A Skeptic’s View of Counseling Part 5: The Integrationists
Integrationists – those counselors who combine the teachings of Scripture with the doctrines and practices of secular psychology (albeit reinterpreted and filtered through a Christian grid) – take strong exception to bring caricatured as amalgamators and “psychoheretics.” Indeed:
“So-called psychoheretics—those who believe that Scripture does not intend to be sufficient for generating a comprehensive counseling model— do see an essential role for the secular psychologies. Psychological disciplines offer some sort of necessary truth; psychological professions offer some sort of necessary and valid practice. But the so-called psychoheretics still claim that the Bible must provide the final authority. That Scripture is not sufficient does not mean the Bible is irrelevant or that it ought to be subordinated to secular psychologies, but that the Bible itself mandates looking and learning from outside. The Bible itself resists biblicism (16).”
Biblicism is the primary counter-charge of the integrationists against the Biblical counseling movement. The problem is in defining what is meant by biblicism. Integrationist counselor Robin Phillips defines it thusly:
“To put it simply, Biblicism is an approach to scripture which emphasizes the Bible’s complete clarity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning and, above all, its direct applicability of the Bible to every department of human life (17).”
However, the OED simply defines biblicism as “Adherence to the letter of the Bible,” which could make a conservative Evangelical like Dr Phillips a biblicist as well, depending upon the hermeneutic of the accuser. Since Dr Adams adheres to the Westminster Confession of Faith, which does not teach that the Bible is completely and entirely perspicuous – and, in fact, teaches the opposite (18) – Dr Phillips’ objection comes off as self-defeating.
Phillips’ reasoning also conflicts with what Scripture says about itself vis-a-vis its applicability to all of life (eg 2 Tim 3:16-17, Ps 19, Ps 119); moreover, in his article quoted above he fails to demonstrate both how Scripture is deficient for counseling, and what secular psychology brings to the table that complements Scripture. The lack of example and evidence reduces his claim to mere assertion. Even Phillips’ example of the neurophysiologic basis for the subconscious is unhelpful to his argument, as subconscious thought is one thing, while the clinical practice of interpreting dreams is something else entirely, and not necessarily validated by neurophysiology. Thus the relevance of Dr Phillips’ observation to the issue of counseling is questionable.
Exculpation and fostering of a victim mentality is a charge frequently brought against clinical psychology, and not only by conservative Christians. Dr Phillips stated:
“It is also a caricature of modern psychology to imply that the discipline does not encourage people to take responsibility for their problems. This caricature often arises out of the idea that to diagnose problems as being symptoms of childhood trauma or victimization is to relieve the agent of responsibility. However, these two things need not be interconnected and often are not. While I am certainly not an expert on this subject, in my experience undergoing sessions of psychotherapy in England, talking with others who have undergone similar processes, and reading bestselling pop psychologists like Scot Peck, Norman Doidge and others, I have never come across someone urging a patient to identify as a victim in order to stay there and never move on, nor someone encouraging the agent to abrogate responsibility(19).”
On the contrary, SL Halleck, MD, a psychiatrist, wrote in the Marquette Law Review:
“…the psychiatrist has no scientific guidelines to help him determine who to excuse (for criminal behavior)…The assignment of personal responsibility is more correctly based on philosophical or moral rather than scientific considerations…As a scientist the psychiatrist may be a hard determinist but in his day to day practice he knows that if he is ever going to help people overcome their difficulties he must constantly implore them to assume responsibility for their actions…This is true even when the patient is considered to be mentally ill and even when his behavior is believed to be unconsciously determined. It is only when the psychiatrist enters the courtroom that he is asked questions which tempt him to forget his own teaching.
“What seems to happen in the criminal insanity trial is that psychiatrists of different value orientations examine the same patient and agree about psychiatric questions but disagree about moral questions…When they are asked to comment upon the question of the offender’s responsibility for his behavior, however, psychiatrists answer this question in terms of their… own belief systems…
“To excuse a criminal offender the psychiatrist must somehow find a way of relating the highly arbitrary concept of mental illness to the philosophical concept of responsibility. The legal rules which are supposed to guide the psychiatrist to a rational definition of this relationship are based on a presumption that mental illness is a clearly definable entity. I and many other psychiatrists have repeatedly emphasized that it is not…
“When a psychiatrist testifies in a criminal insanity proceeding he must either deceive himself or he must deceive others…Many (forensic psychiatrists) believe that mental illness is an affliction and have convinced themselves that their expertise in human behavior enables them to determine at precisely what point one is ill enough to be non-responsible. Other psychiatrists know better…(20).”
For example, in 2011 Toronto resident Richard Kachkar deliberately drove a stolen snow plow into police Sgt Ryan Russell, killing him. The defense attorneys entered a plea of insanity, yet
“The three psychiatrists, including Dr. Philip Klassen who was hired by prosecutors but testified for the defence, all acknowledged there were hard-to-explain aspects of Mr. Kachkar’s behaviour and presentation.
