Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine interviewed Laura Hendrickson, M.D. in a three-part series titled “Your Child and the Autism Spectrum” on FamilyLife Today Radio. Hendrickson’s website describes her as follows:
Dr. Laura is trained as a medical doctor, with a specialty in psychiatry. She currently practices biblical counseling and teaches around the country as well as internationally. She is certified as a biblical counselor by the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC).1
The focus of the three interviews was Hendrickson’s book Finding Your Child’s Way on the Autism Spectrum.2 Shortly before his third birthday, Hendrickson’s son Eric was diagnosed with severe autism. In Parts One and Two of the interview Hendrickson describes Eric’s amazing progress from being severely autistic to overcoming autism and reveals all she did to assist him on his journey to becoming valedictorian of his class, graduating from the University of California, and being elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.3 Her book and testimony in the first two interviews are commendable and would be helpful to parents of children diagnosed with autism.
The third interview, titled “TheImpact of a Special Needs Child on a Marriage,”4 is of special interest to us. Here she reveals her NANC background and demonstrates how the privacy of personal lives has become public in recent years, both through problem-centered counseling and through the media. Hendrickson is a prime example of what we discuss in “The Public Undressing of Private Lives,” which is Chapter 1 of our book Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! Hendrickson’s third interview is a microcosm of the public macrocosm of “The Age of Show and Tell,” which we describe in our book.5 We say, “The prototype for the public purging of private personas was played out first through individuals in the confines of the counselor’s office, then into group counseling, and finally into the public arena.”6 We end the chapter by saying: “The United States has privately and publicly become a therapeutic society where private and public trash talk, which was first led by men counselors and later mainly by women counselors, was primarily fueled by female inclinations and interests.”7
In this radio interview Hendrickson describes her marriage as “rocky right from the start.” Then she adds, “When a baby came into the mix, that added another complicating factor to an already difficult marriage.” In discussing her husband’s and her own spiritual lives, she says, “We lived separate spiritual lives. My faith was very important to me, but I didn’t see any evidence that my husband’s faith was important to him,” and later she said that “everything he really believed beyond the creeds that we might recite at church was in opposition to real Christian life.”
She further describes the relationship between herself and her husband when she learned of the autism diagnosis. She recalls that after telling her husband about the diagnosis, he said, “We’ll deal with it.” Rainey responds: “He didn’t bear your burdens with you? He didn’t attempt to comfort your soul in the midst of that?” Hendrickson took Rainey’s lead and said, “I think I cried. I think he held me, but really it was my problem. He lived for his work. It was my problem.” She then elaborates: “I didn’t just shoulder it alone—the way he dealt with his feelings was by producing chaos in our lives. He started tearing the house apart—‘Remodeling,’ he called it. Only, things stayed torn apart a long time before they started getting put back together again. That made it—not only was he not helping—he was making it harder.” She explains that during the remodeling she had to cook with an electric skillet and do the dishes in the bathtub.
Lepine next brings up the subject of violence in the marriage as if this is for public consumption. Hendrickson says that the first time was when Eric was only one, which was prior to any autistic diagnosis. She describes the incident:
I said a terrible thing…. What I said was inexcusable. It was bad, but he strangled me. I remember thinking, ‘I am going to die. There is nobody to save me.’ Then, he let me go. It was time to go to work.” Next she explains: I was working as a psychiatrist. I picked up the baby and went out of the house. I told a co-worker who was a social worker. She told me I couldn’t go back. In fact, she let me move into her home. I took out a restraining order. I did all of the right things you are supposed to do in a situation like this. Then, when it was time to go to court about the restraining order, the women’s group that was helping me told me I didn’t need a lawyer unless my husband was going to bring one. He said he wasn’t going to. Then he showed up with one at the hearing. The judge really mistreated me from the bench. Later on, my husband told me with a broad smile that the judge and his lawyer were good friends.
The outcome of the court hearing prompted Hendrickson to call her husband and invite him home. She further said, “After that, there was violence; but I never took out a restraining order again.”
During the interview she does say some nice things about her husband and admits some of her own failures in the marriage. However, even when she admits having “turned into a control freak,” the reason was “to keep Eric’s behavior under control—particularly the years that he had autism—and trying to persuade my husband not to go off on the things that he did.” She confesses, “I had confided in girlfriends in the early years; but then, I became convinced that I was gossiping—that I could be making the problem bigger by bringing other people into it. I prayed and tried to keep it completely private.” Yet she was willing to bad-mouth her former husband and dishonor him on a radio talk show—a very public arena for talebearing!
Hendrickson tells about three churches she attended where the pastors told her that she “needed to try harder.” She finally found a church where the elder board became involved. She says: “They worked with us very intensively. We worked with them for five or six years before they finally told my husband that they didn’t believe he had saving faith and excommunicated him.” Following that, Hendrickson divorced her husband. Yet, throughout the interview she did not mention one thing that would have been biblical grounds for divorce. Although Hendrickson says that he “already had three adult children from a previous marriage,” nothing is said about whether his first wife had died or whether he was a divorced man when she married him.
