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The Rise of Biblical Counseling


Rachel333
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I just read this article about Biblical counseling and wondered what people here thought about it.

http://www.psmag.com/health-and-behavior/evangelical-prayer-bible-religion-born-again-christianity-rise-biblical-counseling-89464

I thought this was a sad statistic:

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In 2013, 48 percent of self-identified evangelical, born-again, or fundamentalist Christians said they believe that conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can be treated with prayer alone.

On the other hand, having known a lot of Christians who don't really believe in mental illness, I was almost surprised that the number wasn't higher.

I like that the article pointed out that it can be helpful sometimes, but other cases are horrifying.

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BUT BIBLICAL COUNSELING BECOMES far more dubious when it disregards evidence of traits that are beyond a person’s control. One of the most troubling stories in Counseling the Hard Cases concerns a bipolar mother of three who appears to be stuck in an abusive and controlling marriage. Her husband wants her to go off her medications, to have more children, and to homeschool them. Going off medication leads the wife to episodes of uncontrollable mania, and she starts drinking.

The author of the account, Robert Jones, a biblical counseling professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, declares that the mother’s issues aren’t mental illness but addiction and adultery, rebellion and unbelief. He approves the husband’s decision to take away the counselee’s car keys during the day, to commit her to a residential detox facility, and to tell her children that their mother “is not following Jesus or obeying God right now.”

The article quotes one man who has a book that sounds interesting, The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care: Treatments That Harm Women, LGBT Persons and the Mentally Ill. (amazon link)

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Weaver isn’t alone in his dismay. On Christian blogs and websites, complaints about biblical counseling are starting to accumulate: of abused women counseled to discover their role in their husband’s domestic violence; of molested children declared healed after a one-time, 45-minute counseling session.

That definitely makes me think of the Duggars. I hate to think what they must be taught.

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In practice, according to Stanford, when churches began once again to address mental illness, the mindset that came to prevail among biblical counselors was that the mentally ill were simply “insufficient believers.” This had calamitous effects on severely troubled patients. “I can honestly tell you, as someone who’s been doing this for 20 years, that I’ve never seen someone who has a serious mental illness that went to a biblical counselor and didn’t actually get worse and get hurt,” Stanford says. “I’ve never seen them get better.”

That idea that the mentally ill are insufficient believers is one I have heard a lot and still deal with from my own family. I never received any type of counseling, biblical or otherwise, while I was a Christian, but I know others who did have decades of trying to cure their mental illness that way with no success, which just made them feel guilty and like a bad Christian.

Anyway, I found the whole article interesting, and I'm curious if others here have had experiences with this type of thing themselves.

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I think "biblical counseling" is ineffective at best and downright dangerous at worst.

That is not to say that religion has no place in mental health. I've seen really positive results for people incorporating the spiritual practice of their choosing into their mental health recovery along with evidence-based therapy.

That's the key...along with evidence-based therapy. Any program that claims that prayer or biblical study is all that is required or focuses on identifying sin rather than establishing more positive patterns of cognition and behavior is probably not going to be a long-term solution to a mental health concern even if the person experiences temporary relief. At worst, these practices can be downright abusive or can do harm via ignorance of best practice.

I think it's irresponsible for these practitioners to steer their clients away from evidenced-based approaches to mental health. Prayer can be great, but it's not a magical cure-all for mental health disorders.

Edited by Mercer
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12 minutes ago, Mercer said:

That is not to say that religion has no place in mental health. I've seen really positive results for people incorporating the spiritual practice of their choosing into their mental health recovery along with evidence-based therapy.

This is true, from what  I understand religious faith is correlated with better outcomes in mental health treatment. The thing is, it's not any specific faith, just having a faith at all, so for those who believe their faith is the one true faith that's not actually as supportive of their beliefs as it might seem.

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oh boy.  

I came very close to walking out of a service years ago when a visiting pastor started in on Jesus and mental health and loving God more.  The only thing that kept me in the pew was people on either side of me.  I gritted it out.  I wish I had got my stuff and walked out in retrospect.  

