@Holly_Lawson, thank you so much for this question! I so appreciate the care and thought you’re putting into this choice. As @Shawn_Hart mentioned, I can look back at similar periods in my own life and see how God the choices between good things to really shape my heart for Him. As tricky as they were at the time, I’m thankful for them now. I need to remind myself of that more often when I’m in the middle of one of those seasons!
This is a longer answer than you probably wanted, but this is what I’d tell you if we were sitting at coffee talking about this.
I will say, the secular/Christian education question is not equally weighted between fields. You’re in the thick of it with psychology! I can appreciate how worldview plays a particularly crucial role in both your studies and your future clinical practice. It may well be that some tools you learn in secular psychology are ones you wouldn’t use in good conscience, or that learning your practice first hand from other Christians could give you spiritual insights and connections that you’ll otherwise have to figure out on your own.
My own experience with getting a masters of education in adult learning brought me face-to-face with this. Much of what I learned in my MEd is straight up unusable to me as a Christian, and it revealed just how incompatible my worldview is with the philosophies that undergird adult learning in America. That helped to refine my passion for digging into those philosophical gaps, and that’s what I would want to pursue a PhD in; but it also means I left the degree with fewer concrete tools than my peers did. God tailored my education to focus on what He wanted me to learn, but those aren’t the same things my teachers were expecting me to learn.
There’s also the matter of certification and the kinds of jobs you’ll be able to take or not take depending on what your degree is in and where it’s from (how “Christian” your counselling credentials are); that’s something nearly every Christian has to consider at the PhD level, but I imagine you feel the weight of those choices particularly in your field of clinical psych.
I deliberately chose to do my MEd at a secular university because I wanted to be able to have the option of teaching at a secular institution later. Getting an education degree from a Christian university only allows you to teach at Christian institutions moving forward; in the field of education, the place you get your graduate-level degree from makes a difference even to the most basic job postings. So from that perspective, it made good career and ministry sense for me to choose a secular college, even though I would have really enjoyed learning this field from Christian professors. You’ll have your own set of field-specific expectations, career options, and ministry avenues to think about.
God has shown me a lot of favor in the midst of an education system that is fundamentally opposed to His vision of the world. I’ve been overwhelmed countless times by the miraculous way God creates spaces for conversations about important life questions with professors and peers. I have often come out of programs as an exceptional student – not because of my own ability or merit, but simply because I think God was making His own point to the people around me in ways I don’t fully understand. But I also acknowledge that I’ve had it easy in many ways; I have Christian friends in all of the fields I’ve studied in who have faced serious difficulties or friction because of their beliefs, especially at the graduate level. I think all of those experiences glorify the Lord, but no two people will walk the same road through the same degree or department.
Here are some things I’d recommend any person consider as they think and pray through this decision. Maybe one or two of them will strike you as helpful:
Who do I want to minister to in my professional life? (Christians? Other worldviews? Both?)
What kind of colleagues do I want in my professional life? (Christians? Other worldviews? Both?)
What is the opportunity cost of this choice? (If I say yes to this set of opportunities, what set of opportunities am I naturally saying no to?)
Has God provided me with consistent leading, direction, or encouragement in a particular direction? (How did I get to where I am right now?)
What scares me most about this choice? What does God say about those fears when I bring them to Him?
What excites or interests me most about this choice? What does God say about those desires when I bring them to Him?
What do the trusted people in my life say?
I’m sure all of those things are already in your thoughts and prayers. You have a much better sense of those lines than I would, but I’ll be praying that you get a sense of God’s desires for you in each of those areas. Most importantly I’ll be praying that God brings trusted people into your life who can give you good advice, with a knowledge both of you and of what you want to do with the resources and opportunities God’s given you to steward. This is the time to seek wisdom from those you trust and apply it.
A final word of encouragement: I think that God cares more about how you make this choice than He does about the actual choice you make. If you are faithfully pursuing Him and if you take your next steps in faith, with the desire to be with Him, then I have great confidence that He will make good out of anything you choose. Take courage in that, and don’t get trapped by analysis paralysis or your inability to predict the future. It’s quite possible that there actually is no wrong answer here. If you stay close to Him through prayer and reading the word, and make your choice with a clear conscience, I think you’ve been faithful in the choice.