The Gospel matters in counseling. Isn’t it odd, then, that some Christians in the mental health field rarely share the good news of the Gospel in their counseling office? It’s tragic and wrong.
This Gospel Matters series shares the Christ’s compassion for the broken. The Gospel is good news for every person who chooses to trust Christ and accept the gift he offers: new life in him. Life change happens when the broken begin living for God rather than self. The Gospel becomes personal, leading to peace and contentment in every circumstance.
This series answers the question, Is biblical counseling really a viable, possibly a better, alternative than secular counseling?
Read the first post on competency of Biblical Counselors and state-licensed counselors.
An article in Pacific Standard magazine gives an outsider’s perspective on the strengths and weakness of biblical counseling, though slanted in favor of secular counseling. Here is another claim underpinning the Pacific Standard article.
Who Understands Best?
Claim #2: Trained Psychologists understand physical struggles/complications; Biblical Counselors don’t understand physiological/medical issues adequately.
The voice of a critic:
But biblical counseling becomes far more dubious when it disregards evidence of traits that are beyond a person’s control.
One example of this thinking about “traits beyond a person’s control” is the oft-debated issues surrounding chemical imbalances in counseling. I pick this example because it is one where the lines are blurred and the science is hotly debated by counselors in every stream of the mental health field.
Chemical imbalances are presumed to be the cause of many mental/psychological/emotional struggles, thoughts and behaviors in those we seek to help. There seems to be credible scientific evidence that treatments seeking to address these chemical imbalances helps to stabilize those with mental/psychological/emotional struggles even though the exact mechanisms of how these medicines work is not clear. The bible would encourage Christian leaders to advocate for medical remedies that would help stabilize those suffering from physical and emotional pain.
Chemical imbalances are not psychological/emotional problems, even though they may contribute to them. Those with psychological/emotional problems may or may not have chemical imbalance. Any chemical imbalance would be medical issue, however, the psychological/emotional response always is a spiritual issue. Physical Difficulties and limitations do impact our spiritual responses but they do not cause our responses.
Most Lack Qualifications to Assess Imbalances
Most Counselors (LCSW’s, LMFT, LCPC’s, Biblical Counselors) are not professionally qualified to determine whether a chemical imbalance is truly occurring in a counselee. They may make recommendations based upon their professional experience and schooling, but they are not legally qualified to prescribe medical interventions to treat chemical imbalance and must refer to someone who is qualified to practice medicine. Those trained in medicine are most qualified to assess the likelihood of a chemical imbalance and the probability of success in alleviating the effects of the imbalance. However, many have come to question if the chemical imbalance theory and treatment paradigm is sufficient to explain the cause of psychiatric illnesses.
Many have come to the conclusion that psychological/emotional problems are often not the result but rather the response to a chemical imbalance. Some psychological/emotional problems are likely the result of a chemical imbalance, hormonal or other neurological medical problem but others may also cause these imbalances. Other struggles seem not to be related to a chemical imbalance at all.
Biblical Counselors who care about those with psychological/emotional problems, must be concerned about the causes and results of chemical imbalance. But we must also recognize that many psychological/emotional problems are not the result of chemical imbalance but rather the results of thought patterns and willful actions that are lacking maturity and wisdom. Biblical Counselors should be concerned when it is discovered that counselees are attributing behaviors and thought patterns to chemical imbalance and encourage them to evaluate whether or not that has truly been the cause with their doctor. Biblical Counselors should also be concerned when counselees refuse the stabilizing effects of medicine and counseling and often hurt those around them by their unstable choices.
Hindered mental stability due to chemical imbalance is a medical/physical issue, which also can have emotional and spiritual causes, results and responses.
An Accurate Response
Therefore, an accurate but somewhat complicated response by a biblical counselor might be:
- We recognize that there is a major overlap between physical problems embodied in and complicated by our physiology and the psychological/emotional/spiritual problems that are located in the inner man which all interact to one another in a constant spiritual struggle.
- Biblical counselors must teach a biblical stewardship of the body including the brain and seek to encourage the counselee to remedy any chemical imbalance that would hinder the functioning of the brain. When a chemical balance is occurring, we must recognize the problem as psychological/emotional and medical/physical and shape a response to address both the physical struggles and the spiritual/psychological/emotional response.
- The Biblical answer for physical struggles is to care for your body with an appropriate medical/physical response. A biblical counselor could and should tell someone that it is a unwise and probably sinful not to take their medicine or to follow a wise doctors orders about beginning, maintaining and weaning off stabilizing medicines.
- Those who do biblical counseling ought to pursue relationships with doctors who are wise at evaluating the physical and spiritual roots of problems and who are willing to partner with them to help care for souls in a competent way.
- Taking care of your body is part of the gospel mandate to do everything we do to the glory of God and to treat our bodies as the dwelling place of God.
- Taking personal responsibility for one’s own spiritual and emotional growth is a result of being transformed by the gospel.
- Showing compassion to those suffering from mental instability, no matter the cause, mirrors the ministry of Christ when he laid down his life for us.
Yes, we biblical counselors recognize that there is a major overlap between physical problems embodied in and complicated by our physiology and psychological/emotional/spiritual problems that are located in the inner man which is in a constant spiritual struggle.
Consider other areas that biblical counseling and psychological science agree upon:
- Emotional trauma has a learned physical responses that are often unknown to the abused.
- Lack of sleep can severely impair cognitive and relational ability.
- Addictions impact the impulse control of the body in every area.
- Anxious feelings are triggered by more than a conscious thought process.
- False shame is often a belief learned when being sinned against.
- Too high a view of self is actually damaging to self.
Biblical counseling does not have to ignore the insights of the social sciences; however, our confidence is in the scripture to guide us when we need further detail and insight. Sometimes, scripture informs us to examine the world around us as a wise sage and find the best ways to live out the principles wisely. Social science studies can be helpful in helping people live for the glory of God. However,
However, social science studies not guided by the message and motives of the scriptures will not accomplish this goal. Unfortunately, social science thought is dominated by secular voices. No secular therapy or techniques leads people back to the gospel. In christian counseling offices, it shouldn’t be this way.
The Gospel matters.