Same Facts, Different Worldview

Just a few days removed from the Ken Ham – Bill Nye debate Heath Lambert discusses the similarities between evolutionists and creationists and the different approaches to counseling.

Heath Lambert: 

“Counseling approaches taking their cues from secular psychology accuse those of us in biblical counseling of rejecting science. Just like evolutionists in the origins debate, however, such accusations miss the point. I know of no single biblical counselor who rejects the observations of secular psychiatry. Biblical counselors embrace the same facts as secular counselors, integrationists, and Christian psychologists. Biblical counselors are not distinct from these other approaches in their embrace of the facts but in their approach to and understanding of these facts.”

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The Advantages of Counseling Within the Local Church

While the church has retreated in the past from doing the hard work of counseling there has recently been a resurgence of church-based counseling ministries that have proven to be effective and biblically faithful towards addressing the problems, issues, and troubles that many people face today. David Powlison and Deepak Reju have listed some of the advantages of counseling within the local church. Click on the links below to read more on each point.

David Powlison:

Can local churches become a natural home for counseling ministry? Often the limitations or failures of the church get cited first, making it seem that church is at best an adjunct to “the real work of counseling.” But, in principle, the local church is the natural home for face-to-face ministry. Counseling can and should thrive in local churches. Here are five of the numerous advantages to counseling being localized in the church

  1. First, a wise pastor (or friend, elder, small group leader, mentor, etc.) has many advantages over the secular paradigm of the office-bound counselor. In your own church you know people. You have seen them in action. Perhaps you know their parents and friends…  In contrast, office-bound counseling is structurally passive, always only on the receiving end of inquiry or referral. There is an active, outreaching quality to counseling ministry when we conceptualize it in the church.
  2. Here is a second advantage. It is a premise of biblical counseling that people are not just “problems.” They are not defined by a “diagnosis.” People come with gifts and callings—from God himself. They have a new identity—in Christ. All of us are given a role to play in the greater whole: regardless of physical or mental abilities, or education, or age, or any of the other human differences.
  3. Here is a third advantage. Anyone can help anyone else. God delights in apparent role-reversals. Counseling in a church context is far richer than “designated expert” meets with “needy client.”
  4. Here is a fourth advantage. You have freedom to be completely open about the life-rearranging significance of God’s gift of himself, and you can participate together in his gifts of Scripture, worship, prayer, sacraments, and bearing one another’s burdens. The means of grace come naturally in a church context.
  5. Here is a fifth advantage. It is natural to talk about the Big Questions, as well as the practicalities of problem-solving or the process of coming to truer self-understanding. You can ask pointed existential questions. “What are you living for?” “Where are you placing the weight of your identity?” “How do you deal with your inner contradictions—the tension between the good and the bad in each of us?” You can help a person face mortality, and the reality that so many things let us down in the end. “Are you spending your life longing for things that will finally end up disappointing you, that will leave you with nothing but regrets and losses?” The church is uniquely equipped to ask, to talk about, and to offer real answers to the biggest questions.

Deepak Reju:

  1. Church-based counseling places the counseling process into the context of leaders and people who are already responsible before God to watch over your soul. If you have a choice between (i) seeing someone who knows nothing about you and has no obligation to you outside of counseling or (ii) seeing someone who will give an account to God for how well he has watched over your soul (e.g. Heb. 13:17), who would you choose?
  2. Church-based counseling reaffirms our commitment to build one another up in the faith (Eph. 4:11-13). In counseling, there is always a temptation to treat people like problems that need to be solved. On the other hand, counseling within the church clearly fits into a local church’s overall project of helping one another grow to maturity in Christ.
  3. Church-based counseling is a natural extension of our covenant with one another as members of the same church. When a church member sees a counselor in his church, he is meeting with someone who has already made a commitment to do him spiritual good.
  4. Church-based counseling can connect people to others who can help bear their burdens. It also allows for a team of wise counselors to speak into a person’s life, rather than just one (Prov. 11:14, 21:26).
  5. Church-based counseling allows the counselor to live as a Christ-like example inside and outside the counseling setting. It shows the counselee that the counselor doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk.

