Originally published in February 2015. Edited, corrected, and expanded.
In communities where Evangelical Christianity dominates the culture, it is often hard to find a counselor/psychologist who is not a Christian. It stands to reason that, in a predominantly Christian culture, most counselors would be Christian. This is not a problem if the counselors are able to compartmentalize their religious beliefs, but many counselors who are Christian can’t or won’t do this.
When counselors believe the Bible is an authoritative text, and the standard for moral and ethical conduct, it’s impossible for them to counsel someone objectively. No matter how much they tell themselves otherwise, sooner or later their religious beliefs will affect the advice they give to their clients. The skunk/smell analogy applies here. You can’t separate a skunk from his smell, and neither can you separate an Evangelical Christian from his or her presuppositions and beliefs.
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 that, based on my religious and moral beliefs, 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. I thought that I should be able to push my religious beliefs on others. I now see that the department head gave me sound advice. Evangelical Christians often demand they be permitted to work any job in any profession and not be forced to compartmentalize their beliefs. (A current example of this is Evangelical pharmacists who want the right to withhold morning-after drugs from women who might be pregnant.) However, there are some professions where people’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.
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. I knew several pastors who were high school dropouts, with no theological or counseling training, who regularly counseled people — both in and outside of their churches. In the twenty-five years I pastored churches, I never had one person ask me if I was qualified to be a counselor. If asked, I would have told them I took a one-semester counseling class that was more about debunking secular counseling than in techniques to help people. (The professor was a pastor who had no training in counseling.) I did, however, get an A in the class.
Many pastors don’t think they need specialized training to counsel people. After all, the inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible has the answer to every question and problem. All a pastor needs to do is figure out what the problem is and find the appropriate Bible verse that addresses the issue. Every difficultly is reduced to obedience/disobedience, sin/righteousness, God/Satan, flesh/spirit. These kinds of pastors are very dangerous because they give simplistic answers to complex problems. It is not uncommon to find pastors counseling congregants who have medically diagnosed conditions, but want “God’s help” to overcome their mental illness.
Before seeing a pastor for counseling, a prospective client should ask about his training and qualifications. Even if a pastor has college-level training, the value and extent of that training depends on where he got the training. Many Evangelical colleges have counseling programs that do little more than 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.”
Ponder, for a moment, the aim of nouthetic counseling: “to effect change in the counselee by encouraging greater conformity to the principles of Scripture.” In other words, get right with God, and obey the teachings of the Bible (as interpreted by the pastor/church). Imagine being a woman and seeing a pastor for counseling who just so happens to endorse patriarchal thinking, complementarianism, and quiverfull philosophy. Women not indoctrinated in such teachings will find themselves at odds with their counselors (pastors) and churches. If a woman has egalitarian beliefs, what should she do? Her trusted advisor’s goal is not to “help” her per se, as much as it is to get her to conform to certain theological beliefs.
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 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 core issues and, in some cases, can lead to more problems, including suicide.
Imagine for a moment, an Evangelical woman going to her pastor for help. He listens to her “confession” and then 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, withstand the devil, etc. 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 necessary training to provide counseling competently, and their commitment to the Bible keeps them from properly helping people. It’s one thing if people have questions about the Bible or are questioning their faith. Certainly, those people should seek out their pastor’s counsel on spiritual matters. However, many so-called “spiritual” problems are actually mental/physical/emotional problems which pastors dress up in religious garb. An untrained pastor has no business counseling people who have mental/physical/emotional problems.
Sadly, many people think pastors are experts on everything. Little do they know that many pastors aren’t even experts on the Bible, let alone anything else. Many Evangelical colleges have turned their pastor-training programs into business and marketing programs. Actual training in the fundamentals of the ministry and the Bible is often quite limited. Many pastors-in-training will graduate from college without ever having studied most of the books of the Bible (and OT or NT survey classes don’t count). Many Evangelical pastors-in-training only take one or two counseling classes. Yet, because they have taken these classes, these pastors think they are qualified to be counselors. They may not be counselors, but they did stay at a Holiday Inn, right? I know several pastors who got counseling degrees from Christian mail-order diploma mills (along with other advanced degrees, including doctorates). (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor) They proudly let everyone know that they have a degree in counseling and are qualified to counsel all comers, yet truth be told, they are as ignorant as backwoods moonshiners.
