Professional psychotherapy, with its underlying psychologies, is questionable at best, detrimental at worst, and a spiritual counterfeit at least. On one hand, there’s enough biblical and scientific evidence to shut down the secular psychology industry and with it the “Christian Psychology” industry. On the other hand, we’re not naïve enough to believe that the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence supporting its demise will be heeded by the majority of Christians.
Regrettably, many will not be interested in reading about the biblical and scientific evidence because it contradicts their established assumptions about psychological counseling. According to sound research, not only is psychotherapy less effective than it is purported to be, but in many cases it’s even harmful. After examining numerous efficacy (effectiveness) studies on psychotherapy, university professor and widely recognized researcher Dr. Robyn Dawes says, “There is no positive evidence supporting the efficacy of professional psychology.”11 Dawes further says “Evaluating the efficacy of psychotherapy has led us to conclude that professional psychologists are no better psychotherapists than anyone else with minimal training—sometimes those without any training at all; the professionals are merely more expensive.”12
In fact, Dr. Lawrence LeShan, when he was president-elect of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, said: “Psychotherapy may be known in the future as the greatest hoax of the twentieth century.”13
Although biblical ministry to the soul has existed for thousands of years, psychotherapy is relatively new. It has only been during the latter half of the twentieth century that Christians began to trust psychology more than the Bible in dealing with problems of living. As a result, psychology has displaced much of Christianity and the care of souls. Even for those who are Christians, psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies have contaminated the pure ministry of the Word of God and the life of Christ in the believer.
Today people wholeheartedly believe that psychological counseling theories, dressed in a wide variety of styles and shades, contain the secrets and answers for helping troubled souls. Their confidence in the curative power of psychotherapy has increased in spite of the absence of substantial proof of any great degree of effectiveness.14 Persuaded by the claims of psychotherapists, they fail to question the validity of those claims, refuse to examine research, and blindly believe popular myths about psychotherapy.
In our local and national surveys, we have found that the large majority of churches refer their people with personal, marital, and family problems to these licensed professionals. Prior to 60 years ago, no such referral from a church to a psychotherapist’s office ever happened, because licensed psychotherapists did not exist then. Now the church that does not refer out to the licensed therapist or use their books is a major exception.
What’s the problem with pastors directing their people away from the oracles of God to the offices of the God-usurpers? The radical wrongdoing in all of this is that by sending people to psychotherapists, pastors and other ministers in the church are, in effect, denying the sufficiency of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit to minister to the trials, tribulations, and suffering that we face in life!
The church has great and godly promises available in the Word, which always trumps the current-day prestige, promises, and pronouncements of the psychotherapists, but there are many Christian leaders and organizations that, by their actions, must not believe this. Their very acts contradict their claims of belief in the sufficiency of Scripture.
We have repeatedly said that Christians should not become psychotherapists. Neither should Christians go to psychotherapists for help. In spite of our warnings, for which we have provided biblical and scientific support, Christians continue to become licensed psychotherapists or are using their services.
All licensed psychotherapists have been educated in clinical psychology, from which psychotherapy (counseling psychology) comes. When they counsel, they must do so according to their secular psychological training and their license. Each state licenses its own psychotherapists, with the two most popular titles being Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist. The standard that psychotherapists must follow is that they are to practice according to the educational requirements for licensing. A licensed-by-the-state psychotherapist who is honest cannot turn the therapist/client relationship into a godly Christian session, as that would be a dishonest use of the license and could lead to suspension of it.
Any licensed-by-the-state psychotherapist must serve clients without discrimination. That means a Christian who is licensed by the state to be a psychotherapist must perform professional services for married lesbians and gays, homosexual singles, Satanists, cult leaders, et al. For example, if two married gays come to a psychotherapist licensed by the state, she15 must do her best to assist the gay couple with all of her professional training to help them live more happily with one another. Some of these Christian psychotherapists will tell you that they would rather lose their license than to do that. However, no Christian should be involved in such unfaithfulness to begin with.
From the very beginning of the Christian church there was a method and a ministry for dealing with mental/emotional problems. The method depended upon the Word of God, which describes both the condition of man and the process of relief for troubled minds. The ministry within the early church was a prayer-and-healing ministry, which dealt with all nonorganic mental/emotional disturbances. This entire process was known as the “cure of souls.” John T. McNeill, in A History of the Cure of Souls, describes this ministry as “the sustaining and curative treatment of persons in those matters that reach beyond the requirements of the animal life.”16
Whereas once the church believed in, spoke of, and practiced the cure of souls, it has shifted its faith to a secular cure of minds. Dr. Thomas Szasz very ably describes how this change came about: “…with the soul securely displaced by the mind and the mind securely subsumed as a function of the brain—people speak of the ‘cure of minds.’”17 The brain is a physical organ; the mind is not. With this subtle semantic twist, the mind (disguised as an organ of the body) was elevated as a scientific and medical concept in contrast to the soul, which is a theological reality. A choice was made between a so-called scientific concept and a theological one. The average person does not see that both mind and soul are abstract concepts. One is an abstraction of psychotherapy and the other is an abstraction of religion.
At the same time that a physical organ (the brain) was replaced by an abstraction (the mind), another change took place. Whereas the church had believed that there was a relationship of sin and circumstances to mental/emotional disorders, the psychotherapist introduced the medical concept of sickness to explain such disorders. Nevertheless, mental suffering is not synonymous with sickness—we’ve only been deluded into thinking that it is. We easily accepted the word “sickness” to refer to mental-emotional problems because that was the “loving” and “understanding” way to cover up moral responsibility—ours as well as theirs.
