Beware of Christian Counselors

nouthetic counseling

In communities where Christianity dominates the culture, it is often hard to find a counselor/psychologist that is not a Christian.  It stands to reason, that in a predominantly Christian culture, that most counselors would be a Christian. This is not a problem if the counselor is able to compartmentalize their religious beliefs, but many counselors who are a Christian can’t or won’t do this.

When a counselor believes the Bible is an authoritative text and the standard for moral and ethical conduct, it is impossible for them to counsel a person objectively. No matter how much they tell themselves otherwise, sooner or later their religious beliefs will affect the advice they give a person.

Back when I was still an Evangelical pastor, I started taking classes to become a licensed social worker. It wasn’t long before my Bible-based beliefs were conflicting with what I was being taught in class. I asked the dean of the department:

Suppose I am a licensed social worker and I am working for the Department of Human Services.  The client is pregnant and is thinking about getting an abortion. Since I am a Christian and I think abortion is morally wrong, would I be able to counsel the woman according to my pro-life beliefs?

The department head made it very clear, based on my religious and moral beliefs, that I would have a hard time working in a secular/state environment. She suggested that I might be able to work for a private, religious service provider, but my religious beliefs would likely preclude me from working in a secular setting.

Of course, this offended me and I thought that I should be able to push my religious beliefs on others, but I now see that the department head gave me sound advice. Evangelical Christians often demand that they be permitted to work any job in any profession and not be forced to compartmentalize their beliefs. But, there are some professions where a person’s religious beliefs would preclude them from working in that field because their beliefs would not allow them to provide a client or a customer certain services or goods. (like in a pharmacy)

Many pastors provide counseling services. Here in Ohio, a pastor is not required to have ANY training before counseling someone. The fact that the counseling is done through the church exempts the pastor from any governmental oversight.  Most people don’t know this, so when they go to a pastor for counseling they assume he is trained and competent. Most pastors are not sufficiently trained and, outside of giving spiritual advice, should not be permitted to counsel people. I am of the opinion that a pastor should be state licensed before counseling people. No license, no counseling.

Many pastors don’t think they need specialized training to counsel people. After all, the Bible has the answer to every question and problem. All the pastor needs to do is figure out what the problem is and find the appropriate Bible verse that addresses the problem. Every problem is reduced to obedience/disobedience, sin/righteousness, God/Satan, flesh/spirit. These kind of pastors are very dangerous because they give simplistic answers for complex problems.

Before seeing a pastor for counseling, a person should ask about their training and qualifications. Even if a pastor has college-level training, the value and extent of that training depends on where they got the training. Many Evangelical colleges have counseling programs that are little more than programs that teach pastors how to proof-text any problem. Many Evangelical colleges teach some form of nouthetic counseling:

Nouthetic counseling (Greek: noutheteo, to admonish) is a form of pastoral counseling that holds that counseling should be based solely upon the Bible and focused upon sin. It repudiates mainstream psychology and psychiatry as humanistic, radically secular and fundamentally opposed to Christianity. Its viewpoint was originally articulated by Jay E. Adams, in Competent to Counsel (1970) and further books, and has led to the formation of a number of organizations and seminary courses promoting it. The viewpoint is opposed to those seeking to synthesize Christianity with secular psychological thought, but has failed to win them over to a purely Biblical approach. Since 1993, the movement has renamed itself Biblical counseling to emphasize its central emphasis on the Bible. The Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling states that “The aim of Nouthetic Counseling is to effect change in the counselee by encouraging greater conformity to the principles of Scripture.”

Some Evangelical pastors go so far as to say that mental illness is the result of demonic oppression or possession. Again, the Bible becomes the solution to whatever problem a person may be having. Whether the person’s problem is due to sin or a demon, God and the Bible are always the cure for whatever ails the person. This approach rarely addresses the core issues and, in some cases, can lead to more problems and even suicide.

Imagine for a moment, an Evangelical woman going to her pastor for help. He listens to her “confession” and then he prescribes whatever Bible verse is appropriate. The woman profusely thanks the pastor and leaves his office determined to put the Word of God into practice. Perhaps this works for a day, a week, or a month, but, sooner or later, the problem returns. She goes back to the pastor and he reminds her of what the Bible says. He tells her that she needs to repent, walk in the spirit, be filled with the spirit, put on the whole armor of God, or withstand the devil. The message is clear. If you are still having a problem it is YOUR FAULT!