Over the years, I counseled hundreds of people. Not one time did I tell people that they needed to see a medical professional or a psychologist. I firmly believed 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. (Please see Barbara) I considered psychologists and psychiatrists to be enablers who encouraged people to continue in their sin.
In the late 1980s, 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, 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 who ended 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. At the time, I saw this as an example of what happens when you go to the “world” for help. I now know that these women learned for themselves that the Bible was not the answer to their problems.
Most of the people I counseled learned to play the game that long-time Evangelicals are experts at playing; they learn to pretend. The Bible, God, praying, confession, and self-denial, are of little help to them; they can’t seek help outside the church, so they learn to fake having the “victory.” This leads them to live schizophrenic lives. Sadly, the person’s spouse, parent, or children know that their loved one doesn’t have the “victory” because, at home, that person can’t or won’t hide his or her mental health problems. It is one thing to pretend for an hour or two on Sundays, but 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 sin, the flesh, or whatever else the Bible and preachers said was “wrong” with me. 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 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 Evangelicalism 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 scars 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 similar pasts 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.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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UGGHHHH, how I loathe Christian “therapists”. They are quite useless & even dangerous, imho. I remember one telling me one time, who had a Master’s degree: “I just did the worlds colleges so I could get the credentials; I only use the Bible for my therapy sessions. The world is evil!” *Groan*
The thing that really concerns me, in reflection on my days of believing in biblical counseling (specifically marriage counseling), is domestic violence. Granted, most evangelical counselors don’t verbally sanction domestic violence. But, sound biblical counseling all but sanctions it. A woman should submit, a husband should rule, etc. etc.
With the exception of actual psychical harm, biblical marriage counseling sounds an awful lot like it sanctions most of what’s on the Power and Control Wheel that domestic violence advocates use to help survivors recognize abuse.
I think there are a li of trapped women in Evangelical churches, especially in the far right extreme of Evangelicalism. Who do they turn to when they need help? Either they suffer silently or they go to the pastor for “help.”
Victoria did an excellent post on this recently:
Biblical Counseling — Exposing the Darkness Disguised As Light
My first thought, on reading the title of this post was “Beware of ANYONE who advertises their services or products and has ‘Christian’ on the label.”
My dad thought he was qualified to counsel people with his mail-order pastor plaque and years of working with children. He was smart enough (eventually) to admit being out of his league when a violent and mentally unstable alcoholic attached herself to my parents like a barnacle. It was pretty bizarre.
A couple in my family had a marriage problem: the husband was having an affair. They went to the church’s counsellor, the pastor’s wife. The husband was treated to one session of, basically, “Don’t do that,” and “Get a mentor.” The wife had to go back for expensive weekly sessions, and was given, for homework, a long list of Bible verses to memorize. “Wives, obey your husbands;” that sort of verses.
Everything quieted down for a couple of years, and then – surprise, surprise! – the husband was discovered to be involved in another affair, his third.
I loathe Christian counseling with a passion. I’ve rarely seen it work any good.
When I was 19, I was in an abusive relationship at the behest of my parents. We practiced courtship and I didn’t want to shame them by leaving him without permission, which was denied. I got raped, which led to a pregnancy, which finally gave me the sense to get out. I decided to keep the baby, but later miscarried. I was pretty emotionally raw by that point.
My parents required me to go to Christian counseling with the pastor’s wife. If I didn’t, they would disown me and cut off my contact with my siblings. I didn’t want to go, but I couldn’t take another loss. I don’t remember much of what was said, but there is one thing the pastors wife told me that has stayed with me for more than a decade.
She said, “You are a perfect example of what could have been, but never will be.”
Those words have haunted me all this time, blinking in flashing neon over every failure or setback of my adult life. She later tried to encourage me that maybe my life could serve as a warning and prevent others from being put on a shelf.
I completely understand why this form of counseling is viewed as harmful by many. Only shear German stubbornness to see her proven wrong provented my suicide at that point, and for several years after.
