Christian family counseling is a therapeutic approach to resolving family conflicts and improving mental health that applies Christian theological concepts in treatment. Various practices are used in counseling families that experience distressful feelings or interpersonal conflicts. Biblical passages are used both as an appeal to reason, and as an authoritative source that will help motivate family members to talk through and resolve upsetting feelings and change unhealthy behaviors. Psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioral, and cathartic therapy are all examples of the possible methods used in Christian family counseling.
One approach used in Christian family counseling is cognitive behavioral family theory. It is an approach that appeals to reason and encourages family members to understand and learn new behaviors. Not all methods of Christian family counseling use cognitive therapy, but many do. This is because Christian doctrine emphasizes the power of personal change that comes from a willful decision to express one's faith in God.
Family therapy differs from individual therapy in that the family unit is seen as a psychodynamic system affected by an amalgam of personal experiences and individual values. The system is believed to exert its own influence on how each family member interacts with other family members. In Christian family counseling, the therapist will likely explore how these relationship dynamics are affecting family relationships. He or she will then help individual family members to recognize and change patterns of behavior that are causing dysfunction in the family unit.
Not all family members participating in therapeutic counseling believe in Christian theology. Some family members may adhere to other belief systems. By the nature of the therapy however, the counselor will be an adherent to a Christian belief system. If the majority of family members in the counseling session are adherents to the Christian belief system, the counselor will likely appeal to theological concepts in an effort to resolve family conflicts.
Christian principles can be a powerful motivator in changing entrenched patterns of human behavior. If feelings of sadness or grief are the issue, a Christian counselor may emphasize love and forgiveness through the reading or quoting of specific Bible passages. The counselor may pray at various times during the counseling session. The goal of Christian family counseling is to resolve conflicts through emphasizing forgiveness. Encouraging complete reconciliation for family members who may feel estranged is often an element of therapy.
Many therapeutic theories exist in the field of Christian family therapy. Psychodynamic theory seeks to change unhappy feelings or unwanted behaviors through probing a person's subconscious to help the person in self-discovery. Cognitive theory emphasizes a reasoned approach, while behavioral therapy uses training techniques to condition responses and help the person become more controlled. Cathartic therapy operates on the idea that an emotionally distressed person will benefit from an emotional purging through a powerful release of emotions.