The psychological counseling movement, with its educated and licensed practitioners, began in the 1950s. The biblical counseling movement, fathered by Dr. Jay Adams, began in the 1970s. We began what is referred to as “biblical counseling” in the 1960s. We now refer to what we did then and now as ministry rather than counseling for reasons that we explain in Against “Biblical Counseling”: For the Bible.
During the years we have trained numerous individuals, written books and articles on the subject of ministry and ministered in person, on the phone, or through correspondence with a plethora of individuals and couples. We have noticed a disturbing phenomenon in both psychological and biblical counseling. The phenomenon is essentially this: Counseling is a dysfunctional environment for men. While most men would naturally avoid it, they are often compelled to become involved.
Men in therapy are often caught between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.” They are yanked out of their reluctance to express the very feelings that women demand and are then criticized for expressing them. They often go into counseling wary and come out wimps.
From the very beginning of the talk therapy movement, after World War II, the statistics always favored the number of women in counseling over the men. While more men are now entering counseling, the latest figures stand at two-thirds women and one-third men. Women enter counseling because they are attracted to it as a means of solving problems. However, men on the whole are either not that interested or they are repelled by the whole idea of going to counseling.
Psychology Today discussed this topic in an article titled “Man’s Last Stand: What Does It Take to Get a Guy into Therapy?” Regarding men seeking therapy, the article says:
More often than not, the impetus is a woman. A typical male patient has been sent—usually by his wife, girlfriend or children, sometimes by his employer. Behind the command performance is a threat: “You change, or it’s all over.”1
One author-therapist, Terrence Real, refers to these as “wife mandated referrals.” He says, “The average man is as likely to ask for help with a psychological problem as he is to ask for directions.” Real gives the reason as being that men do not consider therapy to be “manly.”2
Of the total of those in counseling, the men who enter voluntarily are small in number. Gary Brooks, in his book A New Psychotherapy for Traditional Men, says, “Traditional men hate psychotherapy and will do most anything to avoid a therapist’s office.” He continues, “In fact, I believe that men’s aversion to therapy is so powerful that it’s wise to assume that most male clients, at some level, don’t want to be there.”3
The Psychology Today article adds another factor:
Then there’s the matter of stigma. More than one in five men in the Therapy in America survey said they didn’t trust therapists and wouldn’t want to be associated with the type of person who receives therapy.4
Thus men are encouraged, intimidated, or brow-beaten into it by this culturally sanctioned phenomenon of counseling.
There are many cultural factors that intimidate men into being open to sharing as a means of dealing with personal problems. These include feminism, the confusion of male roles, and the exaggerated claims by promoters of the counseling mentality and model. In a self-focused society, these cultural phenomena have eclipsed the biblical roles for men.
Because this cultural, self-focused psychological phenomenon has replaced biblical teachings for men (and women), the uniform response to problems of living is: “You need counseling.” What is meant is either licensed, professional counseling or biblical counseling by a degreed or certificated individual.
As much as men are not attracted to counseling, virtually all avenues in and out of the church force them into it. Again, counseling is a female-friendly activity, which obtains male clients—mostly through intimidation, exaggerated claims, expectations of others, or coercion. Behind most men in therapy is a woman, a court, an employer, a church denomination, or, as we have demonstrated elsewhere, a mission agency.
Sirens of Psychology
In the manner in which they function, psychotherapists and biblical 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.
The fact of a man often being coerced into counseling is not to suggest that a woman is the sole reason for it, but rather to say that she is a major reason. We conclude that, absent a woman behind getting a man into therapy, the psychological and biblical counseling movements would be damaged, since up to one-third of the clients (men) could be affected. Moreover, if the other cultural, promotional, and legal incentives and mandates towards counseling were removed, men, on their own, would avoid it all together.
Counselors of men and couples mishandle scripture by placing men in the counseling setting, contrary to their spiritual headship. Men are often robbed of their biblical headship in the counseling room and also too often in the church. When a third party exercises the authoritative role of counseling, that person usurps the authority of the husband. Men should, of course, submit themselves, when necessary, to the discipline of their church or fellowship, but refuse the psychological or biblical counselor’s office. If help is needed, a man should seek those men who are mature in the faith and ignore psychological or biblical degrees or credentials.
Oftentimes a wife will enter 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. 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 could come off as second rate, because the male counselor 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. Moreover, too many temptations occur in such counseling circumstances and many divorces have occurred because of them. Furthermore, it is seldom that the counselor respects the headship of the husband enough to ask his permission to counsel his wife, which Scripture would require. Also, any talk about the husband in his absence (Prov. 18:17) is too often talebearing (Prov. 11:13; 18:8; 20:19; 26:20, 22), and even if true diminishes the husband’s headship.
