Choosing & Assessing a Counselor

Recently one of our readers asked an excellent question about counseling and counselors. We want to put her comment and Barbara’s response into a post for those who may not have seen it. (You can find the original comment here.)

Reader’s (Joanne’s) comment

I am supposed to meet with the church counselor tomorrow. I previously [was?] denied a meeting because they said “another man needed to be present”. The counselor is a woman and I trust her. We are to meet at the church and she did not mention anyone else being there. Please advise.

Barbara’s response

….here are a few options you might like to consider. You don’t have to take or act on any of these suggestions to open up your mind to the range of ways you might like to handle this. So, options, in no particular order. Pick, mix and match as your gut feeling prompts you to:

—Take a witness with you, someone who gets it or at least someone you trust pretty well. Or someone who has a good memory so she or he can recount to you later what she / he heard and perceived happened at the meeting.

—Give yourself permission to leave the session at any time if you feel unsafe or feel like you are being blamed. Courteously say to the counselor “I don’t feel comfortable with what is happening, so I’m going to excuse myself.”, then leave.

—Give yourself permission to not respond to her if you don’t feel safe to do so; or to say “I prefer to not discuss that at this stage.” to any of the counselor’s questions. It’s okay to be silent. You are not under compulsion to speak if you don’t want to.

—Give yourself permission to say to the counselor “I don’t think you sufficiently understand abuse.”

—Give yourself permission to ask the counselor what she believes about abuse or any other subject that you want to know her beliefs on.

If she starts saying things that indicate she believes in some of the myths about abuse, give yourself permission to correct her.

Possible sentences starters that might be helpful:
“I’m not comfortable with….”
“Did you know that….?”
“What gives you the idea that….?”
“I believe you may be mistaken about….”
“It bothers me that….”
“Could you please describe what you believe about….”
“What is your definition of abuse?”

We know that finding a counselor can be confusing and frustrating. There are many competent counselors out there, but there are also ones that need to be avoided, so equipping oneself with knowledge about counseling and counselors is an important first step. To help in this process we have compiled links to other ACFJ posts and online articles that may be helpful. And let’s start this list of helpful information with a very important principle that always needs to be remembered by victims of abuse:

If the counselor’s goal is to save your marriage, find another counselor.

[March 23, 2023: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to March 23, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to March 23, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to March 23, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (March 23, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


Further reading

ACFJ Posts about Counseling / Counselors

On Finding a Good Counselor and Avoiding the Bad Ones

Counseling Victims of Domestic Abuse – by Diane Langberg, PhD

Getting the Right Kind of Help — article by Dr George Simon Jr.

ACFJ Posts about Couple’s Counseling

Why Couple Counseling is not recommended for domestic abuse

Calling Evil Good:  The Error of Couple Counseling for Abuse

I see the abuse. I realize I have no boundaries. How do I navigate this? — There is a lot of discussion about couple’s counseling in the comment section of this post.

Online links to articles

From the National Domestic Violence Hotline:
Counseling for Domestic Violence Survivors

Finding the Right Counselor for You

Coping Through Counseling

Why We Don’t Recommend Couples Counseling for Abusive Relationships

Should Go To Couples Therapy With My Abusive Partner?

From SafePassage:
What to Look for in a Counselor or Therapist

Links to online PDFs

12 Reasons Why Couples Counseling is Not Recommended When Domestic Violence is Present

Choosing a Counselor: Guidelines for People Dealing with Domestic Violence and / or Sexual Assault — This pamphlet includes a list of positive indicators when evaluating a potential counselor.

Additionally, readers can search the blog under the category, Counseling, and search the following tags:  Biblical Counseling, Couple Counseling, Nouthetic Counseling, Premarriage Counseling.


UPDATE  Sept 2021:  Barbara Roberts has come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches.  He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.

17 thoughts on “Choosing & Assessing a Counselor”

  1. At the first session with a church-based counselor, a woman who is thinking of receiving church-based counsel should be the only person asking questions. It would be helpful if the counselee were to arm herself in advance with a list of written questions, although the counselee should be prepared to ask follow-up questions that might suggest themselves as the initial interview progresses.

    Better yet, the counselee could try to arrange for a secular domestic abuse counselor to participate in the initial interview as an advocate for the counselee. If this is not possible, a lawyer who is an experienced litigator should be able to help pin down just exactly where the counselor is coming from.

    The counselee should take time to digest the proposed counselor’s responses, both substantively and attitudinally. If the counselor’s responses are not satisfactory, or if there is any hint that the counselor is not committed to being a dedicated and exclusive advocate for the counselee, there should be no second interview.

    Even a preliminary interview would be ill-advised unless and until a well-drafted confidentiality agreement has been signed by both the counselor and somebody who has legal authority to bind the church. Any such agreement should include meaningful sanctions in the event of any breach of confidentiality.

    If one elects to seek the assistance of an attorney, it may be best to avoid Christian attorneys. There is just too much danger that they have been infected by ill-founded theological presuppositions and woman-as-subservient-to-man worldviews. Inasmuch as I am a Christian attorney, it grieves me to have to say this.

    1. Gary, I am truly impressed with your last paragraph. I have found within church circles, and especially in the homeschool communities that the “man rules”. There’s nothing Scriptural about it, just more false teachings. Thank you for being a real Christian man and attorney who understands how men and women are both valuable.