There are enough issues when you have mental health issues without adding the whole twist of you don't love God enough of believe or have enough faith aspect to it.  I even have issues with the metaphysical ideas of everything in your health including mental health is tied to bad thinking and you just need affirmations to get you over it and get you well stuff that some people I know (and care about) try to shove at me.  

When I did go to church, I'll be honest, I had to really trust you to come out of my closet and tell you about my depression and that I was on meds.  Because I needed to know that you weren't one of them.   And I don't like living me life that way.  I am typically honest about depression and meds because I feel that talking about this stuff helps others accept things and might lead to someone getting help.  

So Biblical Counseling, to me, is  a way to say, oh look we acknowledge real issues, we just do it based on the Bible.  It can get dangerous.   If you look at the years it takes psychologist and psychiatrists to be able to practice versus a Pastor who may or may not have legitimate training real damage can be done.  In some cases there are people with real training.  But looking at some of the churches of the holy living room we see on this board, you're talking about any schmo calling something Biblical Counseling.  It scares me.  

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I went to biblical counseling when I was 19 as it was the only kind my father would help me pay for. Most of the people who worked at this particular facility didn't hold degrees in anything related to counseling or mental health, they just completed a certificate program on things related to christian counseling. I will say the person I saw was honest enough to suggest to my father that I needed more comprehensive mental health care (which of course never came) but I really can't say that my time there was helpful at all.

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I am not going to criticize biblical counseling when used with proper evidence based medical training and medication.  Beyond, this sounds medieval especially that bit about Robert Jones talking about the mother not being mentally ill but suffering from addiction,adultery, rebellion, and unbelief. 

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As a Christian I think biblical counseling certainly has a place- marital /pre mar ital counseling, mild situational depression or anxiety (I've gone myself for that and found it very helpful). But I can't imagine it being helpful for an actual mental illness. In conjunction with, sure, but not in place of.

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21 minutes ago, Anonymousguest said:

As a Christian I think biblical counseling certainly has a place- marital /pre mar ital counseling, mild situational depression or anxiety (I've gone myself for that and found it very helpful). But I can't imagine it being helpful for an actual mental illness. In conjunction with, sure, but not in place of.

I agree.  I've used it for anxiety myself.  The exception was not only was my therapist trained in Biblical counseling but also had his therapist license and could prescribe drugs if need be.

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Biblical counseling is okay if you just want to talk. But if you have depression or emotional issues real legit counseling should be recommended. Counselors hold advanced degrees and know what they're doing.

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Agree that that religious / spiritual practices combined with evidence based therapy can be helpful however it should not be a substitute for it.  

However, the one time I went into therapy I was asked if I wanted religious or secular counseling. I opted for secular because I had concerns that it might not involve real therapy and also it might be biased because of the situation I was in.  I was at a point where I was at the end of my rope and I didn't want just prayer or told to believe harder or any of that.  I wanted real help, it was not a situation that I wanted prayed away.  Having known a very troubled person who tried to pray his problems away when he need real help from psychologists / psychiatrists, I didn't want to do what he did which was very ineffective. 

And believe it or not, one of the friends to whom I confided that I was undergoing therapy wanted to know if it was Christian or secular counseling and expressed clear disapproval that it wasn't Christian counseling.  Ugh. 

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I become more disenchanted with people who claim to be Christian the more I hang out here.  No, I'm not having a crisis in faith but a crisis in what Christians think Jesus would want.  My whole life I was taught at church and at home that God can work through ANYONE.  So it wouldn't matter if the counseling was secular or faith based God would be working through the person.  Just like all the medical discoveries are guided by the hand of God.  Did all the fundies sleep through that sermon? 

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My son has autism and when he was 2 1/2 and going through the diagnostic process, we had a family photo shoot with an old high school friend who has a photography business. I explained to her that my son is in the process of getting diagnosed, etc. She is fundie-light, went to Moody Bible College, so did her husband and she told me if I prayed hard enough, God would cure him. I was speechless and just tried to get through the shoot. After about ten minutes, my son was over it so she suggested I try spanking him and that she would pRay for me. Needless to say, that was the first and only time I used her services. Pastoral counseling has a time and a place, but should never interfere with medical/psychological intervention.