Bruce, thank you for posting on this. It is needed.
Thank you for sharing your story.
You are AMAZING!
Turn her comment around: “You are a perfect example of what could have been, but never will be.” You are the perfect example of a survivor who will NEVER be a victim. You are the perfect example of a woman who was raped resulting in pregnancy, but will NEVER be forced to marry the man who raped her. You are the perfect example of a victim of crazy church counseling, who will they were not able to destroy.
You are an inspiration to anyone who reads this.
Bruce, in all the time you counseled people did you ever counsel someone who was having trouble believing? I’m curious what would have been the remedy for that?
I actually agree that clergy should be able to counsel without licensing and government interference, though they should have to disclose that they don’t have a secular license before they begin. It is yet another case of medieval Christianity riding modern coattails.
Yes, I did, but I always attributed the doubts to sin, rebellion in the person’s life. People right with God didn’t doubt, or so I thought. 🙂
I was VERY surprised to learn that my pastor’s wife would counsel women at her home. I always assumed the pastor had some type of training, but I was sure his wife did not. Now I realize that probably neither of them had any training. I must admit that seeing this type of discrepancy made it much easier to eventually abandon my religious beliefs.
Pastors of any stripe or denomination are nowhere near close to being qualified to provide counseling. I’m in school for obtaining my degree in counseling now. During my work for my Master’s in Counseling, I have to have 2000 hours of supervised sessions with clients BEFORE I can even take the licensing exam (this is for North Carolina; idk about licensing requirements in other states).
Aside from the legal & educational requirements for counselors, I also have an emotional objection to pastors providing counseling. My husband & I had our beautiful baby girl Alyssa in November 2013. Four & a half months later she died.
My life didn’t begin until she was born, & those 4.5 months were the happiest of my life. During the aftermath, full of grief & tears & the fog that comes with it, my mother suggested my husband & I start seeing her pastor for counseling. We went to see him a few times, and it became apparent that he (the pastor) was not going do anything but throw Bible verses at us. He also encouraged us to pray together (I won’t even get into how useless that was). The most telling moment of his ineptitude for counseling was when I had been having a particularly hard time dealing with the grief. He said in a round-about way (paraphrased of course) that my husband needed to be able to deal with his grief his way, but I was being too emotional about it. How dare he! To tell a grieving mother, mourning the loss of her firstborn, that she’s taking it too much to heart! That she needs to take hold of the “promise” of 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your cares on Him, for He careth for you”!
Needless to say, that was the last time we went to him for counseling. Since then, I’ve deconverted & call myself an atheist. (How I deconverted during this time would add more than some might be willing to read, but I am willing to follow-up for any who are curious). The strangest thing happened when I did: the false hope of seeing Alyssa again in the afterlife and the longing for her that came hand-in-hand went away. I’ve been more at peace with her death since then, & I believe this has to do with the fact that I’m not lying to myself anymore about where she is or isn’t, nor am I accepting the good-intentioned, unwitting lies of those who still believe. Don’t get me wrong: I will always long for her, miss her, want to hold her again. That is a part of me now. But the full acceptance of reality on its own terms has provided a peace no religion’s platitudes & feel-good sayings ever could.
I’m so sorry. That’s the most horrible thing I can imagine. And then to have some idiot try to tell you that you shouldn’t be grieving…
Yes, it is the most horrible thing that has ever happened or will happen to me. I just hope that if we try to have another child that it doesn’t happen again.
As for the pastor, I swear my mind flat-lined when the implication of his words hit me. I was speechless & absolutely floored. & hurt to the core. What a douchebag.
Anyway, thank you very much for your condolences (sp?). If you have children of your own, NEVER take them for granted.
Thank you for sharing a bit of your story. Polly and I talked about your comment yesterday. We both concluded that many pastors don’t counsel to help but to get the person being counseled to think “right” thoughts. The goal is right thinking rather than helping someone who is grieving or has some other need.
Keep sharing your story. It DOES help.
You are just projecting your own failures and misunderstandings about being a Christian onto every Christian. You pastored wrong, you counseled your congregants wrong, and you never understood or believed a word of scripture.