  2. After going through this myself I have a couple things to share. First, I think it’s best to get counseling from a domestic violence agency first. They can be your go-to before the church, unless you know for a FACT your church’s stance on abuse. A DV support service or shelter can give you education and counseling regardless if you are getting it at church. Also, tell them the abuse you and your children, if applicable, are suffering, do not minimize it or leave it out. Your spouse has to be held responsible for his actions and you would be putting yourself and children in harms way by not sharing all the abuse.

    Their are plenty of Scriptures that support leaving an abusive marriage, so don’t ever, ever stay because someone says “God hates divorce”. He hates abuse more and says many times not to be subjected to a yoke of slavery ever again after Christ has set you free. Abusive relationships are slavery. He also says if your body causes you to sin, to CUT it out / off. He makes this very clear. If two become one when married, divorce is cutting the sinning part of your body off. Period.

    Do and listen to everything Barb shared, recommended. Take a safe friend with you. You may miss somethings but your friend won’t.

  3. Thank you for this list and suggestions.

    While I haven’t disclosed to my in-laws that my husband is an abuser they do know we have “problems”. They have tried several times to get us to go to a marriage counselor. My gut told me it wouldn’t be helpful because I knew my husband would do exactly what abusers do in that situation — make himself look good. But because they kept pressuring me I said I’d do it. Thankfully (isn’t that a laugh to say I’m thankful for something he did) my husband said “no”! Of course, it was because he didn’t need it!!! He said he knows what a marriage is and I don’t so why would he go.

    Then a few weeks later I read in Lundy Bancroft’s book that marriage counseling is a danger. I was so glad my instincts were right. My husband hasn’t changed his mind. In fact, one of his favorite subjects to monologue on is how I don’t know what a marriage is. So we won’t be going to a marriage counselor anytime soon.

    It’s also been suggested to me by a couple of family members that I get “counseling” alone to learn how to deal with my “difficult” husband. If I ever go to a counselor alone I’m glad to have this post as a starting point.

    This is the best reminder:

    If the counselor’s goal is to save your marriage, find another counselor.

    I will remember that. That will help my resolve when the time comes.

    Thank you!

    1. Way to go, Annie! Yep, you are exercising wisdom. And that closing line really is a good truth to remember, isn’t it?

    2. Annie, I grabbed that line like a fish grabs bait! I’d never read that before, but it’s a truth I plan to hold onto:

      If the counselor’s goal is to save your marriage, find another counselor.

      Who’d’ve’thunkit that such a line would come from Christians and a pastor exercising real faith and exegeting Scripture to mine the depths and riches in God’s Word to understand His heart on the matter? I am SO thankful to the Lord for leading me to this site.

    3. Find another counselor? Where?! 90% of Christian counselors aim to save marriages. Even the few who are aware of domestic violence still put marriage preservation as a priority over the physical and emotional protection of victims and children. Where does that leave victims? No wonder they end up, most reluctantly, going to secular counselors.

      My secular counselor once noted with interest that new clients would question her about her faith. When she declared that she was not a Christian, they would sigh a sigh of relief and say, “I am a Christian and tried Christian counselors. I am not seeing another one!” She was rather curious as to why so many Christians would have bad experiences with Christian counselors. I was too embarrassed to explain it to her.

  4. Annie,

    While I haven’t disclosed to my in-laws that my husband is an abuser they do know we have “problems”.

    One of the mistakes I made was letting my in-laws know their son was abusing me. (My stbx’s father is a pastor). Long story short, my stbx in-laws knew of their son’s abusive behavior (they have enabled him for so maaannny years!). Stbx has abused other women before me, he has other restraining orders against him that I was unaware of. When I went to in-laws seeking help, they ‘turned’ on to me. I became the ‘enemy’! I won’t go into details but they too twisted this situation and made it out to be that I was the one abusing their son! Enablers they are!

    1. Round*Two —

      Same here about the in-laws. 😡

      The old pastor never answered my questions about what’s in the Bible. He’d say God is like a wild wind – can’t grasp Him. And he’d say adultery was a sure option out of a marriage. He doesn’t know what’s in the Bible!!! I’m learning about what Paul really said right now. It’s completely OPPOSITE of what is being taught in most churches!

      I’m really struggling. I have these very hard times — usually when the car or something in the house breaks down and no one will help when I ask. I work very hard. I have small babies at home. I can’t deal with the stress of doing everything on my own and having no help. My anti-h abused me, used the babies, and left me with no money and no help and ALL of the responsibilities. How is it that my life is harder than his? Where is the justice???

      I have trouble just keeping up now. Making meals is tiring and I can’t think clearly again. 😔

      I’m overwhelmed. 😖😖😖😖😖😖

      I know the truth about God. I am very hurt by the judgments from others, the admonishments, the lack of concern from my old church and neighbors. I’m excluded from everyone I know. People act like I have the plague.

      I am incredibly alone

      1. I Can See – yes my ex in-laws were nasty and vicious and slandered me to all their church friends. They even betrayed my children.
        I really relate to what you are saying and I feel for you. I know what it’s like to be stressed, hurting, abandoned by everyone and completely exhausted, with no one to call on for help when you really need it. It’s especially difficult when you have young children to care for. It isn’t just, and it isn’t right that the people near to you don’t care. 😦

  5. If this “counselor” is not an actual licensed therapist, psychologist, etc….then too, consider that nothing she expresses has any legal coverage of confidentiality by the person ‘counseling’, and certainly not by the other man attending in the room.

    Personally, I would not, in a MILLION years agree to be “counseled” under these circumstances!

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