Outrage Over Christian Counselor Post

lord that heals you

Last Friday, I published two posts focused on Christian counseling. The first post, Beware of Christian Counselors, was an expanded repost of an article originally posted in 2015. The second post, Questions: Should People Trust Christian Counselors with Degrees from Secular Schools? was the first answer in the Your Questions, Please series. Thanks to these posts being shared on social media, thousands of new readers came to this site, including many Evangelical Christian counselors. (The first post was also featured on the weekly link round-up published by Infidel753.)  I quickly found out that Evangelical counselors are a touchy lot. I received numerous comments, emails, and social media messages from outraged, butt-hurt counselors who were offended by what I wrote. Several of them took it upon themselves to psychoanalyze me. One Evangelical counselor read all of one post and concluded, “I am concerned that your atheism is more of a result of a wound from fundamentalism than it is rational thought.” Several other counselors told me that my post was harmful to people with mental health problems. Why? According to thse counselors, people needing professional help might read this post and avoid seeking out counseling. Not really. At best, they might avoid seeking out overtly CHRISTIAN therapy, and to that I say, Amen, all praise be to Loki.

These offended counselors assured me that Christian counselors were capable of compartmentalizing their beliefs; of separating their theology from their practice. Now, if these counselors were mainstream liberal Christians, I would be inclined to agree with them. However, if spending fifty years in the Christian church and twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches has taught me anything, it is that most Evangelicals are unable to compartmentalize their beliefs when at work — be they doctors, nurses, school teachers, factory workers, or counselors. I could spend the next several days detailing experiences where Evangelical Christians crossed professional and ethical boundaries, thinking it was their obligation, duty, and responsibility to put in a good word for Jesus. I am sure readers of this blog have stories of their own — times when Evangelicals tried to evangelize them or offer unsolicited Biblical advice. Over the past twelve years, I have received thousands of emails from Evangelicals who took it upon themselves to write me, even after being warned that I am NOT interested in receiving such emails. In their minds, fidelity to Jesus and the Bible trumped personal boundaries and respect.

Beliefs have consequences. What we believe materially affects how we view the world and our place in it. Just as it is impossible to separate a skunk from its smell, it is impossible to separate our beliefs from who and what we are. Granted, we can, at times, set aside our beliefs, choosing not to engage people who believe differently from us. I live in rural northwest Ohio. Evangelical Christianity permeates every aspect of life. Public atheists are almost as rare as the ivory-billed woodpecker.

I’ve been encouraged in recent years by younger locals who are more willing to publicly challenge tribal and cultural-religious norms. That said, many atheists and agnostics keep their beliefs to themselves out of fear of losing their jobs or harming interpersonal relationships. I, for one, don’t talk about religion or atheism in public unless asked. The same goes for Facebook. It takes all of ten seconds to plug my name into a search engine and find out all sorts of things about me, including my pants inseam, hobbies, marital status, where I live, and yes, what my beliefs are concerning religion in general, and Christianity in particular. Several weeks ago, a post of mine was shared on a local Facebook discussion forum. Thousands of locals visited this site for the first time. There’s nothing that I can do about such exposure — not that I would want to. I am a writer, so I want people to read my writing. However, I also have to peacefully live amid people who differ from me in virtually every aspect of life. Why do we differ? Our beliefs.

The suggestion that beliefs don’t affect how we look at others and interact with them is absurd. Evangelical Christian counselors are not immune to this either. In fact, I would argue that it is HARDER for them to disconnect themselves from their beliefs than most people. Counselors are in a position to help people when they are most vulnerable. If counselors believe that there is one true God, Jesus is the Way, Truth, and Life, and the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, it is impossible for them to disconnect their lives from these beliefs when entering their places of employment. This is especially so for Evangelical counselors. How can their beliefs not affect their interaction with clients? Of course, some counselors advertise their Christianity, letting believers know that they will receive “sound” Biblical counsel and advice from them. This is no different from some counselors advertising the secular nature of their work. I don’t have a problem with counselors having presuppositions — be they religious or secular. All I ask is that Evangelical counselors make these beliefs known at the start; that they don’t spring on unwary clients their peculiar Bible-based beliefs.

I am sure more than a few Evangelical Christian counselors will continue to assert that they are capable of compartmentalizing their beliefs. I don’t believe this is possible, but let me ask a few questions to see if, perhaps, I am wrong.

