I recently found myself embroiled in a skirmish with some people in regards to the usefulness of secular counseling and psychotherapy to the Christian believer. Specifically it was with a Pastor who was saying that he recommended those in his flock who were experiencing anxiety, depression, and various distresses to go see a secular counselor. In response to this, I took the position that what he was doing is a bad idea, and that he was failing in his responsibility to protect and raise up those members of his flock that he sent their way. Here’s why.
It is an abdication of his duties to lead his people well because it fails to grasp that most therapy is grounded in secular humanism, which will always fail to address the heart of issues. It is a system that is not equipped to adequately handle things like guilt, depression, shame, bad deeds, selfishness, and could never, ever understand true perspectives of human nature and motivation. As such, I would generally consider it destructive to a human mind and soul. Even a cursory examination of their techniques and their developmental and psychoanalytical theories are all man-centered and are not God-centered, and because they don’t stem out of an accurate reflection of how God designed man to be, think, and act, it cannot properly diagnose the problem.
The secular humanist therapist isn’t going to go along willingly with what the scriptures say about mankind and what our problem is, as well as the solution. For example, here is a portion from Ephesians 2
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
That’s going to give the secular humanist therapist apoplexy! We followed the prince of the power of the air?! We followed Satan!? We were dead in our sins? Children of wrath!? Romans 6 says that all humanity is a slave to sin. That is one hell of a problem to have. Romans 3 says that no human does good and that no one is a good person. How is the secular humanist going to meaningfully interact with those actualities? Do you think they even believe that about mankind? Are they equipped to handle spiritual realities and matters of our intrinsic nature when they don’t even believe in it? How do they account for the Holy Spirit living inside of people, and the sanctifying work that he does? How do they deal with our list of sins that we must battle against? In fact, they are hostile to such beliefs- especially the big overarching one- that only being born again through faith in Christ can bring true peace of mind and joy.
My view is pretty simple. Secular humanistic psychology may help a troubled mind and bring some solace, but I neither like or would endorse that, as it has at its core an unbiblical view of man and his human condition. It is all “needs based” with preys on selfishness and ego more than anything, and it is antithetical to the gospel and the human condition as laid out by God. I am also highly skeptical that they will just go along with the idea that man is a slave to sin and that only in abiding in Christ can they find true and everlasting joy. Or how about this- I don’t know many secular therapists who will go along with the idea that ones struggles and emotional and psychological problems may be the result of the harassment of demons. Are we to suppose that they would be adequately trained to address those spiritual realities?
What would be far more beneficial would be that the pastor himself [if he is trained and competent] ought to function as the counselor, or a trained elder, or at the very least recommend them to counselors who are Christian, who will bring that spiritual understanding to the equation. We need a theologically informed psychotherapy and a distinctly pastoral, therapeutically informed art of spiritual and moral counsel. Because here’s the thing- every counselor brings a “message”: an interpretation of problems, a theory that weighs causalities and context, a proposal for cure, a goal that defines thriving humanness. How does a pastor-counselors message compare with their messages? Simply consider what our culture’s other counselors do not say, according to David Powlinson.
- They never mention the God who has a name: YHWH, Father, Jesus, Spirit, Almighty, Savior, Comforter. They may mention “a god” but he/she is a formless, ethereal blob, and is not the personal deity of the scriptures
- They never mention that God searches every heart, that every human being will bow to give final account for each thought, word, deed, choice, emotion, belief, and attitude.
- They never mention sinfulness and sin, that humankind obsessively and compulsively transgress against God.
- They never mention that suffering is meaningful within God’s purposes of mercy and judgment.
- They never mention Jesus Christ. He is a standing insult to self-esteem and self-confidence, to self-reliance, to self-salvation schemes, to self-righteousness, to believing in myself.
- They never mention that God really does forgive sins.
- They never mention that the Lord is our refuge, that it is possible to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil.
- They never mention that biological factors and personal history experiences exist within the providence and purposes of the living God, that nature and nurture locate moral responsibility but do not trump responsible intentionality.
- They never mention our propensity to return evil for evil, how hardships tempt us to grumbling, anxiety, despair, bitterness, inferiority, and escapism.
- They never mention our propensity to return evil for good, how felicities tempt us to self-trust, ingratitude, self-confidence, entitlement, presumption, superiority, and greed.
- They never mention that human beings are meant to become conscious worshipers, bowing down in deep sense of personal need, lifting up hands to receive the gifts of the body and blood of Christ, lifting voices in heartfelt song.
- They never mention that human beings are meant to live missionally, using God-given gifts to further God’s kingdom and glory.
- They never mention that the power to change does not lie within us.
In other words, they always counsel true to their core convictions.
And that’s not something we need. I’ll take a pastor-counsellor who WILL mention those things every time.