Critiques of Counseling and the Benefits of Counseling from a Christian Perspective
From a Christian perspective, there are important critiques of psychotherapy that we need to be aware of. I try to articulate those concerns. Yet despite these critiques, I believe there are aspects of counseling that we can redeem and engage with for our edification and sanctification.
7 Cautions of Counseling
Professional counselors are trained in a variety of counseling models (e.g., Cognitive behavior therapy; Psychodynamic; Family systems; Solution Focused; Attachment; Object Relations; Gestalt; Existential; Biblical/nouthetic counseling). Each counseling model has their own definitions regarding theories of change, view of the person, the problem and solution, and methods and goals. From a biblical worldview it is important to critique the mental health industry as you engage with counseling.
1. Counseling theories and practices tend to be humanistic.
The field of modern psychology is based on the scientific method requiring hypothesis and proof and the medical model which include diagnosis and treatment. I say “modern psychology" because historically, psychology has spiritual roots regarding the care of souls, but the field of psychology has now transformed into its scientific form. Modern psychology relies on human logic to define our problems, and relies on our own logic for the solution. Self-help resources and manmade solutions have their merits but can only take us so far.
2. Counseling theories have an incomplete understanding of who we are.
Many counseling theories address our biology, physiology, and neurobiology (e.g., fight/flight response, neurotransmitters, psychopharmacology), emotions, thought patterns, personality, relational patterns, and even our motives and desires, but most do not address our morality or spiritually. It is important to have a clear theological anthropology when engaging with counseling because we want to be accurate with who we are. It may be helpful to emphasize the value of maturing our character and growing in our spiritual life when engaging with counseling.
3. Counseling theories have an incomplete understanding of our problems.
Counseling models tend to emphasize causality and has deterministic presuppositions. The field tends to view people as victims and externalizes blame: “It's not my fault; I was born this way; It’s my parents fault; It’s my past; My environment made me like this”. Most counseling models tend to view people as good in nature and label our problems as “leaking love tanks”, “unprocessed trauma”, “daddy/mommy issues”, “unmet childhood needs”, “enmeshed/diffuse boundaries”, “defense mechanisms”, or “cognitive distortions”. These definitions of our problem lead to the externalizing of our responsibility for our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. It may be helpful to consider our view of sin nature, not to wallow in it or to self-pity, but because it is helpful to define our problems accurately. It may be helpful to address our conscience and our feelings of guilt and shame productively to address underlying root problems.
4. Counseling theories have incomplete methods to solve our problem.
Behavioral modification, cognitive restructuring, medication, emotional catharsis, processing past experiences, making our unconscious conscious, unburdening our psychological baggage, establishing healthy boundaries, being assertive, and positive self-talk can only go so far because only Jesus can change our hearts and give new spiritual life.
5. Counseling theories have incomplete goals.
The goal of many counseling models is autonomy, individuation, independence, self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-actualization. An overemphasis of these goals can breed selfishness, self-absorption, and lead to a sense of entitlement: “These are my rights.”; “I want to be true to myself.” These goals of autonomy replace God as the true ultimate goal.
6. Counseling theories tend to be nonjudgmental.
While unconditional positive regard, empathy, reflective listening, and being nonjudgmental may provide a source of needed comfort, these postures in the long run may lead to enabling. If all we receive in counseling is approval, we may end up seeking and receiving approval for sinful lifestyle choices. Counseling may become sin management. It may be helpful to consider our ethics and values, the standard with which we want to live by, and who we consider to be the judge of our lives.
7. Counseling theories tend to minimize God.
Most counseling models do not view people as sinning before God. Therefore we do not need a Savior's forgiveness to deliver us, or a Shepherd's ongoing presence and the Spirit’s power to change us. A bio-psycho-social problem has by definition, a bio-psycho-social solution. If we don't have any problem with God, we don't need anything from God to solve the problem. It may be helpful to keep God central as you engage with counseling.
