|Sin-Saturated Problem-Centered Counseling|
|By Martin and Deidre Bobgan|
Some years back, when we discovered how sinful both psychological and biblical counseling1 are, we advised Christians to Stop Counseling! and Start Ministering!2 We informed Christians who are suffering the trials and tribulations of life to seek personal ministry in the Body of Christ rather than counseling. What is counseling? It is conversation, much of which would be considered sinful outside the confines of a counseling office. But inside counseling, sinful conversation is expected and encouraged.
Because we live in a psychological society where the media revels in the public undressing of private lives, people expect to air their grievances about their circumstances and other people. There is an underlying belief that in counseling it is necessary to “Tell it down to the last detail,” as one counselor encourages.3 Counselors dig for as much information as possible because they think they need to know more than they do to help a person.
In marriage counseling much sinful speaking about the spouse is allowed and even elicited to somehow bring change in the marriage. Moreover, some people feel relieved to be able to unrestrainedly express themselves in a “safe environment” in which they can say all kinds of things for a “good reason.” In fact, some people feel better after a counseling session simply because someone else has listened to their grievances and, by doing so, given some affirmation to what has been said. Because counselors and counseling are held in such high regard, even in the courts of justice, people do not see anything wrong with what goes on, in spite of the fact that such counseling often involves very sinful conversations.
When people are dissatisfied with their circumstances, relationships, and just plain life in general, they often are referred or reach out to some form of counseling in which feelings can be freely explored and problems aired. They expect the counselor to solve or resolve their issues. Then, in attempting to form a trusting relationship for a return visit, the counselor shows a great deal of personal interest, partly because: “A therapist with a large turnover might require more than four hundred new referrals every year just to survive.”4 The focus is on the counselee and the problems.
With such a focus, much information is elicited in the attempt to know the person and the problems. Most counseling, whether psychological or biblical, is problem centered and therefore often sin-saturated. In fact, after seeing, hearing, and reading many counseling cases done by psychological and biblical counselors, we conclude that both psychological and biblical counseling are typically sin-soaked environments.
Problems are normally seen as outside the person with circumstances or other people as being the reason for the problems. Therefore, counseling sessions are often filled with sinful talebearing, playing the victim, speaking evil of others, blaming the past, blaming parents, blaming others, and justifying self. With marriage counseling, sessions are loaded with arguing, bickering, blaming the spouse, and wanting the spouse to change. These are only a few of the sinful violations of Scripture that occur in psychological and biblical counseling sessions. These expressions are evidence of Jeremiah 17:9-10:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
The deceitful heart has free reign to verbally express itself in the counseling room, because counselors think they must find out what is going on both within the circumstances and inside the counselees to counsel wisely.5 However, they fool themselves, because Scripture makes it very clear that only God can know a person’s heart. Thus, in addition to sinful conversation between two deceitful hearts (of the counselor as well as the counselee), there is much self-deception, as some counselors presume to know details of a counselee’s heart, to the extent of naming idols that are driving the person.6
Quite often what has been expressed is from a self-protective bias to the point that counselees may even lie to their counselors. Counselors typically believe what their counselees say, even though research demonstrates that counselees lie to their counselors and will obviously distort the truth to their own advantage. One psychotherapist with a sense of humor once said, “Ten percent of the time clients lie to their therapists and the other 90 percent of the time they distort the truth to make themselves look good.” And how often does a counselor seek to corroborate possible slanderous sinful statements made in counseling? It is much easier for people to see the faults of others than to see their own faults. The flesh is very proficient at ignoring, justifying, or adjusting the facts of one’s own sinfulness. Thankfully there is the exceptional person who accepts responsibility for the problem and seeks advice as to what to do. However, practically speaking, almost every person and couple describe the problem according to their own perspective and want it fixed quickly and painlessly in our quick-fix society.
Although some positive things may be said and the counselor will show interest and desire to help, the counseling environment not only causes people to sin with their words while they are in the counseling session, but bitterness, anger, wrath, blame, and malice may fester in the mind and heart as the counselee seeks to justify all the evil speaking released during counseling. In fact if one person speaks evil of another, what has been said will tend to become a solid conviction. For instance, if a counselee declares that a particular person is mean, that counselee will look for evidence to support that statement. The negative perspective on the person will solidify in the counselee’s mind, not only because words have power, but because one must justify having said something bad about another person.
