Laura Vander Velden believes society needs Christian counsellors.
“I think there is a need in the church, and in the broader culture,” she explains, “for trained, clinical practitioners who are aware of the bio-psycho-social complexity of mental illness and who are also deeply-rooted theologically.”
Vander Velden is steeped in both disciplines. Soon to complete her Ph.D. in Systematic Theology through the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, she also has Master’s degrees in both Theological Studies and Counselling from Providence. Starting this fall she will begin work as Assistant Professor of Counselling Psychology at Providence Theological Seminary’s extension site in Cochrane, AB.
While she admits it may seem “odd” for a systematic theology scholar to be teaching counselling psychology, Vander Velden points out that mental health and pastoral care have been the underlying motivations for her interest in theology. Additionally, a personal journey that, she says, has taken her “through darkness” has also helped fuse theology and clinical practice into a vocational calling.
“Now I have the wonderful opportunity to work in an academic setting where I can do interdisciplinary research while teaching in a collaborative and growing counselling psychology department at Providence,” she says. “Something that Providence does well is integrating faith and learning.”
Vander Velden will encourage her students to approach various perspectives “critically” yet “charitably,” all the while remembering the experiential limits that come with being human.
“The generous hospitality of God in Christ to and for the world is something the church is continually called to embody,” she explains. “Counselling—for Christians—is one way to engage in this embodied ministry of hospitality.”