On Counseling

Gentle Reader,

One of my hobbies is perusing church websites, particularly the websites of churches in my area. I like to see what other members of the Body are doing in ministry. I like to check out different programs. And I really like to read statements of faith.

As I was scrolling through one of these statements recently, I found an interesting section dealing with the discipline of psychology and the use of counseling. I can’t recall this being addressed by any other church whose site I’ve visited. Here is the statement:

 We believe that modern day psychology has had a detrimental effect on Biblical counseling. In fact, we believe that most “Biblical Counseling” has become little more than therapeutic, psychological counseling. Interestingly, there is not even a mention of modern day counseling practices in the Bible. The Bible has no gift of counseling, and the idea of a person or persons regularly going to another individual for repeated meetings is not a concept found in the Scriptures at all. We do see the occasional interaction between individuals with questions and an associated or corresponding response; but the idea of a believer resting on and finding support in a person holding the office of counselor is not named once.

My initial reaction was to laugh. The Bible doesn’t mention the gift of being good with money, but I don’t see any church telling its members to avoid accountants. There is no mention of iPads or Wal-Mart in the Bible, but plenty of Christians make use of both.

The amusement faded quickly, though. It is true that anyone who visits a counselor can become dependent on her, and that that’s not a good thing, but the counselor with a solid foundation of faith is going to do everything she can to point the patient to God. I attended therapy for a little over a year; every one of our sessions closed in prayer, I was encouraged repeatedly to memorize Scripture and all of the focus was on God and truth. My bill might be settled, but there is no way that I can ever repay my therapist. She cared about me, took the time to listen and prodded me to a deeper faith. I don’t have any words to explain how much I needed that.

The Church in general and this church in particular needs to come to a better understanding of mental illness and the nature of suffering. We are supposed to listen to, encourage and lift each other up, but there are times when that just flat out isn’t enough. Therapists are trained to understand things like the chemical make-up of the brain, how past trauma influences the present and how we can subconsciously block painful emotions. Sometimes life is just too big, too much, and we need the help of a professional. Sometimes marriages hit incredibly rocky patches and it takes a third party to help sort out the issues. Sometimes kids get really hurt and can’t talk to anyone else. What shame is there in this? Why can’t God work through these people who truly desire to help others?

I know the example has been used a million times, but go there with me: You wouldn’t tell a diabetic to cease seeing the doctor, to stop monitoring his diet or to throw out his medication. Why do we treat mental illness any differently?

Grace and peace along the way.

 

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7 thoughts on “On Counseling

  1. It seems to me that Moses did a lot of counselling on the way to the Promised Land. Eventually he had to get people to help out with the disputes and arguments etc. as it became far too time consuming for him.
    What is that if not relationship counselling.
    Another reason we don’t hear too much about counselling in Scripture is that often the understanding about mental illness was that it was linked to demonic possession.
    Just because our understanding of the brain, and of human relationships have changed does not mean that we are not teaching others and leading them in ways that are contrary to the ways of God. Sin is still sin. Guilt is still guilt. Forgiveness is essential. And oh the ways in which we are counselled to treat one another through the writings of Paul and the commandments of Jesus are brilliant. We would do well to see counselling as a Biblically based and supported activity.

  2. As I learned many of the counseling theories, I found that God had indeed communicated truth to the men who created these theories. There is a lot of biblical truth in them. I do not have to forgo my faith to be a counselor and it saddens me that there are those in the body of Christ who would believe that.

    • Kriss- From my understanding, many of the foundational theories in counseling are completely against faith and many of them believe that humans are created good when Scripture states we are born into sin. There are a lot of controversies as wisdom of man is not always Godly wisdom. I continue to be in tension with this topic of counseling and psychology- for example with Carl Rogers person-centered approach I do not believe we are created good but I do appreciate his practice of attentive listening to the client. It diffidently takes times to sort out what techniques line up to scripture as today there are over 450+ theories out there. Psychotherapy is such a young field so it will be interesting how it all evolves as well as my own thoughts 10 to 20 years from now… hopefully the church will emerge to a more integrative understanding of mental health.

  3. Marie- I love your post. My last course was the integration of christianity and counseling. To me there is a difference with biblical counseling vs counseling as a christian. There is a spectrum of counselors out there- some that integrate faith but no science and those that use only science but no faith/spirituality. I often ask myself as I go into this field, “how do I live in Athens when my heart is in Jerusalem?” Counseling as a christian one must know how to utilize the faith/beliefs of their clients in treatment. Both Christianity and psychology have the similar interests of understanding human behavior and how to heal the brokenness that exists. Every client heals in different ways and I believe that Christ is the Ultimate Healer. But I also think that different psychology techniques are very effective to assist in the cope/manage/behavior change for the client’s mental health condition. Yahweh is always working in ways that we cannot see, even in clients. My prayer is that clients, even in its smallest form, can grasp hope, believing we are all imago dei. This topic will be one that I am constantly wrestling with and living in tension, as it a bit bit of a paradox on many ways. Thank you for posting and contributing to the conversation of faith and psychology. -Liisa

  4. I think this is the influence of John MacArthur who believes only Christians should perform any kind of counseling since only “we” understand the spiritual problems that underlie mental illness.

    Having a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology and fifteen years of post-graduate practice (before changing careers), I take exception to MacArthur’s viewpoint and find it even a little dangerous. Also, like it or not, there are certain mental disorders that really do benefit from psychopharmacology (which MacArthur also opposes). You can’t talk a psychotic person out of “hearing the voices” but certain medications are helpful.

    End rant.

    • Wow.

      Personally, I only want to work with therapists who are Christians because I think it’s important to address the spiritual element. But that hardly means I’d dismiss any therapist who would utilize techniques advanced by psychology.

      Mr. MacArthur also has stated that there was “never” a female disciple. *Eyeroll*

  5. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

    and

    The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD– isaiah 11:12

    I Believe that there are many examples of good counsel in the Bible – from prophets who advised the leaders. the birth and life of Jesus. (who even advised a good friend to let go of her need of perfection – ala Mary and Martha) Paul’s letters – as well – to me are a form of group counseling.

    A good Christian counselor can be a very necessary help in many times of need.

    Much love on your journey.

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