Counseling, Mental Health, and Faith

Counseling, Mental Health, and Faith

September 21, 2021

Billy McAuliff interviewed Pastor Xavier to ask him about counseling, mental health, and faith.

You’ve spent the past couple years studying clinical mental health counseling. Can you share some details about your studies?

I’ve always believed that the Bible and science work hand in hand, I just didn’t know there was a term for it. In school, we use the term “integration.” The model that I subscribe to is that the Bible creates the outline for how things are supposed to go and science fills in the details.

The church has been anti-mental health counseling because of its humanistic aspects, but I think there are a lot of theories, practices, and interventions that parallel Christianity. It goes back to a mindset that God is the standard; He is the foundation which we can build on with these psychological mindsets. We know we’re looking at it from a Biblical lens, and that changes the dynamic when you approach therapy.

What drove you to become a licensed mental health counselor?

My church is in Pine Hills. There isn’t a close counseling facility; I wanted to open one. But through pastoral counseling and hands-on experience I’ve gotten in this program and I’ve realized this is something I’m good at and passionate about. I believe in healing and seeing people healed. It’s a huge driving force for me.

What sorts of misconceptions do you encounter about counseling?

The biggest misconception is that everyone that goes to counseling is crazy. A lot of times when you hear about counseling, everyone’s thinking about things like persistent disorders: schizophrenia, multiple personalities, or different personality disorders. I tell people, “You don’t need to struggle with persistent disorders in order for you to need counseling.” A lot of the people that I’ve counseled so far have had adjustment disorders. Those are, sad to say, common things for a lot of people. Counseling requires recognition that I am a human being and that I have issues in functioning sometimes.

Do you think there is something unique about the Christian perspective that’s missing from conversations on social media and in popular culture about mental health, anxiety, and depression?

I am 1000% for mental health counseling. I’d argue that everyone should go get some sort of counseling at some point in their lives.

I believe that what is missing is the most important element of the entire conversation: Jesus. If we look at the root issues of mankind, we see a sin issue. The curse of sin affected everything. These different mental health issues, I believe, stem initially from sin. When we come to know Jesus Christ, we obtain tools we didn’t have before. There is a lot of therapy in Jesus.

I don’t think it’s enough to say, “Just pray.” That doesn’t mean I’m saying prayer doesn’t work, rather I believe we have a responsibility to be good stewards of our bodies, minds, and emotions. Sometimes that requires help. Counseling is not someone fixing you; it’s someone holding your hand as you arrive at those answers.

One theory I subscribe to is “person-centered theory,” which says humans inherently have the ability for positive growth. I believe people have the capacity to find the solutions they need. Sometimes they just need someone to hold their hand to get there. The Holy Spirit within the Christian is the Guide to find those answers. It gives the person seeking counseling an advantage: not only are you working on it, and your therapist is holding your hand, but you have the Holy Spirit guiding and teaching you in all things.

When we look at the conversation around therapy in the secular world, and there isn’t the element of Jesus, I think it makes it exponentially harder to find the healing that you need. True healing only comes through Jesus.

What have you learned about God as you’ve studied more about mental health?

One of the biggest things is that God is a God of healing. He is a proponent of forgiveness, healing, and unity. God went through great lengths to get humanity back to how He created them. The story of the Bible ends with harmony, unity, and oneness — the way that God created it in the first place.

I believe that counseling is a gift from God. It’s a tool to help us to grow closer to Him, especially when we are in places in our lives where we have a hard time doing that.

How do I know when I should begin speaking to a trained counselor?

I like to use two terms: “coping” and “functioning.” If you’re in a place where you are having a hard time coping with particular circumstances, that’s a good indicator to go see a counselor.

A step further is when your functioning is impaired. This could mean you are having a hard time eating, sleeping, working with others, or joining social activities. When the things you normally enjoy are no longer enjoyable, that is a great indication that it’s time to see someone. If you see the signs of struggle, go. You don’t have to wait for despair and confusion to go see someone.

Any closing thoughts?

I believe that Jesus is the answer and that counseling and therapy are supplements. Counseling in the long-term will be helpful, but we won’t be able to see true joy, healing, or peace until we accept Jesus Christ as Savior and we are walking in His light. As passionate as I am about mental health, I’m even more passionate about Jesus.

Xavier Small became Senior Pastor at Orlando Baptist Temple in 2019 . That same year, he began his Master's Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Liberty University . He is set to graduate in 2022 . He is currently a mental health intern at Grace Medical Home.
Billy McAuliff is a young professional and a longtime Northlander who is actively involved in our college and young adult ministries . Billy was one of our regular devotional hosts on Facebook back when the pandemic first hit.

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