Once you establish a clear framework for counseling, engaging with counseling can be helpful for our healing and growth.
7 Benefits of Counseling
1. You become aware of and address your inadequacies. It is easy to remain in a comfortable, distorted façade about who you are and how you are living. Many of us are either in denial or blind to our own flaws. Due to the busyness of life, we rarely take the time to look deeply into our interior world, our heart, our depths, our soul. We may spend hours working, being active in the community, and be deceived about what is really going on inside of us. Counseling provides a place to take off our masks and all the hats we wear, to look at ourselves honestly.
2. You can confess and address your wrongs. Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. We all fall short at times. While we can evaluate performance externally, it is difficult to assess the condition of our hearts. Counseling provides a safe place to confess our wrongs of commission, omission, and intent. We can admit where we fall short: Being a controlling spouse, parent, friend; being unteachable; insecure, defensive, rude, lustful, arrogant, critical. There is freedom in knowing my limits and admitting my faults. It releases the power that guilt and shame from our wrongs hold over us. We don’t have to keep secrets anymore. Confessing faults is the first step towards forgiveness. I agree with the saying, "We are only as sick as the secrets we keep." In counseling, my skeletons can finally come out of the closet and get cleaned out to live with a clear conscience.
3. You build consistency in your external and interior world. We can easily become so busy with external tasks that we don’t have time for introspection. It takes work, energy, inconvenience, time, courage, and solitude to gain a clear understanding of our internal motives, beliefs, desires, and thoughts. There is peace and security in connecting what you are doing with why you are doing it. Counseling is a place to examine your life and commit to live with integrity and character before God, in your marriage, family, and in your community.
4. Break the power of your past. Your childhood, significant events you’ve experienced, and your family dynamics have shaped you. It is helpful to discern and unburden how your past experiences have influenced your life. We can be controlling, fixing, withdrawing, ignoring, denying, pacifying, anxious, frustrated, resentful, and blaming one another because of learned patterns of behaviors. Our ways of behaving are often passed through generations. Counseling is the process of honest reflection of the positive and negative impact of our family of origin which provides the opportunity to change.
5. Work through loss and grieve. Our soul grows through suffering. The death of a child, the passing of a loved one, disability, divorce, rape, abuse, theft, cancer, infertility, broken dreams, suicide, miscarriage, abortion, still-birth, and being betrayed are tragic losses. We all experience natural losses in our life: graduating school, relationships not working out, moving, job changes, leadership changes, groups ending. Some people act recklessly when they experience loss to escape the pain of the loss. Grieving our losses leads to: waiting on God, surrendering our will to God, kindness and compassion, sensitivity to others who are hurting. When we work through loss, life is stripped of its pretense and non-essentials, we grow in humility, we gain appreciation of life, and a greater willingness to take risks. Grieving a loss causes us to grow closer to God. Counseling provides a time and place to work through our losses.
6. Living authentically. We have an internal desire to be real, to live with vulnerability, to be who we were made to be, to be who we really are. Yet, we have the tendency to hide behind our job titles, accomplishments, and reputations. As you expose your flaws, weaknesses, inconsistencies, and grieve your losses, we need help from one another: we need love and acceptance, we are desperate for mercy, and we find refuge in the kindness from a friend. The goal of living authentically means taking the Gospel from being merely facts in our head to melting our hearts with joy. Our vulnerability is our greatest gift to the people we encounter. Counseling provides a place to practice sharing our mistakes and failures and the living out of the Gospel.
7. You can only lead someone as far as you’ve gone yourself. How can you help someone mature when you haven’t addressed your own issues? You have to first take the plank out of your own eye. Only after you have taken an honest look at yourself and addressed your own issues, are you then able to begin helping others. If you want to be fully present, to listen well, to enter into another person's life, you need to overcome your need to get something from the one you are trying to serve. The most effective counselor, leader, parent, friend, is a person who has a living testimony of transformation, salvation, redemption, healing, and maturity.