As we have entered into another new decade, many people have a renewed interest in discerning the trends and innovations of things to come in diverse areas, including counselling and psychotherapy. The present article will briefly cover the major or top new directions for state-of-the-art Christian counselling in the next 10 years or more (see Tan, 2011).
Let me begin with the future of counselling and psychotherapy in general. Prochaska and Norcross (2010) recently summarized the results of a Delphi poll they conducted on the future of psychotherapy in the next decade, using 62 distinguished mental health professionals as their panellists. These experts’ composite ratings predicted that with regard to theoretical orientations, cognitive-behaviour therapy, culture-sensitive/ multicultural therapy, cognitive therapy, interpersonal therapy, technical eclecticism, theoretical integration, behaviour therapy, and family systems therapy will increase the most or thrive, whereas classical psychoanalysis, implosive therapy, transactional analysis, Adlerian therapy, Jungian therapy, Gestalt therapy, existential therapy, reality therapy, and humanistic therapy will decrease the most in clinical popularity. Psychotherapy, in terms of methods and modalities, is expected to become more directive, brief, psychoeducational, problem-focused, and technological in the next 10 years. With regard to therapy formats, psychoeducational groups, couples therapy, and group therapy are predicted to keep on growing in their popularity. The most significant prediction is that long-term therapy will wane, whereas short-term therapy will take centre stage (see Prochaska & Norcross, 2010, pp. 518-519).
Prochaska and Norcross (2010) also described the following 12 emerging directions for the future of psychotherapy: (1) economics of mental health care or the industrialization of mental health care; (2) evidence-based practice; (3) therapy relationship; (4) technological applications; (5) self-help resources; (6) neuroscience; (7) behavioural health; (8) proactive treatment of populations; (9) faith-based practices; (10) positive psychology; (11) integration of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy; and (12) psychotherapy works, or the effectiveness of psychotherapy (see pp. 520-532).
More specifically, several major directions for Christian counselling over the next decade or more have been recently made by different leaders in the field of Christian therapy. Clinton and Ohlschlager (2006) briefly described the following 25 trends in Christian counselling as the field matures: (1) a 21st century code of ethics; (2) sure advocacy for client and the marginalized; (3) national credentialing; (4) academic and clinic accreditation; (5) lay helping ministry; (6) spiritual and relationship formation; (7) biblical and theological depth (e.g., through the work of the Geneva Institute, and the Society for Christian Psychology); (8) e-counselling and use of internet technologies; (9) expanding cutting-edge modes of care; (10) inter-professional relations; (11) working with faith-based initiatives; (12) intensive care for counsellors and pastors; (13) distance and on-line education; (14) continuing education and focused certificate programs; (15) doctoral programs for Christian counselling leaders; (16) heightened multi-cultural sensitivity; (17) new and more refined research (e.g., on biblically-informed empirically supported therapies or BEST therapies in and for Christian counselling); (18) salt and light ministry; (19) glocalization (e.g., dealing with issues with global and international consequences, such as missions, refugees, human rights, persecuted and tortured Christians, and global environmental concerns); (20) flowering into a mature interdisciplinary profession; (21) theoretical integration reaching maturity; (22) integration with medicine and law; (23) brain imaging and neuroscience; (24) positive psychology movement; and (25) spiritual hunger and the emerging church (pp. 33-35).
These 25 trends in the future of Christian counselling are possible as the field matures over the next few decades. However, it is crucial to maintain high ethical and biblical standards, as new practices and innovations are being increasingly employed, especially in the technological areas. One example is e-counselling or the use of telephone and internet therapy. E-counselling raises several thorny ethical and legal issues such as confidentiality and helping suicidal or dangerous clients (Centore, 2006; see also McMinn, Orton, & Woods, 2008). Another example is the positive psychology movement. While it holds promise for further development in the Christian counselling context (e.g., see Hart & Hart Weber, 2006; see also Hackney, 2007), it needs to be carefully and biblically critiqued. Positive psychology can overemphasize strengths, virtues, and happiness, and underemphasize the fallen human capacity for sin and evil, as well as the importance of godly sorrow and repentance (Tan, 2006). In other words, we can be too positive about positive psychology!
Collins (2007) has similarly described ten counselling waves of the future that are relevant to Christian counselling. They include the waves of technology, globalism, biotechnology, whole-brain thinking, postmodernism, change in spirituality, changing churches, changing professionalism, non-traditional education, and positive psychology (see pp. 849-861).
