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Some Thoughts on Prayer in Christian Counseling
by, Dr. Brian Campbell

“I pray because I can’t help myself.  I pray because I’m helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all the time--waking and sleeping.  It doesn’t change God--it changes me.”

C.S. Lewis

1.      Plugging In:  In a normal day of Christian counseling, you are going to have experiences that challenge your faith and that drain you emotionally and spiritually.  I strongly suggest that you prepare yourself for your day through prayer, meditation, and Bible reading.  I call this process “getting plugged into” God. 

From the first client I see, I want to be in an attitude of prayer.  I want to be in continuous contact with the Creator, and listen to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit.  I know I am going to need God’s help, and I want to feel his presence throughout the day. 

 

The whole process is sort of like sitting close to your best friend.  You want to be aware of God’s presence in everything you say or do.  As you progress throughout your day, try to see your client as God sees him/her.  Stay close to your best friend—Jesus, and try to sense His presence and  influence as you move from one client to the next.  Although you alone may not be able to handle all the problems you are going to encounter, rest assured that no problem is too big for the Creator of the universe.

 

Remember, the process of Christian counseling is letting God work through you to bring about change.  You are just the conduit.  Each client who leaves your office should be aware that he has experienced something very special.  He has seen God’s love working through you in your attitude and character.  In a very palpable sense, the entire Christian counseling session is like one big prayer.

2.      Silent Prayer:  I pray silently for my clients before sessions and during sessions.  I even pray for them at home when my mind drifts to my counseling sessions.  I also pray (silently) to God for wisdom and guidance for myself, especially when I feel lost, inept, confused, or frustrated.

3.       Timing:  I rarely pray (out loud) with clients at the beginning of my sessions.  I have found that this often feels awkward because I have no way of knowing what has transpired between sessions, and what the client’s mood may be that particular day.  The only exception to this practice is when the clients specifically ask me to pray at the beginning of the counseling session.  Some evangelical Christians feel that it is important to invite God into the counseling session so that all that transpires is under God’s watchful eye and the influence of the Holy Spirit.  I am comfortable with this type of request; therefore, for some of my clients (the minority), I do, in fact, start each counseling session with a brief prayer.

4.      Closing Prayer:  After I get to know clients, and it is clear that the client would be comfortable with praying in counseling, I will often ask the client at the end of the session if it would be ok if we prayed.  By the time I get around to asking this question, I am already quite certain that the individual would welcome prayer during each counseling session.  Many times, the client will specifically ask me to pray for him/her before ending the session. 

5.      Client-led Prayer:  Sometimes the clients themselves will ask if they can lead us in prayer.  Typically, I do not have a problem with this at all.  However, I remember one client whose prayers were so long that I had to terminate our sessions early so as to allow for her rather lengthy prayers at the end of our sessions. You would certainly have to be careful that client-led prayers do not have an alternative motive—such as controlling the therapist or controlling the therapy session.  In general, client-led prayer is very rare in my practice.

6.      Prayer as Summary:  I have been counseling for so many years, I do not feel uncomfortable praying for my clients at the end of our counseling sessions.  Prayer at the end of the session can be a good way of “summing up” what we have been working on in the session and pointing out where we need to continue to work.  For example, I might pray:

“Heavenly Father, thank you for the progress we have made today in understanding the pain that Mary experienced from her mother during her childhood.  I pray that Mary will someday soon be able to forgive her mother and move on in her life.  I pray that she will be able to identify the “lies” that her mother taught her, and replace them with biblical truths—truths that tell her how much you love her and watch over her.  Help her to turn to you Lord, in her times of pain.  Give her the time to study the scriptures this week, and help her draw closer to You—the source of all wisdom and truth.  Amen.”

7.      When to Refrain from “Audible” Prayer:  Overall, I think I pray with about one-third to one-half of the clients I see during any therapy day (I usually see around 6-7 clients per day).  I do not pray with clients who are not Christians or those individuals who say they are Christians but who are definitely not close to God. 

Behavior Modification Interventions:  Very often, I see clients who want help with specific behavior problems, such as parenting.  If I set up a clear-cut behavior modification program, I typically do not pray with clients.  For example, I rarely introduce prayer if I am teaching parents how to toilet train their kids, deal with temper tantrums, whining, etc. 

Serious Psychological Disorders:  Typically, I do not pray audibly with individuals who have very serious psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder, delusional disorder, borderline personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, dissociative disorders, etc.  Such individuals are often psychologically very unstable and individuals suffering from these disorders may react negatively, or unpredictably, to prayer.  Of course, you would want to have a significant amount of training and expertise in order to deal with these clients in the first place. 

8.     Therapeutic Prayers:  I have written a series of prayers that are intended for use by individuals suffering from anxiety and/or depression.  These prayers are located on my  internet site.  Writing prayers for others is somewhat controversial.  However, I believe that the prayers capture sentiments that are often difficult to describe and that are directly applicable for individuals with psychological disorders.  See what you think.

9.  Prayer as a Discipline:  Obviously, as Christian counselors, we should be in the business of helping and encouraging clients to develop an active prayer life.  There are many resources that can be used with individuals or couples to encourage the development of an active prayer life. 

      Books on Prayer:  When recommending resources, I personally like the 365 days-a-year books that encourage Bible reading and prayer on a daily basis.  For individual adults, I often recommend Oswald Chamber’s book, “My Utmost for His Highest.”  For couples, I recommend, Dennis Rainey’s book:  “Moments for Couples.”  These and other classic books on prayer are located in my Christian Counseling Library, under “Prayer.”

      My Book Chapter on Prayer:  In my book, “Godly Counsel,” I have a chapter devoted to the topic of prayer.  This chapter can be found on my internet site at the bottom of the following link:  Prayer.  This is a good, basic overview the topic of prayer in scripture.  I think you will learn a lot from this chapter.  For example, you might be interested to learn about what are some of the “hindrances” to prayer?

      Newsletter on Prayer:  I have also reproduced my book chapter on prayer in one of the newsletters that I have produced.  Please consider joining the newsletter for future information on counseling topics. 

I hope this helps!  May God watch over you and hold you in the palm of His hand.

Dr. Campbell