Final Thoughts on the Biblical Counseling Movement

My series on biblical counseling is finally at an end. There is so much more I could have written. But, hopefully, the material I have published over these seven posts has been sufficient to show that the Biblical Counseling Movement is not only unbiblical, it is outright damaging to people seeking healing and guidance through trauma and mental illness.

In summation:

– The vast majority of biblical counseling taking place in today’s churches is based on the nouthetic counseling paradigm established by Jay E. Adams and expanded by David Powlison and the CCEF. Nearly all biblical counseling programs, books and certification agencies can be traced back to Adams, Powlison and CCEF.

– The movement operates according to extreme anti-psychiatry theories from 40 years ago, many of which have since been disproven by medical science.

– BCM leaders claim to embrace medical science, but only accepts research and theories that affirm the BCM’s view of mental illness. Often, leaders misrepresent such findings to make them “say” what they want them to say. Current research related to emotional trauma and chemical imbalances has been systematically ignored by the movement.

– The BCM discourages their counselors from receiving a comprehensive education in psychology and professional counseling, believing that such instruction would lead them to take an “integrationist” approach to counseling. Many of the schools offering biblical counseling degrees are unaccredited, and the majority of the faculty teaching biblical counseling courses are likewise under-educated.

– The BCM’s certification agencies have no discernible code of ethics that counselors are required to sign, nor a list of zero-tolerance offenses that would result in automatic termination of a counselor’s certification.

– Confidentiality in biblical counseling is not guaranteed. Counselors are allowed to share session notes with a counselee’s pastor or church leaders in the guise of “seeking support” for the counselee’s “wellbeing.”

– The BCM teaches that bad feelings are the result of sin in the counselee’s life. Mental illness is classified as a “flight from responsibility.” Abuse victims are often told that their feelings of fear, anger and sadness are “sinful” and are admonished to develop “a godly response.”

– The BCM views psychiatric medication as either placebos or mind-altering substances. No matter how disturbed a counselee might be, a biblical counselor, as part of their certification agreement, would never refer him or her to a psychiatrist.

– Biblical counseling is based on an extreme theology that minimizes the redemption of Christ. Multiple voices, including those from the Reformed tradition, have begun speaking out against Adam’s biblical counseling as an unbiblical, works-based paradigm.

Christian vs. Biblical Counseling and Other Notes

Not all Christian counselors are biblical counselors. There are many Christian counselors out there who are compassionate, state-licensed and educated in modern counseling theory. The key to finding a competent counselor is to research the counselor’s credentials and areas of expertise. Faith-based counseling, when it points to the hope and grace we have in Christ, can be incredibly healing. As my therapist has occasionally stated, “God is often the most underutilized resource in the counseling room.”

I also want to state that there is a place for confrontational counseling, and some people have found it very helpful. I am not opposed to the confrontational approach; it is definitely called for in some cases. However, to say that confrontation is appropriate in all counseling situations is, quite frankly, absurd and juvenile. It denies the reality of a God who interacts with humanity in a variety of ways: compassion for the broken-hearted, forgiveness for the repentant, wrath for the oppressor.

I believe faith-based counseling offers a kind of hope that other methods of counseling lack – a hope that is found in Christ alone. However, when counselees are led to believe that every negative emotion they feel is sinful, that God stands ready to condemn them, and that nothing they do will ever result in His full acceptance, it fosters a state of hopelessness and despair. Counselees need to know that their identity is in Christ – in that Christ identifies with them – and so they are, through redemption, now holy and pure and accepted. Anything less than this is a false gospel.

A Call to Action

I call upon the leaders of the BCM to hear the cries of the broken. To reevaluate their counseling method in the spirit of Christ and the holy scriptures. To rectify the weaknesses in biblical counseling by adopting a clear code of ethics and a formal process of discipline for certified counselors. To require an accredited education for their counselors, including instruction in abuse and trauma. I call upon pastors, teachers and lay people to speak up on this issue. Be alert and diligent. Don’t just accept a counseling book or program at your church because of the name on the cover. Be like the noble Bereans Paul mentioned in the Book of Acts. Evaluate the material in light of the scriptures.

