Counseling Models Compared
By Pastor Scott Roberts
As we consider what Biblical Counseling is, it is important to understand the various models currently practiced in the world of psychology. Though not as popular today as it was in past decades among professionals, Sigmund Freud’s view of man and psychology are popularized by many seeking to overturn Christian morality. Freud saw man as an instinctual animal whose behavior was determined by the environment s/he was raised in and the natural instincts s/he suppresses because of those environmental stimuli. Freud believed that psychological problems arise because our natural instincts are being suppressed by society and if we just ignored the rules of society and lived freely, we wouldn’t have any problems. Unfortunately, this view of man doesn’t recognize God, the conscience or personal sin. Hence everyone else is the problem- which sounds an awful lot like Genesis chapter 3 and the blame game Adam and Eve engaged in when they sinned.
A second more popular approach to psychology is that of Behaviorism. B.F. Skinner rejected Freud and instead said that humans are the product of the environment in which they live. People can be changed by the rewards and punishments we give based upon the actions we want to cultivate and those we want to suppress. Psychological problems in this model arise from poor conditioning, and so the solution for any counselee is to restructure the environment with positive rewards and negative consequences that will change the behavior into more acceptable forms. While there is a hint of truth in this, as every parent knows, the drawback to this model is that it is possible to get proper behavior but with a wrong heart and for wrong reasons. Withdraw the reward and the behavior dies; there is no real change in the person internally. Furthermore, there is no standard by which to judge and determine what is good and there is no concept of sin. One’s experiences made s/he this way, so s/he is not to blame.
Carl Rogers responded to Skinner’s human neutrality by saying that human beings aren’t neutral, they are inherently good and that their problems arise from society being evil and seeking to suppress their inherent goodness. The goal for curing people with psychological problems is not to tell them that they are evil or bad (society already does that), rather, we must tell them that they are good and that whatever they are doing is good. But Rogers theory and model is contradictory. If society is made up of inherently good people, they why when they come together in society do they act in ways that create oppression? For those who remember the 1990’s, this was the model of the day in the public schools – “everyone deserves a trophy.” Like the other models, this model also fails the scripture test: Humans after the fall are not good. We are inclined to evil, we are selfish, and our hearts dwell on things that destroy ourselves and destroy others. Only in Christ can this be overcome.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) said that human struggles arise not because of the environment that conditioned us or the society that suppresses us, but rather because we have bad thoughts. CBT believes that our thoughts lead to our feelings and so the cure is to think new things about yourself so that you can feel good. Essentially, we need to take off the grey glasses and put on the rose-colored glasses. But who determines the correct thoughts? What standard is there for determining truth? And what about guilt and sin? Should we not feel guilty when we sin? And if so, is the solution to redefine sinful behavior as good, or is the solution to admit that there are evil things that we do which require confession and repentance? CBT doesn’t have a place for sin and guilt and so it falls short of the biblical presentation of psychology.
The last of the non-Christian psychological models is the Medical Model. In this model, humans are biologic machines and our responses to life are the result of biochemical stimuli in the human brain. When people encounter psychological problems like depression, mania, rage, lust, etc. it is because something is biochemically out of whack. Therefore, the solution is finding the right combination of drugs so that a person can become ‘normal.’ But is this the complete picture of human psychology? What about the human spirit? What about sin? What about unbiblical thoughts?
So this leads us to the Biblical teaching about human psychology. We are a people created in the image of God (Gen 1:27-28) and out of our internal heart (mind, will, emotions) we speak and act (Luke 6:45). Unfortunately, humanity sinned and fell from her pristine state and the fall has affected every aspect of our individual and corporate lives as humans. Our bodies are broken and they age. Our minds are fallen and irrational. Our societies are sinful and errant. Our actions aren’t consistent and easily trainable. We are dead and hence blind to all that is good and right, according to God, until we confess our sins and repent from our selfishness and find ourselves united to Christ. Biblical psychology (BP) doesn’t necessarily deny that the other models have some helpful insights. Rather, BP declares that our greatest problem is first being reconciled to God, then being reconciled to one another. BP calls us to be transformed in the renewal of our minds so that we can accurately discern truth and error. BP calls us to receive a new heart that is bent to God and his ways. BP instructs us to see all of life as an offering and to remember that God is good and in everything we encounter in life He is working ‘for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose’ (Rom 8:28). BP understands that before ever attempting to medicate, reprogram, or build up one must come humbly to Christ and take God’s word as the foundation for life and godliness.
With this in mind, in the coming months, I hope to look at a variety of counseling cases and explore the biblical teaching on each, so that as a church we may become a light to those we meet who desperately need God in the midst of the struggles of life.