There is an endless debate on whether Christian counselors should use only the Bible or include psychology in the ministry of Christian Counseling.
In the debate are two other questions. Is it appropriate for a Christian counselor to adhere to and/or apply findings from secular research to their Christian counseling work? Should a Christian counselor refer to any extra-biblical sources, at all?
This debate is carried on by…
- Christians who are licensed, professional psychologists
- Christians who are counselors, only use the Bible, and do not refer to psychology
- Christians who combine the Bible and psychology in their work
In addition, there are a number of individuals who criticize and generally discredit any Christian counselor who refers to any source other than the Bible.
There are also those critics who believe there should not be such a thing as “Christian Counselors” or “Christian Counseling.” There should only be Bible preaching, teaching, and prayer.
SIDEBAR: Is it only teaching if it’s done from a pulpit? Is it teaching if, at Starbucks over coffee, I explain to a fearful, worrisome, anxious person how 1 Peter 5:7 applies? Is that “Christian Counseling?”
There are titles such as:
- Bible-based Counselor – those who typically only use the Bible
- Biblical Counselor – those who may or may not only use the Bible
- Christian Counselor – those who use the Bible, but may incorporate psychology
- Integrationist – those who use the Bible and psychology
There are Christian counselors who are…
- Set Forth
There are those who carry various credentials & initials…
Finally, there are Christian counselors who…
- Counsel as a ministry and do not require payment
- Counsel as a ministry and do ask for a donation
- Counsel and require payment via cash or credit card (they are not state licensed, thus cannot offer insurance billing)
- Counsel and require payment, are state licensed and do accept insurance
With all these variables, I don’t blame people for being confused.
That said, the real “heat” of the debate is whether a Christian counselor should only use the Bible or also include psychology. It is to that question I focus the remaining portion of this article.
What is Psychology?
If you ask 10 people to explain what they think psychology is and where it came from, you will get 10 different answers. To help understand my take on psychology, please consider the following information beginning with two quotes.
“What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “psychology”? A common answer to that would be Sigmund Freud (considered a forerunner in modern psychology, as well as William Wundt who practiced the scientific method of mind research). Another way of saying that, is our point of reference to the word “psychology,” is just one hundred years old. But we could say there is a concept of biblical psychology and it is 2,000 years old. After the Enlightenment and the development of thinking and science, and then also the early development of modern psychology with Freud and all those who followed after him, we begin to get an understanding of the nature of man apart from the Creator of man. And when you study man in that way alone, you have a soulless psychology. And so that’s why we want to reclaim the term. It goes back to us 2,000 years as biblical psychology.” Pastoral Counseling: Foundations and Practices. – Dr. C. Gary Barnes, Ph.D.
“The fact that Paul viewed his doctrine of redemption as a doctrine of the transformation of the self actually required him to be a psychologist. In fact, our ability to imagine that a great theologian would not at the same time be a profound psychologist, a profound theorist of human life, shows how far off-course our thinking is today. It’s really only the fatal separation of salvation from life in modern thinking that makes it possible to separate theology from psychology. Paul’s teachings about salvation are unavoidably psychological—but none the less theological because of that.” The Spirit of the Disciplines – Understanding How God Changes Lives – Dr. Dallas Willard, Ph.D.
The Greek word for “psychology”—psychē is soul; the study of the soul—we have to, again, put it in the context of understanding the nature of man from—the Creator of man.
Reframing How I Think of Psychology
Whether I call it soul or mind, I do learn about the inner-workings of humans by careful observation of Scripture. I also learn about humans by reviewing recorded history. I learn by the study of groups and individuals.
To study the mind is not to devalue or discredit Scripture. To find ways to help a person’s mind, that are not contrary to the Word, does not devalue or discredit Scripture.
- Deep breathing exercises are proven to reduce stress
- Deep breathing exercises do not occur within the Bible
- Are deep breathing exercises contrary to the laws of God?
- Deep breathing has an effect on the mind
- Because that effect occurs within the mind, it is psychological
- Is it psychology if I suggest deep breathing exercises?
- Is it Christian Counseling if I suggest deep breathing exercises?
I think of psychology as I do music.
Many Christians believe that ultimately Satan influenced man in regard to music and removed the idea of God from it. I don’t intend to agree or disagree with that belief in this article, because that topic is not the focus of the article. Instead, consider much of our modern music. Is the message a Bible-based “Christian” message? I doubt we would answer, “Yes.”
Because the world may divorce God from music, should I give up music? Can I not redeem it and use it for God’s sake?
The Church now has not only the hymns but a genre of modern music appropriately called: Contemporary Christian Music. Under that genre, there are all the music sub-genres found in secular music, i.e. rock, country, hip-hop, etc.
There is no doubt that the Church and God himself can and does use music to further the purposes of God.
That said, I think to discount all aspects of modern psychology because not all adherents to it are Godly may be too severe. If a principle found in psychology aligns with Scripture and is proved to be helpful, can I use it? Does it matter if an atheist psychologist subscribes to a line of reasoning that has its foundation in Biblical thought?
