Tom: Thanks, Gary. The subject for our program this week is “Psychotherapy and Biblical Christianity.” We’ll be exploring the relationship between psychotherapy and the Bible. Are their teachings compatible? Can one be truly integrated with the other? Given the overwhelming impact psychotherapy has had upon Christendom over the last thirty years, the answers are of no little consequence. And I can’t think of a better source of information regarding these questions than my guests, Martin and Deidre Bobgan. They’re the authors of numerous books addressing man’s way of counseling vs. God’s way, including Psychoheresy, Twelve Steps to Destruction, The End of Christian Psychology, and Competent to Minister: The Biblical Care of Souls.
Martin and Deidre, welcome!
Deidre Bobgan: Thank you. It’s good to be on with you.
Martin Bobgan: Glad to do it!
Tom: I think it was about 18 or 19 years ago that I was watching The 700 Club, and at that time, Martin, I almost fell out of my chair as I heard the two of you being interviewed. You see, until that point, I had this growing concern that other than perhaps Jay Adams, there was really no informed voice in the church opposing psychotherapy from the point of view of current research, logic, and the Word of God.
How did you guys ever…how were you invited to that program, and what was the basis for it?
Martin: Well, we had done a book for Bethany House publishers in Minneapolis, and Bethany House sends their books off to different places, and they happened to have sent it off to The 700 Club, and as a result of their looking at it, they decided, “Yes, we’d like to do a program with these two,” and so they invited us.
Tom: You know, one of the reasons I was shocked—particularly at that time, as I remember it—was that I don’t know if it was a month earlier, or weeks earlier, but as their guest on The 700 Club, they had Dr. Clyde Narramore, whom many would consider, really, the dean of Christian counseling. And he spoke rather condescendingly about people who counsel, or desire to counsel, from the Bible alone. And, you know, I was so upset by that that I wrote a letter to Pat Robertson. I didn’t know if it would have any effect, but I complained about Narramore’s perspective, and I said, “Look, there’s another view out there. What about, you know, having Jay Adams or somebody else on?”
So I don’t know if that had anything to do with you guys being on the program. I’d like to think so, but anyway, it was a wonderful encouragement to me and I’m sure many out there.
Deidre: Well, you know, in those days, we thought, Oh, well, as soon as we present the evidence about psychotherapy, about its effectiveness—as soon as we present the evidence that it’s not biblical, this is going to open the eyes of so many people, and we’re going to stem the tide, and the Lord is going to use this to get people back to the Bible! But we have seen over the years since then that it has just exploded—it has expanded. And the faith that people have in this means of dealing with problems of living is absolutely amazing. And it’s been so mixed in with Christianity that people can hardly separate it anymore. So the problem has really increased rather than diminished.
Tom: And going back to that time, I kind of felt like, well, maybe there’re “seven thousand that haven’t bowed the knee” in this area, but on the other hand, as I look back, there wasn’t a lot of information available for people. You, as I said, and also Jay Adams—you were one of the few.
But let me take you back a little bit more than that to—perhaps to give us, our listening audience, some of your background.
Martin, you have a Ph.D. in Psychology. Now, what got you started thinking about the problems with psychological counseling?
Martin: Well, just a little educational background: I have four college degrees, two in the field of mathematics. I then went into the field of education. My doctorate is in educational psychology, and not in psychology per se. But along the way, I’ve studied psychology pretty thoroughly, and just to digress a little bit more, psychology is a rather expansive term, and as you know, there are over 50 divisions of psychology with the APA. And what we’re really concerned about is the clinical psychology, and specifically, psychotherapy and its underlying psychology.
And what happened along the way was I went from darkness to light. I was converted. And in this conversion, it took me away from what I thought was a great love and focus of my life being educational psychology, with a great trust in the field of psychology, to the Word of God, and seeing the difference between the light in the Word and the darkness that man had to offer.