I know some pastors will be offended by what I am about to say next, but I need to be clear. Most Evangelical  pastors are unqualified to counsel people.  They lack the training necessary to competently counsel people and their commitment to the Bible keeps them from being able to help people. It is one thing if a person has a question about the Bible or is questioning their faith. By all means, the pastor should counsel such people. However, many so-called “spiritual” problems are mental/physical/emotional problems dressed up in religious garb.

Sadly, many people think that pastors are experts on everything. Little do they know that many pastors aren’t even an expert on the Bible let alone anything else. Many  Evangelical colleges have turned their pastor-training program into a business and marketing program. Actual training in the fundamentals of the ministry and the Bible are often quite limited. Many pastors-in-training will graduate from college without ever studying most of the books of the Bible. (and OT or NT survey classes don’t count)  If you think this is bad, many Evangelical pastors only take a couple of counseling classes. Yet, because the pastor has taken a counseling class, he thinks he is qualified to be a counselor. He may not be a counselor but he did stay at a Holiday Inn.

Over the years, I counseled hundreds of people. Not one time did I tell a person that they needed to see a medical professional or a psychologist.  I firmly believed that the Bible had all the answers. My judgment was further clouded by the fact that my mother was mentally ill, was on all kinds of drugs, was treated by psychiatrists, and attempted suicide numerous times before eventually killing herself at age 54. I considered psychologists and psychiatrists to be enablers who encouraged people to continue in their sin.

In the late 1980’s, I was visiting with a fellow pastor in his office when a severely agitated young man came into the office. The man was either high on drugs or mentally disturbed. I thought my pastor friend would try to calm the man down and offer him some Biblical counsel. Instead, he told the man that he needed medical help. My pastor friend took him to the hospital in Zanesville and dropped him off. I was shocked that he did this. When I questioned him about this, he told me that he was unqualified to help the man. He was the first pastor I ever heard say such a thing. I now know he was right.

I did have two members end up seeking treatment at a stress center. I had tried to help them, and when I couldn’t they had sense enough to seek out competent help. Both of these women stopped going to church after they got out of the stress center. Of course, I saw this as an example of what happens when you go to the “world” for help.

Most of the people I counseled learned to play the game that long-time Evangelicals are expert at playing; they learn to pretend. The Bible, God, praying, confession, and self-denial, are little help to them, they can’t seek help outside the church, so they learn to fake having the “victory.”  This leads to living a schizophrenic life. Sadly, the person’s spouse, parent, or children know that their loved one doesn’t have the “victory” because, at home, they can’t or won’t hide their mental health problems. It is one thing to pretend for an hour or two on Sunday; rarely can a person pretend every hour of every day.

I spent most of my adult life playing the pretend game. I struggled with depression, perfectionism, and OCPD, and while I could hide it while at church, it was impossible to hide it at home. My wife and children suffered because I couldn’t get the “victory” over my sin, the flesh, or whatever else the Bible and preachers said I needed to get the “victory” over. I lived this way until 2010 when I finally decided that I needed to see a counselor. Next to marrying Polly, it was the single most important decision I ever made.

The psychologist I see has not “cured” me, but he does help me deal with the depression and the mental and emotional struggles I have as a result of being chronically ill and in constant pain. I consider him to be a lifesaver. He has helped me to embrace my life as it is and he has also helped me come to terms with my religious past. I know that I can talk to him about anything. He listens, and then tries to constructively help me. Sometimes, he listens and says nothing. He knows that sometimes the help I need is just having someone to talk to. He doesn’t view me as a problem that needs fixing and he allows me the space to be my authentic self. If I have learned one thing in counseling, it is who Bruce Gerencser really is. Before this could happen, layer after layer of religious belief and thinking had to be peeled away. At the heart of my difficulties was religion and the Bible and they had to be confronted head on.  Even now, as an atheist, my religious past and the beliefs I once held affect how I think and reason. I now realize that the scar of my religious past will always be there. The longer I live without religion and the Bible, the easier it becomes, but these things can, when I least expect it, come to the forefront and cause emotional and mental problems.

I know that some readers of this blog have a similar past and are all too familiar with pastoral counseling and how the Bible is not the answer for whatever ails a person. If you are able to do so, please share your thoughts in the comment section. I know that others will be helped by you sharing your story.

If you have not read, A Few Thoughts About Mental Illness and Depression, I encourage you to do so.

