To many Christians seeking a counselor to help them with life’s issues, biblical and Christian counseling sound like the same thing. But in reality, there is a huge difference between the two. And the difference can radically affect your emotional, spiritual, and even physical health in positive or negative ways depending on which way you go. So, what’s the difference between biblical vs. Christian counseling?
The difference between biblical vs. Christian counseling lies in the fact that biblical counseling largely claims the Bible alone is sufficient to solve all issues a client brings to the counselor while Christian counseling uses the science of brain and body with Scripture to get a more complete treatment for any issues brought to the counselor.
Let’s take a look at the ramifications of both sides of the biblical vs. Christian counseling debate.
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Biblical Counseling: The Pros and Cons
As Christians, it is always good to recognize the authority of the Word of God. Finding principles and instruction that is valuable for counsel in any part of life is a good thing. But to say that all counseling should hinge exclusively on what the Bible explicitly says seems to be a tall order. Let’s think through some of the pros and cons of biblical counseling based on these ideas.
Pros of Biblical Counseling
The biggest pro of biblical counseling is that you are directly using the Bible to help you work through life’s issues. As it turns out, the Bible truly does have a lot to say about how we relate to others in all relationships. Of course, you are supposed to treat all people well, no matter what the relationship.
The Bible also has quite a bit to say about family life, marriage, and divorce. But it is certainly not a complete handbook and should not be treated as such. Let me give you a couple of examples of why we cannot treat the Bible like a handbook.
First, there was a movement where churches did not use instruments in their worship services because there was no mention of instruments in the New Testament formation of the church. In spite of the fact that instruments were used throughout the Psalms, the people that formed these prohibitions of instruments said that because the Bible didn’t explicitly say there should be instruments in churches, they did not have the liberty to use them in their own worship services.
A second example refers to how the Bible treats divorce. While there are some specific grounds for divorce mentioned in the Bible, not all valid grounds for divorce are spoken about. One glaring example is attempted murder. But do you really think God would not want someone to escape murderous rage through divorce? The thought is ludicrous. The same is true for abuse of any kind.
The Bible does not exclusively state that divorce is acceptable in cases of abuse. Maybe that is because God, when He inspired men to write the Bible, thought we had enough of a brain to figure those out on our own. And maybe because He realized that to name every single circumstance for every single issue in the world would take more space than you can put in one book.
While the Bible doesn’t specifically mention these things, it certainly does have things to say that allow you to deduce whether the issues are legitimate in God’s economy. And that is why using the Bible is absolutely acceptable in counseling.
Let’s take a look at some of the cons of biblical counseling.
Cons of Biblical Counseling
While biblical counseling sounds good on the surface and there certainly is great value in seeing what the Bible has to say about difficult life issues, there can be some huge drawbacks. It would be nice to say that we could depend solely on what God has said in His word to fix all of the issues that come up in counseling agencies. But even the gospel of John 20:25 says, “Jesus did many other things. If they were all written in books, I don’t suppose there would be room enough in the whole world for all the books.”
If this is true just of the 33 years Jesus walked the earth, how much more valuable information regarding life would also not have made it into the 1500 or so pages of the Bible? To say that it is a complete book for literally all things a counselor would need is a huge stretch and and undue burden on the counselor.
What tends to happen in these circumstances is that an abuser gets away with a lifetime of continued abuse because when the spouse or other abused person cries out for help, the biblical counselor says there is no specific help for them delineated in the Bible. They don’t remove the dangerous situation from the home. And things will get worse, especially when the abuser decides to “punish” the abused for trying to out them when they sought help from the counselor to begin with.
But, there is even more to this scenario. Often, because the abuser thrives in a Christian setting and knows all of the Christian lingo, can fool the biblical counselor into believing that they are in the right and their victim is in the wrong. And then the biblical counselor will re-victimize the victim by counseling them to be better and more godly with their abuser.
What they really mean, unwittingly or not, is that they must submit themselves to the abuse and not protect themselves. And that is NOT what the Bible says regarding abuse, narcissistic or otherwise. We are to flee evil.
Biblical counseling often goes a step further to state that using modern psychology along with biblical principles is wrong. And that is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. When the Bible says we must drink of the living water, that doesn’t mean that we can’t drink real water to nourish our bodies. The same is true with the Bible being referred to as the bread of life. We don’t forego real bread for the sake of the spiritual bread spoken of in the Bible. Nor should we throw away counseling that has proven true because the Bible did not say, “You shall include modern psychology with biblical mandates.”