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My church offers both counselling and to just speak to a deacon. The counsellors have training both in how to do that part and about church theology and sometimes they are deacons as well but a deacon does not need to be a counsellor.

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Don't get me started here. *curls up on top of psychology and nursing degrees and gets REALLY ugly mean*

If you have a screwed up pancreas, you may need insulin.  If your thyroid is out of whack, you need Synthroid, not prayer.

If someone is sorta-kinda-differently wired, or the brain chemicals are Not Doing The Right Thing---what's needed is a major rebalance, and NOT prayer. The Blessed Eternal (pick your label!) gave us lots of tools---sometimes, just not enough or the right type---and (IMNSHO) it would be a complete fool who'd turn down useful stuff.

CAN prayer be helpful?---I'm a firm believer in using anything that works and which does not cause harm.  But coming to Jesus/Allah/the Goddess/whatever is so NOT going to reset biofunctions. Peace and calmness when dealing with everyday crises?--yes. Handling a severe emotional/mental breakdown?---no.

Do these SuperTwoo0Believers insist on quantity sufficient of prayer to handle appendicitis, a heart attack, or a stroke? *fumes*

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I have so much to say about some of these nouthetic counsellors that I need to go to counseling about it. I left my psychology program when I realized that's what it was teaching- when I asked why we had barely discussed Freud two years into undergrad, they said it was because his theories were incorrect and unchristian and we wouldn't use them. Um...but don't you think we still at least need to know about them? I left ASAP. They didn't bill it as Christian counseling, but that's what it was. Those kids left wholly unprepared for everything.

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I have more experience than I wish I had with it.

My mom had bipolar disorder and depersonalization disorder. She was (imo) conned into seeing a "nouthetic" counselor, or spiritual counselor. Before that, her conditions were poorly controlled as it was with lithium, prozac and a few other meds. But the counselor convinced her to go off ALL of them because "they're just making matters worse." So she did. An unmedicated person with those diseases is unstable, to say the least. She kept detailed notebooks outlining her sins and failures (and her paranoid imaginations, her delusions and her hallucinations, as time went on) that she had to share with her counselor so that they could see what she needed to confess and work on. Visiting her in the psychiatric ward after one of her numerous suicide attempts -- it's not something I ever wish to repeat. Locked psychiatric wards are not nice places, and it hurt my heart to see my mom in one.

As for personal experience, I've got that, too. In Bible college, I had to take a nouthetic counseling course, and one of the course requirements was to sit in on counseling sessions. Some of the people who came in for counseling needed actual medical care -- and some needed help from law enforcement, imho. 

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Oh man... when I expressed an interest in studying psychology at university, a visiting IFB pastor incredulously said to me "You want to study 'sick-ology'?!".

I also believe that biblical counseling can be of benefit to people, that are also under the care of a physician (at least) or mental health care professional. Sometimes, in the fundie world at least, people are encouraged to eschew mental health care professionals (and, medication) and only rely on biblical counseling. I've seen firsthand, very sadly, that this can have catastrophic results.

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Granted, it's been a couple of decades since I regularly went to church, but as I recall, the crux of the Southern Baptist mantra at the time was essentially "you're a terrible, no good sinner and you're going to hell unless you do exactly as we say and we say everything that you do is wrong so you'd better try harder."  In my teens, I struggled with sometimes severe depression and anxiety that lessened dramatically the further I got away from the church and those associated with it.  Turns out, being around a group of people and an organization that actively uses disapproval, anxiety, fear and depression against you in order to manipulate you into believing its message (and giving it money, of course!) isn't good for even the mildly depressed and anxious, much less those with serious problems.  

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Thank God I attend a church that has a Christian based recovery program (that the fundies hate) AND licenced therapists on staff. 

