Cross-Gender Counseling[1]

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  1 John 2:16

Because of the evil speaking that will occur, our first hope is that counselors will stop their problem-centered counseling and start ministering biblically. We also hope that, as a result of reading this article, those who claim to be biblical in their counseling will stop cross-gender counseling. Cross-gender counseling occurs prolifically with men counseling women, women counseling men, and a man or a woman counseling a couple. The bigger offender of the two is the male counselor because at least two-thirds of the counselees are women. And, while licensed psychological counselors are mostly women, biblical counselors are still mostly men.[2] Unfortunately a male counselor with a female counselee is standard practice among many biblical counselors. In this article we indicate both biblical and practical reasons why all cross-gender counseling should cease.

No Biblical Examples

We look to the Bible to see what Scripture reveals. As we repeatedly say, Scripture presents no example of what is called biblical counseling as it is practiced today. Also, nowhere in Scripture is there a hint or example of a man counseling a woman as currently practiced in biblical counseling, and nowhere in the Bible is there an example of a woman counseling a man as currently practiced in some biblical counseling circles. There are numerous teachings and admonitions throughout Scripture about life, living, and the issues of life, but there is no example in all of these of any cross-gender counseling.

Women and Men in Counseling

There are great similarities between men and women; however, there are some significant differences which affect cross-gender counseling. It seems trivial and almost unnecessary to say, but men and women are different from one another and these differences enter into the counseling setting. In addition to biblical differences between men and women, there are biological, behavioral, hormonal, and functional differences.

Differences between men and women begin before birth and continue throughout life. Science News reports:

The reason boys like trucks and girls like dolls relates to fetal differences in brain development, explains Heather Patisaul, a neuroendrocrinologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Males develop differently from females—physically and behaviorally—largely through programming by androgens (male sex hormones such as testosterone).[3]

The Scientific American Mind reports in “The Neural Roots of Intelligence” on the differences in the neural networks of intelligence in men and women. They say:

The specific areas in this network are different in men and women, suggesting there are at least two different brain architectures that produce equivalent performance on IQ tests. In general, we found that in women more gray and white matter in frontal brain areas, especially those associated with language, was correlated with IQ scores; in men IQ scores correlated with gray matter in frontal areas and, especially, in posterior areas that integrate sensory information.[4]

Of course there are similarities between the brains of men and women. However, Scientific AmericanMind says, “It turns out that male and female brains differ quite a bit in architecture and activity.”[5] The journal also says that “over the past decade investigators have documented an astonishing array of structural, chemical and functional variations in the brains of males and females.”[6] The Scientific American Mind produced a special issue devoted to “Male vs. Female Brains” with the words “His Brain, Her Brain, How we’re different” on the cover.[7] While this special issue does speak of similarities between the sexes, it is primarily about the differences. One writer sums it up by saying: “There is ample evidence that men and women think, express themselves and even experience emotions differently.”[8] Linguist Deborah Tannen explains “Genderspeak” as follows: “Men’s talk tends to focus on hierarchy-competition for relative power—whereas women’s tends to focus on connection-relative closeness or distance.”[9] The differences in the brains of men and women influence how they perceive and act. These differences are played out in cross-gender counseling. There are many other gender differences, but we offer only a few more in the following paragraphs.

Medical doctor Louann Brizendine, in her book The Female Brain, describes a woman as “a person whose reality dictated that communication, connection, emotional sensitivity, and responsiveness were the primary values.”[10] Brizendine’s theme throughout the book is that women are different because they have different brains, and, as a result, women are deeply sensitive to emotions and form strong relationships. One group of researchers reveals the following:

Beauty is in the brain of the beholder. Go to any museum and there will be men and women admiring paintings and sculpture. But it turns out they are thinking about the sight differently. Men process beauty on the right side of their brains, while women use their whole brain to do the job, researchers report in Tuesday’s electronic edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. They even explain it differently….

Researchers were surprised by the finding. “It is well known that there are differences between brain activity in women and men in cognitive tasks,” said researcher Camilo J. Cela-Conde of the University of Baleares in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. “However, why should this kind of difference appear in the case of appreciation of beauty?” The answer seems to be that when women consider a visual object they link it to language while men concentrate on the spatial aspects of the object.[11]

Dr. James W. Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin and his colleagues have “developed a computer program that analyzes texts called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC, pronounced ‘Luke’).”[12] Through the use of LIWC, Pennebaker et al reveal by statistical analysis that “the way we write and speak can reveal volumes about our identity and character.” They say, “In general, women tend to use more pronouns and references to other people. Men are more likely to use articles, prepositions and big words.”[13] This certainly affects conversations in cross-gender counseling.

