Becoming a Nouthetic Counselor

What is Nouthetic Counseling?

Nouthetic counseling is not something new. In fact, Nouthetic counseling has been practiced for centuries. The term comes from the Bible. In the New Testament, it is mainly used by the apostle Paul and is often translated as correct, teach, instruct, or even admonish. Basically, the idea is for members of a church to provide mutual, informal counseling to each other. All counseling practices should come from the Bible and a religious point of view. The idea of Nouthetic counseling as its viewed today was first put forth by Dr. Jay E. Adams in his book Competent to Counsel.

In more recent years, many people have started using the term “Biblical counseling” instead of Nouthetic counseling to stress the point that the Bible is at the center of this counseling technique. Most who follow the idea of Nouthetic counseling refute mainstream psychiatry and psychology as being humanistic, secular, and fundamentally against Christians and their beliefs. Because of this, very few Nouthetic counselors have any formal training in counseling, therapy, or any related field.

Who Can Be a Nouthetic Counselor?

Anyone can be a Nouthetic counselor. In fact, that is the main idea behind this type of counseling. Rather than going to one counselor, people get advice and counseling from everyone in their church. Nouthetic counselors seek to confront people out of concern for their lives and their souls. Every member of a congregation has a duty to provide Nouthetic counseling to those they believe are straying from God’s path or are in need of change.

A religious leader often acts as a Nouthetic counselor to everyone in the congregation. Church leaders seek out those they feel are in need of counseling and help them through whatever troubles they may be having.

There are three ideas that form the basis of Nouthetic counseling:

  • Confrontation – A Nouthetic counselor should be prepared to approach a fellow Christian and, using the Bible and not their own ideas, speak to them about their problems. Sometimes, this means alerting someone to an issue they may not even be aware of. This confrontation should not actually be confrontational. It needs to come from a place of concern and love, not as an attack.
  • Concern – Everything needs to be done out of concern for the other person. Their welfare must always be at the center of the counseling. Biblical counseling should be done in a friendly, warm manner. This is one area that differs from counseling or therapy done by a professional. The counselor is encouraged to show their love for the “patient” and reach out to them emotionally, not retain any sort of clinical detachment.
  • Change – Finally, a Nouthetic counselor wants to bring change to the person they are counseling. They hope that by confronting the inappropriate behavior and showing concern for the other person, they can induce change. In most cases, the counselor stresses that the person become more Christ-like and in line with the beliefs of their religion.

In churches that encourage Nouthetic counseling, people usually don’t refer to themselves as Nouthetic counseling or even consider that they’re providing this type of service. Instead, they think of themselves as offering advice or as providing a friendly ear for those with difficulties.

Requirements to Become a Nouthetic Counselor

To become a Nouthetic counselor, one needs only to be very familiar with scripture and the Bible. There are no educational requirements—in fact, the idea of Nouthetic counseling is that it is done by friends, family, and fellow members of the church in an informal method, not as a type of therapy or formal counseling.

Nouthetic counselors believe that people can only get to the truth of a matter, through scripture and prayer, so you will need to thoroughly understand the Bible and the behaviors of the characters in the Bible. Often, Nouthetic counselors choose to approach a person by comparing their inappropriate behavior to that of a Biblical character and their situation to a story from the Bible. They are able to use the character’s actions and experience as a mirror for the person they are counseling.

There are no formal degree programs, certification programs, or other types of education in the field of Nouthetic counseling. Because the ideas of Nouthetic counseling often clash with psychology and therapy techniques, most Nouthetic counselors do not take formal educational courses in these areas.

Online Courses in Nouthetic Counseling

The founder of modern nouthetic counseling, Dr. Jay Adams, is one of the few sources of instruction and educational courses on nouthetic counseling. Courses offered by the Institute for Nouthetic Studies can all be taken online, and they are the only “official” nouthetic courses offered. Of course, some churches and other groups also offer their own Nouthetic counseling courses, but they do not carry the official seal of Dr. Adams.

These online courses can be done at your own pace because they are all online and are taught mainly through videos and reflective study questions. Like many universities, there are introductory, intermediate, and advanced courses. Students generally begin with the Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling course and then may continue through more advanced topics. Dr. Adams and his faculty do provide some specialty courses, such as marriage counseling, premarital counseling, theology, medical issues and counseling, and family counseling. There are no papers, tests, or grades given—students may receive feedback from the teachers and have their questions answered, but they will not have to worry about exams.

Students who do not want to take the entire curriculum can take only the courses they are interested in, but this is highly discouraged because all of the courses build on each other. Students who do want to take the entire curriculum must take every required course—the Institute does not evaluate simpler courses or certifications for transfer credit.

The courses offered through the Institute are mainly focused on the scriptures and on spirituality—they are not primarily academic in nature, and there are no prerequisites or admission requirements. Any motivated person can sign up for and take these courses. Those who complete enough courses may receive a certificate of completion.


Because nouthetic counseling is not recognized as a formal form of therapy or counseling, these online courses are not accredited by any organization. They will not qualify you for any type of counseling or therapist license.

Religious Requirements for Nouthetic Counselors

There are very few religious requirements to become a Nouthetic counselor. In fact, because the focus of this type of counseling is on providing peer counseling, all you really have to do is be a member of a congregation and know the Bible. Everything needed comes from the scripture.

Being ordained generally means you have done a more in-depth study of your religion, the scriptures, and your belief. As such, an ordained person in the church is generally better equipped to offer Nouthetic counseling simply because they have more in-depth knowledge of the Bible. However, being ordained is not required. While most who follow the idea of Nouthetic counseling believe that all ministers and church leaders should be counselors to their congregation, they do not believe that all counselors need to be ministers. This means that while women may be barred from holding leadership positions in their church, they are more than welcome to practice Nouthetic counseling and to take courses from the Institute.

Earning Practical Experience

Most people who gain practical experience as a Nouthetic counselor simply spend time talking to others and helping them with their problems. However, for those who truly want to offer counseling and help on a regular basis may want to talk to their church leaders. They may spend some time with their pastor studying the Bible in more detail or discussing what it takes to offer good counsel based on scripture.

However, this is not a requirement, and one does not even have to talk to a pastor or alert their church leaders that they want to offer Nouthetic counseling to others.

Licensing and Certification of Nouthetic Counselors

There is no official license or certification required to call yourself a Nouthetic counselor. You may receive a Certification in Nouthetic Counseling from the Institute for Nouthetic Studies if you take enough of their courses, but this is not required and proves only that you have taken courses through the Institute.

The Institute does note that their certification can be used as a training program for those who want to get certified through the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). This organization, previously called the NANC, offers basic training courses and certification to those who want to increase their knowledge in the area of Biblical counseling.

The Institute for Nouthetic Studies and the ACBC are not connected, and certification from the Institute does not fulfill any of the ACBC requirements. It may, however, help students become more familiar with the Bible and with various Biblical counseling methods. This can help make completing the training and certification process easier. Those who teach at the Institute do often hold certifications from the ACBC.