Dear Matthew Bell,
Somehow, your comment made it past my spam/blocking filter. Let me fix that now. People who attack sexual assault victims lose their right to comment on this blog.
What an asinine comment by someone who should probably be more humble and take a very hard look at their own high opinion of themself.
Matt, Let me tell you that anybody who would state what you just stated belongs in the evangelical movement! You are alive to harm yourself and others and what really irks you about atheists is that they don’t fall for the same woo-woo; in fact they laugh at the ludicrous nature of your belief. You have not one clue about that because your woo-woo is not about knowing truly as a human being but about putting a halt to humanity, hating yourself, judging and calling names. I truly trust that I was never a part of your sick little club when I identified as a follower of Christ.
I just found your site. Love this article and as a former christian, this hit home.
I had to leave my denomination to be able to cope with an eating disorder. Of course, I never went back.
I was always surprised, when fundy, that catholics I knew took any counselling needs to their priest….especially when they needed marriage counselling or advice about problems with teenage children etc. How on earth could a celibate man, with no psychology or counselling training know anything about such matters? One friend admitted she was in couples counselling with her priest and was becoming a little concerned that he focussed so much on her husband and ‘took his side’ on issues….which says it all really.
Leading pastors to believe they are qualified to counsel others does them no favors either. My cousin had several severe diagnosed mental illnesses, and he hit a particularly low point and went to see his famiky’s pastor in addition to the actual professional treatment. A few months later that pastor broke down crying as he was conducting my cousin’s funeral after suicide. This pastor poured out his own sorrow over not having been able to help my cousin either.
Interesting article. As a Licensed Professional Counselor; I do receive referrals from churches, I believe like any professions it is knowing your limits and when to refer to other professionals. In Texas, a Master’s in Counseling takes roughly 3 years, 60credit hours, and a 700 hour internship. Once graduated, it is another 2 years and 3,000 hours under supervision to become fully licensed. This is common in many states.
I would fully support such standards here in Ohio. The problem in rural Ohio is that most counseling is done by Christian ministries or pastors/churches. In these settings, anyone can be a counselor, regardless of their training. I would like to see the same regulations apply to pastors/churches, but that ain’t going to happen.
I’ve shared this before, but my pastor was the first person I told that I’m gay. He thought I was telling him that I slept with men. I was in my late 30’s and had never been sexually active. He didn’t accept the concept of sexual orientation because it conflicted with his belief that God creates everyone heterosexual. So he didn’t believe a celibate man could be gay. I just needed to be straightened out, so to speak.
If I had kept listening to him over the next 2-3 years, I would have married a divorced woman in the church, added to her suffering in life, and messed-up mine for the first time. He actually wanted me to conceal from her that I was attracted to men. But I had absorbed enough teaching from other churches and from my family to believe that nothing good comes from dishonesty. So I told her, then decided the pastor didn’t have anyone’s interests but his own in mind, and eventually decided there was absolutely nothing wrong with me.
I’m glad of how things turned out, but it was honesty, not counseling, that did it. It doesn’t make sense to me that honesty wouldn’t be something a Christian pastor would recommend. I suppose he just was incapable of providing good counsel because his world-view was in the way.
This is nothing more than the ranting of a disgruntled person. Bruce. Pastors are not counselors and your mixing up true counseling from religious opinions. You are entitled to your opinion, but at least have some evidence based research.
Uh, I was a pastor for 25 years. I speak authoritatively when I say that pastors can and do counsel people, often without any relevant training.
So, attack my character, believe what you will, but the facts don’t change.
I can send you a list of dozens of local pastors who would be more than happy to fix your mental health problems with prayer and Bible verses.
I think there is an distinction that must be made between “Christian counseling” and “pastoral counseling.” As an LPC, you are educated, thoroughly trained, required to pass a test in your state of practice, and must complete continuing education credits in order for your license to remain active. Pastoral counseling is an entirely separate area, and I think an individual seeking counseling if any kind should do their due diligence in understanding the qualifications or lack thereof when entering into a therapeutic relationship of any kind. Stating that a Christian is unable to objectively treat a client based on their personal system of beliefs is ingenious. That is like saying an MD cannot objectively treat a patient based on their feelings. I understand the sentiment of this article, however, the title may discourage individuals who need therapeutic intervention from receiving treatment based on seeing the word ‘Christian’ anywhere near a therapist’s name. Thanks for sharing!