According to some theories, men in general are “better at systemizing” and “women are better at empathizing.”[14] Here, too, these differences affect conversations in cross-gender counseling. Counselors encourage women to do what they do so well—being verbal, nurturing, and relational. Women tend to share and converse. Communication, as it occurs and is encouraged in problem-centered counseling, comes naturally to women and can result in miscommunication in cross-gender counseling. In the manner in which they function, counselors appeal to women to come for help. The counselors offer an environment for relationship and for exploring and expressing emotions in a conversational, female-friendly setting that suits women’s feeling-oriented inclination to share. Problem-centered counseling provides an environment in which these female feelings and thoughts can easily be misunderstood or not understood at all in cross-gender counseling. Moreover, an understanding male counselor may stimulate romantic feelings in a woman as he listens to her every word with rapt attention. She may romanticize about their relationship and even believe that he has feelings for her as well. At the least this male counselor/female counselee intimacy may well make a married woman’s husband appear second-rate in comparison.

The primary reason men should not be in counseling is because their spiritual headship is generally corrupted. It is bad enough when the man’s spiritual headship is corrupted by another man; it is doubly bad when it is corrupted by a women counselor. In summary, cross-gender counseling is detrimental for both men and women. The spiritual headship of men and women’s relational virtues are often and easily corrupted in problem-centered counseling.

Oftentimes in counseling what the counselees talk about can be classified under “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16) and the world, the flesh, and the devil. These sinful areas are discussed, elaborated, and questioned during the counseling process. In cross-gender counseling men and women regard these areas differently, respond to them differently, and usually speak about them differently. Therefore cross-gender counseling is detrimental to honest and clear communication and can lead to much confusion and misunderstanding. He talks as a male counselee and she responds as a female counselor or she talks as female counselee and he responds as a male counselor. The speaking, listening, and responding are all affected by inherent gender differences in cross-gender counseling. The above represent only a small fraction of the support for the existence of differences between men and women that can play a significant role in cross-gender counseling.

“Gender Bias Is Ubiquitous”

Biblical counselors will claim that they preach, teach, and evangelize in the counseling room and use that as a reason for cross-gender counseling. If that were all they did we would rejoice. However, that is not all they do; they do have problem-centered conversations that inevitably involve evil speaking. The evil of evil speaking is magnified in cross-gender counseling, because, in addition to being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, Christians are also living in the flesh, which is particularly vulnerable in the context of modern-day counseling. The counselors are men and women living in the flesh, man as man and woman as woman. Both counselors and counselees are individuals to whom the Jeremiah 17:9 syndrome[15] applies. Because of this fleshly gender orientation, men who counsel will carry male biases into counseling and women who counsel will carry female biases into counseling, which will affect what is said.

One prolific writer and university counseling professor notes “how much more comfortable a therapist (or anyone) feels working with people who are most similar to her in terms of religion, race, socioeconomic background, and core values.”[16] This is very true, and gender identity, male to male and female to female, is also an added strong factor in being “most similar.” This is a fleshly factor that also affects biblical counseling.

One academic text on counseling reveals what should be obvious to a believer about a fleshly orientation in cross-gender counseling. Regarding cross-gender counseling, it says, “Gender bias is ubiquitous.”[17] Research shows that male counselors counsel according to the “male norm.” Imagine a male counselee who is involved in pornography speaking to a female counselor whose flesh could not relate to it or not have a clue about that kind of lust; and imagine a female counselee who is heart sick over her romantic fantasies about some man and speaking to a male counselor whose flesh could totally misunderstand her or not be able to relate to this kind of response. The flesh of both counselors would no doubt be involved in the counseling. Hopefully no one is naïve enough to think that their flesh is not involved in their counseling. Those who would say that this does not happen in Christian counseling are overlooking Jeremiah 17:9 and other verses referring to the flesh and self-deception.

While the apostle Paul would give wise counsel to men on an individual basis, such as with his missionary partners along the way and with fellow workers regarding ministry and conduct, most of what we see in his teachings to women, as individuals and as wives, come through his ministry of preaching and teaching to groups of individuals and through his letters to both churches and individuals. Examples of such teachings about living the Christian life are given throughout the New Testament, and Paul’s teachings about the marriage relationship in Ephesians 5:21-25 are clear and very Christ-centered. Notice how often he points to Christ and His relationship to the church and how the marriage is to be a picture of that relationship.

