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The Dangers of Nouthetic Counseling: You Need to Know This!

To most Christians, nouthetic counseling sounds very good on the surface.  The definition of nouthetic counseling, according to, is that it “consists of lovingly confronting people out of deep concern in order to help them make those changes that God requires.”  That also doesn’t sound too off base either.  Until you realize that a large portion of counseling is not just about sin and correction, but also healing mental, emotional, and chemical issues within the body.

For the sake of reference, according to Wikipedia, the definition of psychology is, “the study of mind and behavior in humans and non-humans. Psychology includes the study of conscious and unconscious phenomena, including feelings and thoughts. It is an academic discipline of immense scope, crossing the boundaries between the natural and social sciences.”

Generally speaking, the dangers of nouthetic counseling include unlicensed counselors working with clients on only what the Bible specifically talks about to the exclusion of proven scientific knowledge regarding brain and body function in tandem with environment and experience.

Disregarding proven science puts undue blame on the clients and oversimplifies the problems.  This can actually make the client’s situation infinitely worse in the process, even with well-meaning counselors.  So with this foundation, let’s take a closer look.

What is Nouthetic Counseling?

According to, the term nouthetic was used by the apostle Paul in the New Testament and means, to admonish, correct, or instruct.  Sounds good so far, as long as the client is in need of correction, admonishment, or instruction.  Taking nouthetic counseling a bit further, also says he three ideas found in the word nouthesia are confrontationconcern,and change.

So, what about when the client is a victim?  Do they really need confrontation, concern, or change?  Sure, they need concern and change.  But not the way nouthetic counseling believes.  By concern, they mean “part of the sanctification process whereby one Christian helps another get through some difficulty that is hindering him from moving forward in his spiritual growth.”

And by change, they mean, “that counseling is done because there is something in another Christian’s life that fails to meet the biblical requirements and that, therefore, keeps him from honoring God.”  Somehow, the blame is supposed to fall equally on both the abuser and the abused.  This is a recipe for disaster for the victim of domestic violence of any kind.

What are the Dangers of Nouthetic Counseling?

We already approached the subject of the shortcomings of nouthetic counseling.  So, now, let’s take a look at some of the bigger dangers of nouthetic counseling.

  • Because nouthetic counselors believe that the Bible is their ONLY authority regarding the counsel they give, it takes away the medical/biological side of counseling that gets lost in translation.  The Bible has verses such as “a merry heart does good like medicine.”  But it doesn’t have specific medical care for issues in mental health care.  Just like it also doesn’t say you should take a Tylenol for your headache.  Or that your headache is a result of some sin in your life that you have yet to deal with.
  • Nouthetic counselors, based on the belief that we are all sinful (this is actually true), also believe that both partners are equally guilty of what got their marriage to it’s current crisis mode.  The danger in this is that the abuser is justified in any abuse he or she hands down, because the counselor is also blaming the victim for what has happened.  Putting the abuser and victim on equal footing is very dangerous, encourages more abuse, and is re-victimizing the victim.
  • Since nouthetic counselors usually counsel both partners at the same time, they give ammunition to the abuser when they nit-pick to find something wrong the victim has done.  And now the abuser knows how to further get under their victim’s skin.  This would now be triple abuse.
  • Often, nouthetic counselors will give their clients scriptures and tell them exactly what they want them to do or become.  The abuser can become very adept at just mimicking the counselor and never truly healing.  They just get better at abusing behind closed doors and saying all the right words publicly.
  • Since its inception in the mid-twentieth century, there have been many organizations formed and as of 2022, there are 1739 in the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, with more being added constantly. There are several more agencies that have been formed, making this number way higher.  And virtually none of them have a psychology degree or state license.  That would make them impure and not impartial to “just the Bible.”

Check out this video about the fact that God has given us scientists, doctors, and other professionals to bring order to His world.  So, of course, we are to use Creation for our benefit and good health.  They actually word it so much better than I just did, so check it out here:

Are There Good Aspects of Nouthetic Counseling?

There are a couple of instances where nouthetic counseling would be absolutely appropriate.  These are the types of counseling that seminary students would learn about in their counseling courses. Let’s take a look at those.

  • A newly engaged couple who are seeking counseling as their marriage day approaches.  They have no significant issues as they approach the wedding day.  And they are both already following the Lord in their daily lives, both separately and together.
  • A married couple having some routine difficulties in their marriage that just need a neutral party to help them see things for what they are and heal accordingly.
  • Children or teenagers that are having trouble with behavior or other issues that may need more than a parent but not necessarily a formal counselor.
  • A single person who just needs some general guidance in life or help with an issue that they can’t wrap their head around but isn’t a significantly difficult issue.
  • Anybody who wants some Biblical advice in their life and needs to speak with someone who would know more than they do in that sphere.

In the general, everyday, ups-and-downs of life, a nouthetic counselor would be a perfectly fine choice.  They are often free or inexpensive, which is helpful to many people who are not able to pay a licensed counselor or don’t need that level of guidance.  And as long as the issues are not complex, a nouthetic counselor can often give great advice based on their own family/church/counseling experience, along with the training they received to be nouthetic counselors.

The trouble lies in when they begin to delve into issues that are way above their pay grade.  And that they want to believe that the Bible has all of the answers to those very delicate and nuanced situations.  Or that their advice can actually put victims of abuse in very dangerous situations because they can’t find a Bible verse where Jesus specifically said that victims of abuse or attempted murder have grounds for divorce.  (Maybe Jesus didn’t say those things because they were a given in those circumstances and He didn’t think He needed to waste His breath on them!)

