The Biblical Counseling Movement: Exposed

A couple of weeks ago, I revealed that I was researching a shocking expose’ to feature on the blog. I am now far enough along in my research to begin the series.

Let me tell you how this series came about:

As you may recall from an earlier post, my dad confessed to being a sex addict a few years ago. My dad attended pastoral counseling and a 12-step program, but eventually fell off the wagon – which lead to my parents’ divorce. Their pastor, desperate to get him help, suggested an out-of-state, 9-month live-in rehab program for sex addicts. “It is a Christian program,” he said.

I was less than thrilled at that little revelation. My father had already attempted pastoral counseling multiple times, and it had not helped to resolve his core issues. At the time, I was encouraging my dad to seek a professional, state-licensed psychotherapist. But whenever I expressed my doubts about the program, the pastor assured me (via my mother) that the center was staffed with “certified counselors.” That was enough to reassure me and support his attending the program.

My father graduated the program sometime around July this year. About a month ago, he asked if he could contact me. Wanting to evaluate where he was in his recovery, I agreed. He called one night, and we talked for about 40 minutes. I wasn’t satisfied with how the conversation went and mentioned it to my therapist. He asked, “What do you know about this program he attended?” I confessed that I didn’t know much; the program’s website had been somewhat vague about the method of treatment. So, I decided further research was needed.

What I uncovered was the Biblical Counseling Movement.

The Biblical Counseling Movement (hereafter referred to as BCM or ‘the movement’) is advanced by a handful of men in the Reformed Calvinist tradition. The movement’s stated purpose is not to bring healing to the hurting, but to confront a counselee’s sin and restore him or her to a ‘right’ relationship with God. Because that, in their estimation, is what’s really wrong with struggling people: not that they’re traumatized or suffering a chemical imbalance, but that they aren’t living according to biblical principles.

IABC statement

From the International Association of Biblical Counselors website.

The BCM takes the concept of sola scriptura to extremes. Because the Bible says that “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3), BCM leaders teach that modern psychological knowledge, theories and practice are not only unnecessary for healing, but also an affront to God’s sovereignty in the lives of people. And anyone who seeks a professionally trained, state-licensed counselor – or even attends a 12-step program – is being led astray by “deceptive philosophies.”


From the IABC Affirmations and Denials page.

The result of this view is that the ‘counselors’ produced by the movement have virtually no medical, psychological or professional counseling training. To put it bluntly, I have more of a scientific education than the Master’s degree-holding founder and leadership staff of the rehab center my father attended. And my degree is in English.

After examining the philosophy, education and literature of these counselors, I have concluded that they are dangerously unqualified to counsel trauma victims, addicts and the mentally ill. The leaders of the BCM are fundamentalists whose agenda is to spread their particular dogma throughout the evangelical Church through the counseling of desperate, troubled souls. In other words, their goal is not to counsel, but to indoctrinate.

What’s most disconcerting to me is that this movement is crossing denominational lines and finding its way into all kinds of churches. Its leaders are Southern Baptist, Assembly of God, Nazarene, independent and nondenominational. The BCM’s brand of biblical counseling was most likely behind the recent rape counseling scandals at Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College. And a few years ago, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary announced that it would be replacing its traditional pastoral counseling program with a program that embraces the principles of ‘biblical counseling.’

“But didn’t you say these were ‘certified counselors’?” Yes. Yes, I did. They are educated, trained and certified through organizations that the BCM’s leaders themselves created. Anyone with a few hundred dollars to spend on training materials and a willingness to sign the BCM’s doctrinal statement can be ‘certified’ to counsel in a year or less. Theoretically, a ditch digger with a GED could become a “certified biblical counselor” as long as his pastor agreed to oversee him. These certification agencies go by different names, but their origin and training materials are the same.

The certification agencies’ training manuals warn counselors to refrain from presenting themselves as having titles or qualifications that they do not possess. However, the word “certified” itself implies having received a certain level of training or qualification from a professional authority or governing body. The BCM’s certification agencies are neither. The result is that many people seeking counseling are misinformed about what they’re getting from a biblical counselor – occasionally with dire consequences. And the reason it’s permitted? Religious exemption.

You may find this information shocking, disturbing, and maybe just plain unbelievable. You may think I’m exaggerating. But over the next several weeks, I will take you through my research, detailing what the movement teaches, how it operates, who its leaders are, and how it came about. This information was not difficult to find. The BCM’s leaders are forthright about what they believe – if you know where to look.

Just to be clear, this is not a slam against faith-based counseling. Pastoral counseling has been a beautiful and integral part of the Church for hundreds of years. It should continue to be so. This movement, however, is jeopardizing traditional pastoral counseling. It encourages ignorance of trauma and its effects and, by the nature of its theology, fosters a lack of compassion among its counselors. That’s why it needs to be exposed for what it is. Stay tuned.

17 responses to “The Biblical Counseling Movement: Exposed

  1. Bless you April. There will be vehement and undoubtedly venomous pushback. After all, they killed Jesus, John the Baptizer and Paul, as well as Peter and Stephen. I will keep you in my prayers.

