“The words of a talebearer…” Proverbs 18:8.
What do people talk about in counseling? They talk about themselves, their feelings, their relationships, their problems, and other people in their lives. Quite often people are encouraged to talk about their parents, spouse, children, other relatives, and close friends, as well as numerous other people. What might they be saying?
Depending on the counseling system used, the counselor or therapist will generally ask questions about present circumstances, past circumstances, and related feelings. The counselor will try to understand the person and his problems according to various theoretical frameworks. The counselor will also guide the counselee (their term) towards viewing life according to the counseling framework being used.
More often than not, the counselee will talk about people who are not present. While there may be no intentional lying, the story will be told from the teller’s perspective, with details chosen from the teller’s memory. And because of the nature of memory, the story cannot possibly be an exact replica of the events. Therefore it often turns into a tale that places the teller in a better light than the others being talked about.
Counseling encourages talebearing. Think about any counseling you may have experienced or any groups that may have encouraged transparency. Quite often the very act of individual or group counseling will require that participants say personal things about other people who are not present. That often involves talebearing—spreading gossip, secrets, biased impressions, and so forth about others who are not present. In fact, counseling often encourages such talebearing as the counselor elicits details and searches for clues as to the whys and wherefores of what is troubling the individual. After all, many problems of living involve other people.
For years the counseling way of dealing with problems of living has been to talk about the problems, feelings, circumstances, and the sins of others, including family members. Because many counseling theories consider one’s childhood to be the source of later problems, much time may be devoted to looking for ways that parents and other adults failed to give the child exactly what the counselee or therapist thinks the child needed at the time.
Some counselors use regression, which encourages the counselee to remember and even re-experience the past. Since recall is never accurate, but rather is full of gaps that must be filled in, the memory inevitably becomes altered and enhanced. The further back the memory, the greater chance for imagination to take over and the greater the opportunity for talebearing that is far from accurate. As these tales unfold and are emotionally experienced, they take on a life of their own and become newly created memories—tales of parents doing things they never did or failing to do what they actually did.
Any counseling that encourages a person to gossip about parents leads to breaking the commandment to honor parents. Much counseling seeks to discover reasons for present problems in the past, and much time is devoted to insignificant details about how parents might have been over-protective or not protective enough, or how they might have smothered the child with too much love or not loved enough, or how the parents did this or that. Since no parent is perfect, this is fertile ground for a great deal of gossip and talebearing. Such counseling also distorts a person’s relationship with parents, because as negative things are discussed the positive things fade away until the adult child develops a strained relationship with the parents. In fact, some people, after this kind of counseling, divorce themselves completely from their parents. Counseling has done a great disservice to parents, who are often blamed for nearly everything that is wrong in a person’s life. This in itself violates the commandment to honor parents.
However, one cannot limit talebearing to regressive counseling. Any counseling or therapy that exposes sins, secrets, or private matters of others can rightly be considered talebearing. Therefore, if a woman complains about her husband in counseling or elsewhere, she is very possibly revealing private matters, exposing perceived or actual faults, and/or making him seem worse than he really is. That is talebearing. If a husband complains about his wife in counseling, or elsewhere, he is very possibly revealing private matters, exposing perceived or actual faults, and/or making her seem worse than she really is. Talebearing harms relationships and may be one of the main reasons marriage counseling so often leads to divorce.
When we warn about gossip and dishonoring, we do not condone covering up actual serious sins that may have been committed, but those would have to be verified, not just talked about in counseling. If an actual crime has been committed, the person needs to report the crime to the authorities, not just talk about it in counseling.
What the Bible Says
The Bible warns us about the evil of talebearing: “The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly” (Proverbs 18:8; 26:22); “He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips” (Proverbs 20:19); “Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth” (Proverbs 26:20). Moreover, the Lord commands His people not to act as talebearers: “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people” (Lev. 19:16).
Complaining about other people during counseling will generally give a very biased view. As the counselor hears the complaints, he cannot help but form an impression of the person being complained about. The counselor is hearing only one side of the story and would tend to see the situation from that perspective.
When talebearing includes false information about another person, it becomes bearing false witness. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16; see also Deut. 5:20; Ps. 101:5; Prov. 24:28). Bearing false witness in counseling can happen as a person describes situations from a hurt and biased perspective. Sometimes a person is covering his own sin by exaggerating the sins of others and finding fault in areas that would not even be considered sinful, such as annoying habits. Tainted tales about other people are grievous. Proverbs 25:18 says, “A man that beareth false witness against his neighbour is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow.”
How many counselors actually check out the details of the stories they have been told? Very few, if any. In fact, recovered memory counselors contend that it is their duty to believe and support the counselee, even though research has demonstrated not only that memory is faulty, but also that counselees lie to their counselors. Many counselees deceive by telling only part of the story and thereby turn it into talebearing. The Bible advises getting the facts before believing tales: “He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him” (Prov. 18:17).
