Aaron Sironi
Aaron Sironi has started a couseling service affiliated with the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation Thursday, October 15, 2009.

It was soccer that brought Aaron Sironi to psychology.

But it was his Christian faith that imbued his counseling practice with a new perspective. And now Sironi is bringing that to Billings, at the new local branch of the Philadelphia-based Christian Counseling and Education Foundation.

Sironi, who grew up in Madison, Wis., the youngest of four boys, naturally was drawn to athletics. At Taylor College, a Christian liberal-arts school in Indiana, he played soccer for four years.

“I didn’t have any idea what I was going to do,” he said, sitting in his West End office inside the Peacemaker Ministries building. “My coach was the chair of the department of psychology. I liked my coach, and psychology was interesting to me, so I ended up a psych major.”

Along the way he added a Spanish major after working with Mexican orphans and finding himself drawn to other cultures. Sironi graduated in 1996 and moved to Florida where his grandfather was ill with cancer, so he could lend his grandmother support.

His Spanish language skills helped him land a job as a child and family counselor in a county-funded program.

“I didn’t have a clue what I was doing,” he said, adding that most of the counselors had graduate degrees. “The first year I about died, working without the training, but I came up to speed pretty quickly.”

He realized he needed more schooling. so he moved west, to Southern California, to attend the School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He earned a master’s degree in marital and family therapy in 2001.

Sironi worked in Los Angeles County for three years, doing community mental-health work, working with kids, adolescents and families on issues such as abuse, neglect, and with those with severe emotional disabilities. 

The experience drained him, and Sironi decided to get out of the field. He struggled with a disconnect he felt between his faith and his work.

“I was a Christian who was a licensed counselor, but I was trained to see things psychologically,” Sironi said. “And so that’s how I counseled, through a psychological lens. I had a hard time putting the two together.”

His psychology training has given him insight into the powerful influences on the human soul: physiology, environment, personality and family systems. But it seemed as if the psychological theories he learned in school ran on a parallel track to Christianity, but never met.

“Which of those leads, most importantly, to a relationship with a Creator, a redeemer, a judge who rescues me from my self-centered life and reconnects me to living for my Creator?” he asked. “None of them.”

Cognitive behavioral theory will help a person attack an irrational and maladaptive way of thinking — the self-talk that leads to behavior and emotions, Sironi said. But people aren’t created only to talk to themselves, they are meant to talk to God, to pray, to seek his wisdom.

“So cognitive behavior therapy is atheistic,” he said. “It might lead to higher functioning behavior, but it is godless. It leads to selfishness.”

He turned from counseling to accounting, getting the training in Billings to work in the field that had simpler answers.

“In accounting you can fix things like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “You don’t fix people like that. Change happens over the course of years, if not decades. I liked being able to fix things in a matter of minutes.”

Sironi started meeting with an elder in his church who engaged him in discussions about people and how they change, integrating a biblical perspective. That man invited him to join him at Christian Counseling and Education Foundation’s annual conference.

“There was a unifying gathering around Christ and his good news as applied to the many problems of living,” Sironi said. “And these gospel applications addressed the counseling complexities in ways I had never imagined before.”

The speakers talked about Christ in ways that meaningfully addressed schizophrenia, bipolar and other disorders, he said. They had mined rich theological truths that, applied to these problems, could change peoples’ lives.

“It was at the CCEF annual conference that I first caught a glimpse of a well-developed ‘faith psychology’ that did more than repackage secular theories,” Sironi said.

Back in Billings, he returned to the mental-health field a few months later. He eventually decided to go back to school to cement the techniques he learned about at the conference, so he and his wife, Kellie, moved to Philadelphia to train with CCEF.

He studied academically for a year and then did a counseling residency for about year that involved teaching, training and advanced supervision as he counseled. Now that he’s back in Billings, as an affiliate of CCEF, his goal is to counsel people, as well as to help train pastors, fellow therapists and lay people on how to help people tackle the tough issues of life using a more biblical approach.

“I like to lead trainings like seminars on how we as Christians can see who we are, how we grow and change and help one another,” Sironi said.

Contact Susan Olp at solp@billingsgazette.com or at 657-1281.

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