Christ’s Suffering in Christian Psychotherapy

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, Giambattista Tiepolo 1750

Dr. Eric Johnson discusses the role of Christ’s suffering in Christian psychotherapy and its distinction from modern psychotherapy. Johnson considers Christ’s life from the Garden of Gethsemane to the cross and it’s therapeutic significance on man.

Johnson:

Christian psychotherapists agree with modern psychotherapists that the empirical investigation of human beings is an extremely important way to gain information about human beings that can be helpful for therapy. One way, however, that Christian psychotherapy differs considerably from modern psychotherapy is in the preeminence given to Jesus Christ. For Christian psychotherapists, Jesus Christ has to play a significant role in our psychotherapy, mainly because he is the best example of a human being there is or ever will be. Therefore, from a Christian standpoint, studying him as he is presented in the gospels and the rest of Scripture is essential for obtaining the best understanding of human life we can. It goes without saying that modern psychotherapists will find this focus on Christ to be fanciful and unscientific. But Christian psychotherapists must allow their psychotherapy to be shaped by therapeutic and scientific values that flow from Scripture, a Christian worldview, and a Christian understanding of reality, and not allow it to be constrained—particularly with regard to Christ—by the therapeutic and scientific values of the secular psychotherapy community, as good as they may be in other respects. So, today I would like to think about the suffering that Christ went through in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross to see what we can learn that might be relevant for Christian psychotherapy and counseling.

Read the rest here

Secular Psychology, Christian Psychology, and Christian Counseling

The route towards a distinctively Christian approach to counseling is still in its development. Sam Williams points out that Christian counseling has been negatively characterized by four features: 1) Modern 2) Correlationist 3) Pragmatic 4) Fractiousnes/party spirit:

Modern, in that it has granted science (esp. the empirical and secular, logically positivistic version) epistemic and functional parity with theistic revelation.  Eric Johnson issued a wake up call in his new book, Foundations for Soul Care (2007) “whether entirely aware of it or not, the Christian psychological community is in the midst of something of an epistemological and soul-care crisis, given the fact that the vast majority of the best psychology literature of the last 125 years has been composed by secularists who do psychology from within a decidedly different disciplinary matrix and edification framework.”

Correlationist, in that secular questions and categories have set the stage and provided the main cues for our recent development and as a result there has been much parroting of secular methodologies (junior versions of their counseling models and psychotherapies) and secular institutions (training programs and licensing/certifying procedures).

Pragmatic, in that our attention to the practical elements in counseling has superseded our theoretical and conceptual development.  At the street level in CC there is a good deal of naïve integration-ism (no model or method, except that the practitioner and professor simply does what is right in their own eyes; a kind of epistemic/methodological anarchy); and naïve nouthetic counseling (in that common/creation grace has been at least neglected and at worst denigrated).   Caveat: this does not mean that good Christian hearts and real help have been  absent in these circles.

Fractiousness/party spirit, in that the counseling wars within the Kingdom were, for a couple of decades anyway, quite distracting and surely polarizing.  While there has been some iron sharpening, at this point my perception is that the warriors have become tired of the battle and that we, maybe even more than those who have watched the battle from the sidelines, would be glad if we never heard again the old battle cries: “All Truth Is God’s Truth!” or “Scripture is Sufficient!”

In this article Dr. Williams presents a proposal for moving towards a more biblically faithful approach to teaching a distinctively Christian counseling. Although Dr. Williams is focused more on formal institutions the implications for the church certainly apply here. In an excerpt regarding the church’s role in Christian counseling he writes:

“Christian Psychology refuses to perpetuate the 20th C. myth of American individualism that renders people functionally autistic.

We must conscientiously and intentionally work against this trend (torrent?), realizing that we live in a sub-biblical culture that declares the individual radically autonomous and even sovereign over the community.

Apart from the body of Christ, lasting and meaningful change is short-circuited and Christian maturity is impossible.  Christian growth, spiritual formation and flourishing are a community project.

Scripture leaves no doubt that the church is to be our first-family, not second or third in our list of loyalties.  Early Christians were aware that a decision to follow Christ meant in addition a decision to make the church the center of their social world, at any cost, even “mother, father, sister, brother.”