Failures of Marriage Counseling
Marriage counseling is big business in the world and in the church. As more and more people have been going to marriage counseling, more and more have become divorced, and this includes professing Christians, who are divorcing at about the same rate as unbelievers.7 With all the time and money and the great expectations that counseling will help married couples, it is disconcerting to learn that much marriage counseling fails, Why are the results so poor? The editor of the professional journal Psychotherapy Networker, Richard Simon, confesses that “most therapists who actually do marital therapy (about 80 percent of all clinicians) don’t really know what their doing.” He says:
Untrained in and unprepared for work that requires a highly skilled touch and nerves of steel, many therapists blunder ineffectually through sessions until they’re fired by their clients or, overwhelmed by a couple’s problems, they give up too soon in trying to save a marriage. 8
But then he admits that skilled, experienced therapists are often unsuccessful as well. Why? Because the counseling is problem-centered and sin-drenched with much arguing and complaining in front of a counselor, who is expected to sort it all out and bring resolution.
Hurtful things are said about one another, blame is high, anger lets loose, and roots of bitterness grow. Even when a counselor sees the husband and wife separately, the heart problem intensifies and the complaints and blame become more fixed to justify what has been said, especially when exaggerated to make a point. Recently Simon revealed why many seasoned psychotherapists have discontinued couples therapy. He says that “unhappy couples almost always present conflicting stories of their troubles, with one partner typically portrayed as the scoundrel and the other as the long-suffering victim.”9 This is why many pastors are sending their problem-laden sheep away. They don’t want to be involved in sorting out all the arguing and blaming. But then instead of guiding their flock into a biblical ministry of mutual care in the body of Christ, they send them off to sin-corroded counseling environments outside the church.
The area of marriage counseling is a prime example of how unbiblical, problem-centered, and sin-loaded both psychological and biblical counseling can be. Christian couples who enter biblical counseling are typically allowed to discuss problems in the same manner as they would with mental health professionals. Their problems and typically their problems with one another become the center of the interchange. Most counselors would not know what to do without problems being discussed. However, Ephesians 5 should restrict any couple from exposing one another’s faults and failures in front of a psychological or biblical counselor or anyone else, unless there are extremely unbiblical circumstances that need to be confronted immediately or referred to the law. Complaints about one another typically exacerbate problem-ridden marriages and violate the one-flesh principle of Ephesians 5.
Sinfulness of Biblical Counseling
Just as psychological counselors seek a great deal of information in their attempt to help, biblical counselors work diligently at eliciting as much information as possible. Biblical counselors have been taught to gather as much information as possible both through questions (including leading questions) and by means of an inventory of questions about counselees, their spouses, their problems, and their complaints. Then with all the data in hand the counselors proceed to dig even deeper with the notion that they will uncover the source of the problems and help the person and/or mend a marriage. According to Randy Patten, a leader in the biblical counseling movement, all that information is necessary to “understand completely what’s going on in your life” before giving any advice so that he won’t be “a fool in God’s eyes” or give them “lousy advice.”10 However, to “understand completely,” Patten and all counselors would need to hear from all the people their counselees talk about behind their backs, but this is not done.
Patten declares that he “always starts out with Proverbs 18:13,” which says “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” That is an excellent verse. However, it calls for more than what one person says about another who is not present. Any negative statement or accusation of another person must be also be verified according to Proverbs 18:17: “He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.” In other words, if Proverbs 18:13 is the foundational justification for biblical counselors to ask for details, full investigation must include all parties involved in any story being told by one person.
William MacDonald says of Proverbs 18:13:
A man should get all the facts before giving his opinion. Otherwise he will be embarrassed when the full details are made known. There are two sides to every question: every divorce, every quarrel, etc. Don’t agree with a person if you have not heard the other person’s side.11 (Bold added.)
In other words, this verse encourages necessary fact finding, primarily in cases where there are two sides or two points of view. Matthew Henry says regarding Proverbs 18:13 that “when they have heard one side, they think the matter so plain that they need not trouble themselves to hear the other.” 12 The admonition of Proverbs 18:13 is then further emphasized in verse 17: “He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.”
Counselors rarely, if ever, check out the details of the stories they have been told. It is impractical and almost impossible to do so. Sadly, biblical counselors gravely misuse Proverbs 18:13 when they conduct their detailed probing, prying, questioning, and encouraging of counselees to tell all so that the counselor can solve their problems in a problem-centered counseling setting. Tales are told about people who never have an opportunity to give their side of the situation. Until the rise of the biblical counseling movement, Proverbs 18:13 was not used as a rationalization or justification for complex poking around in a person’s past and/or present private life.