  • Do you believe there is one true God — yours?
  • Do you believe that all humans are sinners and in need of redemption through the merit and work of Jesus Christ?
  • Do you believe that humans are born alienated from God?
  • Do you believe it is the responsibility of Christians to evangelize unbelievers?
  • Do you believe there is a Hell where all non-Christians will spend eternity being tortured by God?
  • Do you believe life begins at conception?
  • Do you believe abortion is murder?
  • Do you believe in the Christian concept of sin?
  • Do you believe that all sex activity outside of marriage is sin?
  • Do you believe LGBTQ people choose to be gay, lesbian, etc.?
  • Do you believe homosexuals can sexually change?
  • Do you believe gender reassignment surgery is wrong?

Every Evangelical I know would, with Holy Ghost gusto, answer YES! to these questions. Pray tell, how would such beliefs not materially affect how Evangelical Christian counselors interact with counselees? What if a client wanted to have an abortion, what would Evangelical counselors say? What if a client wanted to change their gender, marry their same-sex partner, have sex before marriage, or engage in any of the numerous behaviors considered sin? Would the best interest of the client be paramount, or would fidelity to Jesus and the teachings of the Bible take precedence?

The Christian counselors who expressed outrage over my posts want me to believe that they can objectively separate their beliefs from their work. I don’t believe that for a moment. Such a disconnect would be akin to an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher secretly taking on a part-time job as a bouncer at a strip club. Imagine one night coming face to face with Deacon Bob. The preacher looks at the deacon, the deacon, the preacher, both with a look that says, “what in the Hell are you doing here?” And in Holy Ghost unison, each says to the other, “Brother, I am here to evangelize sinners!” Now, both the preacher and deacon are likely at the strip club for other than religious reasons, but their beliefs are never far away. (Please see The Preacher Goes to the XXX Movie House) So it is with Evangelical counselors. When push comes to shove, if the counselor is a committed follower of Jesus, his or her beliefs are bound to surface.

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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12 Comments

  1. Tim Matter

    Even those butthurt Evangelical Christian counselors ought to agree with you 100% on their fellow counselors who have the credentials but are in fact unqualified, and they ought to be righteously outraged at the Christian institutions that give out those degrees to people without actually training them to be counselors .

    Reply
  2. Melissa A Montana

    Thanks for speaking about this issue. Religious counselors do more harm than they realize.

    Reply
  3. Becky Wiren

    I went to a psychologist locally who, I believe, may have been a Christian and possibly a Trump supporter. She dumped me as a patient, literally saying I was fine while I begged to differ. I was looking for some nuts and bolts, practical stuff for living, and there was a little that she helped me on. But I have zero interest in ever going to an Evangelical counselor.

    Reply
  4. GeoffT

    Given that list of beliefs that attach to evangelicals, I can see no way in which they can become genuine counsellors. It’s just not possible.

    Reply
  5. ObstacleChick

    If evangelical counselors are truly following their religious instructions, they would be disobeying their deity if they did try to compartmentalize their beliefs. They should, as you said, just be up front about it so patients can choose whether they want that type of counseling or not.

    It’s amazing how much response you received from those posts!

    Reply
  6. Matilda

    I’m sorry that once again you got to take so much flak, but keep up the good work. The arrogance of fundies – like the many who can psychoanalyse you so ”accurately” – never ceases to amaze me. I think most people would agree we can all suffer from some sort of self-delusion sometimes, but they are masters of it….and suffer so badly from privilege distress. They can’t see that their belief in an imaginary sky fairy firmly negates any credibility they may think they have, because it’s so unlikely they don’t believe jesus is the answer to every question and problem in life.

    Reply
  7. Brian Vanderlip

    Well, the great commission and all that kinda eats up an evangelical from the inside and they have to after us with their lakes of fires and ‘free’ offerings. It is Orwellian at the very least, the theft of decent language: Salvation? What a stinking stew of lies. In a balanced world, Christianity could advertise on TV just like other drug companies and would be legally required to list the side-effects of their products: Warning! Certain segments of population may suffer depression and suicideal thoughts, If persistent obsessive witnessing occurs see your doctor preacher immediately. Children should not take this medication!

    Reply
  8. MJ Lisbeth

    My father, who is dealing with his grief over losing my mother, has just done a few sessions with a therapist someone recommended to him. This therapist has, as far as I can tell, done nothing to help my father deal with his sadness over losing my mother and the regrets over what could and should have been. And she has not even helped him with anything practical, beyond telling him to get up in the morning and take a shower.

    She has, however, recommended that he go to church, pray and go to 12-step meetings.

    Even though my father has never declared himself an agnostic or atheist, he might be even less religious than I am. (Even before I developed my own distrust of religious leaders and institutions, he used to say, “Religion begins with some guy with a good line of bullshit.”) Moreover, he has never had any substance abuse issues, and doesn’t drink any more than, on occasion, a beer or glass of wine with his supper. Finally, he is an old-school blue-collar guy who had to be persuaded to go to a therapist in the first place. Although other family members and I are trying to encourage him to seek out another therapist, he won’t: The one he visited has only deepened his distrust and disdain for the profession.

