Christian Psychology and Counseling Theory-2
|The Coming Crisis in Christian Counseling
Current developments in the field of counseling point to a coming crisis for Christian counselors. Several
factors both inside and outside the Church, if left unchecked, will precipitate this critical situation:
(1) Secular counseling organizations and state governments are increasingly using their power to promote and
mandate ethics of practice that are actually or potentially subversive to biblical morality. For example, the
ACA Code of Ethics forbids counselor discrimination on the basis of religion or sexual orientation (C.5) in
any “manner that has a negative impact on these persons.” This prohibition extends to employees as well as
to clients. What does this portend for treatment and hiring practices in an increasingly post-Christian and
litigious culture? A Christian attorney speaking at the AACC World Convention in Nashville this past
September (2007) emphasized the stronger language of the NASW Code of Ethics that, according to him,
forbids any effort to change a client’s homosexual orientation. Christians are increasingly marginalized with
respect to morality in secular counseling contexts.
(2) Secular codes of ethics (including informed consent obligations), accreditation standards, and educational
curricula, often grounded in modernistic assumptions and a medical model of mental health, are more
frequently demanding a “scientific” basis for treatment and training. Usually referred to as EBT (Evidence-
Based Treatment), EVT (Evidence-Validated Treatment), EBP (Evidenced-Based Practice), or EST
(Empirically Supported Treatment), such research-driven interventions further restrict counseling practices
(at least in theory) to methods and models that meet certain standards, standards that do not value biblical
insight, reliance on the Holy Spirit for guidance, or discernment regarding the relationship of symptoms to
core (heart) issues. Furthermore, secular counseling goals often presume, even if not stated, that increased or
restored comfort is a prime treatment outcome both for clients and counselors. Mature people-helpers,
Christian and otherwise, know how foolish and shortsighted such thinking is. In fact, comfort often works
against the overtly stated goals of counseling, as articulated in the ACA Code of Ethics (2005): “Counselors
encourage client growth and development in ways that foster the interest and welfare of clients and promote
formation of healthy relationships” (Section A, Introduction). Such words may sound safe to Christian
counselors, but in reality their meanings are increasingly foreign to a biblical worldview and value system.
While Christian counseling theorists and practitioners should respect and study good research that offers
insight into effective (well-established) and efficacious (clinically useful) treatments, Christians should also
be alarmed at the increasing control secular organizations and the state are assuming in the name of
accountability, cost-reduction, and professionalization—especially when essential (though optional)
Christian counseling practices, such as prayer, Bible reading, listening to the Holy Spirit, and the
confrontation of sin are considered “unproven,” and, by extension, unethical, by secular “scientific”
standards (ACA Code of Ethics, C.6.e).
(3) The secular counseling field is in chaos. Hundreds of competing theories, models, and interventions
clutter the intellectual landscape, with no common worldview to tie them together. Many make overinflated
claims of efficacy; others evidence no obligation to justify their bizarre theories and practices. Research
abounds, some good, much poor. Few practitioners can keep abreast of the research and are skilled enough to
differentiate good research from bad. Therefore, despite the push for EBTs, there remains a large gap
between the stated value of scientific research and actual counseling practice. Christians educated, trained,
supervised, and hired by secular counseling organizations often struggle with confusion and discouragement
because their ability to truly help people is compromised by the confusion and discouragement of the
secular counseling field itself, a profession, despite its strengths and contributions, that is littered with
dubious—even foolish—theories and practices. Greeting novice Christian counselors in the secular
counseling field are divergent worldviews (e.g. Modernists, Christians, Eastern-influenced practitioners, and
Postmodernists); dissension over the use of “scientific” research; the demands of money-driven managed
care; the politics of competing secular treatment lobbies; growing distrust of researchers; and increasingly
complex, bureaucratic, codified, and manualized professionalization. Where is the Holy Spirit in any of that?
(4) Until recently, the Church has not sufficiently realized and embraced its responsibility to create
intellectually respectable alternatives to secular models, methods, and materials for counseling. In the past,
Christians usually became disciples of secular thinkers, or tried to integrate secular theories with biblical
thinking, or pursued more mystical/experiential interventions, or retreated to a social science-cynical and
Bible-only approach to counseling. None of these, in the opinion of growing numbers of respectable
Christian thinkers, is “best practice.” But in the absence of something better, Christian counselors and
educators have had to choose among these four options. This lack of quality Christian theory and practice,
combined with the aforementioned problems in the secular field of counseling, is creating significant
dissension and confusion in the Church with regard to Christian counseling.