Now when I looked at these things, interestingly enough, there were two parts to it. One part was “What does God have to offer?” The other part was, “What does research say about the things that I thought so highly of—the Freudian, Adlerian, Jungian, and other psychologies. And so as I looked into the research—and, really, there’s kind of a, if you will, dichotomy between the practitioners and the researchers. If you look at the research, you wonder why they’re practicing! And so, I rather exhaustively looked through the research and came to the conclusion that even if someone were an atheist, he would not place his trust in psychotherapy because the research was not there to support it. And so, as this started growing in my heart and life, and I’m sharing it with Deidre, and we’re talking back and forth, and this is a growing concern after conversion, and I’m bumping into Christians who are saying, “Oh, no, you know, you’re a new convert. Just kind of settle down, you know, things will become clear later.” And I’m getting more and more concerned, because I see what the Word says and promises, and I see what man has said—the very “wisdom of men” that God warns us about. And even in the secular world, it’s not proven. I get very, very concerned about this and start writing. And as I’m writing and sharing with Deidre, and Deidre has two college degrees—she has a Master’s Degree, and she’s Phi Beta Kappa, and, you know, one of these bright “high GPA people” (laughing), so we’re talking back and forth and sharing this, and she joins me in writing, and that’s how we came to produce our first book.
Tom: Deidre—speak to that in a minute—Martin gave your background, but did you have problems with this in the beginning?
Deidre: I definitely had problems with it at the beginning because my whole family was really very open to psychology. I grew up in a Christian home, but it was a liberal Christian…and actually, both of my brothers went into psychology. One is in research psychology and agrees with us fully, and is a Christian. The other one is in the psychotherapy end, and his testimony is to psychotherapy rather than to the Lord.
So I came at this with really thinking that the answers to life’s problems were in these various theories. And I went to a number of classes with Martin. His professors were very kind at the University of Colorado and would allow me to come and just audit the class, and so I would be reading the same things, and when we were studying Skinner, I could just see it! It was just wonderful! And then we would study Freud, and it was just wonderful! And then we would…each one! And pretty soon it was like, “Wait a minute! These people don’t even agree!” And then it came to the point where I remember one day I was reading…this was after Martin had finished school, but I was still reading a lot of these books, not because—it was kind of funny, because my life was, you know, moving along very nicely, but I knew there were people who had problems, and so—and I was always just interested in it: learning about the inner person, learning about who we are, and all of that, and it was just very, very fascinating. And I was reading about Scream Therapy…
Tom: Now, Deidre, wait a minute. “Scream”? Like in somebody yelling or screaming?
Deidre: Yes, well, that is exactly what happens in Scream Therapy. They are supposed to just scream and cry and somehow get into the pain of what it was when the first traumatic or hurtful thing might have happened in their past. And there’s all this screaming and writhing around, and the person who started it, Arthur Janov, it kind of was a thing that started with a client, where the client was saying, telling, about a situation in which he saw a comic throwing up into a bag and going into all of this gyrations of emotion, and the therapist said, “Well, why don’t you try that? Why don’t you try to feel all of that?”
So the idea was if you start just feeling miserable and panicky and screaming, somehow that is going to be therapeutic to you.
Tom: You have a catharsis, right?
Deidre: A real catharsis. That’s right. And, you know, when you do something like that—this is kind of funny, because when you do something like that, you expend a lot of energy—you get an adrenaline rush, and so afterward, you generally feel somewhat peaceful and calm, but the truth of the matter is it really doesn’t do anything—except make a person believe that his problems are due to someone else, his environment, what happened to him when he was small, rather than to the decisions that he is making, either walking with the Lord, or walking in the kingdom of darkness.
Tom: So how did this really impact your Christianity, now?
Deidre: Well, at that point in time, when I read that book, I was really searching because I knew the answers were in Scripture, I knew that Jesus loved me, but for some reason I just did not have a grasp of what Christ really did for me. I did not really understand the work of the Cross. You see, it’s possible to go to Sunday school and to go through all of this, and think that you’re a Christian—doing all the right things—but not understanding what Christ did on the Cross for salvation, for justification, and I was trying to be good enough for God. And when you’re trying in the flesh to make yourself into somebody better, psychology is very appealing. But when you appeal to the Lord Jesus Christ to give you a new life, then, you see, you walk by the new life, and psychology can’t really touch it, because—this kind of psychology can’t really touch it because that only deals with the “old man,” that which is to be counted dead.