Comments (30)

  1. john

    One of the problems with nouthetic counselling is that for most part they make no attempt to ascertain as to whether or not their counselling is helpful, that is, does their intervention result fewer irrational behaviors or dysphoric emotions. I had a horrific experience with nouthetic counselling that ended up significantly harming my wife and children. It should definitely be avoided

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      John,

      Thanks for sharing this. Nouthetic counselling reduces every problem down to sin and every solution to obedience. Oh, that life was so simple.

      Bruce

      Reply
  2. Ami

    I have more than one Christian relative who has attempted counseling others. The three relatives I’m thinking of are all batshit crazy themselves, and certainly not someone I’d see for help if I were having problems.

    One is a total drug addict, and has been for 30 years. All she really worries about is her next dose.

    One had horrible childhood abuse and is seriously messed up. She can’t even function in regular society. She’s off in some strange world where the topic is always her. And what happened to her. And how that qualifies her to tell you what to do.

    The third was also abused as a child and was himself a child abuser.

    All three of them have counseled others. Two of them have degrees in counseling, for fuck’s sake…. and I’m telling you. Seriously. Batshit crazy.

    One of them was a pastor. He got his ‘degree’ through the internet. No training in counseling at all.
    He tried counseling a bipolar alcoholic.
    That didn’t end well.
    Fortunately the alcoholic didn’t take anyone else out when s/he committed suicide.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Ami, thanks for sharing this.

      Sadly, a lot of pastors get themselves involved in situations they have no business being involved with. This is why a lot of pastors “handle” sex abuse charges instead of going to the police. Church members are taught to always go to the pastor and the pastor was taught that he should have all the answers. This is a recipe for disaster, as you clearly show in your comment.

      Reply
  3. ExBaptist

    So much of this hits home. I suffered from depression as a young teen and young adult, and only sought help when I was about 22. I have a psychiatrist for a father, and I still bought the lie that my mood disorders and spiraling thoughts leading to considering suicide were due to spiritual weakness, not having the “victory over sin” or some hidden sin I needed to deal with and confess. I was a Southern Baptist. I since moved West and found that not as many Christians here are as hung up on the infallibility of the Bible, and it helps me view Christians more fairly. But I’m only 32, so overcoming all of those years of lies is difficult. I still hear what they would say.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      It is a vicious cycle, isn’t it? Sin, repent, victory, sin, repent, victory, sin…sometimes numerous times a day. I was taught to keep my sin list short and confess them as soon as I became aware of them. (pray without ceasing)Even though I am far removed from it all,every so often I feel guilt over doing something innocuous. Of course, Evangelicals think this is the Holy Spirit. I think it is just a hangover from my past. :)

      Reply
      1. ExBaptist

        “Even though I am far removed from it all,every so often I feel guilt over doing something innocuous. Of course, Evangelicals think this is the Holy Spirit. I think it is just a hangover from my past. :)”

        I’m worried it will take me many, many years to kick the same hangover. I hear the voices all the time–sometimes actually from family members–but mostly in my head. I also think there’s a smidgen of me that thinks it *could* be God, but I try to remind myself that if I do believe in a God, it isn’t the constantly-guilting sort.

        Reply
  4. Erin

    I found your first example interesting, because that exact question came up in one of my social work courses today. Our instructor essentially said the NASW code of ethics values self-determination, and when we are in a therapeutic relationship, it’s NOT about us (our values/beliefs), it’s about the service-user (client). Only when there is an issue of safety may we refer out. I know I’m preaching to the choir on that…my point is we’ve been told that if a therapist cannot behave ethically towards people of all groups due to religious beliefs they ought to counsel in a religious agency that matches their beliefs. They don’t belong in a secular agency.

    I also relate to “pretending”. I tell people religion taught me how to lie. Religious counseling NEVER resolved my major issues, but I became well-versed in pretending it did, because if I admitted it didn’t help, then either I had failed or God had failed, and you know the answer to that. Depression and suicidal ideation were major issues for me that religion never resolved. Leaving religion did, at least in large part.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thank you for putting into words what my instructor said. When I was writing this post, I had a hard time putting into words what she told me. (damn memory problems) When I read your comment, I said, that’s it…”code of ethics values self-determination, and when we are in a therapeutic relationship, it’s NOT about us (our values/beliefs), it’s about the service-user (client). Only when there is an issue of safety may we refer out.”

