Tag: Chistian

Jay Adams, and the Dangers of Biblical Counseling

Almost fifty years ago, in 1970, Jay Adams wrote his controversial book, Competent to Counsel, insisting that Christians reclaim counseling from psychologists and psychiatrists and redistribute humanity’s problems into categories using labels that maintained a theological tone: sin, disobedience, and rebellion. The Biblical Counseling movement, ushered into Christian culture by Adams and his followers, declares that humanism (secular ideals and philosophy) establishes the foundation of professional counseling, creating blueprints for unstable soul repair.  For present day professional counselors this idea, aside from the obvious affront to psychology as a field of study, may seem dubious since the field of counseling is more complex than simply lumping all who counsel professionally into the field of psychology, or even psychiatry.  Regardless, Biblical Counselors see counseling belonging to a different authority altogether:  “Central to his [Adams] vision was the notion that human life is meant to be lived under benign authority—parental, pastoral, ecclesiastical, and, ultimately, immediate theocratic authority as articulated in the Bible—whose purposes were to transform human nature, not actualize it.” [1]  What is interesting here is that the line being drawn in the sand is over human nature—who gets to define it, have its say over it, and counsel in relation to it.  

Undoubtedly to the dismay of the American Psychological Association, modern day professional counselors are not required to study large quantities of psychology, nor are they mandated to specialize or equip themselves with a particular psychological model (i.e. Freudian Psycho-analysis).  Rather, modern day counselors study evidenced based practices for recognizing mental health disorders [2] (assessments) and evidenced based interventions (methods for treatment).  What is important to understand is there is a division in the secular world between professional counseling as underscored by the American Counseling Association and psychology as indicated by the American Psychological Association.  The American Counseling Association (ACA) describes the purpose of counseling in the following statement: “Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.  The American Counseling Association (ACA) is an educational, scientific, and professional organization whose members work in a variety of settings and service in multiple capacities.” [3]

The problem, aside from the various idealistic approaches to counseling—or, even defining the objective of counseling itself, is that at this very moment there are individuals who are suffering from mental health related issues (autism, bipolar disorder, trauma, PTSD, abuse (sexual, physical, emotional, and psychological, etc).  These individuals have grown up to believe that pastors, elders, and Sunday school teachers have been equipped with enough training to provide counseling on these matters.  Most mainline seminaries only provide one or two required classes in pastoral counseling.  Some pastors and teachers in the church have become certified in Biblical Counseling, but that is not particularly impressive.  One website I perused recently proudly offers a Biblical Counseling certificate to individuals who can part with $100 and attend 30 hours of training.  

On the contrary, a professional counselor who is licensed with the ACA is required to have a Masters Degree in counseling and included in the masters degree education a minimum of 700 hours of practicum and internship training is required.  After an individual graduates with his or her masters degree in counseling an additional 3000 hours of supervision are required before one can be fully licensed.  Built into a masters in counseling are classes that teach counselors about assessments, research studies, diagnosis, and evidence based practices and interventions.  

Consider the following two scenarios: If you just found out that your 14 year old daughter has been raped who do you want counseling her? A certified Biblical counselor with 30 hours of training or a licensed professional counselor, with a masters degree and over 3,000 hours of supervised experience?  If you just found out your 12 year old son has autism and is struggling in school, who is better equipped to help him and your family to work through it? The certified Biblical counselor or the licensed counselor?  

In both scenarios the licensed counselor will have immense resources for helping you and your family work through these very tough and gut wrenching problems.  The licensed counselor will not be surprised or overwhelmed because he or she will have had the training needed to meet you and your family in both of these situations.  But what is even more amazing about these two situations, is that the Biblical counselor will first, want to convert you or your son or daughter to Christianity prior to treatment—since treatment at its very start includes conversion.  “Adams did not think that either peace of mind or socially acceptable behavior prescribed an adequate goal for the “cure of souls.” He asserted instead that the church should understand the vast majority of problems in living in terms of an explicitly moral model.  Given this diagnostic framework, he established goals for the church’s counseling that employed the ingredients of the traditional Christian message. First, because “man’s greatest need is forgiveness,” the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ was essential to solving problems in living.” [4]

However, though it seems obvious, neither of these two situations have anything to do with a theological conundrum.  The Biblical counselor will set the agenda, drive the conversation, shaping it into whatever he or she thinks is best for the moment.  The licensed counselor will avoid imposing his or her values into the counseling session [5], having unconditional positive regard for the client (regardless of what he or she believes) and allow the client to bring up what he or she is struggling with and address it, in tandem with the client.  The client and the professional licensed counselor work together on setting the goals, the client and the professional licensed counselor work together through the issues—and together they find hope and healing.  

[1]  Powlison, David. The Biblical Counseling Movement. Greensboro, New Grow Press: 2010. p. 3. 

[2]  I am aware that there are many in the Christian community who do not believe that mental health disorders exist.  This warrants a separate post on the matter, but for now you may want to consider my post on the making of the DSM-V 

[3] https://www.counseling.org/about-us/about-aca/our-mission

[4]  Powlison, David. The Biblical Counseling Movement. Greensboro, New Grow Press: 2010. p. 2

[5]  Standard A.4.b of the ACA Code of Ethics