Seeing the Christian label should, at the very least, be a warning sign. I would want to know about the counselors training and methodology. Most Christian counselors in the area where I live are chained to the Bible, believing that every problem has a Bible solution. This is an ignorant, dangerous approach to mental health problems.
Bruce, It sounds more like you were in a fundamentalist church or a very rigid evangelical church. As a member of a large Christian counseling network, I know that everybody is professionally trained without disregarding the importance of Biblical teachings(e.g. servant leadership, compassion, grace, integrity, responsibility, accountability, connections, etc. ) We use these as standards and concepts but we don’t hit people over the head with them. Any therapist can intrude with their values. I agree that the Biblical counselors are acting foolishly a lot, but I know so many therapists who are excellent and have a strong belief in Christ. For examples, check out John Townsend or Henry Cloud on YouTube. I am concerned that your atheism is more of a result of a wound from fundamentalism than it is rational thought. I do emphasize with your frustration about pastoral or Biblical counselors that actually hurt patients. I spend a good deal of time attempting to heal damage left over from fundamentalist craziness.
*sigh* Another drive by armchair psychoanalysis.
As a counselor, I am sure you are aware of the importance of letting people tell their stories and accepting them at face value. You should have, at the very least, made an attempt to read and understand my story. Instead, you ignorantly passed judgment on the sum of my life. I believe the Bible calls such judgments sin.
Kit Hill: “I am concerned that your atheism is more of a result of a wound from fundamentalism than it is rational thought.”
Zoe: If my therapist started with this on my first session, I would understand he/she was not the therapist for me.
Kit, thank you for being such an excellent example of the worthlessness of Christian counselling.
And knock it off with the faux mind-reading. You’re very bad at it.
Bruce – To this comment and your other, I would have to say that seeing my therapy and executive coaching helping leaders, combat vets, divorced persons, first responders, children, etc for almost 40 years with EMDR, clinical hypnosis, and just talk therapy and coaching, while espousing Biblical values like I said before, tells me I must be doing something right. Sorry, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating not to mention the research that backs it up.
“ I am concerned that your atheism is more of a result of a wound from fundamentalism than it is rational thought.”
Kit Hill, how on earth can you have the nerve to make a comment like that then ‘play the martyr’ when Bruce, rightly, calls you out? You may be excellent as a counsellor, have been doing it for lots of years, but it’s actually you that has the rationality gap. Rationality involves the use of reason and, whilst I don’t have any difficulty with those who hold non-harmful religious beliefs, I do argue that those beliefs aren’t based on reason, only faith. Atheism is the triumph of reason over fundamentalism (in many cases religious belief at all), not a ‘wound’ that has resulted from it.
Kit, of course, totally ignored my response to him. Par for the course.
You can check him out here:
He’s involved with this Evangelical group:
Much more I could say, but I’ll wait until I write another post concerning Christian counseling. ?
Evangelicalism is inherently Fundamentalist. People like Kit deny this, but if you dig deep enough, you will find Fundamentalism — both theological and social.
This New Life organisation is American and appears to be Fundamentalist, as you say. Is this group Pentecostal? I am not sure if they are connected to New Life ministries that operate in Australia and New Zealand? If so, then they are crackpots and I wouldn’t want any counselling from them under any conditions.
Kit, your ego is showing.
Of course, you’re not eating the pudding. Your patients are.
Hi Bruce: Shortly after marrying my second wife — a Southern Baptist evangelical — we had issues to work on, from being a step-parent , to just figuring out how we fit (not to mention, we never slept together before we married too, a huge mistake number 1 on my end).
Before getting serious about ex2, I’d been seeing a pair of counselors, and good MSWs too. After we got married, however, she suggested that we see a Christian counselor, huge mistake number 2. The gist of the “counseling” I received, as I best recall, was becoming the traditional head of the Christian family. The marriage ended 14 months later when she’d admitted she didn’t love me, no matter how much I tried to work with her. The work I’d done with my stepdaughter was working, but her Mom/ex2 didn’t want to do the work.