      It is not about US, it is about the client.

      Reply
      1. Erin

        Except when it’s about god. :)

        Reply
  5. Mika'il

    Due to my own personal experiences with the psychological and psychiatric industry, I’m not a fan of either one. HOWEVER, I am absolutely opposed to the evangelical/fundamentalist Christian approach to dealing with emotional, mental, and psychological issues. From september of 2005 to December of 2006, I went through a very rough time in my life and was hospitalized twice during that period. There were many reasons for this, but as I look back at it, I’m becoming more and more convinced that my evangelical/fundamentalist Christian religious orientation was a significant reason for me ending up in a psych ward not once, but TWICE in a one year period. As a fundy Christian, I told myself, and others (including pastors and Christian friends) told me, that the way to deal with emotional problems was to pray frequently and pray hard, read, read, read, and read the Bible, get your satisfaction from Jesus and not from the world, give your anxiety to the Lord and other bullshit evangelical cliches that don’t mean anything. Looking to “secular” solutions was considered to be giving in to the “wisdom of the world”. So, I lied to myself by telling myself that these fundy “solutions” were working, when they obviously weren’t. This of course, led to all kinds of difficulty and literally drove me crazy. No wonder I ended up in a psych ward! Bruce, you are so right on the money, especially about pretending. I did A LOT of pretending when I was in the evangelical world, and it took a HUGE toll mentally. It’s tough to constantly put on the “I have victory in Jesus and I’m overcoming sin in my life and I’m living for the lord and I’m fulfilled in Jesus” act at church but then have to acknowledge reality in the rest of your life. It drove me to absolute despair. Bruce, how right you are when you say that the evangelical/fundamentalist mindset is not healthy. It’s so wonderful to not have to pretend anymore. It really has benefited my mental health. I can just be me. I can be honest about my desires and other things that make me who I am, and I don’t have to worry about being “right with God” and a “witness for Christ”.

    The book , “The Depression Cure” by professor Steve Ilardi of the University of Kansas is not literally a cure for depression, but it has helped A LOT, and it has helped SO MUCH more than reading the bible, prayer, and other religious activities. In fact, these various religious activities did not help at all. Of course, I was a fundy Christian when I first started reading this book, and I got the expected reaction from my “brothers and sisters in Christ” when I told them about it. They said or implied it was of the world, devil etc. I’m so glad I had the sense to tune them out and keep reading Steve’s book. Writing about this makes me angry in a sense, because I now realize that if I would have adopted “the world’s solutions” to my emotional problems rather than “God’s solutions”, I could have spared myself a lot of pain.

    Oh well. I’m just glad I got out. Life is too short to be captive in the evangelical/fundamentalist Christian prison.

    Thanks for this post, Bruce. It means a lot to me.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thanks, Mike.

      I think my Evangelical background played a big part in many of the mental health issues I struggle with. My ability to reason and see the world properly was corrupted and skewed and the only way for me to get free from it was to walk away. I came to the place where I really thought I was going to end up like my mother. I asked my counselor more than once if I was becoming like my mother. He was certain I was not, but he also recognizes how my religious past has messed up my ability to properly reason and think. Things are better now than they ever have been, but I still have moments where my religious past continues to exert control over my life. Every day is sweeter, as the gospel song goes :)

      Reply
  6. sgl

    the MD, psychiatrist, and author M Scott Peck had an interesting take on religion:

    ———-
    http://factnet.org/stages-spiritual-growth-m-scott-peck-abridged-richard-schwartz

    “Over the course of a decade of practicing psychotherapy a strange pattern began to emerge. If people who were religious came to me in pain and trouble, and if they became engaged in the therapeutic process, so as to go the whole route, they frequently left therapy as atheists, agnostics, or at least skeptics. On the other hand, if atheists, agnostics, or skeptics came to me in pain or difficulty and became fully engaged, they frequently left therapy as deeply religious people. Same therapy, same therapist, successful but utterly different outcomes from a religious point of view. Again it didn’t compute–until I realized that we are not all in the same place spiritually.

    With that realization came another: there is a pattern of progression through identifiable stages in human spiritual life.”