Paul certainly did not waste his time or theirs talking about such trivial matters as husbands not picking up their socks and wives not cooking meals the husband likes, et cetera, ad nauseam. He was well aware of the problems that Christians were facing, but he taught and wrote to all in such a way that Christ was central and with the understanding that the Holy Spirit would make applications in each life. We note one exception in that the apostle John wrote a letter to “the elect lady and her children,” but this was not a private counseling session and simply had to do with walking faithfully with the Lord and guarding against deception. This was a far cry from any private conversation resembling today’s counseling. Those who do cross-gender counseling cannot point to the apostle Paul or any biblical example of any cross-gender counseling occurring in Scripture!

Rapport and Bonding in Counseling

In his monumental book The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry, Henri F. Ellenberger gives a detailed history of the background and emergence of psychotherapy. He says, “Whatever the psychotherapeutic procedure, it showed the same common basic feature: the presence and utilization of the rapport[18] (bold added). If one is to best assist the counselee, rapport is both a necessary ingredient and a common factor in all counseling and psychotherapy. Through rapport a bonding occurs between the one in need and the one who desires to help.

Rapport is often described as a harmonious or sympathetic relationship as can occur in counseling. Some describe it as sharing a world view between counselor and counselee. Others describe it variously as the magic, glue, sympathy, warmth, acceptance, and encouragement that exist in the relationship. Whatever terms are used to describe rapport, they are terms of intimacy, which the dictionary defines as “a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person.”[19] And, no matter how rapport is described, for the counselor it is regarded as the most important ingredient for success in counseling. The counselors’ responsibility is to strive for the highest level of rapport in their quest for success.

Everyday relationships in the family or with close friends or others generally include some element of rapport. However, the counseling relationship, because it involves a greater emotional intensity due to personal issues, usually requires a deeper rapport in order for trust and confidence in the counselor to be established for therapeutic success. It is at this needed-for-success deeper level of rapport that one can enter the danger zone in cross-gender counseling.  Think about cross-gender counseling with a man counseling a woman or a woman counseling a man where there is deep rapport with a harmonious or sympathetic relationship, including a shared world view, between a warm, accepting, empathetic and encouraging counselor and an expectant, trusting counselee. This type of relationship is intimate and close and is often entered into with a complete stranger or with one not formerly intimately known by the counselee.  Another term that is used to describe the ideal in counseling is bonding. There are various definitions for bonding; however, we define it here as a close relationship that is achieved in counseling as a result of intense experiences described by the counselee and one in which the counselee and counselor can become emotionally attached to one another. It is one with inherent dangers that common sense would dictate be avoided between the sexes. The end result of such deep rapport and bonding is seen in various studies regarding such close counselor/counselee relationships. One professional journal says, “Research suggests that therapists have a long half-life and remain inside their clients for years.”[20] That same journal reports on two professional journal articles on this phenomenon. The first is the Psychiatric Times, where:

Psychiatrist Barbara Young reported on her personal project asking former clients how they’d internalized their therapy. A client from 20 years before, who told Young that she checks in daily with God about her decisions and feelings, suddenly looked at Young and exclaimed, “He talks to me just like you used to!”[21]

The second is from Psychotherapy Theory, Research, Practice, Training, where:

James Mosher of Miami University reported on a study about how former clients who’ve been in therapy for varying periods internalized their therapists over time. One client, who’d had eight sessions, described her therapist as a protective shell. “It was like being on Who Wants to be a Millionaire and using a lifeline,” said another short-term client. After a while, however, clients experienced the therapist’s presence as being inside. Therapy, said one longer-term client, became “something that was deepening in me.”[22]

The biblical blueprint for an intimately personal male/ female relationship is the godly marriage as described in Scripture where spiritual headship with all its responsibilities and privileges is the man’s and where spiritual submission with all its responsibilities and privileges is the woman’s (Eph. 5:22-33). Granted that the extent of the intimate relationship in counseling is not the same as in the marriage relationship, it certainly strives for the type of intimacy that occurs through rapport and bonding, which can have serious possible consequences as we describe later in the section titled “Sex and the Counselor.”