According to court records Laura Hendrickson filed for a Dissolution of Marriage against her Daniel Hendrickson on March 16, 2007. Her book is copyrighted 2009 and the following is on her acknowledgment page:
Thanks for allowing me to tell our story.
I’m so proud of you! It’s an honor to be your mother.
And to Dan,
In gratitude for the sacrifices you made for Eric.
The circumstances would lead one to conclude that the “Dan” referred to is Daniel Hendrickson, her former husband. However, in comparing the acknowledged “sacrifices” Dan made for Eric with what she says in her FamilyLife Today Radio interview about the chaos her husband caused when she was trying to help Eric and particularly her words, “Really, my husband was working against many of the things I was trying to do” and “not only was he not helping—he was making it harder,” one wonders if this is the same person.
In addition to the above brief bio of Hendrickson, her website includes the following:
She is Professor of Biblical Counseling at Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, IN, and Visiting Guest Lecturer at the Master’s College’s Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling program in Santa Clarita, CA. She also serves on the Leadership Council Board of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, and on the Advisory Board for the Association of Biblical Counselors.8
Hendrickson’s third interview, during which she needlessly and sinfully exposed her husband without his presence (behind his back), sets an example for all those she trains at the Crossroads Bible College, The Master’s College, and wherever she lectures. However, since this is exactly the kind of sinful speaking that goes on in both secular and biblical counseling and since this is what people are used to hearing on media talk shows, one can see how such ways of the world are desensitizing believers and Christian organizations to blatant elements of sin as they are being accepted and even expected.
In fact, near the end of the interview Rainey says, “I appreciate you sharing your story here of what happened in your marriage, and, of course, what ultimately led to a divorce…. There is a God who cares. He does intercept life with us. In these moments, we need to turn to Him. I just appreciate your modeling that for us” (bold added). One wonders whether or not the Crossroads Bible College, The Master’s College, and wherever she “teaches around the country, as well as internationally,” endorse this kind of modeling, i.e., sinful public talebearing.
Hendrickson’s third interview on FamilyLife Today Radio talk show is a blatant example of what is wrong with problem-centered counseling as well its public broadcast manifestation. Hendrickson is a NANC counselor. NANC counselors are problem-centered, meaning that they dig for dirt. According to their method they aim to “understand completely” in order not to be “a fool in God’s eyes,” and thus the counselee is encouraged to tell all about whomever, whatever, and whenever. The result is a Pandora’s Box with all the evils of Jeremiah 17:9 pouring forth.
In this interview Hendrickson indirectly gives permission to others and sets an example as to what extent Christians can go in publically vilifying others not present to defend themselves. And just as biblical counselors dig for dirt, Rainey and Lepine ask leading questions to bring forth what they are looking for. They affirm Hendrickson as they lead her down the primrose path to expose the absent and therefore defenseless husband and transform the present wife into a kind of victim heroine.
Evidently they believe that having one spouse speak evil about the other spouse is good for family life. Perhaps, along with trash talk hosts, they encourage evil speaking and exposing possible faults and failures of people behind their back “to educate the public.”9 Or, worse yet, in some perverted way they believe they are truly glorifying God as Hendrickson says at the end, “Even these terrible experiences have been a crucible in which God has developed my faith. I give thanks to Him for all of it.”
Lepine responds, “The good news is that that journey of faith, even though it takes us down what can be a very rocky path at times, is still a path of grace…. I think you have modeled that well.”
None of this would have been shared publicly prior to America’s “Age of Show and Tell.” Such sinful exposure of Hendrickson’s former husband during the interview only tickles the ears and tells only one side of a story that should not be for public consumption in the first place. Just as in a kangaroo court, the husband is not given the stand. However, we wonder if he would stoop to this kind of sinful exhibition in order to exonerate himself in any way.
This particular FamilyLife Today Radio interview is a classic example of 2 Timothy 4:3-4:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
1 Gospel Balm Ministries, http://www.drlaurahendrickson.com/About_Dr._Laura_Hendrickson.html.
2 Laura Hendrickson. Finding Your Child’s Way on the Autism Spectrum. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009.
3 Laura Hendrickson interviews on FamilyLifeToday Radio, “Coming to Terms With Your Beliefs,” Day 1 of 3, February 16, 2011, http://familylifetodaypdfs.s3.amazonaws.com/2011-02-16.pdf and ” Seeing God in the Midst of Autism,” Day 2 of 3, February 17, 2011, http://familylifetodaypdfs.s3.amazonaws.com/2011-02-17.pdf.
4 Laura Hendrickson interview on FamilyLifeToday Radio, ibid., “TheImpact of a Special Needs Child on a Marriage,” Day 3 of 3, February 18, 2011, http://familylifetodaypdfs.s3.amazonaws.com/2011-02-18.pdf.
5 Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2011, p. 36 (also available as a free ebook at https://www.pamweb.org/bksonline.html).
6 Ibid., p. 38.
7 Ibid., p. 47.
8 Gospel Balm Ministries, op. cit.
9 Vicki Abt, “How TV Talkshows Deconstruct Society,” Research/Penn State, Vol. 17, No. 1, March, 1996, http://www.rps.psu.edu/mar96/tvtalk.html.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, September-October 2013, Vol. 21, No. 5)