A Skeptic’s View of Counseling Part 2: Rationale and Controversy
A Skeptic’s View of Christian Counseling Part 2: Rationale
Why does anybody go for counseling? The whole concept behind counseling is that the counselee is experiencing problems of living and needs expert advice wisely applied in order to alleviate suffering and to more competently navigate the seas of existence. Most often, the counselee seeks this help on his own initiative. With some problematic behaviors like juvenile delinquency, violence, or substance abuse, the counseling may be a court-ordered alternative to incarceration, or part of an inmate’s program of “correction.”
Seeking the help of a counselor/mental health professional is very different to seeking medical help, in that the former constitutes an admission of personal weakness cum inability to handle one’s own problems, for which society stigmatizes such people with pejoratives, indelible psychiatric diagnoses, and other forms of social opprobrium. Furthermore, the counselee must confess his weaknesses and failings while exposing his innermost thoughts to the examination of another. This is a much more invasive procedure than a physician’s internal exam, as the mind constitutes an even more personal space than wherever a doctor may insert his fingers or instruments. Thus, seeking counseling is a risky business for any perspective client.
For the serious Christian, counseling poses another set of problems on top of the above, namely, it is a direct challenge to Christian truth claims. Scriptural claims that believers are in-dwelt by the Holy Ghost, that the Scriptures are sufficient to guide the faithful in all of life, that God provides “means of grace” for believers (ie Word and Sacrament per Lutherans; Word, Sacrament, Prayer, +/- Church Discipline per Reformed); and countless encomia to take one’s self in hand and rejoice amidst trials of life (eg Psalm 42). Furthermore, appearing helpless before a non-Christian counselor, however sympathetic he may seem, is widely believed to be a poor witness for Christ; there is some truth in this contention. For these reasons many Christians prefer to be counseled by fellow believers who shares their worldview.
As easy a solution as seeing a Christian counselor would appear to be, this solution is fraught with difficulty. For instance, what exactly is a Christian counselor: a Christian who happens to counsel; a Christian who combines a counseling background with some Christian theology mixed in; or a Christian whose counseling is (allegedly) based in sound theology? Let’s make it even more confusing by asking if there really is such a thing as a Christian counseling distinct from its secular counterpart, not just in its behavioral and attitudinal goals, but in its methodology. Since the first type of Christian counselor makes no claim to be anything different to his secular colleagues, I will not discuss him.
The second fellow, who amalgamates secular counseling with the teachings of Scripture, defends his practice by appealing to common grace, the chestnut that “all truth is God’s truth” and the claim of spoiling the Egyptians a la Exodus 11:2-3 such that secular methods are indeed compatible with Scripture; and that he is able to differentiate between sacred carp and secular bones – “the best ensue, the worst eschew.” Per Christian counselor Patrick Yates,
” Christian Counseling combines modern methods of counseling with Scriptural principles, using Biblical Truths as the reference point for integration. In this model of therapy neither the Scriptures, nor modern counseling technique is ignored, instead, the counselor seeks the best possible means to address the issues with which clients struggle, and since God has invited his people to ask for wisdom, the counselor maintains a prayerful attitude, seeking God’s guidance as the counseling moves forward. (1)”
Compare the above with the following quote from Dr Ed Welch of the Christian Counseling Educational Foundation (CCEF):
“Biblical counseling is a hybrid of discipleship and biblical friendship, neither of which can be mistaken for a passing fad. “God has spoken” is the driving principle of biblical counseling. Scripture speaks with great breadth, to all the common problems we all encounter, from loneliness to schizophrenia. God speaks with great depth, getting to the very heart of problems. Scripture indicates that all life is lived before the face of God, “that all life’s problems are ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ (2)”
Herein lies the difference between the second (aka “Christian counselor” or CC) and third type of counselor (aka “Biblical counselor” or BC) in that the former consciously albeit selectively borrows from secular counseling, while the latter appeals only to Scripture (the validity of this claim will be examined later). Both positions claim fidelity to Scripture, but the former position is analogous to the Roman Catholic partim-partim view (ie the truth is found partly in Scripture and partly in psychology) while the latter asserts the Protestant position of the formal sufficiency of Scripture (ie all that is necessary to counsel in a Christian manner is found in Scripture)…or so it may seem. Herein, too, is the major contention in Christian counseling, viz, reliance on the presuppositions, conclusions, and techniques of modern psychology, in kind versus degree.
The reason for this controversy may be appear obscure, nit-picky, or even entirely overblown. After all, psychology is universally recognized as a scientific field with clinical application like medicine; it is also taught in many if not most conservative Christian colleges and universities. There are many Christians in the field as both researchers and clinicians, and such folk are providing aid and comfort to both Christian and unbelieving sufferers in accordance with Christ’s command to show love to one’s neighbor. One does not take umbrage at surgeons using techniques developed by non-Christians, and even the most cretinous anti-Semite in Christendom would not refuse a polio vaccine because its inventor was a Jew. Even big names in Evangelicalism tout the usefulness of psychology, so why the fuss? This will be the topic of my next post.