    I wish that I could think that this crap wasn’t pushing the idea that if women weren’t so uncooperative and knew their place “everything” would be just fine and that there really isn’t anything wrong with the men. Did anybody else get that from the graphic or just me?

    • Funny you should mention the graphic. I’m not entirely sure that the organization whose website I borrowed that from is affiliated with this particular movement. However, it is the case that the BCM promotes a very conservative brand of complementarianism in its counseling. Unfortunately, that’s just the tip of an iceberg.

      Thanks so much for your prayers, JC. They’re very appreciated.

  2. Good work on your part. Since non-judgement is so tricky to master, I would say acting with discernment in these important matters is really important. I’m a “certified” hypnotherapist and a master teacher (I teach people who go on to teach) of “A Course in Miracles”, I have been soundly demonized by traditional church people. But if we look at results…that’s a different story. Helping the healings of rape trauma, the curse of OCD, righting the relation-ship that’s sinking because of stormy battles, all of those things and more…I trust the fruit of my vines more than anything, because it’s based in an uncovering ( to dance naked before God) and healing of trauma and a restoration of clear seeing–no one can choose wisely if “reason” is not part of the equation. And once trauma is healed, reason leads us to a life that is more whole (holy). And my understanding, flawed as it may be, is that we are to be “perfect” in Christ as Jesus was/is. That would include understanding where your reactions/choices come from, so that you may give them over and to choose differently (even boldly saying, letting God chose, out of my learned choosing of submission and seeing that forgiveness is the only choice). It’s a journey, and with good/God (same root word) choices, love is the experience.

  3. I once had exactly one therapy session with a Christian counselor in private practice back in the 1980s. After our 55 minute session, I walked away clearly convinced that she was just plain nuts—and never went back. And if you doubt me, my gift of the Holy Spirit is spiritual discernment and prophecy.

    Most Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals do not understand conventional psychotherapy—and if they do—I remain convinced that they lie about it to people. One of the biggest lies I hear is that a nonChristian clinical psychologist or psychiatrist will try to destroy your Christian faith and tell you to do things that are evil to resolve your problems. Conventional psychotherapy does not work like that. Psychotherapists do not “tell you what to do.” They listen a great deal, try to identify the root cause of the problem (which often happened when you were a very small child), and help you to work through your own feelings and solutions to problems.

    In my opinion, Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical counselors are for the most part “religious nitwits” who are bathed in ignorance about the true nature of emotional problems and how to resolve them—and why should anyone be surprised. All you have to do is look at the billboards along the highways: JESUS IS THE ANSWER.

    Did your candy bar melt? Jesus is the answer. Do you have a toothache? Jesus is the answer. Is your house on fire? Jesus is the answer. Did your house just lose power? Jesus is the answer. No. The answer is a cool room, a dentist, the fire department, and the utility folks. Good grief people. Get a life!!!

    If you are having emotional problems or addiction problems, please go see a conventional clinical psychologist or psychiatrist—regardless of whether they are themselves Christians. It is not going to matter one little bit. They are compassionate people by nature, and they want to help you resolve your concerns. The only caveat I would offer here is, like with most things in life, some are better at what they do than others—just like some auto brake service people are a lot better than others. Call around, get some referrals, and find someone who is great at what they do. If you live in the Knoxville, Tennessee, area the best one is Charles S. Jones Ph.D.

  4. I suppose I am one of those “nitwits” who believes that Jesus is the answer. My wife and I went through a horrible tragedy on the mission field. One of us weathered it by running to Jesus, the other ran away from Jesus full of rage and anger. Guess which of us went over the deep end? The one who forsook God–PTSD, sickness, massive weight loss. Do you know when the anxiety, flash backs, and anger began to leave? When God gave a dream on night that pointed out sin and rebellion and that it was leading our children away from God too. No counselor, no preacher. Just a dream. The result was repentance and submission to God. Healing and rest followed.

    Look, I know one example doesn’t in anyway equate to all situations or the history behind them.
    To answer dover1952 about the melted candy bar, toothache, power outage, house fire delemas. Of course you do what is in your means. But Jesus is still the answer! He is! He is sufficient for your soul’s rest in all storms big or small.
    My perspective is this: Psychology often does a great job studying and answering question: Why we do what we do? But, the solution rarely ever includes God. Its as distant from God as secular science. Most solutions offered are most often applied within a very self-centred view.

    I once asked an ER medical doctor I know(no not a psychologist) about the suicide, depression problem. He said, generally speaking he was convinced that it was the results of being narcissistic.

    Ask a person what’s keeping them committing suicide and they will unknowingly offer a part of the solution to their problem. They will say…I’m worried about my family, my responsibilities…or I hope to do this or that.

    What is it? Hope. Specifically hope outside themselves. Something not selfish!
    Instead of : My world, my life, my way, my stuff, my dreams…etc.
    This may grate like sand paper, but I think a little push back is necessary to find balance here.
    No, not every psychological issue is a result of sin…
    Perhaps this new movement as gone to far toward judgmentalism or boxing in every situation but we ought not to throw out the baby with the bathwater here.