(5) Christian counseling educational programs that care about the integration of the social sciences with
Christian spirituality and theology are overextended and the subject of growing criticism. Researchers,
observers, and participants admit that students are generally neglected in both areas, especially in their
theological and spiritual development. State controlled curricula leave little room for much of what makes for
a spiritually mature, biblically informed Christian counselor. For decades now, many conservative
seminaries, universities, colleges, and Bible schools, though representing a minority view, have decried
integrationist efforts and opted for Nouthetic or Biblical Counseling. This view is strengthening, however,
and organizations supporting this view (e. g. NANC, CCEF, and the Association of Biblical Counselors)
seem to be thriving, as are publications representing this perspective. The American Association of Christian
Counselors (AACC) regularly provides a forum for CCEF advocates to present their views under the rubric
of “Christian counseling,” undoubtedly winning advocates as a result and decreasing the perceived role and
relevance of psychology-based Christian counselor training programs.
(6) As Nouthetic and Biblical Counseling criticisms of Christian clinical counseling programs find increasing
justification, these extreme views further divide the Church and draw prospective students and financial
supporters away from integrationist programs of study. Furthermore, Christian counseling programs that are
committed to social science research may be further marginalized from growing segments of the Church
because of compromised curricula, decreasing the market for integrationist program graduates in Church-
based ministries and forcing under-prepared professionally licensed Christians into increasingly unfriendly
and rigid secular employment settings.
(7) It is becoming increasingly common to find individuals and churches interested in people-helping to seek
training in inner healing prayer ministry instead of in social science-informed counseling. Such training is
cheaper, quicker, easier, more spiritually focused, and promises dynamic results, though these claims are not
yet grounded in quality research. For example, thousands of persons have been trained in Theophostic
Prayer Ministry (TPM) as an alternative to conventional counseling theory and practice. In the view of
many observers, despite claims of effectiveness by TPM and other inner healing prayer advocates, such
approaches are often weak both theologically and theoretically and may represent a concession to an
experientially-driven, quick-fix, Western social value system. I have first-hand knowledge of a mega-church
that released several full and part-time counseling staff and replaced them with a few TPM trained persons.
They are not alone. What does this trend suggest for the future of counselor training? What will be the long-
term results of experience-driven interventions on the health and reputation of the Church and Christian
counseling? While inner healing prayer (and similar methods of people-helping) offers a needed emotional-
spiritual corrective to the cognitive-behavioral focus of much Western counseling theory and practice, it too
often appears poorly grounded theoretically and theologically—the very same charge leveled by thoughtful
Christians against postmodern New Age spirituality. Nevertheless, such approaches to people-helping are
growing in popularity and directly compete with more conventional counselor training programs and
ministry functions. Again, AACC provides a regular forum for the promotion of inner healing prayer
through its conventions, display tables, and publications.
(8) At the same time, I have to wonder what the Lord thinks of the professionalization of Christian people-
helping. While I have to appreciate the biblical idea that “the laborer is worthy of his hire,” there is
something obscene about charging people for counseling ministry—which is not a biblical idea, and gives
extremists more (justified) cause for criticism of Christian counseling as practiced by moderates. A lonely,
pain-ridden young man enraged at Christians recently killed four people in Colorado. His words: “I’ve
already been working with counselors. It’s so funny how many people want to help you and love you and
counsel you and work with you through your pain when there’s money involved.” Those are indicting
words, and I wish I could say there was little truth to them. Unfortunately, many Christians have bought
into the professionalization of Christian counseling and the trappings that come with it: charging fees, the
“50-minute hour,” “professional boundaries,” and so on. These are not necessarily wrong, but too many
people have been mis-treated by professional Christian counselors who got their standards and values from
someone other than the Holy Spirit. I remember many years ago, at a time in my life when I had few
resources, being refused services by a well-established Christian psychologist because I couldn’t afford to
pay him what he wanted to charge. More recently, I have been denied Christian ministry positions, despite
my excellent credentials, because I wasn’t professionally licensed to counsel by the state. If the friends of
integrative Christian counseling notice and are distressed by such developments, imagine the thoughts and
attitudes of the critics of integrative Christian counseling. The increasing professionalization of Christian
counseling comes with a large number of theoretical, theological, practical, and public relations problems that
are only getting worse.
