Adrian Warnock and I have decided to tag team on a topic again. This time we are going to be talking about the subject of Christian counseling. Adrian has already done a couple of posts on this and he has interacted with Marla Swoffer at the Proverbial Wife about personality theory. Jeremy Pierce has also entered into the fray, so here's a list of what has gone on before in this series - you can see I'm a little late getting into the game here.
Adrian Warnock - Biblical Counseling Part 1 - What is Biblical Counseling
Adrian Warnock - Bilbical Counseling Part 2 - What About Personality Types
Marla Swoffer - Biblical Evidence for Four Temperaments.
Jeremy Pierce - Keirsey types and biblical fours
So far, what has come up are the subjects of defining what Christian counseling is and understanding those personality type theories we always hear about. I'll address these two subjects in this post, then follow up with another post on a subject I would like some input on.
As to what is Christian counseling, I'll just say that I agree with what Adrian said (don't I pretty much always agree with what Adrian says?). He looks at a couple of definitions of counseling propounded by secular sources which emphasize a non-directive approach and which say that it is the counselor's job to help the person work out their own problems. He replies:
One immediate problem that a Christian has with counselling as defined in the first way is that we do not really believe that people can work out their own problems. The essense of Christianity means that we are helpless and needed someone to come and not even just tell us the way out of our problems (something many counsellors would never dream of doing!) but actually pick us up by the scruff of our neck and do something to us to make us change.I especially appreciate this, coming from Adrian who, as a psychiatrist, is in a field which has a reputation of not being friendly to biblical principles. He recognizes that biblical principles govern all we do.
A Christian counsellor will often find themselves telling their fellow Christian 'This is what you need to do.....' To me true counselling is actually closely related to preaching. Rather than saying 'Don't preach at me' when we are in trouble, a preacher is exactly what we need (provided they are able to sympathetically communicate on a one to one level!)
I don't know how it is in the UK but here in the US, there is a great debate about the integration of psychology and the Christian faith. I see three camps in this - full integrationists, cautious integrationists and non-integrationists.
A full integrationist would be someone who tries to marry psychology and theology and let both speak to one another. An example of this would be the folks at the Fuller Seminary school of psychology.
I think the old Larry Crabb would be an example of a cautious integrationist. I say the "old" Larry Crabb because back in the late 80's and early 90's I took some counseling classes from his brother Bill at Columbia Biblical Seminary and Graduate School of Missions, where we used Larry's books. Larry is trained as a clinical psychologist but he has always approached secular psychology at an arm's distance and has always been willing to critique secular theories. However, one of our textbooks was Understanding People, and in this book he was trying to cautiously integrate psychology and theology, while giving theology the upper hand. He called this approach "spoiling the Egyptians." Over the last few years, Larry's journey has caused himself to distance himself more and more from conventional psychology, but he hasn't come all the way into the nouthetic view. With his "New Way Ministries" I'm not quite sure how to classify him, and I think he would like that.
On the non-integrationist side is the nouthetic counseling movement. I am strongly in favor of the nouthetic approach, but I have seen some variations in the nouthetic approach. One of the extremes is represented by Martin and Deidre Bobgan of Psychoheresy Awareness. These folks are so nouthetic that they don't even seem to trust some of the more well known nouthetic advocates like Jay Adams or John MacArthur.
Jay Adams fathered the nouthetic counseling movement with his book Competent To Counsel. My experience has been that the full and cautious integrationists often go into apoplexy when you mention this book but I appreciated it for the most part. However, IMHO there has been a maturing of thought in the nouthetic counseling movement since Adams. Adams got the ball rolling for nouthetic counseling by assuring us that the bible is sufficient for counseling. On the other hand, he has been accused of using a "take two bible verses and call me in the morning," approach, and there is a bit of truth in this. As I read his stuff, he emphasizes behavior and discipline, which are good things. The newer generation of nouthetic counselors, represented by CCEF folks like David Powlison, Ed Welch, Paul Tripp and others do a better job of getting to heart issues than Adams did, again IMHO.
I'm in favor of the nouthetic approach because, to paraphrase David Powlison, it approaches the bible as a very big book. Powlison says that many see the bible as a very small book - speaking only to "spiritual" matters related to salvation and sanctification. In this "small bible" view, the bible can tell you how to get saved and grow in Christ, but there are many other matters for which it is insufficient. for those matters, you need a trained psychologist. The nouthetic approach says that the bible is a very big book, which gives principles for every area of life, including major psychological problems.
But I am not in favor of an overly simplistic nouthetic approach. I heard of one nouthetic counselor who had a person in his office and listened to his problems and was facing his computer the whole time the counselee was talking. When the counselee was through talking, the counselor hit the print button and handed the counselee several pages of Scripture to meditate on and sent him on his way. This is the caricature that many critics of nouthetic counseling have of it.
On the contrary, if you read the CCEF guys you will find that they advocate listening very carefully to the counselee, but not merely for the purpose of spitting out bible verses. This form of nouthetic counseling listens for what is going on in the heart that is motivating behavior. It focuses on confronting the hidden idolatry that drives psychological and relational crisis.
One thing I would like to ask Adrian to do in this is to clarify the difference between psychology and psychiatry, because this influences this discussion. Whereas we nouthetic guys don't really trust much that is found in the secular psychological arena, psychiatrists are medical doctors and deal with medical conditions. In my opinion many psychiatrists are way too quick to prescribe medication, but at the same time that there are some situations that require medication. I have talked to folks who needed some medicine to get them to a state where they could talk about their problems. I would be interested in hearing Adrian's perspective on when to medicate and when to talk or confront. In fact, in my next post I want to propose a situation that deals with that issue.
As to the whole personality types issue that Adrian and Marla and Jeremy talked about in their posts I take that stuff with a grain of salt. In fact, until I saw Marla's post I kind of blew off all of the temperament analysis books I have seen. I'm not saying I was convinced by her post, but she threw a few things out there that gave me pause to think. I have always taken those things with a grain of salt because I have seen them so often misused. Someone declares themselves to be a choleric, comes in like a bull in a china shop, leaves blood on the walls and says "oh well, that's just my persoonality." The sanguine neglects all their responsibilities and says "oh well, I'm such a social butterfly and the life of the party that I just forget about these things." I suppose those things could be helpful in enabling us to understand ourselves, but I think they can also create some undesirable self-fulfilling prophecies.
Adrian has a good quote about another problem with these personality types:
This concept of personality can have some important weaknesses, however. Firstly if applied to rigidly it can actually diminish our individuality. In truth there are not four personalities out there. We may share certain attributes with another person who shares a personality label but we must never make the mistake of thinking that means we understand that person.He also righty points out that these personality theories can be unnecessarily rigid, and I will close with this:
Thankfully there are as many personalities as there are individuals God has made. Our efforts to categorise should never serve to undervalue individuality.
There is a strong tendancy out there to believe that personalities are largely constant and may even be strongly genetically predetermined (whilst heavily influenced by early experiences). Thus a personality cannot be changed.
In the first post in this series I asked the question what is counselling? One of the important ways in which Christian counselling should differ from some types of counselling offered by the world is in the expectation of change.
Christians need to recognise that personalities can and do change. This is the essense of the gospel and must be central to evangelical counselling. If someone uses personality as an excuse for misbehaviour (lets call it sin shal we?) then we need to challenge them to recognise the need for them to become more like Christ. The fruit of the spirit are for all of us- there may be some of them that we find come more naturally to us, but the Christian should expect the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to transform him into Christs image.