    ———-
    he goes on to note 4 stages, (there’s another author, Fowler, who also had a 4 stages of faith model, and i think Peck may have borrowed it from him, but added his own ideas, but not sure.)

    essentially fundamentalist christians are stage 2, and skeptics/atheists/agnostics are stage 3, ie, *more* advanced than the fundamentalists. stage 4 are mystics, people focused on community and love, yet few people make it that far. in fact he notes: “The churches age old dilemma: how to bring people from Stage II to Stage IV, without allowing them to enter Stage III. ”

    i’d suggest reading the above link in full, as he goes on to expand on it much more, and with examples, and it should be pretty clear how the stage 4 is radically different than stage 2, even tho they use the same terms. you’re much more likely to meet stage 4 people in a mainline or progressive church than a fundamentalist church.

    and for those that can’t figure out what those liberal theists are talking about, and how they decide which parts of the bible to believe and which parts to ignore, reading the above article might help with that too. an excerpt related to that:
    ———-
    http://factnet.org/stages-spiritual-growth-m-scott-peck-abridged-richard-schwartz

    “Out of love and commitment to the whole, using their ability to transcend their backgrounds, culture and limitations with all others, reaching toward the notion of world community and the possibility of either transcending culture or — depending on which way you want to use the words — belonging to a planetary culture. They are religious, not looking for clear cut, proto type answers, but desiring to enter into the mystery of uncertainty, living in the unknown. The Christian mystic, as with all other mystics, Sufi and Zen alike, through contemplation, meditation, reflection and prayer, see the Christ, Gods indwelling Spirit or the Buddha nature, in all people, including all the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews and so forth, recognizing the connectedness of all humanity with God, never separating oneself from others with doctrine and scripture, recognizing that all scripture acts as fallible pointers of inspiration, unable to capture the essence of truth outside of both human perception and the linguistic straight jacket of language and articulation, that is, the words of fallible men who experienced the nature of God, that of their inner true self, and attempted to record their experience in human words, words constrained by the era of time they were written in that became compromised the moment they were penned and are further removed from objectivity when interpreted by us, fallible men and women who read them. (Words in Blue Font Added)

    It is as if the words of each had two different translations. In the Christian example: “Jesus is my savior,” Stage II often translates this into a Jesus who is a kind of fairy godmother who will rescue us whenever we get in trouble as long as we remember to call upon his name. At Stage IV, “Jesus is my savior” is translated as “Jesus, through his life and death, taught the way, not through virgin births, cosmic ascensions, walking on water and blood sacrifice of reconciliation – man with an external daddy Warbucks that lives in the sky – mythological stories interpreted as literal accounts, but rather as one loving the whole, the outcasts, overcoming prejudices, incorporating inclusiveness and unconditional love, this, with the courage to be as oneself – that is what I must follow for my salvation.” Two totally different meanings.”

    ———-

    you may also read:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._Scott_Peck#The_Four_Stages_of_Spiritual_Development

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Been a long time since I looked at Peck’s work. Wouldn’t the first problem be his presupposition that we are all spiritual beings in need of formation?

      While I would not consider myself a materialist, I am not sure I have a spirit/spirituality that needs formed. I will assume that his finding are somewhat anecdotal and not absolute?

      Thanks for posting this. I haven’t looked at his work from my atheistic perspective. I was still a Christian when I last read anything by him. (But not a fundamentalist)

      Reply
      1. sgl

        i was not even aware that this mystical tradition even existed until my mid 40′s, about 5 years ago. i was raised in mainline methodist church, but became an agnostic and stopped attending church about 10th or 11th grade. i read various Buddhist and other philosophy type books on occasion over the next few decades, and didn’t really learn of this category then either.. so perhaps learning that mysticism exists as a choice may be useful info to some people.

        also, altho i don’t know that he uses the term mysticism in exactly the same way, sam harris, so-call “new atheist,” is actually quite friendly to mysticism in the sense that he thinks the mental phenomenon exists, he just ascribes a different cause to it. eg, see the second half of the following speech, a brief excerpt, but more detail at the link:
        ———-
        http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/the-problem-with-atheism

        “One clue as to how daunting most people would find such a project is the fact that solitary confinement—which is essentially what we are talking about—is considered a punishment even inside a prison. Even when cooped up with homicidal maniacs and rapists, most people still prefer the company of others to spending any significant amount of time alone in a box.

        And yet, for thousands of years, contemplatives have claimed to find extraordinary depths of psychological well-being while spending vast stretches of time in total isolation. It seems to me that, as rational people, whether we call ourselves “atheists” or not, we have a choice to make in how we view this whole enterprise. Either the contemplative literature is a mere catalogue of religious delusion, deliberate fraud, and psychopathology, or people have been having interesting and even normative experiences under the name of “spirituality” and “mysticism” for millennia.”

