Counseling: What is Our Foundation for Faith and Practice

– Our foundation and practice for counseling is our faith in Christ and Scripture.

If our counseling practice rests on our foundation, what is the end goal for those we counsel? How are we practicing out our foundation in our counseling? How does our foundation show up in the language of how we counsel? These kinds of questions should be part of our counseling thought process.

In many Christian circles, the field of psychology is often assumed to be neutral objective truth, with many often comparing it to the medical field. However, it is well known that not all doctors interpret objective medical truth the same way, specifically concerning why human bodies break down. There are a plethora of medical opinions about why this breakdown occurs but these opinions are often void of a Genesis 3 framework. Some medical opinions and diagnoses are indeed based on objectivity, especially if there are lab tests to confirm or reveal a clear diagnosis, but for the most part, there are various degrees of subjectivity even when objectivity is present. For example, the medical sciences have recently started to recognize the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) in adult health, even though many who have personally experienced various degrees of chronic childhood trauma have always known something wasn’t right with their overall health. Up until the 1980’s/1990’s San Diego study that linked various expressions of adult physical illness with childhood trauma, historically doctors have never been able to figure out the underlying causes of those illnesses. The crucial objective link between chronic childhood trauma and physical and neurological activity is just now starting to be understood.

Those of us who counsel that have some degree of familiarity with psychology or psychological methodology (from a few college courses to a master or doctoral education level), we can see the clear subjective reality that encompasses much of secular counseling approaches. Psychological research methods, either qualitative or quantitative, can never objectively answer questions about why people do what they do, why people think what they think, or explain behavioral phenomena. Those who conduct research openly admit that their own experiences are inevitably dictated by the lens by which they interpret their research and will use the participants own words, experiences, or actions to explain the research, often without providing any real solutions. It’s one thing to observe and record behavioral patterns for a nice clean chart or graph but this data rarely gives guidance on how to solve people’s problems. Research data simply gives us conclusions that people often react to living in a post Genesis 3 world in the same way as their neighbor, as others living in their home, or as those living in a community, city, state or country. Most often psychological research tells us what we already know about the effects of the fall, if we understand how to identify those effects in real time with real people.

In the medical field, we have various categories of doctors to treat some of the same things, with many calling themselves specialists. Praise God for the specialist doctor that doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to treatment. They get to the root of the problem and start the process to fix and heal. Christians who counsel should be like those specialists. If we know that behavior and an individual’s presenting problems are rooted in the objective truth of Scripture, to include how God created our bodies, we should not resort to using subjective ideas about how to help others understand those problems. Facilitating the objectivity of Scripture, wisely applied with objective knowledge about how our bodies work or break down, this should be our counseling approach. Unfortunately, many Christians who counsel are confused about how to do that.

The term psychology, as it relates to mental health, is a wide umbrella-ed term. For some, the word psychology is often understood to be blatantly not biblical. For others, the term psychology is often erroneously lumped together with the hard science disciplines and is assumed to have hard science objectivity. With the academic field of psychology designating their own “doctors” as psychiatrists or psychologists, it is no wonder that many lay Christians are confused about this vocational field of study.  The word psychology comes from the Greek roots psyche and lógos, which denotes the study of the soul. This explains why so many Biblical counselors have no problem calling what they do “soul care”. Even though the word psychology is not mentioned in the Bible, the word psyche is mentioned a hundred times in the New Testament[1], not necessarily in a precise contemporary understanding of the word, but most often to refer to the mind, mental processes, feelings, desires, or the behavior and experiences of man[2]. Since secular academia has revoked God or Scripture from its study of inquiry, the use of the term has been demoted to simply mean the “study of behavior”.

To understand psychology from a biblical perspective, it is crucial to note that the study of the soul must always include a theological component and should always be studied within the context of God in relation to his creation (the human body). This theological component must also include the fall and depravity (Genesis 3), along with the effects of both in relation to how they impact the functioning of the body. Most importantly, the study of the soul must explore the renewing of the mind, will, desires, and disposition of character and personality for those in Christ. He is faithful to redeem and sanctify (to make holy) a person’s soul continually and progressively.

It is important to clearly understand that psychology is not a hard science. Social work is not a hard science. Counseling or therapy are not hard sciences. Overall behavioral studies are not hard sciences. Unlike those in the medical field, who do have some objectivity in treatment applications, mental health disciplines are not strict objective vocations, unless one includes the objective study of the brain and body in relation to understanding emotional and mental deficits when God’s Word is used as the main underlying foundation.

Christians outside of the counseling or psychology field often lump all the mental health vocations, like counseling, therapy, social work, etc. into the “all truth is God’s truth” slogan, with an assumption that all those aspects of “science” are the same. They are not. Those of us that work in the mental health vocations know that. Unfortunately, the Christian outside of the counseling or mental health field, does not. Too often, the Bible and all forms of science, either the medical or mental health related fields are assumed to be of equal revelational value. They are not. As Christians who counsel, we should be prepared to explain why they aren’t.

[1] Bromiley, G. W. (1979–1988). Psychology. In G. W. Bromiley (Ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Vol. 3, p. 1043). Wm. B. Eerdmans.

[2] Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms (p. 351). Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.

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