Medical Illness: Rationale, Methods, and Preliminary Results. Depress Res Treat. 2012;2012(1):1-11. David P, Stafford L. A Relational Approach to Religion and Spirituality in Marriage: The Role of Couples’ Religious Communication in Marital Satisfaction. Journal of Family Issues. 2015;36(2):232-249. doi:10.1177/0192513X13485922 Worthington EL, Shortz JL, McCullough ME. A call for emphasis on scholarship on Christian marriage and marriage counseling. Journal of Psychology and Christianity. 1993; 12(1):13–23. Bannister SN, Park HS, Taylor S, Neuman E. Social Work & Christianity. Journal of the North American Association of Christians in Social Work. 2015; 42(1): 63-95. By Tiara Blain Tiara Blain, MA, is a freelance writer for Verywell Mind. She is a health writer and researcher passionate about the mind-body connection. 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