Counselors evidently believe they must open everything up to exposure right to the very core in order to get rid of the problems. But they are not surgeons who can excise with a scalpel. They can only talk. Thus the exposed sin is left open to fester. With all the data (full of self-biases and sinful remarks about others, present or not present), biblical counselors have been taught to ask prying, probing questions that naturally precipitate sinful communication on the part of the counselees.
The counselees are asked to give a brief history of their lives to see if there is anything from the past that may be causative in the present situation or relationship. Then, because most people who enter counseling believe that they are supposed to talk about problems, the negative aspects will emerge. They may very well dishonor their parents by speaking negatively about them or by exposing their private lives. Nothing is to be hidden, although for self-protection, most counselees hide a lot.
In one counseling demonstration video the woman hesitates to criticize her parents, but then says of them: “It’s probably not a great marriage…. Sometimes my mom will say things about my dad, but they really don’t spend a lot of time talking to each other.” She seemed to be grasping to find something wrong in her parents’ marriage to help the counselor analyze how that may have affected hers. Thus she is enticed into giving an unkind evaluation of her parents in this kangaroo court counseling session. In addition to all the sinful talk, the husband’s biblical authority is usurped by the counselor as he/she takes over and leads the marriage relationship.
Then, of course, there is ongoing pressing for more details, especially when there is arguing or fighting, such as when, how often, and what the issues are. More questions, such as “What’s another issue?” “Explain that to me.” Many issues will usually come up, each to be explored at length, including the couple’s sexual intimacy. In the same counseling demonstration video, in response to Patten asking for another issue, the husband says, “I don’t know how much you want to get into this, but I’m very dissatisfied with our sex life.” Right on cue Patten says, “Describe,” which is a command for more details. This reveals how deeply worldly and sinful this counseling is and the extent to which psychological problem-centered, sin-laden counseling has been emulated and embraced by the church.
As much as prying for details is expected and practiced in biblical counseling, details about a couple’s intimacy should not be shared with a third party in counseling. Nevertheless problem-centered counseling depends on such details even in intimate areas.
The marriage bed is holy and for the husband to expose his wife by complaining about their intimacy would surely make a woman feel she has been betrayed. After a dialogue filled with blame and counter blame, Patten wants even more details. After about an hour of questions precipitating evil speaking, further expressions of the Jeremiah 17:9 deceitful heart, and some teaching, Patten says, “Based upon what you said today, I estimate that I will want to meet with you 9, maybe 11 or 13 times.” He asks them to keep a log of the topics they argue about during the week. This initial counseling session had the following evidence of the Jeremiah 17:9 deceitful heart: criticism of parents, expressions of self-love, evil speaking, self-bias, and a victim mentality. Consider how much more there will be in the proposed “9, maybe 11 or 13” additional counseling sessions.
As the questions and conversation continue, sinful speaking spews forth as one complains about the other and defends self. Through all of this, there is the typical sinful speaking, talebearing, and a violation of their one flesh to the degree that, if they didn’t need counseling at the beginning, they will really see how broken their marriage is and thus conclude they need more counseling. Along with all of the digging and pressing, the counselor is instructed to offer hope. The conclusion may very well be that the hope for their marriage is then placed in the counselor and all of his/her special knowledge to solve their problems in this sin-summoning environment.
Corrupt Crux of Counseling
The corrupt crux of counseling conversation lies in its dependence on verbal expressions of Jeremiah 17:9: talebearing, dishonoring parents, complaining about circumstances and people, and speaking evil of people behind their backs. We can think of no ministry in the church that encourages such kind of talk as exists in most counseling. What parents would want to encourage that kind of talk in the home? Most believers know the scriptural admonitions against all of the evil speaking on which counseling depends. Those trained in biblical counseling know them.
Everyone who counsels needs to keep in mind certain key Bible verses and protect their counselees from violating them. For example:
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer (Ps. 19:14).
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned (Matt. 12:36-37).
For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body…. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell…. But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3:2, 6, 8-10).
A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter (Prov. 11:13).
The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly (Proverbs 26:22).
Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth (Eph. 6:2-3).
The Bible is clear that the control of one’s tongue is a barometer of spiritual maturity. The above verses and the tongue control principle need to be kept in mind by the counselor to assist a counselee in any conversations that take place. Of course this would shut down all problem-centered counseling.