    Reply
  9. Brian Vanderlip

    Lost my mom and dad about a year ago now. When my mom died, I tried to sit with my dad, that’s all, spend a bit of time and let him say or not say whatever was there for him. He was into dementia then but would at certain moments just come-to and look at me. “Mom’s in heaven, is she?” he’d ask and I would repeat that she had died. It took awhile.
    MJ, you are a sensitive and articulate person. So much of therapy for me had to do with the other in the room just listening to me empty out what plugged me up. I wonder if it is possible for you to just hang around your dad these days some, and let him be. I don’t really know anything about your relationship but I do know that having somebody there to talk with/at is a human connection that goes very deep. Grief is a physical thing too and wracks the body. A hug from a loved one even without words is a balm. Peace.

    Reply
  10. Suzanne Titkemeyer

    Thank you for speaking out about this! This is one of the most harmful things people who pose as counselors can do is interject their faith. For some years Jim was horribly depressed. He started going to a “Counselor” (and I use the wore loosely, accredited by some Baptist org only). In the course of his treatment the counselor became horrifically angry at Jim, berating him for just not believing enough. The last time he saw this guy I went with him. The counselor said the entire problem is that I worked outside of the home, in the social work field, and I wasn’t properly submissive. I called him an idiot. Jim finally got a physical, which is where a good counselor would have started, not with that Jesus-y crap, and lo and behold he had parathyroid cancer! He was depressed because there was a huge tumor on his parathyroid gland. Tumor removed, depression fled. Had we not discovered the tumor and he kept seeing the Baptist idiot he would have died. It is eventually fatal.

    Reply
  11. davey crockett

    Bruce is absolutely right about this issue. The Christian in front of counselor is a warning to all who enter therein for all reasons Bruce stated. I too experienced their idiocy and lack of ability and had no success with their way of functioning and problem solving. They were TERRIBLE listeners. Which is what makes Bruce’s point about requirements and clarity so important . If one has never run into this type of counseling environment – or never even counseled – well, you are green as grass as to what you are in for. The comments from Bruce’s first article were most all from people who had been there and experienced the failure and frustration of christian counseling and had seen the light and moved on. But those new to this are open game. For me, christian counseling was a big waste of time and like gasoline on a fire, feeding my problems – not fixing them. I not only had to learn better ways to function and problem solve in my personal life, but had to learn what good counseling looks like. And that came from a secular counselor who basically did things like what Bruce’s counselor did. Happy ending.

    Reply
  12. amy b

    I was a devout Christian for most of my life. With the invention of the World Wide Web, I (somehow) found a lot of leftist websites that gave a different perspective of the news than what I saw on TV or read in the papers. Because I was reading these websites, I became aware of the plight of the Palestinians, and was also cognizant that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and had no WMDs, and therefore the war was completely unjustified.

    Well, I was going to a Christian therapist at the time, who I will call Lisa. Lisa was a kind and wonderful woman who was very perceptive and helped me very much. We did talk about Jesus and his role in my life and all that stuff, which of course I was happy to discuss, but (much like the people at my church) she was uncritically pro-Israel, pro-Bush, and pro-war, and we argued about it ALL THE TIME. Eventually I became so disgusted I dropped her – and, many, many years later dropped Christianity (and eventually belief in any god) altogether – which in her case was a shame, because otherwise she was very good.

    You could say she had poor boundaries and we shouldn’t have been discussing politics at all, but I do feel her religion influenced her outlook. I later discovered there were anti-war, pro-LGBT churches, but if you examine the Bible it does encourage the Israelites (“Israelis” Hillbilly Graham called them) to take over this town, take over that town, and kill everybody (even the babies). Christians excuse these passages of the Bible by saying these people are SO wicked they NEEDED to die, but when you think logically about that, it reads like propaganda contrived to justify land grabs for their own sake (that historians think probably never happened anyway). This is a prime example of your religion blinding you to facts and basic decency.

    That’s what caused the great divide between me and the church, but letting go of religion also enabled me to let go of guilt for wayward thoughts and feelings or for not forgiving someone for shitting all over me, which is something else Christian counselors will do to you – they’ll try to shame you for having natural, human feelings, which plenty of other commenters have talked about. Nope, for something as delicate as dealing with a vulnerable person’s mental health, religious dogma doesn’t cut it. I’m happy to say my current therapist has no problem with me being an atheist (no “do you really think we come from MONKEYS?” bullshit from her) and she doesn’t tell me to forgive anyone, lest I go to Hell.

    Reply

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