Should a female counselor strive for rapport and bonding, which would lead to an intimate relationship with a male counselee who is not her husband? Should a male counselor strive for rapport and bonding, which would lead to an intimate relationship with a female counselee who is not his wife? The obvious answer is no! Based upon the absence of any biblical example or exhortation regarding such a relationship, it follows that no such male-female counseling relationship should exist among God’s people. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul recommending, endorsing, or utilizing this kind of rapport and bonding in cross-gender counseling?!

“Transference” and “Countertransference”

There are certain common occurrences in counseling that have been observed, named, and described.[23] One of these is when counselees tend to transfer into the relationship with the counselor the sometimes-intense feelings experienced with other significant figures in their life. These are very “often manifested as an erotic attraction towards a therapist but can be seen in many other forms.”[24] This is referred to in the literature as “transference.” Another, which is related, is called “countertransference,” which is when the counselor experiences the total range of feelings, positive and/or negative, towards a counselee.

In his book On Being a Therapist, Professor Jeffrey Kottler says:

Several researchers have urged clinicians to examine their fantasies with clients as a clue to how countertransference may be operating. Whether these fantasies are primarily rescue oriented, sexual, or expressive of rage, frustration, and anger, most therapists entertain fantasies and daydream about many of their clients.[25] (Bold added.)

Because of the problem-centered nature of biblical counseling, these same fantasies are possible with a biblical counselor as well.

While a high level of rapport and bonding are what the counselor desires to achieve, they can lead to transference and countertransference, with its problems and difficulties, which a counselor would want to avoid. These occurrences commonly happen in both psychological and biblical counseling but are unlikely to occur in the ministry of mutual care. While one may disagree with using these terms and explanations, we know that there are intense feelings, both positive and negative, that a counselee can experience towards a counselor and vice versa. Regardless of the explanation for these intense feeling that occur and are labeled “transference” and “countertransference,” they nonetheless do occur and need to be considered, especially in cross-gender counseling.

Because we know such intense emotions can exist in counseling between the counselee and the counselor and because they do occur, we point out that cross-gender counseling involving cross-gender intense feelings should be avoided. Here again common sense alone should dictate that, outside the marriage and appropriate family relationships, these types of intense feelings should be avoided between the sexes, especially in the counseling setting. Counselors often have multiple counseling appointments during each day and throughout the week, with up to 40 counselees being seen during the week. It is amazing that they can keep the details of the multiple appointments clear in their minds while juggling each unique form of rapport and bonding needed for each individual along with the fallout of transference and countertransference that can occur. We repeat, all of this occurs in most cases between a counselor and counselee who are usually strangers to one another outside the counseling office.

Sex and the Counselor

Within the “Lord’s Prayer” is the expression “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13). Matthew Poole says:

The term temptation in the general signifieth a trial, and is sometimes used to express God’s trials of his people’s faith and obedience, but most ordinarily to express Satan’s trials of us, by motions to sin; which may be from our own lusts, James i.13, 14; or from the devil, who is therefore called the tempter; or from the world. These are the temptations which we are commanded to pray against: not that God leads any persons into such temptations, unless by the permission of his providence.[26]

The cross-gender environment is rife with “motions to sin; which may be from our own lusts … or from the devil … or from the world.” William MacDonald adds that “This petition expresses a healthy distrust of one’s own ability to resist temptations or to stand up under trial.”[27]

An extremely important reason why cross-gender counseling should not be done is because of the sexual attraction that often occurs in both psychological and biblical counseling. Obviously some situations are more vulnerable to this than others. This vulnerability occurs in both psychological and biblical counseling. In a random sample of members of the American Psychological Association, the Los Angeles Times reports:

Of the 585 psychologists who responded, 87% (95% of the men and 76% of the women) reported having been sexually attracted to their clients, at least on occasion. Sixty-three percent felt guilty, anxious or confused about the attraction, and about half of the respondents received no guidance or training on this issue.[28]

The Harvard Mental Health Letter reports:

Research has shown that sexual contact with patients is common and often injurious. Between 7 and 12 percent of psychotherapists (psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers) admit sexual relations with patients. Therapists who treat sexually exploited patients report that all of them are harmed.[29]

The Seattle Times, in response to the question, “Who does the most harm?” says, “More registered counselors were disciplined for sexual misconduct than any other healthcare practitioners.” They add: “Based on the rate per 1,000 licenses, psychologists rank as the top offender.”[30] Because these surveys depend upon the honesty of the counselors reporting, many have said that the figures are no doubt much higher.

