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Reconstructing Counseling

The field of counseling is an ungodly mess, both in the world and in the church.

  • Joe Propri,
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The field of counseling is an ungodly mess, both in the world and in the church.

Although the world presents a picture of unified agreement on counseling psychology, there is much internal disagreement as to which philosophy is correct and which techniques are the most effective. There are over 250 competing schools of thought (by secular count) in the supposed "science" of psychology, all of which claim to truly understand man and his problems, and provide the adequate answers and therapies needed.

The church of our Lord echoes the same situation, with one important difference: we don't even present a picture of being unified! When it comes to authoritative counsel for people and their problems, both the world and the church speak in many tongues on this issue, and the result is babel.

A Crisis of Authority
What is "counseling" anyway? A simple secular definition goes something like this: giving advice in a form that will help someone achieve a goal. This working general definition is accepted by the 250+ competing schools of thought, including the Rogerians, who say we must not give advice!

Because so many views exist about counseling, there is a crisis of authority in this field. Whom can we trust? Whose ideas should we implement? Shall we adopt Freud's concepts and understanding? What about the behaviorists' insights? And doesn't Rogers have important things to say? Why do he and all the others disagree with each other? Isn't there common ground? Which approach is efficacious?

Secular critics of secular psychology have done all the work for us Christians. It is not my purpose in this article to document the many references available, but let me make one comment about the value of therapeutic help. According to a number of "scientific" studies over the last 20 years of the "science" of psychology, caring, listening friends have equal to or better rates of success at helping people long term through their troubles than do professional therapists and psychologists.

The world of psychology has also demonstrated its inability to speak with any authority on the problems its therapists treat. Just look at the constant changing of the guard. For a while, Freud was the guru. Then came Carl Rogers and now Freud is largely discredited. You have followers of Adler, Ellis, Harris, and Glasser. These people have more divisions than the Corinthians!

Not only do their authorities have remarkably different theories and explanations for problems and problem solving; the actual methods of treatment prescribed are just as different. Each school of thought has its appropriate bag of techniques, ranging from just listening to doing hypnosis.

The Pathetic Church
In the midst of this schizophrenic condition which is psychology, what clarion prophetic word does the church give? The same babel. Christians who desire to help people with their problems believe they must be trained in secular psychology in order to be adequately equipped for the task. And what is interesting about it all, is that the church comes up with the same theories and treatments for problems that the world has put forth, with one major difference: the Christian psychologists' books begin promoting the latest thing in "godly help" about three to five years after the world has discarded it, discredited it and replaced it with the next "latest thing!"

Some 15 years ago, when my Christian Counseling Center became more widely known locally, I received a letter from a Presbyterian pastor in a nearby town. He said he was grateful to know of another Christian doing counseling in our area, and offered himself as a referral, if I needed that resource in the future. His qualifications? He not only had a degree in psychology, but had added training in neuro-linguistic programming, gestalt therapy, the bicameral mind, hypnosis, and some other exotic therapy that escapes me now. He said with this extra stuff he was better prepared to handle the multitudes of problems that may cross his path. I thanked him for his letter and put it in my folder labeled, "people needing help."

Christian Counseling Today
What do you get today when you go to a "Christian counselor" for help? I noticed in the local paper not long after my correspondence with the pastor mentioned above, an advertisement of the opening of the Christian Hypnosis Center. I wrote to the address, offering myself as a referral resource, and asked, "Why the title?" The woman wrote me that she "had been a Christian for a number of years but was unable to lose weight after trying all kinds of means." She tried hypnosis and, hold on to your seat belt, she lost weight! Amazing! She took a course in hypnosis, and now believes that because God used it for her, He wants her to help other people who struggle with this terrible problem. She assured me that she prays at the beginning and end of each session, unless the client says that he would be offended.

All the term "Christian counselor" means today is this: the person who will counsel you is claiming to be a Christian. That can mean a number of things:

  • 1. He thinks he is saved.
    2. He believes in God (remember, so does the devil) but is liberal in theology.
    3. He intends to be very caring, understanding and compassionate.

One thing cannot be guaranteed by such a term: that the counseling itself is Christian.

If an Indian therapist practiced hypnosis on you, would he call it "Hindu Counseling"? If a Muslim psychologist used gestalt therapy, should she say she was doing "Islamic Counseling"? Friends, the adjective "Christian" ought to describe the counseling, not the counselor. The philosophy and methodology utilized must be thoroughly Scriptural to deserve the title "Christian Counseling."

Shouldn't the church have its own philosophy of counseling? Shouldn't the methods of helping be derived from that philosophy? And shouldn't such a system come from the Scriptures, and not from man?

And, besides, didn't God tell us He has provided everything necessary for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3)? Wouldn't that include counsel for dealing with the problems of life?

God's word is law to us. It is His counsel to us, and that counsel covers what we need to know about the issues of life. Counseling is always a matter of the practical application of God's word to life's problems, even for the pagan. If what I've just written is true, then the field of clinical psychology is an illegal squatter on the territory of the kingdom of God, and the church as its guardian must evict the bum rather than sit at his feet.