Of course, you should weigh what is being touted in modern psychology against what is right and true. There can be junk science involved. But that doesn’t mean we don’t use the good parts of it to heal our issues.
At the end of the day, I will not ever recommend biblical counseling. It often carries the potential to re-victimize the victim, it’s counselors are not properly trained, and it puts clients in a dangerous situation.
Christian Counseling: The Pros and Cons
Christian counseling can be an amazing experience and great way to heal. Or it could be a terrible experience that ultimately does more damage than good. So, how do we tell the difference? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons and that should help us to know what to look for in going down the right path.
Pros of Christian Counseling
The biggest pro of Christian counseling is that it takes the best proven facets of psychology and lines them up with the Word of God, giving the client the most complete treatments and plans for healing. There is honestly almost nothing that can beat this kind of well-rounded therapy. And for those of us who have experienced it in its best form and have healed, it is an amazing experience.
Understanding that the Bible actually speaks a lot about seeking out good counsel helps us to understand that aligning God’s word with what science has shown us regarding how our brain/body connection works is the best treatment we can receive. I have a hard time trying to figure out why so many churches and church leaders today fight against this.
I know the patriarchy movement in many churches will not support Christian counseling because it gives women more autonomy than they think a woman should have. Yet, the Bible is full of women who live good, healthy autonomous wives in harmony with their husbands. A prime example is the Proverbs 31 lady! She goes out and works in real estate while her husband, an elder in the church and community, sits at the gate with the other elders. And yet, patriarchal church leaders today try to convince women that they need to stay out of the workplace and obey literally everything that comes from their husbands, even when it is sinful. But that is a topic for another article!
Cons of Christian Counseling
One of the biggest cons of Christian counseling is when the client does not find a counselor who they bond with well. They don’t feel heard or understood. This issue becomes further compounded when they try other counselors with much the same result. They end up walking away, feeling that nobody advocated for them.
I do want to clarify here that many times narcissists claim this is their situation with counseling. But what is really going on in that realm is the narcissist is trying to run the show and over time the counselor no longer allows it. So, because the narcissist cannot control the room, they walk away, “feeling unheard” because they could not gain the control they needed to exercise their narcissism in that space.
Another con of Christian counseling is when the counselor is a narcissist or even just an emotionally unhealthy individual. Unfortunately, while the majority of counselors are good people who do a really good job, there are plenty of counselors who use their career to manipulate and harm people instead of helping them. If you feel this way in your own experience, do not continue therapy with the people who are making you feel this.
One of the best ways to evaluate whether the issues with the counselor are based on your issues or a bad counselor is to have multiple parties involved who can see the issues from different angles. I had a hard time trusting my counselor at the beginning because I saw her as a partner with my husband, who had chosen her to destroy me. But over time, she earned her trust with me. And when my ex forced her and his other counselor at the time to submit to a 3-hour meeting with our church leadership to prove they were acting biblically (they passed with flying colors), I started to see how good she actually was.
That support of the therapy I received was later backed up by multiple churches, decisions in governmental hearings my ex brought against our church’s denominational leaders, my lawyer (and even his lawyer indirectly), the guardian-ad-litem assigned to my sons, the court clerks, judges, even a bailiff and another lawyer who was in the court room during a hearing and heard what was going on. The support came from nearly everywhere.
The flip side of this is that my ex chose to keep going down the wrong road in spite of everyone in our case warning him that he was headed in the wrong direction. He literally just walked away from all of it and started a new life so he could continue his ways without healing or feeling bad about his unhealed life.
But, I digress. Back to the cons of Christian counseling. One more is when the counselor isn’t able to “read the room” and cannot understand your position, thoughts, or feelings. If this is the case for you, find another counselor.
The final con of Christian counseling I want to mention is when the counselor’s treatment protocol is not in alignment with the healing you need. And then you waste a significant amount of time because you are not healing. There are always going to be some dry times in therapy. But if you feel like it has been too long or that you are not making any progress, then it is time to move on.
I do want to say here that there were times I thought the work my counselor had given me to do was more than I could bear (like spending two weeks exercising grace toward everything my narcissistic husband said or did to me. I thought it was torture. She was establishing a baseline of abuse so we could go forward in how to deal with it. But she couldn’t tell me at that time so I felt like it was just heaping abuse on me.) I made it through those difficult times, and some dry times when nothing was getting accomplished because it kind of reflected how life was going at the time. If there had been overly extended periods of this, then it would have been appropriate to move on.
