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How should a Christian view psychotherapy?

Christian psychotherapy
Question: "How should a Christian view psychotherapy?"

Psychotherapy or psychological counseling is the practice of attempting to heal a person’s emotional and mental problems, usually by conversing with another person; exploring fears, troubling thoughts, and personal history; or adjusting behavior. The aim of psychotherapy is to increase a person’s awareness and understanding of the possible causes of unwanted feelings and behaviors. By isolating the causes of negative feelings and behaviors and applying a rational understanding of oneself, the psychotherapist strives for a decrease in unhealthy emotions and behaviors. The basic problems with psychotherapy, from a Christian worldview, are that it bypasses the Word of God, ignores the fact of sin, and mitigates personal responsibility.

The idea behind psychotherapy is that a professional Counselor is able to diagnose and treat afflictions of the mind in a way similar to how a medical doctor treats afflictions of the body. The flaw in this thinking is that the mind is different from the brain. The human brain is a physical organ that can indeed suffer medical afflictions; however, the mind is the spiritual entity that runs the brain, and its “affliction” is what the Bible calls “sin.” The Bible never speaks of people being victims of a mental disorder, as if their behavior were excusable on the basis of pathology. Rather, the Bible says that sinners need the grace and forgiveness of God, and God will transform their minds (Romans 12:2).

Psychotherapy or psychological counseling has conjured up many labels for human behavior, but labeling a sin as a “disorder” does not make it less sinful. For example, there is Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), which the American Psychiatric Association identifies as a childhood condition characterized by defiant, disobedient, and often hostile behavior toward authority figures. The Bible calls this rebellion, and rebellion is sin, a spiritual problem associated with alienation from God. The cure for sin is repentance and faith in Christ. Then there is Narcissistic Personality Disorder, characterized by feelings of self-importance, a compulsive quest for admiration, and often a lack of empathy toward others. The Bible calls this pride, and pride is sin, a spiritual problem present in those separated from God. The cure for sin is repentance and faith in Christ.

One of the names of our Lord Jesus is “Wonderful Counselor” (Isaiah 9:6). With such a divine Counselor, do we really need to turn to advice from scoffers such as Freud, Adler, and Rogers? God has given us His Word as a light for our path (Psalm 119:105), and He says the Word He gave is sufficient. According to 2 Timothy 3:16, the Bible is “useful” for four things: teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, and verse 17 gives the result: “The servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Believers who turn to psychotherapy, with its roots in secular humanism, are effectively denying the sufficiency of God’s Word. “Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31–32). Psychotherapy is based on humanistic principles, and answers from that worldview are often not helpful for a Christian, especially if the issue at hand involves a struggle against habitual sin. A pastor, biblical counselor, or a fellow believer who understands the gospel of grace can offer biblical truth and encouragement in such matters, where a secular psychotherapist, who may not even acknowledge the existence of sin, cannot. There is no psychotherapy in the world that can compare with the healing that comes from experiencing the grace of God.

Recommended Resource: Competent to Counsel by Jay Adams

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