A Woman Counseling a Man
A woman counseling a man or a couple further erodes the biblical role of men and seduces a man into a relationship that deteriorates his biblical manhood. It violates the role that God has ordained for men and places a woman in a role contrary to both the Old and New Testaments (1 Timothy 2:12).
In our book Against “Biblical Counseling”: For the Bible, we critique those at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF). Leslie Vernick was a CCEF counselor at the time. We criticized her “commitment to psychology and lack of commitment to Scripture” (p. 107). A recent issue of The Journal of Biblical Counseling (Spring 2004), published by CCEF, included an article written by Vernick titled “Taking the High Road During Marital Difficulties.” The credit line by CCEF for her says: “Leslie Vernick is a counselor in private practice in Allentown, PA, and author of the book How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong.” In addition, CCEF offers and promotes this book as well as two others by her.
Because we had recognized problems in Vernick’s past teachings, we purchased the book. The back cover of Vernick’s book indicates that she is a licensed clinical social worker who counsels “individuals and families from a biblical world view.”
Chapter One of the book begins with the following:
David barely squeezed his large frame snugly between the arms of my chair in my office. His eyes brimming with tears, he poured out his pain. “I’ve tried everything, Leslie. For the past two years, I’ve read books on how to be a good husband, a godly man, and an effective father. I’ve gone to PromiseKeepers, Bible studies, and my pastor for help. But it isn’t working and I’m so tired. My wife, Julie, still doesn’t want anything to do with me. I feel like giving up. Nothing is happening” (p. 7).
From this book, as well as her other two offered and advertised by CCEF, it is obvious that Vernick counsels men and couples. CCEF must support this practice or why would they offer her book? And, note that Ed Welch, the Director of Counseling at CCEF, wrote an endorsement for one of her books. Counseling men and couples is not the only unbiblical problem in her books. In addition, they contain much unbiblical material. The fact that CCEF features her books demonstrates that they are not what they pretend to be. When and where have you ever heard of such biblical counseling organizations making a big issue of women counseling men or of the counseling arrangement being detrimental to the God-given, spiritual headship of men?
Christ-Centered Ministry versus problem-Centered Counseling
What is the answer to this approach that appeals to women and that men would rather avoid? If the emphasis were on the spiritual headship of the man and the focus were on the Word of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, and fellowship with the saints rather than on touchy-feelly counseling, men would be more open to such a possibility of increasing in sanctification and thus deriving wisdom from God and growing in the things of the Spirit. It would avoid all the finger pointing, blame casting, expectations for the other to change and would focus on one’s relationship to God with an emphasis on spiritual growth and a closer walk with Jesus, who is our only hope.
If biblical counselors would
1) respect the spiritual headship of men,
2) counsel wives or at-home children only with the permission of their husbands or fathers,
3) avoid all gossip about family members not present,
4) avoid humiliating men by usurping or diminishing their God-given roles,
5) stop all the expecting, intimidating, dragging, cajoling, or brow beating men into counseling, and
6) be truly biblical rather than merely a reflection of the psychological counseling movement,
then the biblical counseling movement would come to an end. Its demise would provide an opportunity for Christians to restore the ministry that God intends for His people, with an emphasis on the Word, the work of the Holy spirit, and the fellowship with the saints as the source and resource for restoration and spiritual growth.
If churches were functioning biblically, there would be no need for the contemporary biblical counseling movement. Counseling is often a substitute for a church gone wrong. In a church gone right there is no need for biblical counseling as it is commonly practiced and as it poses a threat to the spiritual headship of men. We explain some of this in our book Christ-Centered Ministry versus Problem-Centered Counseling and in our article titled “The Biological and Biblical Dangers of Problem-Centered Counseling” (PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, Vol. 12, No. 3).
The more problem-centered the counseling, the less Christ-centered it is likely to be. Conversely, the more Christ-centered the ministry, the less problem-centered it will likely be. Christ-centered ministry would be a relief to men who are more likely to want to deal with spiritual growth from the vantage point of biblical headship than with the emotions associated with the problem-centered, female-feeling-oriented counseling approach.
1 Carl Sherman. “Man’s Last Stand.” Psychology Today, Vol. 37, No. 4, p. 71.
2 Terrence Real quoted by Sherman, ibid.
3 Gary R. Brooks. A New Psychotherapy for Traditional Men. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers,1998, pp. 41, 42.
4 Sherman, op. cit., p. 71.
PAL Volume13, Number 1 (January-February 2005)