The subtitle of the book Breakdowns are good for you!1 says it is A unique manual for True Biblical Counselling. The cover also asks a provocative question, which reveals the direction of the authors: “Is self-pity the cause of ‘mental illness’?” The authors, Rev. Dr. Robert J. K. Law and Malcom Bowden, claim they offer “True Biblical Counselling” (TBC) and give their readers the true cause of “mental illness.”
The authors state very accurately: “We would contend that the basic approach to counselling of this book is fundamentally so different to all other methods as to make it unique in its field” (p. 1). They clearly demonstrate throughout the book that their approach is indeed unique. It is so unique that none of the Christians mentioned favorably by them, including Dr. Jay Adams, would endorse the central propositions and claims of Law and Bowden. Their position is so unique that it would be appropriate to call it bizarre; it is truly preposterous—a one of its kind. Their defense against criticism is that what they propose is unique, but the truth is that they cannot find support for what they propose, so they claim uniqueness as the reason and defense.
We ourselves have a position contrary to many of those in both the psychological and biblical counseling movements. However, we have support from many highly regarded Christians of a variety of theological persuasions and also well-known, highly regarded secular experts who have given written endorsements for our scientific understanding and conclusions. In contrast, Law and Bowden, in spite of their mentioning Christians and secularists to support their unique position, have none of those favorably named in their book to endorse their work; nor would they if asked.
Law and Bowden’s extraordinarily unique position is summed up in their three propositions:
All problems that can be dealt with and solved in counseling sessions are always due to the pride, self-centeredness and self-pity of the counselee (p. 2, bold theirs).
Medical (i.e. organic) illnesses do not make us sin (p. 2, bold theirs).
Where there is said to be a medical problem, whether it is true or not, or where they have been classified as “mentally ill”, self-pitying counsellees invariably use this to excuse their behaviour (p. 3, bold theirs).
These three propositions and what follows are Law and Bowden’s answer to the question posed on the book’s cover. Their answer to the question “Is self-pity the cause of ‘mental illness’?” is a resounding YES! To clarify, the authors say:
It is important that the reader should appreciate the difference between self-pity and self-centeredness. Pride and self-centeredness include self-pity, but a proud and self-centered person may not necessarily indulge in self-pity such that he would appear mentally ill (p. 2, bold added).
In other words, self-pity is the central controlling emotion behind mental illness that True Biblical Counselling (TBC) must confront and deal with.
After describing pride and self-centered people, the authors say:
It is when people cannot get their own way and feel hard-done-by that they can descend into self-pity and begin to display one or more of the many forms of “mental illness” (p. 3).
They also say that when a counselor may “have occasion to counsel ‘mentally ill’ people,” the counselees need “to recognize their self-pity and repent of it” (p. 3). They say:
Once a person does this, then all the rest of his troubles melt away. Self-pity leads to all the behaviour patterns illustrated in the “Mental Illness” chart [pp. 14-15]. If the counselor deals with the self-pity of the counselee, then all the irresponsible behaviour withers away. Get rid of self-pity and the “mental illness” will disappear (p. 3, bold added).
A one-sentence summary of their position is: “the fundamental cause of all” mood disorders is the “self-pitying and sinful response of people to difficult situations“ (pp. 3-4, bold added).
“True Biblical Counselling”
In describing their unique brand of “True Biblical Counseling,” the authors say:
If it is accepted that the root cause of the counsellee’s problems is self-centeredness or self-pity, then the actual counseling approach is quite simple and there is no great need to amplify this aspect more than is necessary. Once the counselee accepts this also then a full cure should take place—often with very little further counselling being needed (p. 7, bold added).
As we shall reveal, Law and Bowden have falsely accepted self-pity as the root cause “of the counsellee’s problems.” Although in certain cases the basis for the mood disorder could be self-pity, to move from it could be to it is, as Law and Bowden do, is biblically and scientifically irresponsible. Others who follow them need to be aware that this conclusion is uniquely theirs, lacks support from others, and is found nowhere among other writers they quote, contrary to what they claim.
Law and Bowden assert:
Hysterics are those who use various means of trying to get their own way. This usually means resorting to behaviour that is strange, eccentric or bizarre; i.e. all forms of “mental illness” including schizophrenia, paranoia etc. Essentially, it is simply a way of blackmailing people in order to get their own way (p. 10, bold added).
Law tells of his counseling experience and says:
The Lord enlightened me in this whole matter, and I sat down and traced out all the sinful paths leading from rebelling against a situation through guilt and self-pity into all the so called “mental illnesses” (p. 13).