    What doctor worth his salt with holds the truth of a cancer diagnoses because and the reason “you smoked for 40 years and wouldn’t listen” when I said to quit. He is unworthy to be a doctor if he won’t speak because he’s scared how they will react to the terrible news.

    How many Psychologists will say, “yes you were hurt deeply, but have you forgiven? Yes your life is out of your control, But is it really your life or Gods? Or…even more “dangerously”…you are depressed because you are self-absorbed. You aren’t getting what you want from life so you’re quarreling and fighting(James 4) you’re excusing your self pity instead of calling it sin.
    God bless Christian Psychologists and counselors who risk their next paid session to call out their client on sin.

    I grew up in West Africa amongst the poorest of the poor. There is nowhere near the psychological instabilities I see here. The fatter we get in this affluent society, the more entitled we feel, the more control we take from God, the more we winge and complain. The more we soften the edges of our disobedience to God and exchange willfull sin with “I messed up, or I made a mistake” People need to own what they do and think. A mistake is spilling milk, not willfully indulging in addictive behaviors(That is holding on to idols). To be sure we all need a fix. All addictions must be replaced with one addiction and cumpulsion: Jesus Christ. Yes Jesus is the answer.

  5. I have lots to comment. First this is one reason why my state, NJ, has seriously cracked down on who can be a ” licensed professional counselor(LPC)” and thus engage with insurances. A license counselor must have at least 60 hours of academic hours from a CACREP(Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs) approved college where 45 out of 60 credits must be in at least 8 of these areas :

    Counseling Theory and Practice

    The Helping Relationship

    Human Growth and Development and Maladaptive Behavior

    Lifestyle and Career Development

    Group Dynamics, Processes, Counseling and Consulting

    Appraisal of Individuals

    Social and Cultural Foundations

    Research and Evaluations

    The Counseling Profession

    Then you need 3 years or 4,500 hours of supervised practice and then you have to pass an exam. And before you can be an LPC you must become and LAC, which is an associate counselor and that happens when you finish the degree and pass the exam. You can’t become an LPC without the supervised practice.

    It’s a bit harsh but it standardizes who can practice in NJ. So you can be a Christian counselor but you must have a scientific education from a CACREP school.

    As someone who has managed anxiety and depression for 16 years, I only believe in “Christian counseling”.Because it’s important for my caregivers to pray with me. But my caregivers must have a scientific understanding of mental illness and believe in medication where necessary. Because the true solution is part practical and it is part spiritual. My therapist has said that only Christians get far because we have hope. But we also have to exercise, get enough sleep, do things that make us happy like take a music lesson, eat well and take either psych meds or vitamins. Then there is prayer and reading the Word. Mental illness entails very comprehensive treatment. If you hurt your arm you only treat the arm. With mental illness you have to treat the mind, body, and spirit. And if any one of your treatment tools is stopped you can relapse.

    I really hope your dad can find a more comprehensive solution.

    God bless you and your family.

  6. Pingback: The Biblical Counseling Movement: Origins and Philosophy | Revolutionary Faith

  7. Christian belief underpins everything my therapist does and says. I came to him some years ago unable to function as an adult, as I suffered extreme attachment trauma as a child. He has, via the love and strength of our God, taken me further than I ever thought I could go. We don’t talk about God constantly and he doesn’t bash me with his Bible. There is no shaming, no condemnation for my failings. We talk about my childhood and my responses to it. He encourages me to find new ways of thinking, challenges me to try new ways of being, and he meets needs where he can. Sometimes I am a pest, sometimes he fails me, but forgiveness is rife. He prays with me and he tells me I am loved, by God AND him. He stretches in ways I wouldn’t think a professional would or could. I feel known and loved. Love…sometimes tough, sometimes soft.

    This type of therapy takes you further than anything secular, because it is based on something far greater than human qualification and experience. I am blessed.

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  11. Thank you for this insightful article.

    My former husband was addicted to porn, and added prescription and illicit drugs and alcohol. He was also a verbal and emotional abuser and struggled with obsessive-compulsive issues. Every Christian counselor he went to sympathetically listened to his painful history and got lost in feeling sorry for him and almost affirmed his addictions and neuroses. Repentance, prayer and Scripture were not enough. If anything, those counselors enabled him, while insisting that our toxic marriage be maintained for the glory of God. On the verge of a nervous breakdown, I finally left with our kids. Even then, the Christian counselor we saw never identified or attempted to address the abuse until I brought it to her attention. It was biblical malpractice. I believe it is widespread and, rather than breaking the bondage of sin, it contributes to the furtherance of sin in multiple generations. Tragic.

  12. Thanks for sharing this… I was one of those who had that type of council from a church…It was very harmful.Blaming me for not just getting over the trauma of my child hood and shamed that I couldnt just forgive and move on.
    Their council caused more trauma than I previously had to deal with

  13. Years and years of seeking Biblical counsel … sometimes I was uplifted but in the end the onus was placed on me to just trust God. Locally, not one church leader has wanted to get dirty and attack the sin:-( so I do not trust the ‘c’hurch and receive God’s grace via internet support groups. “Thank you, Lord.”

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