When you look at the offices of a biblical counselor and a talk therapist, you will see many similarities. Both seek to create a safe place to talk and share your thoughts and feelings while receiving feedback to guide you forward. However, some critical differences distinguish biblical counseling from traditional talk therapy. The last post detailed 3 and this post gives three more.
How we define “normal”
Both biblical counselors and traditional talk therapists help people assess if they are responding in normal and healthy ways to the stressors of life. Traditional Talk Therapy usually defines “normal” by what is statistically most common. On the extreme end of behaviors, “Abnormal Psychology” defines severe deviations from normal in our response. However, even common psychological diagnosis categories presume that the way that most people do respond is the way that most people should respond. Biblical Counselors have greater confidence in the Bible to guide us to understand what is normal and what is healthy.
Many normal responses are often not healthy responses from a biblical viewpoint. Most therapists rely heavily upon their study of psychology to determine the limits of normal or healthy. Biblical counselors will expectantly search the Scripture for relevant principles to define life’s problem and determine the options for healthy responses that honor God and also create human flourishing. We expect that the “best practices” for overcoming struggles will be rooted in biblical principles wisely applied to the various struggles of life. While the Bible does not contain every detail about every problem, it does contain sufficient detail to wrestle with a wise application to every struggle in life.
How we view “motivations”
What motivates people to behave the way they do? Why do some people tend to be self-destructive and others are too timid to make a decision? Why does a narcissist act only in their self-interest while the co-dependent seems to put themselves last and burns out with exhaustion? One psychologist presented it this way, “Behavior is a product of both the situation (e.g., cultural influences, social roles, and the presence of bystanders) and of the person (e.g., personality characteristics).”  Many psychologists have simplified their description of motivation theory “nature and nurture” as the two primary influences on the behavior. For most traditional talk therapists, they will focus their explanations of “why” on either nature or nurture explanations. This approach will never fully explain human behavior because it doesn’t account for the spiritual battle raging in the heart, the pull of the sinful flesh, and the ability of God to renew our minds and actions.
Biblical Counselors explain behavior differently in that we believe our hearts, the spiritual part of man, are the primary influencer of all human behavior. While nature and nurture do influence the health of heart, God is seeking hearts that are fully committed to him and his ways. The gateway to the heart is through the mind. So the goal of biblical counselors is to use the Scriptures to help those we counsel begin to renew their minds, which changes the affections of their hearts. Proverbs 4:23 reminds us “Above all else, Guard your heart. From it, flow all the issues of life.” If you want to know why you do what you do, you need to know your heart.
How we determine true needs, wants, and desires
What do we truly “need” to be healthy, whole and happy? Ask those in counseling and you will get a wide variety of answers to this question: “I would be happy if _____________.” Those in counseling often believe that the answer to the question about our greatest “need” should start with things like accepting yourself, setting boundaries, understanding your partner, and eliminating toxic thoughts and behaviors.
You will often hear things like: I need to better love myself, protect myself, function better, relate better, feel better (less anxious or depressed), or make wiser choices. These answers, usually presented as “needs,” are fleshed out in traditional talk therapy counseling offices each week and form the agenda for most traditional talk therapy sessions. The therapist generally operates under the assumption that humans pursue what we think we need the most, or what we think will make us happy. Further, if you view people as essentially good, you will likely counsel others by affirming them on the path of their choosing until unwanted consequences create motivation to change in another direction.
One of the greatest difficulties for all types of counseling is how we should determine true needs versus lesser wants? If a person determines they need respect, love, and acceptance to thrive, and they don’t receive it; do they have a right to react with anger and disappointment? Biblical Counselors believe that humans flourish when they seek to live their lives in a way that seeks to believe God, please God, love God, and bless others. Essentially, what makes us happiest is living a life that is in the right relationship with God and others, led by His Spirit, and encouraged by His saints. We believe that knowing and loving God is the highest motivation that should drive one’s life but we also know that we all fall way short of perfection.
While the couches and conversations in biblical counseling and traditional talk therapy make look similar, the goals and conversations are different. Biblical Counseling is shaped by a biblical worldview, informed by science, but dependent on the Bible to sort through the struggles of life. Even the new revelations of psychology are not really new, and the more accurately that the psychology describes human behavior, the greater parallels one will find within the Scriptures.
Biblical Counselors and Traditional Talk Therapists both seek to help people with a sincere heart, but they are far from the same. If you need help, and you believe, like us, that biblical counseling is the better option, then schedule an appointment with any of our skilled team of biblical counselors!