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My Experience with Christian Counseling
I remember the first time I walked into my counselor’s office. My then husband had dragged me there to make me a “more obedient wife.” (Translate that to mean blindly obedient and happily receptive to his constant abuse while serving him as the center of my world.) Within that hour, she had asked me questions, listened to my answers, and repeated back what I had said to her, but in so much better words than I could come up with. I felt like she had been watching my whole life and knew everything that had happened to me.
We now call that the “best worst day of my life” because I went in there thinking I was going to finally be totally buried by my abusive husband. But it was actually the first day that I was heard and someone on the outside finally knew what was going on behind closed doors. And it was the first time that I experienced support for where I was in life. I sure didn’t feel it that day, or even for the next six months. But it was there. And when I was able to see through the fog and look back, I could see it clearly.
I was so incredibly fortunate that my ex had chosen our counselor. And she was a perfect fit. She was incredibly good at her job. And she heard both of us. But unfortunately, my ex didn’t want her to hear both of us. So he got louder and louder until he was the one running the room in every session.
Six months into our counseling, she had him transferred to a counselor with experience in the US Navy and was a pastor, two of the most important things in my ex’s world. They hoped he would have enough in common with this counselor that he would listen and cooperate with the healing. All he really wanted to do was own and dominate me like property.
We continued to work as a team of 4, and then with our church leadership, to encourage healing. But my ex wanted to part of it. The abuse and toxicity in our home actually became worse as he would not listen to any of the counselors that came into our world and tried to encourage him toward healing. It was during this time that he was actually diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and the owner of the agency said he believed my husband had full blown NPD.
He burned through about seven counselors before finally walking away from counseling altogether, claiming everyone except him was unbiblical and that he didn’t need counseling. And it was at this point that our church and counseling agency had him removed from our home due to safety issues amidst the abuse and increasing anger. But one thing everyone agreed to was that he still needed to be in counseling. And that’s when he changed churches and began his journey with biblical counseling.
My Experience with Biblical Counseling
My experience with biblical counseling was actually my husband’s new church/counseling and their demands for me to jump through their hoops.
My then husband knew that he was about to be excommunicated from our church. So, he found another church that he knew would support his abuse as the “head of the household.” This church contacted our church to let them know he was requesting membership and needed confirmation of being a member in good standing. My pastor explained that he had been removed from his home, unrepentant toward the abuse of his family and later toward the church leadership, and that if they chose to accept him as a member, they would encourage the new church to attempt to hold him accountable for the abuse. They agreed and accepted him as a member.
It started out okay. The pastor and elders said they would work with our pastor and elders toward healing the marriage/family. They put him in their biblical counseling program. The man who was assigned to him was not a licensed counselor. And they did not believe in supporting any form of secular counseling, no matter how true it proved to be. My pastor said it was okay because we could certainly use applicable Bible passages. And honestly, that should have worked. Except that the other church didn’t interpret the same Scriptures the way our church did.
His new church believed women had to be subservient to men, even if their husband was abusive. The women still had to serve and obey the husband as though everything was fine and let the elders of the church try to convince him to repent and change his ways. And with that, his pastor emailed me (as opposed to talking to my pastor) and said I needed to let my husband move back into our home, even though he had shown no signs of repentance or change. But he told them the words they wanted to hear and they considered that healing. My pastor and counselor said no way.
Soon after this, my husband appealed to his church leadership to divorce me on the grounds that I was not meeting his sexual needs while we were separated. And they agreed. He filed for divorce. And six days after we got our divorce papers, he was married to someone else. Apparently the church had no problem with any of that.
Needless to say, biblical counseling in this case was anything but truly biblical.
As Christians, we can think of biblical and Christian counseling as the same thing. Christian counseling, if done right, is certainly biblical, and vice versa. But, when you look at the ins and outs of each field, you will see that they are world apart in some circumstances.
Some Christian counselors are absolutely amazing while others are horrific. And the same can be said for biblical counselors. But when you look at their official philosophies, Christian counselors come out way ahead in healing and treatment when it is done right. There are safeguards in place that help it to be a safe, healthy way to heal. And unfortunately, biblical counseling in the vast majority of churches misuses its stance to often revictimize women who are abused in their homes.
What has your experience been like? What forms of counseling did your family work with? What were your results? I would love to hear your story! And I think having more perspectives than mine can only be helpful to the conversation. Please feel free to comment below.
Are you just now in the beginning stages of recognizing narcissistic abuse in your life and not sure where to go or what to do next? Marie helps people start to put the pieces together to get quickly on the pathway of healing. She has many resources you can check out here, but if you would like quicker, more direct guidance specific to your situation, a direct consultation with Marie may be more helpful to you. You can check out the various consultation options here.
Blessings and hugs,
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