Finally, Beck (2006) has made several predictions about how the integration of psychology (including counselling and psychotherapy) and Christian faith may look like in the next fifty years. He provided brief snapshots of what psychology, theology, and integration looked like in 1956 and in 2006, after which he courageously made snapshot predictions of how psychology, theology, and integration may look like in 2056.
More specifically, in the area of integration, Beck (2006) made the following predictions for 2056: (1) Christian therapists will need to expand their view of psychotherapy to include other modalities such as coaching, spiritual formation, and discipleship; (2) significant progress will be made in synthesizing what may currently be perceived as distinct models of integration by theoreticians involved in integrative work; (3) there will be a greater need for higher quality empirical research to support the efforts of Christian therapists to deliver effective services; (4) the level of understanding and application of psychological science needs to be upgraded in Christian integrators involved in the work of integration; and (5) the level of sophistication of the biblical and theological material used by Christian integrators in their integration work also needs to be upgraded (see pp. 327-328).
It is clear from Beck’s (2006) predictions that there is a need to be up to date with the latest developments in psychology and theology in the integration enterprise, as well as to obtain empirical support for the effectiveness of Christian counselling approaches and techniques using more sophisticated outcome research methods. Worthington (2006) has specifically called for more commitment to doing high quality, sound scientific research in Christian counselling in the years ahead, especially in areas such as globalization (and urbanization), values and virtues, and aging.
The future of Christian counselling looks promising and bright, just like the future of psychotherapy in general, and the future of spiritually or religiously oriented therapy in particular, as it continues to mature in the coming decades. Several major or top future directions for state-of-the-art Christian counselling have been briefly described in this article. They should be viewed with some tentativeness and humility because no one but God really knows the future with certainty. Furthermore, we need to live in the eschatological reality of the Second Coming of Christ soon (Titus 2:11-13; Rev. 22:20), and not be too presumptuous about the future. Whatever the waves of change may be in the counselling and psychotherapy field in the years to come, the challenge remains for Christian counsellors and therapists to be faithful and fruitful in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace. Christian counselling in the future must continue to be Christ-centred, biblically based, and Spirit-filled (Tan, 1999, 2001) to the glory of God and for the blessing and healing of persons. Christian counselling should also be characterized by agape or Christlike love (Jn. 13-34,35; Mk 12:31) that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23) (see Tan, 2011).
- Beck, J.R. (2006). Integration: The next 50 years. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 25, 321-330.
Centore, A.J. (2006). The e-counselling controversy: Advantages and disadvantages of telephone and internet therapy. Christian Counselling Today, 14 (4), 26-30.
- Clinton, T., & Ohlschlager, G. (2006). The maturation of Christian counselling: Reprise on a preferred future. Christian Counselling Today, 14 (4), 32-35.
- Collins, G.R. (2007). Christian counselling: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Hackney, C.H. (2007). Possibilities for a Christian positive psychology. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 35, 211-221.
- Hart, A.D., & Hart Weber, C. (2006). Positive psychology and strength-based therapy: A new paradigm. Christian Counselling Today, 14 (4), 14-18.
- McMinn, M.R., Orton, J.J., & Woods, S.W. (2008). Technology in clinical practice. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 27, 56-60.
- Prochaska, J.O., & Norcross, J.C. (2010). Systems of psychotherapy: A transtheoretical analysis (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
- Tan, S.Y. (1999). Holy Spirit: Role in counselling. In D.G. Benner & P.C. Hill (Eds.), Baker encyclopaedia of psychology and counselling (2nd ed., pp. 568-569). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
- Tan, S.Y. (2001). Integration and beyond: Principled, professional, and personal. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 20, 18-28.
- Tan, S.Y. (2006). Applied positive psychology: Putting positive psychology into practice. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 25, 68-73.
- Tan, S.Y. (2011). Counselling and psychotherapy: A Christian perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
- Worthington, E.L., Jr. (2006). Trends and needs in Christian counselling research: What you need to know even if you don’t plan to conduct research. Christian Counselling Today, 14 (4), 20-23.
Siang-Yang Tan, PhD, is professor of psychology at the Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary, in Pasadena, California, and senior pastor of First Evangelical Church, Glendale, California. He has published over 100 articles or chapters and 13 books, including Lay Counselling, Disciplines of the Holy Spirit, Rest, Coping with Depression, Full Service, and his latest book Counselling and Psychotherapy: A Christian Perspective.