All of these turbulent streams of difficulties are combining to create a torrential river of crisis for Christian
counselors, as manifest by the recent decision of the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention,
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky, to jettison its clinical pastoral
counseling program and adopt a Nouthetic/Biblical counseling program in its place (David Winfrey.
Christian Century, 1/23/2007, Vol. 124, Issue 2, pp. 24-27). The implications of this change for professional
Christian counseling is significant, for in doing so, SBTS has essentially rejected secular standards and
sanctions for professional Christian counselors, preparing their counseling students only for professional
work in churches or para-church contexts. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina has
done the same (Ibid), reflecting a June 2002 resolution by the Southern Baptist Convention to “affirm
Christian counseling that relies upon the Word of God rather than theories that are rooted in a defective
understanding of human nature.”
Every conservative Christian school that currently provides secular-controlled clinical counseling programs
will eventually have to address this growing disillusionment with clinical psychology and psychotherapy
among Bible-believing, spiritually sensitive Christians. Fortunately, there is an outstanding option other
than the four mentioned above: Christian theological seminaries and universities can commit to
the development of discrete Christian psychology and counseling theories and methods that are
consistent both with Scripture and the best of social science research. This is a bold but necessary
step to protect the integrity and future of balanced Christian counseling education and ministry.
|Center for Christian Psychology: A Proposal
Provide leadership in the development and dissemination of Christian psychology.
1. Conduct biblical studies in support of Christian psychology and counseling.
2. Conduct research on Christian psychology and soul care throughout Church history.
3. Develop a quality Christian model of mental health.
4. Develop a discrete, quality Christian counseling model.
5. Study social science research relevant to quality people helping.
6. Provide meeting opportunities for thinkers interested in Christian psychology.
7. Conduct empirical research and theory-building related to Christian psychology.
8. Publish theory and research related to Christian psychology and counseling.
9. Train professionals and lay persons in Christian counseling theory and practice.
10. Develop a body of quality research, theory, and practice that can legally defend against secular
efforts to control the field of psychology, psychotherapy, counseling, and the education of
professional and lay counselors.
|The Church Needs a Clear Consensus for the Meaning of "Christian Psychology"
expression to mean "mental health counseling done by a Christian," "efforts to integrate secular psychology
with a Christian worldview," and "any psychological research or teaching about psychology by a Christian."
It seems to me that none of these uses is helpful--or especially accurate.
"Psychology" seems best understood as an effort to scientifically (that is, systematically and reliably) study
human and animal mental, emotional, and behavioral processes and the informational results of those efforts.
As such, psychology may provide a motive, information, or guidelines for counseling (or psychotherapy),
but psychology is not counseling activity itself. So, to refer to counseling by a Christian as "Christian
psychology" is very inaccurate and confusing, and provides fuel for those who criticize psychological
counseling done by Christians.
Likewise, to call integrationist efforts "Christian psychology," while closer to the truth, is also a misnomer.
Integrationist efforts may produce elements of a Christian psychology by identifying important congruencies
between secular psychology and Christian thinking, but such activity is not itself Christian psychology,
though it begins to shadow it. Adapting secular models, methods, or materials with a Christian worldview is
not the same as creating models, methods, or materials within a Christian worldview--even if the result is the
same. I am not necessarily dismissing the results of integrationist efforts; I am challenging the use of the term,
"Christian psychology," to describe the integrative activity that leads to such results.
Finally, referring to psychological research or the teaching of psychology by a Christian as "Christian
psychology" confuses the provider with the provision. The person who does the research or analysis or
teaching may be a Believer, but what is being researched or concluded or taught may not be consistent with,
or relevant to, a Christian worldview. Therefore, calling such activity or content "Christian" may be
misleading. Again, it gives intemperate critics of psychology something to complain about.
In my judgement the best definition of "Christian psychology" is that effort to understand people from
within a Christian worldview and the results of that activity, including the development of models, methods,
and materials (from within a Christian worldview) useful for further research, teaching, and counseling.