Tom: It’s interesting, hearing the background of both of you. I had kind of a similar experience. My father was a psychiatrist. I basically grew up in the psychiatric community. He was the head of mental hospitals, and so I sort of learned my psychology, again, by osmosis—being around the people, seeing what they did, hearing the talk and the discussions, and so on. So it was a very personal experience, but also I—you know, like everybody else, if you go to college, you have to take courses in psychology, for the most part, at least I did. So I had some formal education. But what was interesting, when I became a Christian, I brought all that baggage with me. I thought, Well, this is good, because, you know, Christians are supposed to help people, and now I sort of have this background, and I can apply it to my Christianity.
Just as with you guys, it wasn’t too long before I said, “Wait a minute!” Some things don’t match here. These things don’t add up.” And it was interesting, Martin and Deidre, because my family members were really excited—those who were Christians, really true believers—they were excited that I had become a Christian. But when I started challenging them with regard to psychotherapy and psychological counseling, they thought I was drifting off into some kind of cult! They couldn’t understand what problems I was having, and they thought, oh, this guy has come in but he’s sort of going off the deep end here.
Now that was an interesting reaction, but it demonstrated to me, and I know, Martin, you alluded to it earlier—the church is so steeped in this that for some, they have trouble recognizing it when they see the problem with it.
Martin: Yeah, the thing that I’ve seen over the years—and we have to look at it historically, and then we can appreciate it even more—is we look back at the last century. At the beginning of the last century, the church was not involved in psychology in any direct way because psychology was just beginning. But when you think that it was probably only about 50 years ago that we had the likes of seeing the first psychologist, you have to think, “Okay, when did it come into the church?” Well, it came into the church from about 1950 on to the current time. And the rise of the interest in psychology, of course, originated in secular institutions, and many Christians got trained, and it kind of came into the church through those individuals who became extremely popular with these psychological ideas—the Clyde Narramores, the others like him, who were leaders and popular, and wrote popular books, and so on. And so, it just kind of came into the church—it’s like the camel’s nose in the tent, and pretty soon the camel is entirely within the tent. And that’s what’s happened. It came into Bible colleges, seminaries, churches, pastors were trained, they started integrating it with their sermons and giving ideas that they had assimilated in their training, and so now, though people just don’t notice it, it’s just all-pervasive. It has leavened the whole loaf.
Deidre: Another thing that was happening in the sixties was that the mental health professionals in a lot of communities were having special breakfasts with pastors to kind of bring about a bridge of understanding, but what really happened was they educated the pastors into the idea that they were not equipped—they did not have the training to help troubled people. And they established, then, great referral systems…because the pastors, then, well, if they would have somebody that they would meet with one or two times and things weren’t really changing, they would immediately think, Oh, well, I met so-and-so, and I can refer to him! And so he would start referring people out, and not only that but a number of pastors went back to school and became psychotherapists.
Tom: Right. In addition to that, they had an audience beyond the pastors. They had an audience who were developing the way I developed in psychology—by osmosis. It’s everywhere, popular media, magazines, TV, radio, films—we have, and are developing, a psychologized society. Don’t you think?
Deidre: Oh, absolutely. In fact, the thinking of the average person has been so conditioned, pardon me for using that term, but…
Tom: But it’s true…
Deidre: Influenced by the media regarding psychology and so forth, and you read one popular magazine after another, and psychology continues to be the answer. The psychologists are the experts that are called in for everything. And so this is a very natural thing that people then would, if the pastor okayed it, well, yeah! Because that’s got to be right.
Tom: I think for our listening audience, we’ve sort of given some background and talked about some concerns, but I’d like to make this as simple as we can by just asking the question, “What’s the problem with psychotherapy, basically?”
