A Skeptic’s View of Counseling Part 4: Anti-psychology’s Alternative
As mentioned in a previous post, critics of psychology see it as a challenge to the sufficiency of Scripture to address the human condition in a way science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (aka STEM) are not. Why this dichotomy? In brief, STEM is a function of the Cultural (or Creation) Mandate of Genesis 1:28:
“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
Herein God gives man the charge to explore, explain, manage, harness, and modify the physical word for God’s glory and man’s good. Through human faculties inherent in man being made in imago Dei, man has developed STEM as well as the arts in order to fulfill his God-given role as a “sub-creator” a la Tolkien, thinking God’s thoughts after him and working with the stuff of creation. However, Genesis 3 goes on to tell of the Fall, due to which man, despite having the Law of God written on his heart and being ever face-to-face with a wrathful God and the reality of sin, is spiritually dead and wholly bent upon his own autonomy, having all of his faculties tainted by sin. In such a fallen world, STEM is often used as an engine of evil and cruelty, and the arts so perverted as to gleefully flip God off; German and Japanese medical experimentation on hapless prisoners, the more notorious photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe, and “Piss Christ” are handy examples. In fine, fallen man is in denial of his need of repentance and reconciliation with God, as well as the consequences of failing to show proper fealty to the King of Kings.
So where does psychology fit into this? The most basic answer is that, unlike STEM, psychology (in its clinical guise) represents the attempts of rebellious and autonomous man to define, diagnose, and rectify the problems of living in a fallen world apart from any reference to God’s own decrees regarding man’s problems and the solutions therefor; as mentioned in an earlier post, psychology is a de facto secular religion and hence in competition with the claims of Christianity. In its very vocabulary (normal vs abnormal, gender vs sex, and concepts like self-esteem, -actualization/-fulfillment) psychology norms and moralizes without any standard other than the shifting fads of politics (11), its practitioners function as a secular pastorate and, given the forensic ramifications of their diagnoses, there is no separation of Church and State. This being said, the critics rightly and well-nigh rhetorically ask of what use such a “science” can possibly be to assisting Christian brethren foundering in their lives; like Christian Science, clinical psychology is neither.
Psalm 19 starts off as a paean to creation as God’s handiwork, illustrating the concept of general revelation which is reechoed in Romans 1:19f. However, the Psalm breaks at v 7, in which the perfection and uses of God’s Law (aka “special revelation”) as the source of all wisdom and perfection. Along with 2 Tim 3:16 and other verses, it is clear that the faithful Christian looks to Scripture alone as the source for not only norms, but even of a method for living a life to God’s glory and true fulfillment.
So what does this look like in practice? There are two schools of counseling which claim to meet the test of Christian orthodoxy: nouthetic, as founded by the aforementioned Rev JE Adams, and its offshoot, Biblical, an example of which is the aforementioned CCEF at Westminster Theological Seminary. The differences between the two schools are more on matters of emphasis than commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture; according to Dr Heath Lambert, an assistant professor of Biblical counseling at Boyce College and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:
“There are no massive fault lines in the movement between ‘biblical’ and ‘nouthetic’ labels. Regardless of the name a person uses, the people in the movement are committed to using the Scriptures as the source of wisdom that drives the change process in conversational ministry (12).”
Looking at nouthetic counseling as prototypical, how does this all play out? Per nouthetic counselor Rev Craig Day:
“The counseling term ‘Nouthetic’ is from the NT Greek word noutheteō (νουθετέω), which can be translated as ‘admonish,’ ‘warn,’ ‘correct,’ ‘exhort,’or ‘instruct’ from the Bible as used in Colossians 1:28 ‘We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ (13).”
Rev Day goes on to define the essential points of nouthetic counseling:
“1. God is at the center of counseling.
“2. Commitment to God has epistemological consequences.
“3. Sin, in all its dimensions is the primary problem counselors must deal with.
“4. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer.
“5. The change process counseling must aim at is progressive sanctification.
“6. The situational difficulties people face are not the random cause of problems in living.
“7. Counseling is fundamentally a pastoral activity and must be church-based (14).”
The root problem according to this method is sin, either as specific sins or general sinfulness, resulting in negative life consequences, reactions, and relationships. Rev Day proceeds:
“Sin, in all its dimensions (e.g., both motive and behavior; both the sins we do and the sins done against us; both the consequences of personal sin and the consequences of Adam’s sin) is the primary problem counselors must deal with. Sin includes wrong behavior, distorted thinking, an orientation to follow personal desires, and bad attitudes. Sin is habitual and deceptive, and much of the difficulty of counseling consists in bringing specific sin to awareness and breaking its hold. The problems in living that necessitate counseling are not matters of unmet psychological needs, indwelling demons of sin, poor socialization, inborn temperament, genetic predisposition, or anything else that removes attention from the responsible human being. The problem in believers is remnant sin; the problem in unbelievers is reigning sin. Sin is the problem (15).”
The goal of counseling, then, is the identifying and resolution of the sinful attitudes and behaviors resulting in the counselee’s predicament(s), and so guiding him to use the means of grace to become more mature and useful in the Christian life, solving the particular problem(s) at hand in a manner glorifying to God and hence ultimately for the counselee’s good. This may involve having to confront in love a counselee’s excuses, blame-shifting, and an host of other sinful and maladaptive attitudes and behaviors in order to effect such change. There will be no references to the diagnoses found in DSM-V, but rather to Scripture as understood from the perspective of creedal Protestantism.
Integrationists – those who combine Scripture with psychology- beg to differ with the above assessment of both their endeavors as well as that of the Biblical counselors; the next post will outline the integrationist position.
NB: special thanks to Rev Craig Day of Caleb Counseling in Charlotte, NC for his review and assistance.
(11) “Under an extremely insensitive and inaccurate headline, ‘Redefining Crazy: Changes to the Bible of Psychiatric Disorders,’ TIME.com reported:
“’What will not be added to the DSM is hypersexual disorder—sex addiction—even though many APA members argued for its inclusion. According to one member of the APA’s Board of Trustees, ‘the evidence just wasn’t there.’ Other mental-health professionals note that the DSM is subject to political influence. ‘This is a huge money-maker for the American Psychiatric Association,’ says Marsha Linehan, a University of Washington professor and a leading expert on personality disorders. In short, the approval this weekend of DSM-5 ends years of editing but begins years of debate.” Republished in http://www.healthnewsreview.org/2012/12/critic-calls-american-psychiatric-assoc-approval-of-dsm-v-a-sad-day-for-psychiatry/