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22 hours ago, Rachel333 said:

I just read this article about Biblical counseling and wondered what people here thought about it.

http://www.psmag.com/health-and-behavior/evangelical-prayer-bible-religion-born-again-christianity-rise-biblical-counseling-89464

I thought this was a sad statistic:

On the other hand, having known a lot of Christians who don't really believe in mental illness, I was almost surprised that the number wasn't higher.

I like that the article pointed out that it can be helpful sometimes, but other cases are horrifying.

The article quotes one man who has a book that sounds interesting, The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care: Treatments That Harm Women, LGBT Persons and the Mentally Ill. (amazon link)

That definitely makes me think of the Duggars. I hate to think what they must be taught.

That idea that the mentally ill are insufficient believers is one I have heard a lot and still deal with from my own family. I never received any type of counseling, biblical or otherwise, while I was a Christian, but I know others who did have decades of trying to cure their mental illness that way with no success, which just made them feel guilty and like a bad Christian.

Anyway, I found the whole article interesting, and I'm curious if others here have had experiences with this type of thing themselves.

Sadly. When trying to get help for our (now officially diagnosed) bipolar kid, we went to friends who were mental health nurses, who advised us to go the biblical counseling route. Yeah, like the kid wasn't trying hard enough, and if only the kid tried harder and prayed harder, everything would come right.

And I had to stop reading a former friend's FB because she came out all snarky about people and their imaginary mental illnesses, that were just convenient excuses for being lazy and trying to get away with sin instead of confronting it, and that sort of thing. Even after I countered her with facts, she snarked at me and others who tried to reason with her. While she had a lot of good stuff to say on FB, that one subject was enough to cross her off my list. I can't cope with that kind of deliberate ignorance and the people who gloat in it and flaunt it.

ETA: Those psychiatric nurse friends have changed their tune. Yeah, at the time we asked their advice, they were working in that field, while attending a church that preached that psychology was man-centered and most problems were sin issues. Talk about cognitive dissonance! Now they're out of that church, and very happy for our kid, and interested in the treatment and what drugs have helped or not helped.

14 hours ago, grandmadugger said:

I become more disenchanted with people who claim to be Christian the more I hang out here.  No, I'm not having a crisis in faith but a crisis in what Christians think Jesus would want.  My whole life I was taught at church and at home that God can work through ANYONE.  So it wouldn't matter if the counseling was secular or faith based God would be working through the person.  Just like all the medical discoveries are guided by the hand of God.  Did all the fundies sleep through that sermon? 

No, they pick and choose based on what they want to think is true.

They're no better than the people in history who tried to exorcise demons from the mentally ill, or even burned them for being witches.

Edited by refugee
just to be fair
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IFB style churches tend to believe in "demon possession", as well. So, it's sobering to think of the potential consequences for people who may trust only their church with their mental health.

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Most priests I've known who also offer counseling services hold master's degrees or doctorates from medical schools or universities in related fields (social work, drug addiction counseling, psychiatry, psychology). I didn't realize until a few years ago how many Christian/Biblical counseling services for issues way beyond spirituality are run by people with no real background/training/licenses. 

Unfortunately, mental health issues are stigmatized by all sorts of groups, not just fundies. Plenty of non-religious people still believe the secular equivalent of "pray more" (a.k.a. "suck it up") when it comes to dealing with conditions like depression. Not to mention, it's often hard for people to find and afford adequate mental health care providers (and I kind of wonder if this is part of what's fueling the rise in Biblical counseling).  That said, it's still a terrible idea to rely purely on Bible-based counseling; it should be a supplement to evidence-based psychology and/or psychiatry.

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For me personally, both my therapist and minister along with meds have helped me. That doesn't work for everyone though.

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3 hours ago, SledCat said:

IFB style churches tend to believe in "demon possession", as well. So, it's sobering to think of the potential consequences for people who may trust only their church with their mental health.

Yeah most of the times they would send us kids/younger people out when they attempted to exorcise people (for the "really bad" cases) but it's pretty terrifying to see. Think someone with an extreme personality disorder/multiple personalities talking as several people at once. 

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