There’s a serious problem when people confuse emotions with tissue and sin with sickness. Such confusion of words leads to erroneous thinking. This very confusion and error virtually ended the cure-of-souls ministry in the church. Through a semantic trick, the mind was confused with the brain, and the misnomer of sickness replaced the concept of sin. Thus the entire subjective, theoretical process of psychotherapy ensconced itself safely in the realm of science and medicine. In reality, psychotherapy is a misfit as medicine and an impostor as science. With the rise in psychotherapy, there was a decline in the pastoral cure of souls until that ministry is now almost nonexistent.
Christianity is more than a belief system or a theological creed. Christianity is faith in a living Lord and in His indwelling Holy Spirit. Christianity involves the entire life: every day, every action, every decision, every thought, and every emotion. One cannot adequately treat a Christian apart from Christ’s indwelling presence. Neither should one segment the mental and emotional from a Christian’s faith.
True Christians, who have God’s Holy Spirit living in them, are spiritual beings; they need spiritual solutions, not mere psychological attempts at solving the problem. Yet, for too long Christians have looked to the church to answer our theological questions and have looked elsewhere for answers to problems
It’s understandable that the world would reject the Living Water when attempting to understand and help individuals suffering from problems of living. However, as the world rejected biblical answers, the church began to doubt its own doctrine of sin, salvation, and sanctification in the area of personal and relationship problems. Many ministers even left their pastorates to become licensed psychotherapists.
In the past sixty years, psychological theory has usurped the place of spiritual practice, and even Christians turn to psychotherapy rather than to sanctification as a means of dealing with soul problems. The Bible provides both a spiritual basis for mental/emotional health and a spiritual solution for non-organically caused mental/emotional disorders. True mental health involves spiritual and moral health as well as emotional wellbeing. It’s imperative that Christians take a fresh look at the Bible and at the provisions that God has made available for mental-emotional health and healing. No one has ever proved that psychotherapy produces better results than biblical ministry in the church from the day of Pentecost onward.
The Bible is the only authoritative document that is sufficient when it comes to matters of the soul. God himself created humans. He not only gave them a soul, but He gave them His Word concerning matters of the soul, including “all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Pt 1:3). The soul itself is a person’s nonphysical inner life, the core of one’s being.
No psychological theory, psychotherapist, or psychological counselor can even approach what the Bible is able to do regarding the soul: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb:4:12-13).
The soul resides in every person in his inborn nature, which is common to all who are “in Adam” (they have inherited the sin nature.) The human spirit is made alive when people are “born again” (Jn:1:12-13; 3:3-5) and have the life of Christ in them. This plays out in Galatians where the “flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” (Gal:5:17). This battle within every believer between the flesh and the spirit continues until believers enter into glory with Jesus Christ. The Word of God reveals a person’s “thoughts and intents of the heart.” The Word of God is not only powerful and authoritative; it is God-breathed and sufficient to enable a Christian to live a life pleasing to God: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tm 3:16-17).
The Word of God ministered by the Holy Spirit in the fellowship of believers has far more to offer than the psychological wisdom of men. God’s plan for salvation and sanctification is clearly laid out in the Bible. Instead of turning to psychotherapy, believers need to turn to Scripture, which describes both what God accomplishes in a believer and how the believer is enabled to respond.
“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power…” (Col:2:6-10).
In this passage, we see that just as Christians receive salvation by grace through faith, they are to live each day by grace through faith. And just as Jesus is central in salvation in that He offered Himself for their sins and gave them new life, He is to be central on a daily basis—moment by moment. Their new life is to be grounded in Christ and built up in Him. They need to be established in the faith (the teachings and doctrines) by remembering what Christ has done and responding accordingly. And they are to be thankful, not just a bit here and there but “abounding therein with thanksgiving”! Christianity is not a part-time activity. It must be fulltime—when life is easy and when it gets hard.
The scripture above also warns about psychotherapy: being spoiled through “philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world,” all of which ruin believers by taking away from their dependence on Christ and God’s Word. The passage extols Christ, in whom is “all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (v. 9) and who is “the head of all principality and power.” Christ has made believers to be “complete in Him.” Believers need to encourage one another with these God breathed words from Scripture, because there is a tendency to forget these truths, which are so very essential and life giving.
Twice in the book of Proverbs (14:12; 16:25) we’re told that there’s a way (the world’s way) that seems right to a man but it leads to a separation from God’s truth (i.e., the ways of death). Pray that we all might heed the counsel of the Lord given in Jeremiah:6:16: “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.”
11) Robyn Dawes, House of Cards: Psychotherapy Built on Myth (New York: The Free Press/Macmillan, Inc., 1994), 58.
12) Ibid., 101-102.
13) Lawrence LeShan, Association for Humanistic Psychology, October 1984, 4.
14) APA Commission on Psychotherapies, Psychotherapy Research: Methodological and Efficacy Issues Washington: American Psychiatric Association, 1982, 192.
15) Because counseling is essentially a female-friendly activity and because women make up the large majority of the counselors and counselees, the professional journals will often use the feminine gender alone when referring to the counselors and counselees.
16) John T. McNeill, A History of the Cure of Souls. (New York: Harper and Row, 1951), vii.
17) Thomas Szasz. The Myth of Psychotherapy. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday/Anchor Press, 1978, p xviii.
The Bobgans website is: www.psychoheresy-aware.org