Although we do not have statistics regarding Christian counselors, we do have a file folder filled with stories about individual Christians who were exposed because of their sexual misconduct. Irrespective of whether there are statistics on Christian counselors and their sexual misconduct or not, the same dynamics exist and provide one more reason why this type of cross-gender counseling should be avoided.  Men and women may be sinfully attracted to one another in the counseling relationship. For men it is usually direct sexual lust; for the woman it is usually romantic lust. A female counselee who has a kind and compassionate male counselor can develop romantic feelings for the counselor and she may think about him lots between appointments. Such tempting thoughts can feed an inordinate desire of a romantic sort—sinful lust. She becomes vulnerable to the male counselor and she may become a snare to him.

A further topic to consider when evaluating cross-gender counseling is the way a woman presents herself in personal manner and appearance. Clearly the Bible teaches modesty (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:1-4) and warns against worldliness (1 John 2:15-16). However, even in the church one can see the influence of the world while women adorn themselves according to the latest fashion rather than in “modest apparel.” The fashion industry does all it can to woo women into buying clothing that enhances their sexual appeal, and the more provocative the clothing available, the looser the standards become to the extent that even Christian women can be seen wearing low-cut tops, short skirts, and tight clothing. While there is a broad spectrum regarding clothing among Christian women, there are certain modes of dress that would be especially problematic in cross-gender counseling.

A woman’s apparel may be a snare in cross-gender counseling, whether she is the counselor or the counselee. If she sports the latest fashion she is a temptation and a snare to other women who might follow her example. She is a more dangerous temptation and snare to her male counselees, who may seem to be hanging on her every word while engaging in voyeurism. Such can happen in cross-gender counseling. Further, consider the possible distracting thoughts of a male counselor counseling a female counselee who is wearing clothing that reveals more than should be seen in public and/ or tightly outlines the rest of her body. Under such circumstances he can be tempted to lust and will be unable to give proper attention to what is being discussed. Even if a woman is appropriately dressed, some women’s facial expressions and eye contact can come across as sexual, whether or not it is on purpose. A steady eye contact by a woman or man counselor or counselee, which can often occur, may come across as flirtatious or romantic, whether intended or not. Thus, sexual appeal is often magnified in the counseling setting by the manner of dress, mannerisms, and facial expression, including eye contact, during cross-gender counseling and is one more reason to avoid it.

Spiritual Headship

God has clearly established the authority structure of the family and outlined the means by which it is to be followed by Christians. In 1 Corinthians we have the line of authority coming from Christ: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). This is further emphasized in Ephesians 5:23: “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.” Ephesians 5:22-33 then gives believers the way this is to be worked out in the relationship of marriage with wives to “submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” and to “see that she reverence her husband” and with the husbands to “love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” and to “love his wife even as himself.” Thus God has given the man the headship, which includes both authority and responsibility. This God-given authority has been resisted, misused, and abused by sinful humanity, but those who are in Christ are called and equipped to follow what God has set forth for His glory and their good.

While biblical counselors see themselves as helping couples and families to follow God’s ordained authority structure in the family, they themselves violate the man’s headship when they counsel a wife or unmarried daughter. Both psychological and biblical counseling are structured to give the counselor a position of authority in the eyes of the person being counseled. Thus it is in error biblically when men counsel women and children who already have a spiritual head. Most of the time an adult woman comes in by herself for counseling and very often she complains about circumstances involving her husband, who is not present during the counseling. In cross-gender counseling she would then be looking to another man rather than to her husband, to whom she is to submit and reverence. If an unmarried daughter is being counseled by a man other than her own father, she is inadvertently placing him in the position of headship. Cross gender counseling diminishes or violates the spiritual headship that God has ordained. It is especially egregious for a woman to counsel a man, who then comes under her authority rather than under Christ. There are times for mutual care in the body of Christ, but here again believers need to remember and respect the man’s headship in the family.

A Man Counseling a Woman or a Couple

The counseling of a woman by a man needs to be viewed biblically in the context of spiritual headship. Who is the spiritual head of a woman? As we just indicated, if a woman is married, her husband is her spiritual head (1 Cor. 11:3), Eph. 5:23). An unmarried daughter is under the spiritual authority of her parents (Eph. 6:1-3). In problem-centered counseling, when a man counsels a married woman or couple, there is a danger that he will displace the husband’s spiritual headship to some degree, whether or not the husband is present. The types of problems a woman brings to a biblical counselor are often those that should be discussed with her husband; or, if she is not married and at home, discussed with her father, mother or a more mature woman (Titus 2:3-5). How many biblical counselors even think to ask the husband’s consent to counsel his wife or a father’s consent to counsel his dependent children? And, how many biblical counselors know whether the husband or father has agreed to such counseling?