He goes on to say: “I analysed the situations and came to the conclusion that there is only one situation that precipitates bad behaviour and that is, ‘I can’t have my own way’” (p. 13, bold added).
We repeat. None of the Christians positively quoted by them and none of the others whose works are used in Law and Bowden’s attempt to support their unique position would endorse their self-pity position described above. Even though Law and Bowden say, “We would fully agree with all that Adams has said in his many books,” and even though Law says that Adams’ book Competent to Counsel “confirmed all that I had arrived at by the grace of God” (p. 13), Adams would reject their bizarre self-pity position and has never practiced according to the above propositions. They even falsely declare: “The chief exponent of TBC is, of course, Jay Adams” (p. 37). Without a written endorsement from Adams, that statement is a preposterous presumption!
If One Only Has a Hammer….
As one reads through the various cases and examples used by Law and Bowden to prove their unique self-pity position, one is reminded of the old adage: “If one only has a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” In other words, all mood and behavior disorders, including schizophrenia, look like the result of self-pity to them.
During our more than 30 years of research and writing we have come across such instances where an individual testifies that what he received was from God, as Law indicates, and then contends something similar to Law’s claim of success. Bowden says, “Dr. Law contends that almost all of his cases were successful as he found that once the counsellee realised that he was being self-pitying and that he was responsible for his own behaviour, immediate relief followed” (p. 22).
Such spurious biblical justification for similar “divinely inspired,””one-size-fits-all” revelations are given in the literature of many other Christian writers. Two such individuals about whom we have written are Dr. Charles Solomon (Spirituotherapy) and Dr. Ed Smith (Theophostic Prayer Ministry). Solomon’s “hammer” was the “rejection syndrome” and Smith’s “hammer” was the “original lie.” Both Solomon and Smith claimed that the Lord enlightened them, as Law did, and provide what they regard as soundly biblical reasons and applications for their “enlightenment.” But, neither Solomon nor Smith would go to the extreme extent found in Law and Bowden’s doctrinaire idea that “Breakdowns are good for you!” However, we are told in 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”
In the Introduction to the book it is said that Law “counselled about 300 people” (p. xiii). Later it is said, “In all his cases, not one had a purely medical cause” (p. 46, italics theirs, bold added). This is another example of the hammer and nail analogy, which results in seeing problems through their unique self-pity assumption.
The above is in a section defending Law and Bowden against “The ‘Medical Ignorance’ Charge” (p. 46). However, added to the above is the following: “There are usually fairly clear indications when the problem is not psychological but medical” (p. 46). Their statements indicate just how medically ignorant they are with their self-pity “hammer” in hand, seen virtually in all “mental illness.”
We will now reveal their medical ignorance. Law and Bowden say, “The percentage of cases where the cause is purely medical is very small indeed“ (p. 46, italics theirs). They also say: “At this present time, despite the protestations of psychiatrists, no proven organic factor has been found to cause any mental illnesses—such as schizophrenia and depression” (p. 44, italics theirs).
In summary, Law counseled 300 people and according to him “not one had a purely medical cause” (p. 46, italics theirs). Apparently Law and Bowden can be sure of this because they think “There are usually fairly clear indicators when the problem is not psychological but medical” (p. 46). In other words, they would recognize a mood disorder that is a medical problem. Therefore, Law knew that none of the 300 cases included one with a medical problem. Law and Bowden then say that the percentage of medical cases is “very small indeed,” but that at the same time there is “no proven organic factor [that] has been found to cause mental illnesses” (p. 44, italics theirs).
A Two-Edged Sword
It is true that there are no clear organic markers for mood disorders such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression, but that is a two-edged sword that cuts both ways. Contrary to what Law and Bowden say, there are also no clear spiritual markers for mood disorders! So far as we know, the human brain is the most complex organ in the entire universe. People need to exercise care in being braggadocio about their knowledge regarding it.
Are the mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression, biological or spiritual in origin? There are insipid human diseases in the formation state that will be overlooked by the usual physical examination. Many diseases are awkward or difficult to precisely detect by testing. Also, there are many diseases of the brain and body yet to be detected and named and their onset prior to discovery could lead to mood disorders.
Lyme disease is often difficult to diagnose because of the various brain and bodily disorders it can mimic. A number of diseases favor one sex over another, e.g., depression strikes women far more than men. Strokes, adult onset diabetes, personal and bodily trauma, arthritis are all implicated in depression. Those with onset but not yet diagnosed Parkinson’s disease often fall into depression because of the same biology that leads to the more obvious symptoms. Telling them that they have a self-pity problem causing depression would be cruel beyond description.
Mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression, are often biological in origin. As believers we know that they can be spiritual in origin and also can be a combination of the two. Keep in mind that labeling a mental disorder as spiritual or biological is a decision and not a discovery. Medical doctors often find themselves in this decision-making process because of the absence of clear cause and effect relationships. What is oftentimes a decision making process for a medical doctor Law and Bowden claim is a discovery on their part. Medical doctors misdiagnose at times; Law and Bowden don’t appear to admit mistakes.
The worst decision one can make is to label a mood disorder “spiritual” just because biological reasons have not been discovered to date for that person. Remember, that decision is about the most complex organ about which man is aware, compounded by the subtlety of oncoming and even undiscovered diseases. Law and Bowden are the only ones we know of in our reading of the scientific literature for over 40 years that claim that they know for sure whether a “mental illness” is medical or not. They are totally irresponsible in their contention and have provided no adequate evidence to substantiate their belief, which is what every neuroscientist we have ever read would tell them.
In most cases, scientifically and practically speaking, neither the psychiatrists nor Law and Bowden would know for sure whether or not a mood disorder is biological, spiritual, or a result of both. While percentages are given by psychiatrists and Law and Bowden (“very small indeed”), no one knows for sure. Therefore Law’s 300 counselees resulting in “not one had a purely medical cause” is not only a guess, but, we repeat, a medically and spiritually irresponsible statement. In addition, Law’s contention that “almost all of his cases  were successful” (p. 22) is, scientifically speaking, another irresponsible statement unless his 300 counselees were initially examined and then followed up over time by third parties to check up on the usual “halo effect” that counselors often have.
The psychiatrists tend to see all mood disorders as being biological, and Law and Bowden tend to see all mood disorders as spiritual. Truth of the matter is that the psychiatrists’”hammer” is medical, while Law and Bowden’s “hammer” is spiritual. We repeat. There are no biological markers for the mood disorders; neither are there spiritual markers for mood disorders. Law and Bowden’s criticism of the medicalizing of mood disorders applies equally to spiritualizing mood disorders. There are many skeletons in the psychiatrist’s closet just as there are probably many skeletons in Law and Bowden’s self-pity closet.
Over the years we have run into this simple-minded turning of illnesses into spiritual problems. Some even turn both mood and bodily disorders into spiritually related issues. In their book A Matter of Basic Principles, Don Veinot et al. quote Bill Gothard as saying:
A discerning pastor in Georgia has traced eighty diseases to their spiritual causes. He is getting a 90 percent success rate in helping people clear up diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, asthma, bulimia, Crohn’s disease, heart disease, scoliosis, ulcerated types of cancer.
Veinot et al. then say:
The “discerning pastor” is Pastor Henry Wright of Thomaston, Georgia. He claims in his book that women develop breast cancer because they hate their mothers and that lupus is caused by self-hatred. Demons, in Wright’s view, are passed genetically, and when the demon is cast out there are “genetic code changes.” Multiple sclerosis is the result of “deep, deep self-hatred, and guilt.” According to Wright, colon cancer is the result of how you treat others.2
Granted, Law and Bowden don’t go this far, but once one opens the door to this no man’s land of the origins of mood disorders, where no one knows for sure, it becomes a primrose path to their unique, extraordinary self-pity conclusion and becomes just another one of the many revisionist theories.
Begging the Question
Law and Bowden indulge heavily in the logical fallacy of begging the question, also known as circular reasoning. One logic book describes it this way: “Begging the question is the fallacy of assuming as true the very point under question.”3 Remember Law and Bowden’s hammer is self-pity. They assume that mood disorders, including schizophrenia and depression, are not due solely to pride, but rather to self-pity. They are “begging the question,” because they assume that self-pity is behind mood disorders. However, that is the very point under question. For example, in spite of the fact that Spurgeon referred to himself as being depressed at times, Bowden states categorically that “Spurgeon was NOT depressed!” (emphasis his). According to Bowden, Spurgeon was not depressed because: “At no time did he ever indulge in self-pity” (emphasis his).4 In other words, if there is no self-pity there is no depression, anxiety or schizophrenia, even if all the other symptoms are there. And, who decides whether or not there is self-pity? Law and Bowden decide using their predictable hammer.
In “Appendix 6: An examination of Biblical characters and how God dealt with them,” Law and Bowden say: “It is instructive to study how the various characters that appear in the Bible showed their pride and self-pity and how God dealt with them” (p. 190). They give ten examples and in each case, begging the question, they nail each person with their self-pity hammer. We were thankful that at least they did not hammer Jesus with their self-pity nonsense.