The counseling mentality has spread far beyond the counselors’ offices. The mentality that considers talking about problems and about other people as being necessary is pandemic in our culture. Gossip is as old as the Fall and talebearing gets lots of attention for the flesh. Indeed, people love to gossip and to tell tales. Not only do they get lots of attention, but when they tell their tales from their own perspective, they may get lots of sympathy and support. Yes, indeed, the flesh will feel better. In fact, people often feel relieved to “get it off their chest,” but the feeling of relief does not make it right or even helpful to the situation. The very process of counseling encourages people to talk about other people. Those who claim to be biblical counselors who encourage people to talk about others cannot be performing a biblically-sound service.
Tales Spread Far and Wide
But, some may insist that this kind of talk is absolutely necessary and that all such information is confidential. First of all, the talebearing, gossiping, or even bearing false witness has already happened in the counseling office. Second, the word “confidential” does not mean that no one else will know. Counselors often keep written records of their sessions and much private information is recorded. Depending on the environment, this information may spread further than one might suppose. If counseling is associated with a counseling clinic, these notes will be included in the files. In addition, counselors often consult with one another and thereby share the tales they have heard in the counseling room.
“A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter” (Prov. 11:13). Most offenses are small, and for these, love should cover a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:6). However, what if there is a serious offense of one person against another, of one spouse against another, of one family member against another? How can that be resolved? Certainly not by talebearing! Proverbs 25:9 says, “Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another” (Prov. 25:9). Jesus gave clear guidelines to follow:
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican (Matt. 18:15-17).
Those who love one another will not share private matters about another person with others, including psychological or biblical counselors. A husband who loves his wife as Christ loved the church would not expose her private life, conversations, actions, and faults with others, including a counselor. A wife who honors her husband would not expose his private life, conversations, actions, and faults with others, including a counselor.
Is This Kind of Talk Necessary?
This not only happens in counseling; it is encouraged! Even Christians who write so-called case studies that may be composites of more than one case include details about relationships that they should have no business knowing, but which are expected and encouraged in counseling. For years people have been told that it is good to talk about their problems and to share personal details about others. Somehow talking about these things has been promoted as necessary for mental-emotional healing, even though there is research that reveals the contrary—that people often feel worse because the problems appear bigger after discussing and analyzing them. Once a person describes a spouse in negative terms it is difficult to see the positive qualities, because positive qualities might undermine what has been said to the therapist. Rather than the attitude about the situation improving, there is a strong possibility that the attitude may become strongly attached to the description given to the counselor. A felt need to justify one’s complaints may solidify the negative report given to the counselor and lead to further deterioration in the marital relationship.
Is it possible to help people without the sins of others not present being exposed? Is it possible to help people without talebearing? Is it possible to help people without focusing on problems? After all, people, especially women, may temporarily feel better after they have talked with a sympathetic listener (counselor) about problem people in their lives. But, this feeling of unburdening oneself is short-lived and, in itself, does not solve the problems. In fact, problems often get worse, because, when people spend emotional energy thinking and talking about what bothers them about their circumstances and others’ involvement, the problems draw so much attention that what is good and right fades into the background. Even if a person does feel better knowing that someone else has heard and cared, can counseling that encourages or even allows talebearing be the right way to help someone when talebearing can be harmful and is forbidden in Scripture?
Other Ways to Help People
We contend that there are other ways to help people. Paul spoke of the foolishness of preaching. Yes, preaching is important for salvation, but what about afterwards? Paul would still opt for preaching and teaching, for he declared in Galatians 3:1-3:
O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
Problems of living are to be dealt with by the hearing of faith and responding in faith. Yes, personal ministry is possible, but it should be geared to “the hearing of faith.” One can seek what God wants to do in one’s life without revealing the sins or secrets of others. First, one can pray and pour out one’s heart to God, who is the only One who understands anyway. One can study the Bible and seek the Lord’s wisdom from His word. One can grow in endurance, knowing that the trial of one’s faith is “much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire” (1 Peter 1:7). It has been demonstrated again and again that “suffering makes strong believers,” but it is not the suffering itself, but whether the sufferers turn to the Lord and strengthen their faith in Him through the suffering.
If a believer needs support and encouragement, a fellow believer can draw alongside for support and encouragement without knowing the details, especially since the direction one must always be pursuing is one’s own obedience and spiritual growth rather than depending on someone else to change to make life more tolerable. If information is needed for the purpose of biblical instruction and possible application, the situation can be stated without lurid details.
All problems of living can be used as reminders to draw close to the Lord, know Him more deeply, trust Him more fully, and seek to walk pleasing to Him through great trials, as well as through the ordinary challenges of life. The Lord IS involved in the life of every one of His children. He is the potter; we are the clay. And, He is forming a glorious bride without “spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing” (Eph. 5:27).
Christians have hope beyond anything that can be gained through counseling that encourages gossip and talebearing. They have a hope that should carry them through the trials of life right into the presence of the Lord.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3-9).
From PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, May-June, Vol. 13, No. 3, 2005.