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What is nouthetic counseling?

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Nouthetic counseling, more often called biblical counseling, gets its name from the Greek word noutheteo, translated “admonish” in Acts 20:31 (NASB). To admonish is to “confront as a friend” and was the normal method of counseling before the advent of secular psychology in the early 1900s. According to the Mid-America Institute for Nouthetic Studies, “nouthetic counseling consists of lovingly confronting people out of deep concern in order to help them make those changes that God requires” (https://nouthetic.org/about/what-is-nouthetic-counseling, accessed 7/18/22). In recent years, the term nouthetic is being used less and less, in favor of biblical.

Nouthetic counseling takes the view that the Bible is sufficient to counsel, correct, and admonish individuals. Romans 15:14 can be considered the theme verse for nouthetic counseling: “Personally I am convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, amply filled with all [spiritual] knowledge, and competent to admonish and counsel and instruct one another” (AMP). Nouthetic counselors also point to 1 Thessalonians 5:12, where admonishing the church seems to be the job of the pastors or elders.

Spearheading the nouthetic movement was Jay Adams (1929—2020), a Presbyterian pastor and a teacher at Westminster Theological Seminary. Adams published his book Competent to Counsel in 1970. In it, he explained his term nouthetic and made a case for how secular psychological systems are opposed to Scripture. Christian counselors, said Adams, should reject the unbiblical theories of Sigmund Freud, Carl Rogers, John Watson, and B. F. Skinner. In 1973, Adams published The Christian Counselor’s Manual and soon after that helped formed the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC).

The three basic ideas of nouthetic or biblical counseling are confrontation, concern, and change:

Confrontation. The nouthetic approach to counseling uses the Bible, not human ideas, to speak to people about their problems. The counselor holds up the Bible as a mirror to show the counselee sin issues he or she may not even be aware of (see James 1:22–25).

Concern. Nouthetic counseling comes from a place of genuine concern and seeks the welfare of the counselee. The counselor strives for an emotional connection with the counselee and not a detached, clinical relationship.

Change. The goal of nouthetic counseling is to bring change. By drawing wisdom from the Word of God, the counselor desires that the counselee experience the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit and “walk in the ways of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous” (Proverbs 2:20).

Nouthetic or biblical counseling is an attempt to return to a strictly biblical method of problem-solving. As such, it is Bible-based, Christ-centered, and local church-oriented. Nouthetic counseling holds the premise that the Bible is God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16–17) and is totally sufficient for meeting the mental, spiritual, and emotional needs of mankind (2 Peter 1:3–4). Biblical or nouthetic counseling depends on the Holy Spirit to change the believer, using God’s Word to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

Many nouthetic counselors have received training through Jay Adams’ Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF). Certification can come through the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), formerly called the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC).

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This page last updated: July 22, 2022