Oftentimes a wife will enter problem-centered counseling without her husband because of his reluctance, but this is also contrary to the headship given to men, because the counselor now functions in place of the husband. In fact, if the counselor is a man, he probably spends more time listening to other men’s wives than to his own. What’s worse is that the husband of the woman being counseled may be unfairly compared to the male counselor who spends time listening to the husband’s wife in a contrived setting, in which he can appear extremely attentive and focused on her. In contrast, the husband may not appear as attentive and focused on her in the midst of their real life situations. Another tragic result of a man counseling a woman is the fact that, absent the reality of the home environment of the woman, the counselor can misdirect the woman’s loyalty and submission away from her husband or father, which can result in the counselor usurping the husband’s or father’s headship. Moreover, too many temptations occur in such counseling circumstances and many divorces have occurred because of them. Also, talking about the husband in his absence (Prov. 18:17) could easily be biased, include talebearing (Prov. 11:13; 18:8; 20:19; 26:20, 22), reveal confidences, and diminish the husband’s headship by dishonoring him to a third party. Considering the above concerns, men should not be counseling women.  Paul David Tripp, a popular biblical counselor, is a good example of this unbiblical practice of a man counseling a woman. In his book Broken-Down House he discusses a marriage counseling situation and says:

In desperation, she began to seek help for her marriage. She wanted solid advice before she approached Henry again. But it wasn’t long before she was meeting with me alone. Henry wouldn’t come.[31] (Bold added.)

Tripp’s meeting alone with a woman counselee has been a regular practice, as he says: “In counseling I have heard countless recitations of men’s wrongs against their wives.”[32]

Considering all of the writings of the apostle Paul about life and conduct, can you imagine a woman coming to his room for counseling?! And imagine this woman coming to the apostle Paul’s room week after week to meet privately, alone with him, to discuss the kinds of matters discussed in biblical counseling. Or, can you imagine the apostle Paul supporting or recommending that a man meet privately with a woman at a specified place and time for lengthy conversations about her and her problems every week, sometimes for months at a time? He would certainly not do such a thing as meet with a woman in such privacy for even a moment, let alone hours and hours, week after week! Such private meetings as occur in biblical counseling would countermand his very teachings about spiritual headship over the woman and other matters, besides the inherent sexual relationship danger and questionable appearance of evil. In spite of this total lack of example in Scripture, many men who do biblical counseling do counsel many women, and these men would probably be horrified to think that their female counselees should not be there.

A Woman Counseling a Man or a Couple

In problem-centered counseling, a woman counseling a man or a couple often erodes the biblical role of the man and reduces or usurps his spiritual headship. It is difficult to counsel someone without having a spiritual headship role in the relationship. Biblical counseling is a spiritual setting; there will be doctrinal teaching and it is easy for a woman to usurp spiritual authority over a man in such a problem-centered environment, where biblical suggestions are made, spiritual directions given, and Bible study homework assigned. It is interesting to see those denominations and churches that would not permit a woman to preach in their pulpits nonetheless refer men to female counselors, who are obviously problem-centered and who, by the very nature of counseling, wield authority in spiritual matters.

Leslie Vernick, a licensed counselor, says she counsels “from a biblical world view.”[33] She gives examples in her books of counseling men with and without the man’s wife present. The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF) has offered her books and used her at their conferences. Ed Welch, the Director of Counseling at CCEF, wrote an endorsement for one of her books. We know of no biblical counseling organization, including CCEF, that has identified the offenders and made a biblical issue of this practice of women counseling men in such intimate relationships as occur in counseling or of this cross-gender counseling arrangement being detrimental to the God-given spiritual headship of men. In an article for PsychotherapyNetworker titled “Women Treating Men,” the author psychotherapist states what is known throughout professional circles. She says, “With my male clients, I became keenly aware that often I was seen by them as a woman first and a therapist second.”[34]

The reverse of a man counseling a woman, as we discussed, can occur where the woman counselor can appear extremely attentive and focused on him. In contrast, the wife may not appear as attentive and focused on him in the midst of their real life situations. Again, too many temptations occur in such counseling circumstances and many divorces have occurred because of them. Also, talking about the wife in her absence (Proverbs 18:17) could easily be biased, include talebearing (Prov. 11:13; 18:8; 20:19; 26:20, 22), reveal confidences, and violate the one-flesh principle.