Martin: Okay, the problem with psychotherapy is when we look at psychotherapy, we are really talking about the very wisdom of men that God has warned us about. This is not truth. We have truth about man in the Word. We know who man is. We know about his original condition. We know about his current condition. And we know about the future for all men. We all die. And there is a day of judgment. And so, we have the truth about man in Scripture. What we have in psychotherapy is merely guesses, opinions, ideas, about man. And it’s by men—you know, you go through the chain of them: Freud, Jung, Adler, Maslow, Fromm, etc. I don’t know one of them who was a Christian. And what we have is not dealing with natural sciences—we’re dealing with, really, the area that’s the purview of religion. Man is really described accurately, truly, in Scripture, but only guessed about from all of these individuals. So why should we turn to them? Why should we look for their ideas? Why should we use their ideas? Why should we educate people in their ideas, when we have the truth about mankind?
Deidre: There is also a basic theological difference, and that is with psychotherapy, the idea is that a child is born clean slate, or good. Not with a sinful nature. In other words, if a child were not ruined by his environment, his parents, what happened to him, he would have a problem-free, happy adulthood, to put it just in very simple terms…
Deidre: And so what we have is we have a different theology of who man is. In psychotherapy, the person is either born a clean slate, or good, and is ruined or somewhat harmed by his environment. That’s why he makes bad choices. That’s why he does what he does. He does what he does because of what happened to him.
In Scripture, we find that we were born in sin because we inherited Adam’s sin. And that all our righteousnesses are as “filthy rags,” that our heart is deceitful, and nobody can know it. Well, this is another difference. In counseling psychology, people think that they can look into the inner person to find out about the person. This is called “insight,” and the longer the therapy is, the more so-called insight is given into the person. In Scripture it says, “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” And then it says, “I, the Lord, search the reins…” In other words, God—He is really the only one who can see into the heart. And Scripture can see into the heart and reveal it to us, and that is why we need the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, because we are deceiving ourselves every day. But you see, in psychology it says that this expert is going to be able to look into those depths to find out all about what’s inside that makes you do what you do.
And the truth of the matter is they cannot see! They are making all this stuff up according to their own opinion.
Tom: Right. And then, when you look at their opinions—for the most part—they’re diametrically opposed to each other. That is, man’s view from the psychological standpoint vs. God’s view of man from revealed Scripture, and they just—they’re not compatible.
Deidre: Yeah, and that is why there are over 450 different psychotherapies that are identifiable. However, there have been some who have said every psychotherapist has his own psychotherapy because they’re all eclectic. They take a little of this and a little of that. So, basically, the psychotherapist is running on his own opinions, and he has the licenses and the degrees—the license really only protects himself—him. It doesn’t protect the consumer, and we have research verification on that…
Tom: Deidre, Martin, one of the—we’ve got about a minute left in this segment, and we’re going to pick up on this next week and hopefully, the week after—but briefly, the one thing that people come up with, they say, “Well, it’s scientific.” Is it scientific?
Martin: It’s not scientific. People say it’s scientific, and they don’t even have a clue as to what constitutes science. And just very quickly, because we’re getting to the end here, Carl Popper, who’s an eminent, not-now-living philosopher of science, I think put it very directly when he said: “The problem with all of these therapies is that they propose themselves as science, but they’re not truly science, and they’re not truly science because they can’t meet a minimum condition of science, which is falsifiability. And very simply, it means this: You can state what you want from Freud, Jung, Adler, and all the rest, and there’s no really means that a scientist has of falsifying them. They’re self-confirming. And so, there’s a whole area of science we could cover here, and I don’t want to go into depth because of lack of time, but the fact is that if you say you’re Freudian and preach Freudian psychology, there’s no way that science can put it to the test. So we don’t really have a scientific theory to begin with because it’s not falsifiable.
Tom: The reason we’re addressing psychological counseling and its underlying psychotherapies on Search the Scriptures Daily is because the evangelical church, for the most part, has opted for these pseudo-scientific methods and counterfeit religious beliefs in the counseling of its members, those who claim to go by God’s Word. So we’re simply asking whether or not the concepts of psychological counseling are compatible with the teachings of Scripture, whether or not a Christian can benefit from such teachings, or is it in fact harmful to the Christian’s walk and life in Christ? So please, invite your friends to join us as we continue this very important discussion over the next two weeks.