Where do you Find Nouthetic Counselors?

Nouthetic counselors can be found worldwide.  As I mentioned above, there are many nouthetic counseling organizations.  Here are some of the more notable ones not counting the ACBC already listed):

  • The Association of Biblical Counselors (ABC) certifies its own counselors as does ACBC.  They tout hundreds of resources online.  And they have 48 sub-agencies around the US and Canada, each with multiple counselors.
  • The Biblical Counseling Coalition (BCC) has a staff of 16, board of 9 and 44 active council members.  The number of counselors within each church is unknown.  This is a worldwide organization.
  • Faith Biblical Counseling is aligned with all of the organizations I have mentioned so far.  According to their website, they have two organizations in Indiana.  But they train others to work with them in their ministry.  They have a base staff of six.
  • The Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship has a video training program to “strengthen churches in one-another care through training resources and events.” It’s original director, George Scipione, trained directly with Jay Adams, who is the founder of the whole Nouthetic Counseling movement in America.  This organization does not do any formal counseling, but instead provides materials to all of the above mentioned agencies to provide a more consistent counseling experience among all of the Biblical counseling outlets.
  • The International Association of Biblical Counselors has approximately 360 counselors that have been certified by their agency.  They have training programs for senior pastors of churches who would like to open an “agency” in their churches.  This is open to anyone who signs up and does their training.  I don’t know if there is any accountability.  I did fine it alarming that in their Statement of Practice, the first item they are required to adhere to is, “I agree that the Scripture is sufficient, through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, to address all of man’s needs (2 Peter 1:3-42 Timothy 3:16). Therefore, my counseling methods, practices, and techniques will be based upon the clear biblical principles and not upon theories of personality, model of man, psychotherapies, or philosophies derived from secular sources (1 Corinthians 3:19).”  This is throwing out solid, true teachings because they are not willing to look at anything except the Bible.  If someone has a truly medical problem, it will be missed, putting their counselees in danger.  There are many illnesses that can originate in the brain, affecting ones behavior, speech, or thought patterns.  To turn it all into a sin/repentance/trust God alone scenario is reckless and dangerous.

In addition to all of these details, most if not all of these associations have instructions for those who are seeking counseling.  Many of those instructions warn people not to look to modern psychology methods, even in Christian circles.  And often they come with a specific list of questions for people to ask when considering a particular counselor.  The problem is they are questions that operate on an agenda that does not necessarily help the counselee find the right counselor for themselves.

How to Find the Right Counselor for You

I know all of this can be overwhelming and confusing to someone who is looking for help in their often dire situations.  It sounds like it would be wonderful for someone to counsel you with the Bible alone.  Except the Bible was not written for that purpose.  Of course, it has precepts to live an honorable and pleasing life in service to God.  That isn’t a problem.  We should do that!  But just like the Bible doesn’t give specific instructions on how to deliver a baby, treat cancer, burns, injuries, or just about any medical situation, it also doesn’t tell us exactly what to do when someone needs psychological help.

While the Bible does say that someone who is abused should immediately get away from the dangerous party, it doesn’t say what that should look like to the battered or even emotionally, sexually, psychologically, financially or any other type of abused spouse.  At some point, we have to trust what God has given us scientifically in our world.

Christians do have responsibility to weed out the good information from the bad.  And many Christian counseling agencies have done exactly that.

So with that, here are a few things you can do to make sure you find a counselor who can truly help you:

  • Make sure they are either licensed or trained with the correct credentials for your country (a master’s degree in Psychology and tests that accompany).  Some counselors may not be licensed because they are finishing their 3,000+ hours of internship.  But those counselors are under the supervision of licensed counselors who will guide and make sure their practice is acceptable.
  • Nearly all counseling agencies have a list of all of their counselors with bios.  This info will allow you to see what their specialties are and if they relate to yours, what their hobbies and interests are and if you relate to them, and other important info that can help you determine if you will have a good connection with them.
  • Speaking with friends or family members that have been through counseling can help you find a counselor that fits you well.
  • Going to a counseling agency that is not part of a church is a step in the right direction.  It allows you to ensure that your counselor has been trained in Christian as well as psychology fields.
  • Find a counseling agency that works with pastors and church leaders.  It helps to head off the abuse when the abuser cannot isolate people to abuse them.
For more information, check out my article on Biblical vs. Christian Counseling.


I was fortunate enough to have the perfect counselor for me, even though I didn’t choose her.  My ex-husband actually did.  Honestly, I think that any counselor in that office would have been fine, as the office was tight-knit and met regularly to discuss psychological and other healing processes in conjunction with Biblical standards.  It was a perfect blend of healing my body, mind, and soul.

I know that some of my friends and family have not had the same experience.  And sometimes it takes a while to find a perfect counselor.  My son had to go through a few before he found someone he was truly comfortable with.

How about you?  Did you have a hard time finding a counselor?  Or did you find the perfect one on your first try?  How did your healing go with that counselor?  What were your hiccups in the process?  I would love to hear your answers, as would our readers.  Feel free to share in the comments 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,

If you enjoyed this article, check out these related articles:

Can Therapists See Through Narcissists?

How to Expose a Narcissist in Therapy

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Hi! I am the founder of Navigating Religious Narcissism after being raised under a narcissistic mother and married to a narcissistic man for 31 years. It is my prayer that I can be as valuable on your journey to healing and peace as were so many who crossed my path of healing.

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