Cross-gender counseling creates situations that put both men and women at risk and should not be tolerated in the church. Yet it not only exists, but is prolific throughout the church. With all the biblical and practical reasons against cross-gender counseling, it is a wonder that it still exists among Christians. However, this is one additional look-alike from the psychological counseling movement, which never gave a second thought to there being anything negative about cross-gender counseling. The biblical counseling movement merely continues the cross-gender counseling of the psychological counseling movement and also apparently never gave it a second thought either. We have not heard one leader of the biblical counseling movement cry out publicly against such an unbiblical and foolish practice or name those individuals and organizations involved. NANC, CCEF, and BCF do not have a written policy regarding or prohibiting a man counseling a women or a woman counseling a man.[35] In fact, we know of no counseling organization that has such a written policy. With no visible opposition to cross-gender counseling within the church, it is no wonder that it still exists. However, if this one unbiblical and foolish practice were stopped, it would probably decimate both the psychological and biblical counseling movements.


[1] Excerpted from Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2011, “Cross-Gender Counseling,” pp. 127-148,

[2] Survey of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, Inc., the International Association of Biblical Counselors, and the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors.

[3] Janet Raloff, “Chemicals from plastics show effects in boys,” Science News, Vol. 176, No. 13, p. 10.

[4] “The Neural Roots of Intelligence,” Scientific American Mind, Vol. 20, No. 6, p. 30.

[5] Larry Cahill, “His Brain, Her Brain,” Scientific American, Vol. 292, No. 5, p. 40.

[6]Ibid., p. 41.

[7]Scientific American Mind, Vol. 21, No. 2, cover.

[8] Cristof Koch, “Regaining the Rainbow,” Scientific American Mind, ibid., p. 16.

[9] Deborah Tannen, “He Said, She Said,” Scientific American Mind, ibid., p.56.

[10] Louann Brizendine. The Female Brain. New York: Morgan Road Books, 2006, inside jacket cover.

[11]Santa Barbara News-Press, Feb. 24, 2009, p. B5.

[12] Jan Donges, “You Are What You Say,” Scientific American Mind, Vol. 20, No. 4, p. 14.

[13]Ibid., p. 15.

[14] “Gender Differences,”

[15] See discussion of the Jeremiah 17:9 syndrome: Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2011, pp. 53-60,

[16] Jeffrey A. Kottler. On Being a Therapist, Fourth Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010, p. 144.

[17] Alexandra G. Kaplan and Lorraine Jasinski in Women and Psychotherapy: An Assessment of Research and Practice. Annette M. Brodsky and Rachel T. Hare-Mustin. New York: The Guilford Press, 1980, p. 210.

[18] Henri F. Ellenberger. Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry. New York: Basic Books/ HarperCollins Publishers, 1970, p. 152.

[19] Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. New York: Gramercy Books, 1996.

[20] Garry Cooper, “Your Inner Therapist,” Psychotherapy Networker, Vol. 34, No. 3, p. 11.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ellenberger, op. cit., p. 490.


[25] Jeffrey A. Kottler, op. cit., p. 151.

[26] Matthew Poole. A Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. III. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008, p. 28.

[27] William MacDonald. Bible Believer’s Bible Commentary: New Testament, Revised Edition. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990, pp. 40-41.

[28] Susan K. Golant, “Therapists Admit Sex Lure,” Los Angeles Times, June 24, 1986, Part V, p. 1.

[29] “Should Psychotherapist-Patient Sex Be a Crime?” The Harvard Mental Health Letter, Vol. 8, No. 9, p. 8.

[30] “License to Harm,” The Seattle Times, April 23, 2008.

[31] Paul David Tripp. Broken-Down House. Wapwallopen, PA. Shepherd Press, 2009, p. 100.

[32]Ibid., p. 222.

[33] Leslie Vernick. How to Live Right When Your Life Goes Wrong and How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2003.

[34] Holly Sweet, “Women Treating Men,” Psychotherapy Networker, Vol. 34, No. 3, p. 34.

[35] Concluded as a result of phone calls to or web site searches of all those organizations.