Secular psychology is based on the teachings of psychoanalysts such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Carl Rogers. Biblical, or nouthetic, counseling, on the other hand, is based squarely on the revealed Word of God. Biblical counseling sees Scripture as sufficient to equip the child of God for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). Biblical counselors teach that man’s basic problem is spiritual in nature; therefore, atheistic psychologists, who are spiritually dead themselves, have no real insight into the human condition.
On a related note, what is usually called “Christian counseling” is different from “biblical counseling” in that Christian counseling often uses secular psychology in addition to the Bible. This is not to say that a Christian counselor is not also a biblical counselor, but often Christian counselors are Christians who integrate secular psychology into their counseling. Biblical or nouthetic counselors reject secular psychology wholesale.
Most psychology is humanistic in nature. Secular humanism promotes mankind as the highest standard of truth and morality and rejects faith, the supernatural, and the Bible. Therefore, secular psychology is man’s attempt to understand and repair the spiritual side of man without reference to or recognition of the spiritual.
The Bible declares that mankind is a unique creation of God, made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 2:7). The Bible expressly deals with man’s spirituality, including his fall into sin, sin’s consequences, and man’s current relationship with God.
Secular psychology is based on the ideas that man is basically good and that the answer to his problems lies within himself. The Bible paints a very different picture of man’s condition. Man is not “basically good”; he is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), and the unregenerate heart is “deceitful and beyond all cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). Therefore, the biblical counselor takes a drastically different approach: rather than seeking solutions to spiritual problems within one’s own mind, he seeks to confront sin, obtain wisdom from above (James 3:17), and apply the Word of God to the situation.
Biblical counselors, as opposed to psychotherapists and some Christian counselors, see the Bible alone as the source of a comprehensive and detailed approach to counseling (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:4). Biblical counseling is committed to letting God speak for Himself through His Word. Biblical counseling seeks to minister the love of the true and living God, a love that deals with sin and produces obedience.
Psychotherapy is needs-based. The needs for self-esteem, love and acceptance, and significance tend to dominate. If these needs are met, it is believed, people will be happy, kind, and moral; if these needs are unmet, people will be miserable, hateful, and immoral. Biblical counseling teaches that true satisfaction and happiness can only be found in a relationship with God and a pursuit of godliness. No amount of psychotherapy can make a selfish person unselfish, for example, but the obedient servant of God will be satisfied in his joyful, unselfish giving (2 Corinthians 9:7).
So, how does psychology work with biblical counseling? It doesn’t. Secular psychology starts and ends with man and his ideas. True biblical counseling points clients to Christ and the Word of God. Biblical counseling is a pastoral activity, a product of the spiritual gift of exhortation, and its goal is not self-esteem but sanctification.