So, Christian counselors in training must develop a loyalty to the church and a humble recognition of their own limitations.  The biblical plan for change is bigger and broader than the secular model, which sees change either as a personal self-help project or as just you and me meeting in my office for 1-2 hours per week.  The full incarnational reality of the body of Christ cannot be experienced in your own home or in a counselor’s office.

One of the edifying functions of the church is to be God’s community mental health center – an edification framework of sorts – an authentic and genuine family in which humility about who we really are and courage in facing life and self and sin and suffering are central virtues.”

Dr. Williams post is an important and needed contribution to the discussion of biblical counseling and how we should move forward towards equipping others. Below is a summary and the learning objectives of his article. Click here to read the rest of the article.

This presentation proposes that our peculiarly Christian mega-narrative subverts the foundational narratives and metaphysical, epistemological, and anthropological presuppositions of the secular psychologies, rather than offering up junior versions of their systems.  This presentation will propose three pedagogical/methodological priorities for teaching distinctively Christian counseling.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Clarify the distinctiveness of Christian counseling and establish its relationship to secular psychology, Christian psychology, and historic orthodox Christianity.
  2. Understand the importance of pedagogical priorities in the teaching of distinctively Christian counseling and interact with the presenter’s proposal of three pedagogical/methodological priorities.
  3. Identify some of the most essential distinguishing characteristics of distinctively Christian counseling.

Piper on the Goal of Biblical Counseling

“All counseling issues involve the exaltation or the denigration of Jesus Christ. Either our attitudes and feelings and behaviors are making much or making little of Christ. We were created to make much of Christ. There is no true success in counseling if a person becomes socially functional without conscious dependence on and delight in Jesus Christ. This is the means and goal of all health.” -John Piper, Toward a Definition of the Essence of Biblical Counseling

The Power of Empathy

Empathy is one of the most effective ways to help people on their journey towards growth and healing. The ability to empathize has been a benefit in my own personal experiences with counselees as well as what keeps me going to certain people in my need for guidance and counsel. Whether you are a counselor, parent, or friend your ability to empathize in your relationships will help you to become a more effective instrument for God.  Below is an illustrated excerpt from Dr. Brene Brown’s talk on “The Power of Vulnerability“.

A Christian Anthropological Template for Counseling

It is important for biblical counselors to seek an accurate and biblically faithful view of the nature of man in order to wisely discern the best course of care and intervention that is in line with the teachings of scripture. Dr. Carlos Fayard presents a helpful Christian anthropological template for counselors and therapists to consider.

1.  Humans are created by God as an integrated and inseparable whole that includes physical, psychological, spiritual, relational and social dimensions. No client comes to us in a compartmentalized way. Our assessment and interventions should keep an eye to the contributions made by each dimension.

2.  The spiritual dimension is a core and inseparable component of being human. In other words, we are created to respond to God and to experience spiritual stirrings because it is inherent to being human. In practical terms, a Christian client may utilize a religious language to describe issues of self-identify, but may be worshiping something entirely secular, such as devotion to career as manifested by the focus of his or her energy. The focus of clinical attention is primarily on what or who is the focus of true worship without losing sight of the narrative that is meaningful to the client. A non-religious client likewise will be worshiping something, whatever that may be, and that, I believe, is an indication of spiritual vital signs that need to be attended to while respecting the narrative that is meaningful to the client.

3.  Humans are created as relational beings, and love is crucial in organizing psychological experience. Tracking the vicissitudes of love, the bonds formed, threatened and lost will likely be crucial to understanding our clients. Understanding, facilitating or healing (as when the client is in the middle of a spiritual struggle) a loving relationship with God is very important as well.

4.  Scriptures are clear in identifying that humans are created within a moral environment, and that there are values that promote well-being (for instance, the fruit of the Spirit), and values that provide healthy boundaries (for instance, the Decalogue). Clinicians need not work in a moral vacuum or become judgmental, but rather be guided by the Holy Spirit in the discernment as to when to “comfort the distressed and distress the comfortable.” These two sets of values, namely core values and boundary values, provide the proper frame of reference.

