Christian Psychology v. Biblical Counseling: A Christian Psychologist Responds to a Case of School Refusal

"yesterday I posted the case conceptualization of Tim Allchin, a biblical counselor in Chicago who runs a ACBC approved training site. In today’s post, I provide a case conceptualization from A.J. McConnell, a Christian psychologist" Patheos

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TylerR's picture

Editor

I am on the fence about this entire topic. Maranatha Seminary emphasizes the Biblical Counseling approach, and promotes materials by Jay Adams and CCEF, etc. That is the approach I have traditionally taken. I have personally found Jay Adams books, especially How to Help People Change, very helpful and practical. I appreciate the potential dangers in a purely secular approach to these matters can have. I appreciate Adams' landmark book Competent to Counsel. I read a few textbooks on counseling from an integrative perspective, and have been less than impressed.  

However, I have wondered about a more integrated approach. There can be a tendency to denigrate the entire psychology field as quackery, and I'm not quite ready to do that. I am skeptical about the field in general because I fear it will give people a "diagnostic crutch" for issues that are really more about sin. Of course, there are legitimate issues that are a result of our fallen state, but not necessarily the result of sinful thoughts or actions. That is where I tentatively believe the pastor and the psychologist have different roles. For example:

  • A lady compulsively gives her drug addict son money. Over the course of time, she covertly drains their join savings and retirement to feed his drug habit. This isn't a psychological issue, to may way of thinking. This is sin, and it is clearly in the church leadership's area of responsibility. I fear a psychological approach to this issue (e.g. some preliminary label from the DSM-V) will provide a "crutch" that bypasses the need for confession, repentance and forsaking of sin.
  • The boy in the article. This isn't so clear-cut. There may be issues there, and the Christian psychologist and the church leadership may be able to work together with the boy.

There is a lady in my church who has an MA in clinical psychology, teaches the subject, maintains a practice and is studying now for her PhD - from a secular institution. I need to make time to chat with her about this topic.   

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Paul Henebury's picture

My position on this is that the Adams approach is basically right, although I feel free to tweak it here and there.  I have counseled for over 20 years and have had nothing but headaches from the Christian Psychology movement, especially when dealing with people who have been to see them before they came to me.  Often the counselee has been pigeon-holed by such labels as "bipolar" or whatever and they see themselves as inescapably that way.  This makes it very hard to get them to take responsibility for their past actions and present thinking.  Too, it means that the Bible is often seen as inadequate to address the problem. 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I basically agree with the Adams approach, but I am willing to chat with Christian professionals with secular credentials in psychology about their perspective. However, I am concerned about a "counseling industrial complex" where pastors feel they aren't competent to counsel (pun intended), because the entire field is too complicated. I took several graduate courses in biblical counseling, and have read a good number of books on the subject. I see "biblical counseling" as practical application of Scripture to real life situations. It isn't rocket science. It isn't a magic art.

I fear many pastors think it is a magic art, and shy away from it.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

JohnBrian's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

Often the counselee has been pigeon-holed by such labels as "bipolar" or whatever and they see themselves as inescapably that way.  This makes it very hard to get them to take responsibility for their past actions and present thinking.  

There is a member of my extended family who has been to so many "counselors" over the years, and has embraced every label they've been diagnosed with. Recently I had a conversation with them and observed that they don't accept any responsibility for any of their problems.

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Bert Perry's picture

You've got Freud, Skinner, and a bunch of others at each others' throats, and mainstream differing strongly with all, psychiatrists denouncing psychologists and vice versa, and gadflies like Peter Breggin denouncing most medication as a guy allowed to prescribe it.  Against whom do we argue here?  The field is not exactly monolithic.

My take, as one who has a fair number of mentally ill relatives, is that there's quite a bit of room for all to interact--a lot of what I see is they're reducing symptoms at best, not curing the diseases, and there have been some times where I simply wonder what it is that the psychologists they're seeing don't clue in on.   I could always see my relative's manic phases coming on--never heard that his counselors ever clued in.  Had a hunch or two that his "mania" might actually be partially a cover for his IRS debt--and wondered if he'd settle, it would go away.  On the humbler side, my list of cures is as imaginary as some of Freud's.

The good side, really, is that inclusion of a behavior in DSM is still predicated on self-harm or harm to others.  That presumes a value to human life, and also some objective moral standard.  I think we can work with that, no?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that in the Sunday Schools and AWANA clubs at my church, there's always a young person with some separation anxiety--generally around age 3-5 and not much older, but I think we've got some older kids with that as well.  One thing that helps a lot is to let their parents attend until the young person decides that he's safe there--generally takes a few weeks.

On the light side, my youngest son decided, after seeing "The Incredible Hulk" on YouTube, that the Hulk was not the good guy, and that he was real and after four year olds.  So one night, scared, he came to my room and asked to go to Cubbies.  Apparently even Lou Ferrigno is afraid of a room full of four and five year olds.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

between psychology and psychiatry that's important to keep in mind. A psychiatrists is a medical doctor, and is therefore qualified (one supposes) to prescribe medications as a course of treatment. 

Psychologists, on the other hand, treat behaviors with psychotherapy--in this context, behaviors that are (one supposes) result of mental or emotional trauma.

I think both are valid fields of study, and can be helpful as long as their conclusions are consistent with Scripture.

As for the case study, the kid is only 6, maybe 7 years old. Good luck finding out the true reason why he's wigging out at school. At that age he's probably got the energy of a turbo engine and the attention span of a gnat--homeschool him and tell him to go build a life-size model of the Millennium Falcon with Legos. He'll be cured in no time. Biggrin

Joel Shaffer's picture

I'm sure many of us have anecdotal stories of how a secular or even a Christian counselor that uses secular methods labeled someone with a mental illness when it turned out to be more of a sin issue (I've seen several times too).   But if we are going to share anecdotal stories, I've seen just as many pastors who masquerade as Biblical counselors do just as much damage as a secular counselor because they were too quick to label what was going on with those whom they were counseling as primarily a sin issue or they didn't realize that it was a combination of both sin and a mental disorder/illness.   

 

 

Paul Henebury's picture

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was quoted as saying once that Jay Adams didn't seem to appreciate that there is such a thing as a mental disorder.  I see the danger of treating everything as a sin issue, but I think a competent biblical counselor will usually see the difference.  Of course, there are a lot of pastors out there who are less than competent as pastors, nevermind as counselors.  I also know of some "biblical' counselors who have caused damage through poor evaluation and counseling.  

However, if a Christian goes to see a secular or Christian integrationist, it is odds-on that they will soon be on medication.  That rarely helps things.  And again, the issue of responsibility for right responses is dodged.     

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.