Further Resources

If you want to read more about the BCM from a critical perspective, I recommend the following resources:

The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care. A recently published book by Dr. John Weaver, who experienced the drawbacks of biblical counseling firsthand.

– “The Rise of Biblical Counseling.” An extensive article by Kathryn Joyce at the online Pacific Standard Magazine.

– “Rubbish #12: Nouthetic Counseling” by Dr. Charles Parker, a Reformed Baptist. Dr. Parker will also provide his essays and pamphlets on biblical counseling to those who are interested. You can find his current blog here.

– “Intro to Nouthetic (Biblical) Counseling and Its Founder, Dr. Jay E. Adams” by the Wartburg Watch. The writers at the Wartburg Watch are planning to explore the BCM further on their blog this year.

– “Is Nouthetic Counseling Appropriate for Victims of Abuse and PTSD?” on A Cry for Justice blog. The blog has several other (fantastic) articles on biblical counseling as well, including one that evaluates CCEF’s new course on abusive marriages. I offer my special thanks to Barbara Roberts, who sent me resources to aid my research on this series.

Thanks, also, to all the readers who encouraged and shared this series. Bless you.

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5 responses to “Final Thoughts on the Biblical Counseling Movement

  1. April may object, but I would kindly add a few other things to her list:

    1) As is the case with any home repair person or any licensed professional, some clinical psychologists and psychiatrists do better quality work than others. Not everyone is a Michael Jordan or LeBron James at what they do. Shop around carefully and find out who is really good.

    2) Avoid going to any Christian psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, or counselor that is a member of a Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical church such as an Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Church or a conservative Southern Baptist Convention Church. If you feel as if your emotional life is so bad that you are soaked in gasoline, this person is the match that will burn you alive just like that Jordanian Air Force Pilot.

    3) You may need help finding help. There is a rather severe nationwide shortage of psychologists, clinical psychologists, and emotional counselors. In my area (Knoxville, TN), almost none of them are taking new patients—because of the shortage of practitioners, and I am told that it is that way nationwide—pretty much. You may have to work with your medical doctor or a close friend to get in to see someone. I am not talking about the level of difficulty you experience in booking an appointment with your medical doctor (“I can see you in 3 weeks.”) The shortage is, “I am so sorry, Dr. Smith is not taking any new patients at all—no exceptions.)

    4) Many nonChristian psychologists, clinical psychologists, and emotional counselors do an excellent job and will respect your faith in the process. Do not pass up competent care that is hard to find just because a cross is not painted on the office door. Jesus can use anyone to help you, just as he used the ancient Persian pagans to protect Israel.

    5) Do not give up hope. Healing is out there, and it WILL all get better. I have seen some dark, lonely, and fearful valleys where things seemed hopeless—but they all got much, much, much better.

    6) God bless you for writing this series April. In my opinion, your analyses were right on target. This needed to be done. I hope you will try to make your findings more widely available. Blogs reach a limited number of people. For example, mine gets about 5,000 views per year. You need to get this out to millions of people through a wider media outlet. Thank you!!!

  2. Isn’t the idea of religion addressing mental illness kind of an oxymoron, considering that to many people “God” is basically a paranoid delusion? I believe in philosophy, but I don’t believe there’s a conscious “Being” hovering over everyone at all times. A belief like that is part of the reason I used to have so much anxiety as a Christian, thinking that if I made one little mistake or didn’t pray hard enough I would be doomed.

    My current philosophy is based around the principle of survival. I think if you satisfy a person’s physical and emotional needs, he/she will be happy. (To “sin” is to ignore those needs.) The additional challenge is balancing the needs of one person against the needs of another person when there is a conflict.