“For one thing, his purported psychosis at the time in question resolved unusually quickly afterwards, and without the help of any anti-psychotic medication.
“A series of other doctors, who saw him either in hospital (only after Sgt. Russell was struck and killed and Mr. Kachkar was shot were police able to stop his rampage throughout the city) or in jail, saw no symptoms of psychosis.
“For another, the lack of memory Mr. Kachkar claimed about the incident itself was atypical, and at least one psychiatrist suspected he may have been exaggerating it (21).”
So much for objective science, yet the appeal to such continues in Dr Phillips’ “spoiling the Egyptians” argument:
“Let’s make this practical and see only one of the many ways that attentiveness to the indirect teaching of scripture can help validate psychology. Since the Bible teaches the existence of an objective world that operates according to fixed laws that are knowable (Gen 1-2), it indirectly endorses the entire project of observing how the world works, including observations which assist us in understanding how the human brain and human behavior operate. Such scientific inquiry should rightly be perceived as an extension of the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28. If a biologist observes how biological organisms work so as to assist gardeners, or if a psychologist observes how people operate in order to better help counselors, they are both working under the umbrella of the Genesis creation account (22).”
As mentioned in a previous post, this works for STEM but not for ideologically-driven fields like clinical psychology which teach theories and canons of human behavior at variance with Scripture, and that on very shaky empirical grounds (23). Thus, since clinical psychology is not a science like botany or agricultural science is, and conflicts with Scripture, it cannot fall under the Dominion (Creation) Mandate.
On a more ecclesial note, Phillips proffers the “heads I win, tails you lose” argument:
“…Jay Adams explicitly urges counselors not work with anyone who does not want to be helped…The Nouthetic model kicks in after the Prodigal son has returned and wants help, but is useless in helping a counselor know how to pursue someone who is in such rebellion that moral confrontation may simply drive the person further away. The Nouthetic model looks at a person in such a situation and puts the onus entirely on him or her to return and seek help, thus denying the numerous times in scripture where the Lord proactively pursues His lost sheep Luke 15:3–7 or in the prophetic corpus where the Lord goes after His wayward people Israel to bring them back.
“The Nouthetic model thus sits comfortably with a type of Calvinist mentality which rests confident in the knowledge that since God is going to make sure the elect get saved and the wicked get punished, all we have to do is maintain the integrity of the body by putting sinners out of it, and God will bring the sinner back if he wishes. Since God is in charge, we don’t have to concern ourselves with doing everything we can on our end to help the struggling sinner. The speed with which the Nouthetic model moves to church discipline, its lack of concern for finding creative ways to help a sinner who is unrepentant, and its opposition to trying to help a person who does not explicitly desire such help, all fit comfortably within this hyper-Calvinist framework.
“Pastors whose thinking has been tinctured by this paradigm, suddenly find themselves in a win-win situation. If a struggling sinner is put under church discipline or excommunicated, the sinner is either part of the elect or not. If he is not, then the discipline will inevitably drive the sinner further away and the church will be purified (that is, the visible church will be brought more into alignment with the invisible). But if the sinner is not part of the elect, then the discipline will cause him to come back as surely as the prodigal son came back. In both cases, struggling to understand any psychological issues the sinner may be struggling with so as to better help him, is at best irrelevant and at worst a dangerous distraction (24).”
The problems with this seductive argument start with a fundamental misunderstanding of Calvinism – which is always a controversial subject – in confusing Calvinism with hyper-Calvinism. This is just plain sloppy polemics. Secondly, there is nothing inherent in Calvinism to produce such ecclesial behavior; indeed, I am personally aware of non-Calvinistic counseling situations in which parishioners were shafted by counselors and churches, and other examples could easily be found on the internet. Thirdly, since integrationists are so enamored with medical models, consider the diabetic who smokes like a chimney, drinks like a fish, eats like a pig, and lies like a potato: physicians have scores of such patients, and could tell you just how hard it really is to motivate someone with no perceived responsibility for his own health cum accountability for his noncompliance; ie just how hard it is to help someone who does not wish to be helped. There comes a point where any further attempts to cajole such a person into a therapeutic alliance is nought but casting pearls before swine and answering fools according to their folly – two things Scripture enjoins against. Fourthly, such pursuit means that someone who wishes to be helped may not have ready access to a counselor’s service, as we all have limited time and other resources; endlessly pursuing the militantly disinterested suggests a counselor with messianic pretensions. Finally, there is a conflict of interest in that pursuit of the recalcitrant Christian by a professional counselor charging an hourly fee therefor smacks of mercenary intent, which clearly conflicts with the Seventh (Eighth) Commandment. It is an entirely different issue when a minister, church officer, or church member engages in such on his own time and dime; even then, resources are limited and other demands on such must be met.
The above does not mean to suggests that the integrationists have no substantial arguments against the Biblical counselors; this will be fleshed out in the next post.
(18) Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 1: Of the Holy Scripture: “VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”
(23) the volume of literature decrying the sheer politics masquerading as science behind the DSM-5 bears this out.