(The following is a draft from the introduction to a chapter in a book which will published later this year concerning counseling and the law.)
Distinguishing our work as biblical counselors from the counseling work of a licensed psychotherapist will require some ca.eful consideration. From one perspective, our work is indistinguishable from the work of a licensed therapist: someone comes to us with a problem. The person desires our counsel, our help. We listen, pay careful attention; we ask questions. We consider one thing important and another irrelevant. We give advice and direction, discussing words, actions, motives, avoidance, behavior, repetition, et cetera.
As explained in chapter __, reliance upon the Bible is not a factor which clearly distinguishes us form the licensed therapist. The state, in most instances, cares very little whether we rely upon the source of our authority, the Bible, Adler, Jung, Maslow, astrology, are all matters of indifference to the licensing authorities (we will mention, at the end certain areas where we will face a conflict).
But our work is also similar to the work of a friend. A friend listens to troubles; asks advice; gives advice; sympathizes. The state, as of yet, does not regulate the speech between friends. Why then does our work not fall into the category of friend-speech: a matter of no interest to the state?
Well, we profess a degree of expertise. Your friend may be remarkably pompous in how he describes himself; but, in the end, he is your friend. You speak with him because he is your friend, not because he is an “expert”. Another difference is that one’s circle of actual friends (even when extended to acquaintances) remains limited. When your friend comes to see you, it is because he is your friend and you already know him.
We often counsel people whom we barely know before the counseling relationship. We even counsel people we do not know at all prior to the relationship. These people come to us not because they are our friend, but because we offer counsel.
The state does not intervene in our friendship relationships. However, the state does regulate relationships which are open to the public on a “professional” (broadly stated) relationship. As explained in chapter __, the state’s goal is the maintenance of public order and safety. Professional relationships take place between relative strangers on the basis of the professional skill promised.
I am an attorney. I hold myself out as possessing specific skills as the result of education and experience. My possession of this knowledge and skill has been regulated by an initial text, the bar exam; and is confirmed on the basis of observation before judges and other attorneys. A professional organization regulates my maintenance of a license. I am subject to investigation and discipline – including the loss of my license –if an investigation demonstrates I lack certain skills and ethics.
I make a public claim which the state confirms by permitting me to maintain by license.
When a member of the public contacts me, there is at least a minimum qualification which they can expect. That minimum qualification is a requirement across any number of “professional” relationships.
By requiring a psychotherapist to maintain a license, subject to state regulation, the public is able to expect a minimal level of skill from that therapist. By seeing clearly the motivation of the state in licensing therapists, we can better understand the motivation of the state.
In its endeavor to protect the public, the state may not merely regulate the quality of the counselor’s experience, but also the content of the counselor’s speech. And again, we do not necessarily consider that a bad thing. For instance, it is illegal for me to counsel a client on how to break the law. I cannot help a client perpetuate a fraud. If a therapist learns that a client intends to murder someone, the therapist must report the intention to the authorities – not assist the client in the commission of a crime.
This is where the trouble comes for us. If the state’s interest were merely proof that we had received some minimal education and had been tested in accordance with some general standard, there would far less concern with licensing.
But we as orthodox Christians, intent on communicating the historic norms and life of the Christian church, hold to positions which are inimical to the current state of public morality, particularly as concerns the life of the family, the nature of the human body and sexual behavior. Indeed, Romans 1 lays out a fairly clear picture of the manner in which we will differ in our counsel from current public morality.
For example, California law (Bus. & Prof. Code §865.2) provides, “Any sexual orientation change efforts attempted on a patient under 18 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.”
The obvious means of avoiding this restriction is to take our work outside of the scope of licensed therapy.
We should also note something else is taking place here. This – and much other speech which is both mandated and restricted in the public sphere – is indicative not of some neutral position which is merely seeking to limit the scope of governmental intrusion, but rather is seeking to impose an actual religion upon the public.
No government, no speech, no ethics are neutral. Human beings cannot but worship. The public square is not a place of neutral logical positions, but of competing religions. Jonathan Leeman puts it well in his book Political Church, “The public square is nothing more or less than a battleground of gods.”
Thus, while the argument is phrased as a matter of religion versus medicine or science or politics, in the end it is a matter of one religion versus another. Since, until recently, the public religion was a vaguely generic form of Christianity or Judaism, recognizable as to its own but not terribly distinctive. As the Ninth Circuit held in Newdow v. Rio Lindo School District (2010):
“We hold that the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the Establishment Clause because Congress’ ostensible and pre- dominant purpose was to inspire patriotism and that the context of the Pledge—its wording as a whole, the preamble to the statute, and this nation’s history—demonstrate that it is a predominantly patriotic exercise. For these reasons, the phrase “one Nation under God” does not turn this patriotic exercise into a religious activity. “
What this tells us that the space for the old civic religion, is a religion which is devoid of any content. In the space of that contentless religion, a new religion is taking shape which has very definite truth claims.
And so in giving direction in the remainder of this essay, I understand that while the discussion will take place on the level of religion versus therapy as a “scientific” discipline (which admittedly permits distinctively non-scientific claims); there is a religious conflict. However, should the conflict to such a place where we cannot avoid a clash, we should be clear that we are advocating a distinctly religious position against a religious position. And we know who that conflict will end. Matt. 16:18.
 Leeman, Jonathan. Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture) (p. 14). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.