        ———-

        or see his interview here, where he is again friendly with mysticism in terms of the mental phenomenon, but simply doesn’t agree with a personal god or the other religious dogma:
        ———-
        http://www.newsweek.com/rationalist-sam-harris-believes-god-73859

        “In any case, Sam Harris—a hero to the growing numbers of Americans who check the atheist box on opinion polls—concedes he believes in something certain people would call “God.” ”
        [....]
        Over the next 10 years, he read religion and philosophy on his own and spent weeks and months—adding up to two years—in silent retreat.
        [....]
        Though he prefers the Eastern mystics, he sees some wisdom in the Western mystical tradition as well. “If I open a page of [the 13th-century Christian mystic] Meister Eckhart, I often know what he’s talking about.”

        ———-

        so, i don’t know exactly what Peck’s biases are, as i only read one of his books about 15 years ago, and don’t recall his 4 stage model then. but i see a certain commonality among various religions when you filter out the obviously supernatural, and political mind-control games, etc. and i think that’s what mystics and sam harris and a variety of other people are all pointing to and trying explain, but the control freaks in the world just hear what they want to hear.

        i suspect, due to human egos, that mystics of any sort have never been and never will be more than 5% of the population, and likely far far smaller than that.

        Reply
  7. returntothecentre

    Hi Bruce,
    Thank you for your posting about Christian Counsellors. I concur with you fully on this.
    I, too, am in on-going counselling following years in the AOG and am very fortunate to be counselled by a very highly qualified secular counsellor who has been through the CF process and come out the other end knowing just how insidious and erroneous its influence can be.
    Your last main paragraph in particular touched me as I can empathise with you so much on the points you raise in this paragraph. Please may I encourage you from my own experience to continue to trust that the scars can lessen in their intensity as we move forward, especially as we endeavour to go deeper into understanding ourselves with love and acceptance.

    RTC

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thanks, RTC!

      Reply
  8. Justina

    Ah Bruce, as a teen, me and a sibling struggled with suicidal ideation. Somehow we individually never acted on our plans.

    I begged my parents to get a secular counsellor for my struggling sibling. What they did was get a pastoral counsellor who did far more harm. Youth leaders called agitated teenage depression “demon possession”.

    Many years later, I’ve had brief counselling. I made sure I went through the public health system so I could be sure my “No Religion” checkbox would be respected.

    Secular still doesn’t mean atheist-friendly or queer-friendly though…

    My counsellor was Christian. I accidentally let slip a “Turn the other cheek” and he was visibly surprised. “Wait, you’re Christian?!”

    He wouldn’t SAY he was Christian when I asked directly, just dodged it. I found out via a simple Google search he was an active volunteer leader in a Christian organisation.

    Couldn’t work with him. Too wary, too hurt. I did eventually tell him why I was so afraid of him, why I couldn’t trust him, why I constantly feared he was judging me. He would say he wasn’t judging me whenever I asked but he was simply silent when I asked “Devout Christians believe apostates like me go to hell, right?”

    Irrational distrust perhaps but…yeah…tell my body to obey my logical brain…

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thanks for sharing this.

      My one son went to drug group counseling sessions for several years. These sessions were supposed to be non-religious and were mandated by his doctor. The woman running the sessions would repeatedly interject her Evangelical beliefs into the discussions. She knew who the higher power was that could help every drug addict if they would just turn to him. She even went so far as to proselytize for her church. My son is a religious man, but this woman’s fundamentalism drove him nuts. Of course, I volunteered to put a stop to it. One phone call and she would be gone, but he declined my help.

      I think it would be hard to trust someone who thinks, even if they don’t say anything, that your life is all f*&^%d up because you don’t know Jesus. Surely this would affect their ability to effectively counsel someone. As you know, Evangelicals are not very good at compartmentalizing.

      Reply
      1. Justina

        (How do I quote?)
        “I think it would be hard to trust someone who thinks, even if they don’t say anything, that your life is all f*&^%d up because you don’t know Jesus. Surely this would affect their ability to effectively counsel someone. As you know, Evangelicals are not very good at compartmentalizing.”

