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This question is fantastic, and I am glad you are asking it. Let me begin by saying that earning a biblical counseling (BC) degree was probably the most transformative thing to ever happen to me outside of regeneration and personal tragedy (Philippians 1:29).
If it were possible, though I know it is not practical, I would recommend that all Christians pursue a biblical counseling degree, irrespective of their vocational pursuits. One of the reasons we offer our two-year training program through the Internet is so people can benefit from this kind of academic training while working in the geographic location the Lord has placed them.
To immerse yourself in a high-octane sanctification course, which is what biblical counseling training can be, will not only revolutionize your life, but it will benefit those who matter the most to you.
I realize you are not married at this point, but if marriage and children are in your future, your training will be immeasurably beneficial to them. It has been one of my highest joys in life to be able to apply what I have learned in biblical counseling to myself, my wife, and my children. Earning a BC degree can position you to be an effective discipler within your family, friends, and a local church.
Biblical counseling training operates from the assumption that you already have substantial theological training. If the counseling is biblical, it pulls from the Bible. The implication is clear: the more robust your theological foundation, the more substantial will be your application of theology or what we call biblical counseling. The “Theological Pyramid” illustrates the importance of sound theology. Notice how practical theology (biblical counseling) and the exportation of it are at the top of the pyramid. Everything under practical theology speaks to the essentialness of theology. Your more critical training degree should be theological.
If I only had one choice between a counseling degree and a theology degree, I would pursue a theology degree. Before I received my MA in Biblical Counseling, I received two undergraduate degrees, one in Theology and the other in Christian Education. I am not saying you must have a theology degree. I am saying that you must have a solid theological foundation. If your theology is not sound and precise, you will not be good at biblical counseling. It is like becoming a math teacher without being trained in math. Knowing 2 + 2 = 4 will not cut it in a world where people demand and need more.
Your theological education must go deeper than what you learned in Sunday school. The broader and more in-depth your theological training is, the better off you will be able to speak to the situational difficulties of people’s lives. You must not cut any corners on theological education, even if it means eight to ten years of schooling. We are doing soul-work here. It is not a vocation for the ill-equipped.
You will have to decide the amount of income you want to make. You will probably not be able to support your family as a Biblical Counselor. Very few BC people support their families financially with counseling as their only revenue stream unless they are working for a para-ministry or a local church where they receive a salary that they do not generate from the counseling.
Our counseling income is less than one percent of our overall revenue. There are several reasons for this. The main one is that I do not counsel one-hour sessions. I have not found this to be a useful model for soul care.
It is essential for people to have enough time to share their stories, hurts, frustrations, and fears. A one-hour time slot is too rushed.
This can easily circumvent the need to listen and counsel well. The downside to an extended soul care timeframe is you cannot provide for your family because you cannot see as many people as the one-hour timeframe counselor.
Another downside is you do not want to see a lot of people for the next forty years because it is too draining on your soul. If you met six to eight people a day, five days a week, for thirty or forty years, the toll on your soul and your family would be dangerous.
One of the questions you will have to answer is what do you want to be doing when you are thirty-five years old. There are three likely possibilities for you:
You are free to do any one of those options. None of them are wrong, but you will have to decide what you want to be after you mature into adulthood. I realize this is an unfair question for any 18-year-old.
I did not know what I wanted to be until I was 38 years old. I knew I wanted to serve the Lord, but I did not know the exact track I would be on to fulfill that desire. So, no pressure on you. If you happen to know already what you want to be, you are in a beautiful place.
I would not recommend for you to pursue a counseling degree that was not fully biblical. The Bible has all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). That is how it advertises itself, and I do not dispute its claim.
If I were going to spend time and money learning how to care for souls, I would want my soul-care training to be as pure as possible. Nobody knows soul care like God, and there is no better book for you to master than the Bible.
The most effective thing you could do is drink deeply from His fountain. There are a lot of other cisterns in the counseling world, but the water that flows from them will never satisfy like being trained in the world’s most profound psychology book.
It is true that you could make a living with a secular or integrated counseling degree because those degrees typically permit you to take insurance, whereas a BC degree usually does not. This obstacle means BC counselees pay out-of-pocket or someone subsidizes the counseling like a local church.