A Western Phenomenon
Problem-centered counseling and its penchant for sinful speaking is a Western phenomenon. Eva Moskowitz reveals the contrast between “Americans’ proclivity for the couch” and other contrasting nations world-wide. She says in her book In Therapy We Trust: America’s Obsession with Self-Fulfillment:
Though we recognize the therapeutic gospel’s grip on our culture, we have little idea how we came to this point. Perhaps this is because the therapeutic has snuck up on us. Perhaps it is because we are only dimly aware that America has not always been obsessed with the psyche. But our therapeutic faith is neither timeless nor universal. Our nation has not always been so preoccupied with personal dilemmas and emotional cures, nor are other nations so preoccupied today. The citizens of Asia, Africa, and Europe do not share Americans’ proclivity for the couch. There are fewer psychological professionals in China, Israel, and Korea combined, for example, than there are sex and art therapists in America.13
Although corrupt-talk counseling is a Western activity, other countries are beginning to adopt it because of Western influence. While it is on the increase, there has been little of this counseling and public “undressing” in East Asian countries. One major reason it is almost non-existent there is because East Asians have typically not been self-oriented. They have typically been we-oriented, while Westerners are typically me-centered. Also, the culture and tradition of East Asians has been to regard the family as sacred. Therefore one would not blame family or parents for one’s present life.
One specialist writing on psychological counseling in Japan refers to the “family’s sacrosanct character” and the reluctance to blame “a parent or parent’s role in a patient’s neurosis or, especially, the ways in which a maternal figure may not be all-loving and good.” The article says, “A Japanese, instead of investigating his past, romanticizes it: Instead of analyzing his early childhood, he creates fictions about it.” The contrast to Western individualism is seen in the following: “Even for [Japanese] adults, expressions of individuality are often considered signs of selfish immaturity.”14
Many Latin American cultures also represent a contrast to the Western “me” culture. While there are some regional differences, Latin American cultures are generally “we” cultures. Mexican writer Octavio Paz describes this tendency:
I am another when I am, my actions are more mine if they are also everyone’s. So that I can exist I must be the other, I must leave myself to look for myself among the others, those who would not exist if I did not, those who give me my own existence. I am not, there is no I, always it is we.15 (Bold added.)
Sadly, the “me”culture of our country has clearly invaded the church. Instead of it acting like the Body of Christ, many members are focused on their own lives and problems and turn to counseling that focuses on me and my problems and inevitably becomes sin-saturated with all its complaints about other people and circumstances.
The church has simply followed the world and its psychological counseling with what is called “biblical counseling.” In fact, if the psychological counseling movement did not exist and had not preceded the biblical counseling movement, the biblical counseling movement would not have falsely retrofitted their unbiblical psychological ideas into Proverbs 18:13 and other verses to justify such corrupt communication wherein they cause their counselees to sin against God and others and then teach others to counsel the same way.
This form of sinful communication would never exist and persist as it does among Christians absent the “godfather” practices of the psychological counseling movement. There is candidly no precedence in Scripture for this kind of counseling, which should herald the end of the sinful communication of biblical counseling and, therefore, the end of the biblical counseling movement.
1 The terms counseling, counselor, and counselee are terms used in psychological counseling. The biblical counseling movement has picked up these same terms from the psychological counseling movement, because, in essence, they are doing some of the same things. We use these terms here because this is their terminology.
2 Martin & Deidre Bobgan. Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2011.
3 Ibid., p. 29.
4 Jeffrey A. Kottler. On Being a Therapist. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/ A Wiley Imprint, 2010, p. 120.
5 “Biblical Counseling Observations,” Faith Biblical Counseling, Faith Baptist Church, Lafayette, Indiana, Session One.
6 David Powlison, “”Idols of the Heart” and “Vanity Fair,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 13, No. 2, Winter 1995, pp. 35-50..
7 “Born Again Adults Less Likely to Co-Habit, Just as Likely to Divorce.” Barna Research Online, August 6, 2001, <http:///www.barna.org>.
8 Richard Simon. “From the Editor.” Psychotherapy Networker, Vol. 26, No. 6, p. 2.
9 Richard Simon, “Editor’s Note,” Psychotherapy Networker, Vol. 41, No. 5, p. 4.
10 “Biblical Counseling Observations,” op. cit.
11 William MacDonald. Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. A Farstad, ed. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995, p. 838.
12 Matthew Henry. Mathew Henry’s Commentary in One Volume. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960+, p. 766.
13 Eva S. Moskowitz. In Therapy We Trust: America’s Obsession with Self-Fulfillment. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press, 2001, p. 8.
14 Sudhir Kakar, “Western Science, Eastern Minds,” The Wilson Quarterly, Vol. XV, No. 1, p. 114.
15 Skye Stephenson. Understanding Spanish-Speaking South Americans: Bridging Hemispheres. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, Inc., 2003, p. 47.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, May-June 2018, Vol. 26, No3)
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, May-June 2018, Vol. 26, No3)