Do you need Biblical Counselling?

I want to expand a little on something that I wrote in one of my Psalm studies.  I hope that anyone reading this will pick it up as intended not to shame or accuse because I think those who said it were doing so out of the best intentions.

When I was at my lowest with depression and as I was getting on my feet again, a few people said to me repeatedly “what about us arranging for you to attend Biblical Counselling?”  Why did it jar? Well to understand that it is worth saying something about what we mean by Biblical counselling. You see, first of all, I would hope that all counselling offered by Christians is Biblical. God’s Word is exactly what we need for any circumstance in life. However, Biblical Counselling as a method and philosophy is a little more specific than that.

Biblical Counselling is an approach to counselling that argues that often our circumstances including our emotional health have root causes. The focus tends to be on what the person has done to get themselves into a situation and to confront it, seeking repentance from sin. It is also referred to as nouthetic counselling coming from a word to do with confrontation and challenge. We challenge sin with the Gospel.   The movement have become more nuanced in their approach and recognised that we are both sinners and sinned against. At the same time, even when sinned against, it may well be that our way of responding is sinful.

Now, I want to emphasise here that I agree with this methodology as being an important part of our counselling tool set. I don’t underestimate the affect sin has. However as I’ve explained before, whilst depression can be caused by sin and exacerbated by our own sinful responses, there are also a number of other reasons why you might be depressed including:

  • Underlying health conditions
  • Particular overwhelming circumstances leading to emotional as well as or instead of physical suffering.
  • Being subjected to abuse and bullying -particularly emotional and spiritual abuse.

Therefore, whilst Biblical counselling has its place, the assumption that this methodology is the only instrument in our toolkit is somewhat limiting.

Now, what I heard when I was told to get Biblical Counselling was two things. First of all “We think you might be in sin and need counselling to identify it.” Secondly “We think the sin must be so deep and so complex that we cannot deal with it in the context of the local church.”

Now, I’m sure that when it was mooted with me that this was not what was intended. I think the phrase “Biblical Counselling had been heard and it was probably assumed that this simply meant “counselling on the basis of Biblical teaching” rather than a specific methodology with its own benefits, limits and risks. So, the first thing I want to highlight here is that we can communicate things to depressed people which we do not intend. Secondly, we can see the risk here of a term which seems to have a general meaning being used in a very specific nuanced sense which we cannot expect the normal Christian to be alert to.

Thirdly, I want to draw your attention to another issue here. Once again counselling, not the specialist stuff for trauma, not the assessment of patients for medication or hospitalisation but the basic day to day stuff of discipling believers in godliness has been taken out of the church and placed in the hand of a few people identified as expert.sThere is an irony there because one of the aims that Jay Adams, the founder of the movement was to recover counselling from the professionals and restore it not just to pastors but to the church as a body. He wrote two books to this effect, Ready to Restore and Competent to Counsel which talked about how each of us is responsible for one another though elders/pastors have a particular responsibility to be proactive in these things. It is unfortunate in some respects that a whole profession with specialist qualification has grown up around this which once again has taken those responsibilities and privileges away from the church.

As I side note, I must  say that in my case, I don’t think there was much need to do any rooting around either in the Biblical counsellor’s office with a set of direct questions or on the psychiatrists couch with some soothing hypnotherapy taking me back into my sub-conscience.  That is not always the case though but I would say that it is worth stopping and asking whether causes are clear and obvious and how helpful more intrusive investigation is.

However, my main point is this. What if we were to take away the mysticism of Biblical Counselling once more and restore the role of counsel, comfort and challenge to the church. This is not to deny the place of professionals in helping people to heal from trauma, to investigate thing buried deep and to prescribe medical treatment.  But for many believers, the best thing to do is not to despatch them off for some scary and no doubt awkward “therapy” even with the word Biblical stuck in front. What instead if we were to cover those spiritual aspects of care in a natural way, talking to one another, encouraging one another and of course challenging each other too?