Catholics and Protestants Look for Different Skills in their Counselors.

A few years ago, I published a study examining the different attitudes religiously committed Catholics and Protestants had toward counseling.  In particular, I was curious, considering the number of Catholics who go to generically “Christian” counselors, if Catholics were being well-served by Protestant counselors.  The study revealed some interesting results.  In a survey of over a 1000 respondents drawn from every diocese in the US, it was shown that, given the choice, religiously committed Catholics would prefer to go to a Catholic counselor than a Protestant one.  Likewise, the study showed that Protestants and Catholic want different things from their counselors.

For religiously committed Protestants, the most important counselor competency was “Scriptural Knowledge.”  While both religiously committed Catholics and Protestants wanted therapists who were aware of Christian approaches to treating problems related to marriage, parenting, depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse.  Catholics strongly preferred therapists who were also expert at secular treatments to the same.  In other words, religiously committed Catholics, much more than religiously committed Protestants, would prefer to go to a therapist who was both a well-formed professional and knew how to integrate Christian approaches into that professional framework.  Religiously committed Protestants prefered therapists who eschewed secular approaches to treating problems and concentrated on Biblical and Christian treatments only.

Additionally, Catholics wanted a therapist who had knowlege of moral theology, issues related to Christian views of marriage, annulment, and divorce, issues related to larger families and stay-at-home moms, and natural family planning.

In the end, the study showed that compare to religiously committed Protestants, religiously committed Catholics valued 11 different competencies from their counselors than Protestants did.  The breakdown is below.  The upshot is that Catholics really do expect–and deserve–something very different from their counselors.


Counselor Competencies Valued More Highly By Protestants

Competency                           % Prot    % Cath

1. Scriptural Knowledge           75.4       60.6


Counselor Competencies Valued More Highly By Catholics

Competency                                  % Prot  %  Cath

1. Natural Family Planning         14.9       62.7

2. Christian moral teaching**      83.6       90.3

3. Issues related to families

w/Stay-at-home mothers             44.6       60.5

4. Christian Views on divorce,

annulment, and remarriage         62.6       74.2

5. Issues with large families         23.2       50.9

6.  Developments in general

counseling theory/practice.         34.9       49.7

7. General school probs.               41.0       61.2

8. Gen Approaches

to parenting                                     44.1       56.9

9. Gen. Approaches to

Drg & Alc. Treatment                    34.8      47.4

10. Gen. Approaches to

Treating Depression                       52.8      64.2

11. Gen Approaches to

Treating Anxiety &Stress.            50.2      64.0

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About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit

  • joannemcportland

    This is something with which I have personal experience. In a lifetime of wrestling with depression and more recently hoarding disorder, I have received good counsel from a non-religious Freudian, a Church of the Brethren minister trained in Gestalt, and a Catholic priest who was a Jungian. But the best counselor I’ve ever had is a Catholic layman, deeply traditional in values, a marriage and family counselor, who speaks comfortably the languages of both mental health and spiritual direction. It’s a combination of counselor and spiritual director that’s very rare (and even more so, as seminaries and Catholic universities are cutting back on pastoral counseling and psychology classes due to the inability to provide large enough numbers of students to be accredited), and I haven’t yet been lucky enough to find it in Los Angeles. Thank you for bringing attention to this very important ministry and the unique needs of Catholics.

    • Dr. Greg

      Thank you, Joanne, for having the courage to share your story. Please be assured of my prayers for your continued journey. Dr.Greg

  • Dr. Gregory Bottaro

    From one Dr. Greg to another, I appreciate your study on this topic. Many of my patients have sought help from Christian (and even Catholic) therapists in the past only to find themselves untreated, or possibly worse off for the effort. It seems that many Christian approaches disregard the need for good science! While scripture and prayer are important to growth, and a fundamental Christian anthropology needs to give foundation to whatever work we do, it is equally important that we are trained experts in the field we “profess” to be professionals in.

    • Dr. Greg

      Hear, hear! Welcome, Dr. Greg B. I appreciate your comments. I hope you’ll keep coming back.