A Holistic Approach to WholenessBy Sarah Enck on October 12, 2015
Dr. Robert Lehman is going into his 20th year as professor of counseling and M.A. in Counseling program director at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He teaches many of the core counseling classes that are required for Michigan state licensure, including Counseling Theories, Consulting and Counseling Philosophy. As a current student in the M.A. in Counseling program, I greatly appreciate the biblical and theological framework from which Dr. Lehman teaches these fundamental counseling concepts. He has allowed me to challenge my own counseling philosophy as I learn to integrate my Christian worldview into my future counseling practice.
Dr. Lehman offers expertise as both a counselor and a ministry leader. He served on staff at several churches as a youth pastor and pastor of counseling for 16 years, and is beginning his 32nd year of counseling practice. I enjoyed sitting with Dr. Lehman recently to discuss his own journey of integrating counseling and Christian worldview, which has impacted the way he views his own teaching and time at GRTS.
SE: What do you think are the benefits of having a MA Counseling program through a seminary?
RL: I think most people who are seeking help value and want a counseling approach that is respectful of their faith traditions. The ability to interact with people with a faith foundation and a Judeo-Christian worldview is very appealing. Around 80% of the U.S. population claim to be faith-based, so many clients want this to be part of their life. They value a counseling approach that will engage what they truly believe in.
SE: How do you integrate Christian worldview, theology and Scripture into mainstream counseling classes like Counseling Ethics and Issues and Counseling Theories?
RL: I think that Scripture sometimes speaks directly to issues and sometimes it speaks indirectly to issues. As a program, we are respectful of our faith heritages and where it speaks directly. But even in classes when Scripture is indirect, the values and principles can be brought up in ways that allow students to recognize them and ask how the passage could apply to the topic we are discussing. Students really want to grapple with that. Sometimes it is an easy fit and sometimes we find that Scriptural values and competing values like ethics and theories are at odds with each other. This is all healthy conversation.
SE: How has your experience in both the ministry and counseling settings informed your own counseling philosophy?
RL: I was privileged to attend an undergraduate institution that featured Bible and theology. I was also privileged to go to seminary before I launched into my counseling pursuits. I had a pretty sound biblical worldview as my foundation. I have been able to draw upon that as a way of interacting, growing and sometimes disputing what I have come across in other areas of study, schools and opportunities.
These experiences have also allowed me to maintain objectivity with Scripture. The discipline of theological and biblical studies, in the most simplistic sense, is asking important questions of the text: what does it say, what did it mean and how does it apply to the counseling field? By having a Bible background and an appreciation for the first two questions [what does it say and what did it mean], it gives us more confidence in presenting biblical truth to clients. When we have the opportunity to share with clients who desire that kind of connection, we can have confidence to say, "This is what the text is suggesting in this passage." This allows them the opportunity to do some good integration work for themselves.
SE: What of value has the biblical counseling field derived from natural human science, psychology, and sociology?
RL: As a program, we are committed to a holistic approach to the mental health profession. When properly understood, there is no conflict between science and biblical truth. The reality is we do not always interpret Scripture accurately, and there are times we do not understand science accurately. We do run into these tensions, and often they are short-term and can be resolved. It is very natural to have disagreements between the claims of science and the teachings of Scripture. I do not think that should prevent us from taking what is of value from both and utilizing them for the benefit of the client. The secular techniques can often be helpful as insights in terms of understanding methodology, human development, people's worldview, and how they understand change. Each of these can be extremely valuable. I do not think they replace what the Bible uniquely gives us but certainly can augment in many ways.
SE: What have you learned from your years of teaching at GRTS?
RL: I have come to a deeper appreciation of the passion that our students have for making a difference. These are busy people who can choose to do other things, and they heroically balance multiple pressures to excel in our program. That serves as an inspiration to the faculty and staff. If the students are willing to put that much of their efforts into the program, I think that inspires us to also put our best effort into our discipline.
SE: I enjoy teaching at GRTS because...
RL: I enjoy teaching at GRTS because...
- ...I have a meaningful role in helping to prepare the next generation of faith-based therapists.
- ...it forces me to stay one step ahead of students in new information, and forces me to not become stagnant in my own professional standing.
- ...it is a collaborative atmosphere between academic disciplines and administration.
- ...it is a privilege to be called by God to do anything.