The manner in which Biblical Counseling as a discipline should interact with the discipline of “psychology” is a matter of great interest to me. I use quotation marks because the word refers to a bewildering number of concepts and theories, all of which more-or-less concern what a human being is, how a human being knows, how human beings change, and what end they should change toward. Psychology is a science at times, a religion at times, a moral theory in other places.
In a series of articles being published in the Journal of Biblical Soul Care, I have been offering my thoughts on how we Biblical Counseling should interact with psychology. (The series begins here.) I do not think it best to either appropriate whatever “works”, nor to simply ignore it. In fact, I do not think it possible to ignore it altogether. Therefore, we have to learn how to handle this most pressing understanding of our day. In general, I think we should examine psychology with all the care one would use to pick up a porcupine.
That project will take years to complete. In the interim, I would like to offer this caution: it is one thing to read a study which reports on the stress effects of long-distance driving on truckers. It is another thing to import a therapy because it “work”. I would like to offer some cautions on why we should not simply use a therapeutic technique in BC.
Point One: It exceeds our job description. Biblical counseling is direction in Christian discipleship. We help people put Christian theology into practice. There are any number of things, good and bad, which lie beyond the scope of our work. If you are an accountant and you are acting as a counselor, be a counselor. Even the good work of offering tax advice is something other than biblical counseling. Stick to your job description. The box boy might help me to my car, but it’s not his job to rotate the tires.
Point Two: You need a license to conduct therapy. Psychotherapists constitute a licensed profession in the United States. They are governed by very specific standards and must pass certain requirements in each state. If you engage in therapy and you do not have a license, you are violating the law. The laws may be ill-informed and not in the public good, but they are the laws. A Biblical counselor does not need to be licensed, because we do not engage in therapy. We train in the Christian religion.
Point Three: Not all help is help. A common argument is that we are called to “help hurting people.” Some therapy is said to help people. Therefore, we should use that therapy. The trouble here is with the word “help.” Therapy is an amoral procedure whose primary end is for the client/patient to feel better. If one feels happy, calm, well suited to one’s situation, everything is fine.
We do believe that as a general matter, living in accord with Biblical principles will result in a better, more satisfying life. But as we look through the text of Scripture, we see instances where living as God calls us will result in our happiness. Does the unremitting pain of the psalmist in Psalm 88 need therapy? Jesus’ agony in the Garden and then the escalating pain and sorrow of the Cross show that God may call his most highly esteemed servants to suffer tremendous sorrow.
Sometimes sorrow and pain is good because it leads us to repentance. Psalm 32 describes the pain felt by one who is living with unrepentant sin. The pain of the unrepentance was meant to drive David to repent. Should David have merely learned some breathing techniques and used valium?
This is not an exhaustive example of when sorrow or pain are not be avoided. But it is sufficient to prove that not all pain is something which should simply stop, and it is not always “help” to help someone avoid sorrow or pain.
Point Four: a therapy is the rite of a foreign religion. All forms of beliefs and actions will have effect of changing people. Even ineffective therapy will change a person, however slight the change. When you use a therapy, you instructing in hope (this will help you feel better). You giving instruction in what a human being really is, what is the point of a human being, and who how human beings change.
A therapy is not some neutral procedure which has the moral content of a hydrogen bond in a chemistry experiment. A therapy comes out of a complex understanding of a human being and seeks to change a human being in the direction of and consistent with that understanding. When you import a therapy, you are importing rituals of a different religion.
This last point may be the most difficult to understand, and it could bear more explanation. Perhaps in another place I will draw that assertion out in greater detail.