A few months after the divorce, I had a deep conversation with one of her BFFs who admitted that ex2 had second thoughts about our marriage, and probably never loved me at all. My ex wanted to be married to a Christian lifestyle, including kids (something I couldn’t do due to very low sperm counts).
I could’ve been mad at her friend who was my friend too for not warning me. I could’ve been mad about wasting my time on someone who really loved an idea, but not me. But I was so far deep down trying to fit into the fundy Christian rabbit hole that I wasn’t paying attention to what was right in front of me. That both people in a relationship must have shared goals, plus love and acceptance for themselves and each other. Without those ingredients, most relationships are doomed to fail.
Thanks for letting me vent, sir… W
I needed to read an article like this. I’m a counselor, and well trained, and I resent Christian counselors who have the audacity to impose their will on vulnerable clients. Thank you for this.
Thanks, Randy. My two posts on Christian counselors/counseling have really stirred up a hornet’s nest, so to speak. Outraged, butt hurt Christian counselors have emailed me and contacted me on social media. Their hostility tells me that my posts hit the mark. ?
I also heard from several secular/non-Christian/liberal Christian counselors who expressed their gratitude for what I wrote. Like you, they mentioned their frustration over how Christian counselors use their religious beliefs to manipulate clients. I live in an area where most counselors are Christian, often Evangelical. I remember my frustration over trying to find counselor to help me. I called or emailed numerous counselors, inquiring as to their methodology and how their religious beliefs affected their work. Most of the counselors “assumed” I was a Christian, so they told about the Christ-centered, Biblical approach to counseling. Of course, I’m NOT a Christian, so their answers let me know who NOT to see. Fortunately, I found a secular psychologist, whom I’ve been seeing for 5+ years. He’s a spiritual man, but not a Christian. I am grateful for his help. Jesus couldn’t save me, but my counselor did. ?
Bruce, thank you for your response. I would love love love to repost your article on my site, giving you full credit and links back with a byline, author bio, etc. With your permission of course. I understand if that does not work for you, but rarely do I come across a post like yours that I’m like man that shit is terrific. TIA. – Randy
You are free to use the article in any way you think it might be helpful to others.
Your invite to share an experience reminded me of a time where I knew I needed therapy but had no idea where to turn. I was a Christian at the time & attended a small church. The pastor offered his consultation once a week. After seeing him quite regularly, I found out that the church was putting him on a sabbatical indefinitely…for cheating on his wife. He never made mention of this nor canceled our appointments. I found that to be so rude & disrespectful.
Secular therapy is the way to go. After I learned the questions she asked me, I began asking myself similar questions during my thinking time, at home, to facilitate my healing time. Asking “why” and peeling off the layers led to: When the underlying premise is untrue, everything built on it is untrue too.
As a Counselor, I understand completely where you are coming from and empathize with you.
As a Christian, I understand completely where you are coming from and empathize with you.
My brother became very bitter over a church related wound from 30 years ago and still struggles with that.
I feel you have a legitimate argument there with pastoral counseling. But to lump all Christian counselors under one umbrella? Being a very devout Christian, going through my Master’s program, and working on my LPC, I have certainly learned and have practiced ethical counseling. Pushing any belief on clients, whether you are a Christian, athiest, Buddhist,…is highly unethical.
If you see a bad apple, do you then call all apples you see as bad?
By the way, Jesus has never failed me and He does have all the answers. As a matter of fact I can’t tell you how many times the Bible tells us to seek wise counsel. Religion and man do not have all the answers. Because I believe that eternity is real, doesn’t mean I will push these beliefs onto clients. At first I really wasn’t sure how I would separate what I believe at my core with how I counsel clients. I learned to keep the perspective that we all have the same basic needs and humanness that I can stand on that. I agree that quoting scriptures is not a cure…but working with clients where they are and providing the guidance need for them to get where they want to be.