        You’re right, Bruce. Supposedly people who have been repeatedly socially rejected get more sensitized to social cues (got to love reading psych literature). Besides, people do judge. It’s human. We all have core beliefs and that’s a core Christian belief.

        Reply
  9. Justina

    Perhaps he couldn’t answer due to some counsellor/psychologist ethical code against self-disclosure,..but yeah…

    I DID trust in the logical fact that even IF he judged me negatively in his heart, he was bound by ethics unlike a pastoral counsellor.

    Reply
  10. Reverend Greg

    About the only counseling I do is premarital. I use the Prepare/Enrich program. I recognize I am not qualified to counsel people with psychological problems. I will refer people to a Christian counseling group that has high standards of ecucation.

    We looked at starting a recovery ministry at our church but the person I would be teaming with wanted to use only nouthetic counseling. After researching it, I declined. As a couple of people told me, nouthetic may or may not be a part of counseling, but you can’t use it by itself.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I am a big fan of marital counseling. I counseled numerous couples over the years. I tried to be practical, and I tended to focus on the things that cause problems in a marriage rather than Bible doctrines. Things like, do you like dogs/cats or what are your expectations for your spouse-to-be. I remember one couple I married that had a HUGE fight a few months into their marriage. The husband came home one night and the wife had bought a cat. He exploded. He hated cats and did not want them in his home. We covered this in counseling but she thought love would conquer all. :) Not cats…and the cat went back to the pet store.

      Reply
  11. Angiep

    I was shocked to learn that even pastors’ wives often counsel women in their churches, and actually refer to it as “counseling.” I always assumed the pastor was qualified, but his wife certainly had no training.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Yep, due to the sex scandals in Evangelical churches, the counseling of women is often handed off to the pastor’s wife or other women in the church. While Polly had training on how to set a table and throw a party, she had NO training about counseling. I had ONE class.

      Titus 2:3-5 is often quoted to justify unqualified women counseling other women:

      The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.

      Reply
  12. gimpi

    I have never been in counseling, but I have considered it, both for dealing with the natural depression that comes with having a painful, debilitating disease (RA) and the hyper-responsibility that comes with having been a caretaker for my disabled parents from an early age.

    I’ve hesitated, for silly reasons. I have told myself that a bit of depression over my RA is normal (as if that’s not a reason to try to make it a bit better) and that my hyper-responsibility is good (not always, it’s exhausting sometimes) as though I have to be deeply abnormal or neurotic to see a counselor. It’s as though I wouldn’t see a doctor until I was at death’s door.

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll look into it. (I will be sure to avoid this Nouthetic stuff. Never heard of it before this. It sounds frankly dangerous. And very non-useful for someone outside traditional Christian faith.)

    Reply
  13. Aram McLean

    I remember the married pastor counselling the married woman a wee bit too hands on. Split the local Anglican church down the middle. Was the last time I went to a church.
    Those who followed the pastor to start a new church felt vindicated because shortly thereafter the Anglican hierarchy-that-be voted to ordain gay ministers.
    Of course five little kids got to grow up with two sets of divorced parents over it. So there’s that. And the counselor/counseled didn’t even stay together for their ‘sins’.

    Counselling is serious business. This is just another frightening thing about the whole religious movement. Unqualified people saying unqualified things to genuinely fucked up people.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Aram, you said:

      Unqualified people saying unqualified things to genuinely fucked up people.

      Pretty well sums it up, doesn’t it?

      Reply
  14. Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    My husband once saw a Christian counselor for depression at our local Baptist church. Do you know what he said the problem was? I was not submissive enough! I told him where he could stick his advice. Turned out Jim had a parathyroid tumor causing his depression. A good counselor might have sent him for a physical and bloodwork first. Not this jerk.

    Reply
  15. congregationalkate

    There is a world of difference between the training of evangelical pastors and mainline protestant pastors when it comes to mental health. I went to an evangelical college, and spent loads of time in evangelical circles, but I went to a UCC seminary, am ordained in the UCC and happily mainline now. We were constantly told, “You are NOT a therapist!” We got some clinical training for helping people in crises, particularly medical/end of life crises. We were thoroughly trained on mandated reporting/keeping spouses safe from abusers, quick to suggest 12-step groups for addictions. But no bloated egos about being everybody’s counselor. The rule of thumb was, “Be supportive of troubled people in your church, get to know the qualified mental health professionals in your area, and refer, refer, refer.”

    Reply

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