If the reason to get a non-BC degree is primarily to make money, I will struggle with that direction. I had rather be a purist than a pragmatist. Matthew 6:33 teaches that we should seek the kingdom of God first, and He will meet all of our earthly needs.
One of the things I have seen with many 40-year-olds, who received secular counseling degrees in their twenties, is as they matured in the Lord, they began to perceive a disconnect between their past training and how they are currently counseling.
They earned a secular counseling degree, but as they matured in God’s Word and as they learned how secular ideas do not bring biblical transformation, they realized they should have received biblical training. Many of them re-enter BC programs to be trained biblically.
Good counselors are like good preachers in that they hit their stride in their mid-thirties–if they are “lucky.” Your more competent counselors evolve into their competency in their forties. There is something about a life experience that matters.
Receiving a degree at twenty-two years old will give you all the answers to life, but it will not give you the questions to life. The typical young person does not begin asking the right questions until they become an older person.
The reason for this is that they do not know what questions to ask. How could they? The perfect scenario that creates a mature and wise counselor is the merging of two worlds:
There is a lot to be said about life experience. If my choices were a young biblical counselor or an older biblical counselor to help walk me through a significant life event like having the sex talk with my child, on the surface and with only these two pieces of information, I would choose the older person every time.
Though I have already touched on the next two things, I want to put them here for you to consider because your potential future familial relationships are your highest priorities, and no ministry or job should sabotage your call to do family well.
Single – Are you going to be single or married as an adult? If you are going to marry, your marriage partner cannot receive your leftover time. This goes for the husband and the wife. A job is a vehicle for a greater good. It should not be the primary thing in any person’s life.
Too many people make their careers the thing when God told us to pursue Him first, while He provides the material supplies that we need (Matthew 6:33). A job-centered home is a sin-centered home, which applies to the husband and the wife.
Children – If you plan to marry and want to have children, I will appeal to you to think long and reflectively about the high call of parenting. A spouse’s first discipleship call works out in these three concentric circles:
Your spouse and your children cannot get the remains of your day. Again, this applies to the man and the woman in the home.
You are free to be anything you want to be as long as it glorifies God (1 Corinthians 10:31) and counts others as more significant than yourself (Matthew 22:36-40; Philippians 2:3-4).
Being a woman does not limit your options. Be released. Be free. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it for God’s great fame (Ecclesiastes 9:10; Colossians 3:23), but guard your heart. Make sure you are working within your gift mix.
A burden to be a counselor does not make a good counselor. There are a lot of good people in the Christian community who have a good desire to help people from a formalized platform, but they do not have the gifting to do this.
To go into counseling is the fullest end of the spectrum in that you must be able to speak into every human condition under the sun. This is not a profession for the timid, the ill-equipped, or the novice.
In addition to all I have already said, it takes maturity, wisdom, insight, discernment, intellect, analysis, philosophy, methodology, dexterity, courage, creativity, fearlessness, moral integrity, honesty, faith, skill, and prayer.
While every Christian is a counselor, not every Christian can counsel well. Ultimately, it is a gift given by God. I am not implying a two-tier Christianity, where some people are more significant or more blessed than others. I am saying we all have differing gifts, not the same abilities. The key is to find what you do best and do that thing well. Be open to how the Lord made you, rather than trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
It would be essential for you to spend adequate time in the community of others, those who know you well and can see what is required to be a good counselor and whether it is a good fit for you.
If it is possible to experience training in the Bible, you will be the winner. Every person cannot devote the kind of time needed in pursuing a theological or counseling degree because it is not in line with their life course.
If you can pull all these things together to get this kind of training and it does not interfere with the more significant purposes that the Lord is lining up for you, go for it.
You may also want to consider our training program. It is self-paced and done entirely through the Internet. The typical time to finish it is two to three years. If you can take a gap year between high school and college, this may be an excellent way to be assessed by going through our program.
A big part of our program is a personal assessment. We do not just give people the answers to life’s problems; we also assess their skill level to find out where they best fit in the world of discipleship.
As an aside: you said you were thinking about becoming a biblical counselor. I understand what you are asking, but if you are a Christian, you are already a biblical counselor, so you should not be hindered from counseling others according to the current training you possess.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).