I can tell you with truth, and yes I am, as said earlier, a strong devout Christian…that having other christians tell me “They just need deliverance” or “That sounds demonic” angers me to my core. The same way we seek medical help is the same way we should seek mental health.
Hmm…sorry, probably should have fleshed that comment out.
I think Bruce is decrying the behaviour of many/most Christian counselors, not claiming that every single last Christian counselor engages in it. And sure, perhaps he didn’t do a rigorous scientific study to establish what exact percentage of the population of Christian counselors pushes their religious beliefs on clients instead of providing sound advice, and is relying on his own anecdotal knowledge. But does that really matter so much?
The article is warning about bad behaviour and the lack of training required of many such counselors, and suggests that you should take care to research and ask questions of the people from whom you would seek counsel. That seems reasonable, no? It’s not like you’re even in disagreement regarding how the behaviour is bad…
I think that there are a lot of staunch Evangelicals who firmly believe the teachings that they follow and they have every right to do so, just as the secular individual has every right to his/her beliefs. I feel that the point that is missing here is the fact that people have the right of choice. Even in forced situations (i.e. court mandated counseling) the individual still has a choice to either obey or not. You get to choose. I think it is far more radical and useless to denounce people or endeavor to tear down people groups simply because of our personal offense at their beliefs. This only breeds more pain and hatred in an already separated and hurting world. We spend far too much time judging our differences, rather than embracing our similarities. This sort of propoganda, unsupported by factual, statistical evidence but fueled by personal opinions only leads to hate-mongering. We all have the right of choice, no matter how extinuating the circumstances may be. At the end of the day, the things that influence you do so at you own volition. We cannot blame others for our personal choices, no matter how subtle they may be. I truly believe in taking personal responsibility for my own indiscretions and not laying the blame on others. By the way, I’m not and Evangelical, in case you’re wondering ?.
We spend far too much time judging our differences, rather than embracing our similarities. -John
Yep and that is why Christian counselors should be forbidden to offer Christian advice unless it is specifically asked for by a client. To suggest that Jesus is the answer when one is in need of counseling is simply abusive and bullying. The pro may KNOW Christ is the answer and so cannot see anything wrong with offering the TRUTH to the suffering client. Problem is, the counselor is hired to serve the client’s needs and not accomplish the Great Abusive Commission. Keep your beliefs to yourself or take to the pulpit. There is NO place for mutually exclusive religion in therapy, not fair and decent therapy that respects people.
Yes, people have a choice. I have never suggested otherwise. My objection is to Christian counselors who either lack proper training or are not clear about their “Bible-based” methodology. Full disclosure is what I’m asking for —- especially when it comes to Evangelical pastors (a demographic I know well).
As far as the opinions I have expressed in the post, they are based on a lifetime of experiences as an Evangelical Christian and pastor. I’ve spent the past decade writing about Evangelical Christianity. I know what I’m talking about. That said, you are free to accept, ignore, or reject my writing. Thousands of people differ with you, finding my writing helpful.
As far as free will. . . I’ll leave that to another day. I have no idea what subtle point you are trying to make with your comments about personal responsibility. If you are talking about me, you are barking up the wrong tree, dude. I’m far from perfect, but I own past my behavior and do my best to be an honest, open writer. I think my readership numbers reflect the fact the my story resonates with atheists and Christians alike.
Thanks for not posting my comment you hate-mongering!
I have no idea what you are talking about.
By the way, your comment was posted at 10:53 am. Sorry I waited five minutes to approve your earth-shattering, life-changing comment.
“If you see a bad apple, do you then call all apples you see as bad?”
I guess you have no choice to if you equate “many” with “all”.
Perhaps you might want to re-read the article, the first paragraph in particular?
I underwent a nouthetic marriage counseling at a local IFB church. All I remember I had to write several KJV-only verses on 3×5″ index cards and store them in a plastic box, and I was required to memorize them all before the next counseling session.
Nonetheless, I got divorced anyway. Thanks, Obama!