5.  Sin has created pain and sinful humans are capable to be conduits to its impact. Naming the moral failures can be redeeming in the context of a grace filled therapeutic environment. Confronting evil may be an unavoidable part of our work.

6.  Responsibility requires agency. Agency is also needed to foster change. Paying attention to the multiple ways in which agency is reduced, from substances to unwise choices, can be crucial to successful counseling. Fostering temperance (self-regulation) is critical to sustained change.

7.  The Bible speaks to humanity’s consciousness regarding time. It speaks to death anxiety through the certainty of the resurrection. It speaks about a hopeful future through the confidence in the eternal kingdom to come. It speaks about eternity through the glimpses of heaven present in practices that defy time such as prayer, meditation in the Word and keeping the Sabbath. Helping our clients face finitude, regain hope or not be consumed by the pressure of present cravings are frequently counted among the things we have to deal with in the consulting room.

8.  Transformation is possible. The phrase attributed to Freud indicating that our trade is designed to help diminish misery can be challenged by the Christian psychologist, who believes in Jesus who came to give us “life and life abundant” (John 10:10). We never work alone. Healing and power belongs to the Lord we serve and is available to everyone, client and counselor alike.

The Journey of Two Young Christian Psychiatrists

The field of psychiatry is an area and discipline that is in its early stage of development. The complexity of the human brain and sin’s effect on human biology will continue to pose a challenge to the field of psychiatry as it seeks to define and understand the best treatments for disorders. Although few, I am encouraged to find out that there are psychiatric residency programs out there committed to a Christian worldview. As the discipline of psychiatry matures it’s important that Christians exam the continuing growth of information. Below are links to a couple of psychiatrists and their growing experience as Christian Psychiatrists.

The Journey of Two Young Christian Psychiatrists, Part 1

Excerpt:

“One might ask, just what have I learned in the past seven years about what it means to be a Christian psychiatrist? I wish I could tell you that I have some great truths that could be poured out into a book, but such a claim would just magnify the truth that I am a sinner. What it boils down to for me is to be conscientious in asking about the role of God in my patients’ lives, talking about spiritual matters and praying with those who are open to it, and demonstrating His love and mercy through my words and actions towards those who are not. It means urging my Christian patients to find their self-esteem in their identity in Christ, rather than their own merits or gifts. It means urging my patients to consider what their purpose and driving force in life is. It means challenging my patients who are contemplating suicide to consider how God views such an act. It means asking my guilty patients, who acknowledge that God has forgiven them, to examine why it is that they cannot accept that forgiveness. It means publicly acknowledging I am at fault rather than keep silent and allow misconceptions lead to the blame for a situation being placed on someone who is innocent. It means praying to God that He might give me the words to speak, and to work through me in ministering to others.”

The Journey of Two Young Christian Psychiatrists, Part 2

Excerpt:

“Over the course of my training the richness of my integration has led me to become more passionate about my studies and profession.  Not only have I enjoyed helping those who come to my office with heavy burdens, but I also have sought to integrate my understanding into our community group from our church that meets out of our home once per week.  It is not atypical to move from content to the personal and at times transition into the interpersonal in our group.  By entering into the interpersonal, the “here and now,” with a foundation of grace and truth, group cohesion and attachment to God occurs, desires are pointed toward God and our identity in Christ finds new depth”

Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Top 10 Resources from 2013

The Biblical Counseling Coalition lists the top 10 links visited from 2013.

  1. Paul Tautges and Resources for Suicide Prevention and Grieving a Suicide
  1. Deepak Reju and A Do-It-Yourself Marriage Retreat
  1. Sam Williams and A Christian Psychology of and Response to Homosexuality 
  1. Kyle Johnston and A Biblical Meditation Worksheet 
  1. Bob Kellemen and A Biblical Model of Grieving: Hope in the Midst of Your Grief 
  1. Sam Williams and Secular Psychology, Christian Psychology, and Christian Counseling 
  1. Sherry Allchin and Biblical Counseling Worksheets by Topic 
  1. Rick Thomas and A Case Study in Marriage: An Insecure Husband and Critical Wife 
  1. Brad Hambrick and Is Pornography a Biblical Grounds for Divorce? 
  1. Pam Gannon and Worry, Fear, and Anxiety