Scripture makes clear the place and importance the mind has in our existence, salvation, sanctification, and daily life. Must I use psychology at all? No. However, understanding how the brain and mind work can help me to more easily get the truth across to people of all walks.
No matter how I explain myself, in my mind, I still hear my critics.
“Psychology is not in the Bible! We cannot use Psychology!”
Is Psychology in the Bible?
In regard to the Bible and Psychology as a topic, the Bible does not have a chapter on Psychology. Nor does the term “psychology” appear within the modern or ancient languages of the Bible.
The term “soul” does appear in the Bible.
The term, “mind” appears in the Bible.
The term, “counsel” appears in the Bible.
The mention and command to change our thinking (to God’s way of thinking) occurs many places within Scripture. That process of change is: Biblical, theological, and psychological.
The practice of counseling is found throughout Scripture. That practice is: Biblical, theological, and psychological.
Indeed, the Word of God states with great emphasis that we must change. The doing of that change is Biblical and theological, but it is first psychological before it results in practical action. Please see the following passages. Romans 12:1–2, Romans 7:23–25, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Exodus 18:17–24, 1 Kings 12:6–15, Proverbs 11:14, Proverbs 15:22, 1 Corinthians 7:25–40
How I May Use Psychology
For my own ministry, in regard to whether I incorporate some elements of psychology, it’s a person-by-person decision. However, I only use that which I determine has Biblical validity. In other words, if I cannot find a concept in psychology that also has direct or indirect evidence within Scripture, I do not use it. Something that may help you further understand my position is here.
That brings me to the obvious question: If I only use portions of psychology that I can validate from the Bible, why use psychology at all?
To answer that, I’ll present an example.
When a person comes to me for help, they may not know the title of the issue they are suffering. They may not be able to express their symptoms in a clear, concise manner or with enough detail. They may say something like, “I’m stressed out a lot.” From their answers to my questions and my observation of the person, I note they are…
- Nervous, restless or tense
- Breathing rapidly
- Sweating or trembling
and they have…
- A sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Been feeling weak or tired a lot
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Difficulty controlling worry
From that observation, I am fairly confident they are struggling with anxiety and I would suggest they see their healthcare provider. Is my suggestion to see a healthcare provider, “Christian Counseling”?
In my effort of Biblical Counseling, I would construct for them a plan of Bible reading, meditation, memorization & prayer. I would recommend they make use of my products, HEARhelp and PRAY. I would also consider them for Healing Prayer.
I would gain a deeper insight into their tendencies by using a personality temperament assessment. This is a common instrument that accurately determines a person’s personality type, which then presents the tendencies of that type. The tendencies & types of personalities are the results of empirical evidence gathered over decades of research performed by scores of experts.
My purpose in employing that “tool” is to help me quickly grasp how to best communicate with the person before me. This is because different personality types communicate differently.
When you study the science of personality, you find that people don’t think about the dynamics of how they communicate. They do have patterns and they do default to certain characteristics. What’s more, people signal of what type they are by the words they choose, body language, grooming & dress, etc. This ultimately tells you what motivates their words and actions. All of which are immensely helpful in knowing how best to communicate Biblical truth to them.
Can I help a person without doing a personality assessment? Yes. Why do I do it? The assessment helps to confirm my suspicion of how the person is “wired.” That makes it faster for me to work more effectively with them. It also helps them understand why they think and act as they do.
Hundreds of times I have seen how a passage of Scripture more easily makes sense to a person when I present it in a manner in keeping with their personality.
Finally, personality aside, I would also inquire as to their sleep habits, diet, exercise, thought patterns, life circumstances, and more.
In conclusion, I first want to say that I believe the Bible is the Word of God. I consult, believe & practice what the Bible says in regard to our soul/mind. The Bible is THE “Diagnostic & Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM) to which I refer, over all other materials. (For those not acquainted with the DSM, it is the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders.)
In regard to the subject of psychology and Christian counseling, this article is not meant to be exhaustive. It is more of an introduction to my opinion and practice. Perhaps in the future, I’ll do a series of articles on the topic.
As to my practice, what I know for certain is that there are many broken Christians who have been Christians for a long time. They try to do better and fail much. Until I learn of a better method of help than what I practice, I have no choice but to continue.
The point is this. I believe with most people—especially broken Christians—if your help amounts to nothing more than issuing a few Bible verses, a brief prayer, and some encouragement, you have failed. What’s worse, when that broken Christian discovers, and they will, that your “help” didn’t work for them, they will slip further into despair.
I am certain that my practices may not be perfect and I do have failures in my effort to help broken Christians. I also can say that I have been able to help a greater amount of broken Christians to lose the effects of their past and become whole, healthy, mature Christians.
I know not all Christians will agree with my point of view on the subject of psychology and Christian counseling. To them, I would say let us abide by Romans 12:18.