Schizophrenia: “a test case”
Law and Bowden begin their section on schizophrenia by saying:
Of all the various “mental illnesses” Schizophrenia is one of the most difficult for psychiatrists to deal with. Orthodox practitioners insist that it is definitely due to some cause over which the patient has no control, such as chemical imbalance, genetic inheritance, etc. We, and a few others, however, contend that it is almost entirely due to bad (i.e. self-pitying) behaviour. If there are any other external factors, then they are not the controlling cause but possibly a minor contributory factor. If it can be shown to be a behavioural problem, as we hope to do, then virtually all other “illnesses” that lack any specific organic cause are even more easily explained as a behavioral problem. Schizophrenia, therefore, is a “test case” of the two approaches (p. 47, bold added).
Before we discredit Law and Bowden through their “test case” of schizophrenia, we wish to challenge their reference to “a few others” who “contend that it is almost entirely due to bad (i.e. self-pitying) behavior.” We repeat, none of the individuals they favorably name, including Dr. Jay Adams and Dr. William Glasser, would endorse their unique position. Law and Bowden may claim Adams, Glasser, and others, but we predict they will not obtain a written endorsement for their self-pitying preoccupation from any of them.
Law and Bowden say their position is unique. Their position would be better described as extraordinary. They make a variety of extraordinary claims. Some extraordinary claims require faith to believe them; others require scientific evidence. We state categorically that Law and Bowden’s extraordinary claims for “a full cure”(p. 7) “proven totally effective with no relapse“ (p. 21) require extraordinary evidence, and they only provide evidence based on faith (theirs and their readers) and not scientific evidence. Such extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence smack of quackery. Law and Bowden’s only evidence is anecdotal and personal testimonies, which require an extraordinary amount of faith to believe. Anecdotes and personal testimonies may be interesting to read, but should never be relied upon for extraordinary claims, unless accompanied by scientific evidence. We are not impressed with anyone, regardless of academic credentials, who wreaks havoc with or ignores the scientific method related to their extraordinary claims.
We give two of many quotes that reveal Law and Bowden’s view of schizophrenia: (1) “Not wanting to take responsibility is a prime cause of depression and schizophrenia” and (2) “schizophrenia, like mental illnesses in general, is far from being an ‘illness’ but a moral problem of pride, self-centeredness, self-pity and avoidance of responsibility for guilty actions in the past” (p. 57). In the section on schizophrenia where Law and Bowden present “proof” for their position, they say:
Treating schizophrenia as a behavioural problem definitely produces results in returning patients to society both rapidly and with a very high success rate.
With all the evidence set out above, and much more could be quoted, we ask how anyone can honestly hold to the concept that schizophrenia is a “mental illness.” Surely these facts are incontrovertible, and we would claim that our case is proven (p. 55, bold added).
In Part Two we confront their central evidence, which rests primarily upon Dr. William Glasser’s book Reality Therapy.5 One of the frustrations of attempting to verify what Glasser says in his book is the fact that he offers almost no footnotes for what he presents as evidence. Glasser writes as a novelist and not as a scientist. Otherwise his book would be fully footnoted. Law and Bowden present Glasser’s findings as facts, while they were written in the style of a novel, hence the absence of footnotes. In most cases one is left with taking Glasser’s word for what he says. Thus Law and Bowden are presenting Glasser’s say-so as scientific proof. Science does not proceed this way; however, quackery does. Nevertheless we will deal with Glasser’s examples and discredit their use by Law and Bowden. We shall demonstrate that their claims based on Glasser’s examples are scientifically not supportable. In Part Two we deal with the four examples from Reality Therapy that Law and Bowden use to claim support for their position, and we discredit their use of each one.
1 Robert J.K. Law and Malcolm Bowden. Breakdowns are good for you! Bromley, UK: Sovereign Publications, 1999. Hereafter, page references are given in parentheses, i.e. (p. 1).
2 Don Veinot, Joy Veinot & Ron Henzel. A Matter of Basic Principles. Springfield, MO: 21st Century Press, 2002, pp. 290-291.
3 Robert M. Johnson. A Logic Book, 2nd Ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1992, p. 258.
4 Malcolm Bowden, “The Cause and Cure of Depression,” http://homepage.ntlworld.com/malcolmbowden/depression.htm.
5 William Glasser. Reality Therapy. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, January-February 2009, Vol. 17, No. 1)