Thus we cannot integrate with psychology and honor God at the same time. Why is Biblical counseling superior to all others? What makes Biblical counseling unique? Here are five ways Biblical counseling stands apart from all pretenders and wanna-be's:

1. Only Biblical counseling has the POWER of God. By what power do other types of counseling operate? Our power in using the Scriptures rests in the authority of our Lord Himself. "All authority in heaven and on earth is given me; go, therefore . . . " (Mt. 28:18f) Who gives power to counsel in the world? Is it the American Psychological Association? The State of California? Is the authority behind the power Freud? Skinner? Maslow? Personality testing? When counselees look for hope and help in their dilemmas, dare we offer them "the best of the current minds"? Or humanistic theories sprinkled with a Bible verse and our "Christian compassion"?

All systems of counseling must have some engine driving the train, some power source which is backed by authority and fosters hope. Humanistic and integrated counseling theories and methodologies get their power from secular experts. A boxcar or two might be Christian, but the engine is humanism. The Bible is the authoritative revelation of God's counsel. Jesus authorizes His church to use His words to bring life and that more abundantly to His people and the world. Only Biblical counseling has the power of God.

2. Only Biblical counseling has the PERSPECTIVE of God. When humanistic and integrated counselors examine the cases before them, they look through the glasses of their training, and see what they expect to see. (True Freudians see sexual connotations to everything, for example.) Each counselor knows he hears only one or two sides of the story, and does his best to gather as much data as possible to have a good understanding of the issues to adequately help the counselee. Counselors will look at the past experiences as well as the current ones (although for a myriad of reasons!) to better understand the counselee.

But God has a grander perspective of the situation. He sees more than our "causes." Biblical counselors know that we bring presuppositions into every counseling session. We all have glasses we look through and will see what we expect to see. Studying the Bible instead of "eight stages of development" will renew our minds so we wear the right glasses when we look at the world and all that is in it. Romans 1 tells us the natural man suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. This means we are incapable of properly interpreting the creation (including the creatures!) without being regenerated ourselves and our minds being renewed by the Spirit and the Word of God.

Biblical counseling has a totally different view of what man is, what his problems are, what the solutions are, what the role of the counselor is, what hope there is, and what methods are permissible to use in helping the counselee. We even describe the problems differently. The counterfeit counseling has relabeled problems to give them a medical slant, because man has been emphasized as a material, physical being for decades. But man is a spiritual being, and we must become familiar with Biblical labels for problems which will point us toward God and His word for the answers. Only Biblical counseling can bring God's perspective into the counseling room.

3. Only Biblical counseling has the PURPOSE of God. God has a plan for each counselee that surrounds the actual situation we confront. He has a goal in mind. The very "trauma" that we are eager to help him jettison is an intricate part of the foreordained plan of God for the counselee. God has allowed the trial for a purpose. We must discover the purpose and work with God to bring it about in the counselee's life. There are always specific purposes and goals, but Biblical counselors know (as a presupposition) that all things are working together to conform the believer into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28, 29). We dare not seek to extricate our counselee from a problem which God has allowed and intends to use to mature him!

Biblical counseling is not client-centered, but God-centered! We must, as counselors, have as our primary goal to please and glorify God, not please the counselee. The counselee must also be helped to have the same primary agenda, not "get my wife back." Integrative and secular counselors aren't looking for God's purpose in any trial. Some Christian psychologists may be aware of this dynamic and consider it in some cases, but rarely is it central in all counseling relationships. Only Biblical counseling has the purpose of God at heart.

4. Only Biblical counseling has the PROCEDURE of God. God's methods match His goals. We often tend to see a goal and devise our own means to get there, or study the world's techniques to save us time. Then we ask and expect God to bless our efforts. We are not to imitate the world, but imitate Christ. Our methods must always come from Scripture.

For example, the put off/put on dynamic for change (Eph. 4:22-24) shows us that God is focused not only on what we stop doing, but also what we start doing. He is as concerned about what we are becoming as He is about what we are overcoming. I have had women tell me they wished their husbands still drank! When asked why, they reply, "We used to see him a lot more. Now he is at meetings six nights a week and says he must attend or he'll revert to his old addiction." The world doesn't care what the replacement is; this man put off alcohol and is now addicted to meetings.

God is concerned that angry people miss the growth He is after when they are encouraged to "take it out on your pillow" or some other substitute. He is not pleased when hypnosis is used to help people stop smoking or lose weight. Deceiving counselees (when you see ice cream, it will look like a bowl of worms) into change does not glorify God. Only Biblical counselors are concerned about the procedures God has authorized.

5. Only Biblical counselors have the PROMISES of God. Because of faith in God's word, His presence, His power, and His providence, we can trust the results of our counseling to Him. We should have no doubt that what He said He will do, He will do. Because of His many promises, we are the only counselors who can give promises to our counselees! We can guarantee results!

We can say, "If you, from a sincere heart, do what God says to do about your problems, God will bless you, change you, and prosper you. He will give you peace that passes understanding. He will put joy in your soul. He will comfort your heart and encourage you. He will give you the strength you need to face another day, and not only get you through it, but enable you to conquer and overcome." Only Biblical counselors have the promises of God.

As you can see, God has provided the resources needed for counseling, not to secular people, but to the church.