I wanted to thank you for sharing this. Just before I turned 18 I became a born-again Christian, for the next couple of years I had some of the worst mental breakdowns I ever experienced in my life as a result of trying to adhere to what I was being told both in the Bible and church. This only grew worse when my preacher, who is unsatisfied with not being able to baptize someone every month or every week, and taking that as evidence that he wasn’t following the Bible right, located a fast-growing Church of the same name is the church I went to but involving the elements of a cult. I got dragged into that, I think more because I was lonely and the preacher let me hang around him and the fact that he was leaving, rather than anything to do with religious beliefs on my part. I spent three months in the cult, before it got so bad that I ran home. Are then found work, got lonely again, call the preacher on the phone a you times, and he talked me into returning, for lasted another few months; eventually leading me two again return home sans job, and confused and lonely. In one way it was a blessing as well as a curse being in that cult, which is really nothing more than traditional religious teaching organized in a way where each member was totally submissive to their discipler slash brainwasher, because it was so bad, and traumatized me so much, that I became very introspective seeking answers not from religious leaders but merely on my own, using my own common sense. This led to one day as I was splitting wood on a firewood cutting job oh, that I was thinking about these things and had an epiphany. As you stated, they always say it’s your fault not what you’re being told to do, and I realized, it wasn’t. I got so angry! And over the next few years up until this present day I have been deprogramming myself of all the conditioning and embedded thought processes and fears that my time as a Christian left in me. Eventually over the years due to the trauma I suffered in the cult, and in the local church, as well as trauma but I suffered as a child as well as the challenges of simple daily life, my mental illness manifested itself in the form of constant ongoing panic attacks, which I’d suffered before, not realizing what they were, but after the loss of my mother and subsequent complete isolation, partly due to my illness oh, that it became much much worse and I did start seeking professional license counseling, and eventually help through prescription medication which I’ve been taking for about 5 years. Anyway oh, there’s not much more to say. Unlike yourself I did not become an atheist, but I’m a long way from being a Christian. I consider myself spiritual oh, and my spirituality isn’t based on any book I guess it’s just because I still believe and having a soul. But perhaps more like indigenous tribal belief systems, thank that all things have souls. And the important thing for me, among others, with my current spirituality, is that I no longer believe in sin or that humanity is either good or evil. But I do believe the evil is a subjective concept, and even though I believe in a soul, in an afterlife, I don’t believe in punishment oh, I don’t believe that people need to know what I believe. And I abhor proselytizing. I do regret that people still have my kind of experience, as well as the one that you just related, and if someone wishes to talk with me about such matters, I place empathy as the standard with which I used to deal with other people, and so I would talk with them, and try and share my experiences, as I’m doing here, because in the end it’s up to them to decide what to believe. I’m not a licensed counselor and I would not presume to do anything other then refer a person I suspected of suffering from a mental illness to seek medical attention buy a licensed professional. The only thing I feel that I am in a good position to share is my experiences with religion and cults. And if in doing so someone changes their minds and chooses to follow their own instincts and common Sense rather than some self righteous, self-appointed know-it-all, then perhaps subjectively they will have a better life, then I am good with that.
This posting really hit home. I grew up with a strict, Evangelical mother who meant well but thought that the pastor could treat my depression/anxiety disorder/OCD. I considered ending it all numerous times. When I went to an actual psychiatrist while in college, she accused me of trying to air the family’s “dirty laundry.” The same pastor that she’s had “counsel” me as a teen, also told her that she couldn’t solve the (decades) of marital problems between she and my dad because she was an “immature Christian.” This rampant self-righteous and know-it-all attitude of evangelical ministers completely put me off the church. (I’m now Catholic, although not very strict about it😂). It had taken a lot of time, therapy, and medication to change the beliefs that had been shoved down my throat my entire life, but at least I know that my mental illness isn’t the result of some religious failing. Realizing this was probably the greatest sense of liberation I’ve ever felt.
The bible has a list of does and don’ts. There are no explanations on how to fix personal problem areas. Don’t be angry, the bible says. How will that help for instance a person with PTSD? It won’t. Furthermore the bible tells you not to associate with an angry person. Great, so you have someone with eg PTSD trying to process incredibly difficult trauma which one of the manifestations is panic defense anger, wonderful, the bible just says, you’re wrong and your associates should avoid you. Thanks for the help bible!