The theories and approaches of David G Benner have been influential to the counseling and Christian world alike in the past decade. The below overview of the theories and their applications are designed to test the applicability of them in real Christian counseling environment.
- Primary goal
David G Benner is trying to bring together humanity and Christianity. He states that a good Christian might not necessarily be a good human being and vice versa. However, the answer he offers is moving towards becoming deeply human and live a fuller life that Jesus promised on a spiritual level. He also states that the alienation from the body is needed for spiritual transformation. He tries to approach Evangelical theology from the counseling perspective.
- Development of problems and personal need
One of the main obstacles of becoming “fully alive” according to David G Benner is to leave the needs of body behind. Spiritual openness is only possible when counseling focuses on the soul, while it also accepts the unity of the personhood.
- Biblical integration
The approach of Christian counseling and as Benner calls it “soul care” is deeply grounded in the New Testament. Based on the Scriptures and the work, love and attitude of Jesus Christ, but there are only a few references in the book.
- Formula for change
It is important to mention that Benner distinguishes between different types of soul care. These are family soul care, mutual soul care, pastoral care, lay counseling, Christian counseling, pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, Christian psychotherapy, and intensive soul care, based on the needs of the receiving person.
- Balance of theology and spirituality
While the books are based on the Scriptures and the needs of the human satisfied by religion, soul care and Christianity, it is fair to say that the books, especially “Care for Souls” have a more spiritual approach than theological. Focusing on the human being’s spiritual needs is the main focus, not teaching the Bible’s morals or providing guidance based on acts of the Apostles.
- Human personality
According to the author, the path of becoming “fully human” the spirit and the soul needs to go through a long journey. After this journey, the individual will be able to love spiritually and soulfully. The first step is awareness, next comes mindfulness, followed by the integration of the body, spirit and mind, with the main aim of “being aware” to surrender.
- Counselor’s function and role
Benner differentiates between pastoral care and pastoral ministry. Pastoral care should not be reduced to counseling. According to the approach, “pastoral care is simply a Christian reaching out with help, encouragement, or support to another at a time of need.” Strategic counseling should be focusing on one problem and be specific.
- Major contribution to counseling
The theory implies that by combining spiritual care, psychology and theology, Christian counseling and soul care is a much wider aspect of spiritual work than many other theorists thought. It should be complex, problem and personality-focused with the power of enabling the individual to become “aware”, “mindful” and fully alive. It is less detailed and strategic than other approaches, though.
- Limitations of this counseling theory
While the role of the Christian community is mentioned in the books, as well as the Christian approach, very little is spoken of the Biblical teaching and the role of the Holy Spirit in the process, which is emphasized by other theoreticians. This might be due to the fact that Benner is not a theologists, more like a counselor, however, some more details would be helpful regarding the specific roles of the Church in spiritual care.
Benner’s theory of Christian “Soul Care” is definitely integrational. It focuses on the Christian, psychological, human and development aspects of counseling, mental health care and Christian nurture in general.
- The integrative approach of Christian counseling can become useful when applied on people who are not necessarily knowledgeable about religious topics. It would be hard to start the sessions with Biblical stories if the person received little or no religious education. The integration of human, psychological and pastoral care approaches, however, would certainly be a gentler way of introducing the person to the values and principles of Christianity. It can unquestionably be successfully used in therapeutic soul care. Moving away from life through spiritual life would set one on a developmental journey. This enabling approach would be extremely effective when dealing with people who need help with addiction or in crisis situations.
- The author’s theory can impact the Christian soul care community: deacons’ and priests’ work. As humanity is not dependent on religion and background, the more human approach would enable counselors to understand people needing spiritual guidance, help or support more. Some of the tools described by the author, such as meditation, stillness, presence, letting go could be successfully implemented in trauma or grief counseling.
Enabling the human to achieve “Oneness” and wholeness does help them discover the way out and achieve full presence in the moment. This approach would also help them become present in religion and spirituality at the same time. The techniques, such as “practicing soulful presence” and “embracing reality” are not only suitable in Christian counseling but can be adapted by pastors and ministers to support inner strength.
Benner, D. G. “Soulful Spirituality: Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human” Brazos Press, Michigan, (2011)
“David G. Benner in conversation with Gary W. Moon” (2011) Conversations Magazine. Online. Vol. 9.1 Spring/Summer 2011
Benner, D. G.“Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel” (1998) Baker Books, 1998
Benner, D. G. “Strategic Pastoral Counseling: A short-term Structured Model” (2003) Baker Academic, 2003. p.47-68.