The offices for the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC) are located in Indianapolis, Indiana. The executive director of NANC is Randy Patten. Over the years we have read about and listened to what is called biblical counseling and have been dismayed at how unbiblical biblical counseling actually is. In our book Person to Person Ministry we extensively reveal the unbiblical nature of the biblical counseling movement (BCM), which is problem-centered just like the psychological counseling movement that preceded it. We do not say that there is nothing biblical about the biblical counseling movement. There is much that is biblical about the BCM, but the counseling varies as to how much and who is doing the counseling. Nevertheless, the problem-centered nature of biblical counseling inevitably makes it unbiblical.
Until recently we had not seen any DVDs of live, literal, biblical counseling sessions. As we have indicated in past writing we are opposed to case studies and demonstrations for a variety of reasons.1 They are generally contrived and jerry-rigged to positively substantiate an approach, methodology, or technique. We add that, because psychological case studies include cases that failed, they generally seem more honest than the biblical counseling case studies. However, case studies and demonstrations can be useful for showing how a particular form of counseling is practiced at its very best.
A few months back one of our newsletter readers told us of a series of DVDs titled “Biblical counseling Observations” that is offered by Faith Biblical Counseling (FBC) ministries, which is part of Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette, Indiana. We ordered the DVDs and watched the “12 counseling sessions led by five seasoned biblical counselors.” The description on the package says that these counselors, have a “combined experience of more than 130 years of biblical counseling.” Strangely enough, the “Welcome” document claims, “These five NANC certified counselors, having a combined experience of more than 110 years of active biblical counseling….”2
The goal of these twelve sessions is to demonstrate how nouthetic counseling works in practice. These counseling sessions are meant to show how a counselor can successfully counsel nouthetically. The progress and success on these DVDs must be viewed in the context of whether these counseling sessions are truly representative of what literally goes on in nouthetic counseling. However, as we will demonstrate, these sessions cannot honestly be used to promote successful nouthetic counseling, but they do represent what biblical counselors actually do.
We were wondering what we would see in the DVDs, as we know filming any activity, especially counseling, alters the reality since both counselor and counselee know they are being filmed and thus respond accordingly. Also, since the participating counselees must agree to be filmed and agree to unrestricted use of the videos, such filming of actual counseling would attract a different sort of person, rather than a randomly selected individual, and therefore disqualifies it as being representative of the population at large. Such filming productions are known to be untrustworthy to say the least. Being filmed changes everything.
Imagine our surprise when we read the following under the section titled “The Counseling Format”:
These sessions are designed to be as realistic as possible without filming an actual counseling case. The counselees in this series are ministry staff members who brought their own counseling observation experiences into their portrayal of a counseling situation…. These recorded sessions are not scripted, nor are they cut-and-pasted together. They are the actual one-hour counseling sessions as they took place. The result is a filmed counseling format that provides a realistic portrayal of 12 counseling sessions (bold added).
While “a realistic portrayal” is the aim of any theatrical production, a “realistic portrayal” is not reality! At best it is play acting, role playing, pretending. These are not real counselees in real counseling situations, but rather ministry staff members acting as counselees improvising with an agreed upon nouthetic story line. The ministry staff members acting as counselees are fellow workers and probably close friends with the counselors, which makes a significant difference.
The “husband and wife” that Patton counsels are listed as “Trey and Deb.” We checked out the Faith Baptist Church staff and saw that there is a “Pastor Trey Garner and his wife, Deb.” The picture on the web site reveals that he is indeed the one who plays “Trey” in the counseling session. While there is no picture of Deb, we assume that Trey’s wife Deb played the part of “Deb” in the filmed counseling session. Under such conditions, can one really trust the authenticity and success of the counseling? Absolutely not! The ministry staff counselees know the NANC routine from their training and respond accordingly. Nevertheless what is revealed through the contrived counseling shows what really goes on in biblical counseling.
Randy Patten is the counselor for the first three counseling sessions, which are labeled “Session 1,” “Session 2,” and “Graduation Session” (also referred to as the 11th session). The second counselor and ministry staff counselee do “Sessions 1 and 2” of the contrived sequence of meetings, titled “Getting Started.” The third counselor and ministry staff couple do “Sessions 7 and 8” of their meetings, titled “Getting to the Heart” and “Heart Issues.” The fourth counselor and ministry staff counselee do “Sessions 4 and 5” of their contrived sequence of meetings. The fifth counselor and ministry staff couple counselees do “Sessions 1, 2, and 6,” titled “Medical Issues.” It would be appropriate to label the ministry staff counselees as “actors,” since they are playing roles from their NANC training and counseling experience and even acting as expected according to the numbered session. For example, in the first counseling series with “Trey and Deb,” Patten takes the three of them through sessions 1, 2, and 11. All three of them cooperate predictably because they know the nouthetic ideal for which they are aspiring. As they demonstrate in the various numbered sessions, counselors and counselees can enact any session from the first to the last with ease because all know the nouthetic routine and can perform it perfectly for any specific session.
The seeming success needs to be discounted because the sessions are contrived and acted out by a counselor with the cooperation of the “counselee.” However, the counseling sessions do reveal what actually goes on, including the evil speaking.
In their portrayal of the counselees “Trey and Deb,” the ministry staff counselors Trey and Deb each describe their parents, including Trey’s parents fighting and Deb’s parents with “probably not a great marriage.” Because there is no need to know this information in order to help Trey and Deb and because it violates the commandment to honor father and mother, it was unnecessary and should have been avoided. However, it fits the nouthetic counseling format perfectly. Trey and Deb unnecessarily and detrimentally describe other issues, such as their constant conflict, her family, finances, dislike for one another, his work schedule, how Trey spends time at home watching television, their sex life, their disagreement over having children, and complaints about their previous counseling. The biblical violations we describe in Person to Person Ministry occur throughout this biblical counseling session, as well as throughout all of the other sessions on the DVD.
One of several examples of how unreal, contrived, and acted out this counseling is occurs in discussing Trey’s TV habits. Trey had not followed through with his Bible reading homework. When Patten asked him to describe his evening activities, he noted how much time Trey had spent watching TV. The aggressiveness of the interrogation would shame a real counselee. Then counselor Patten in one of his several direct, one-up confrontational statements says, “No Bible, no TV,” and Trey shamefacedly commits himself to that. Evidently this kind of treatment is not only permissible but presented as an example of how counselors should treat their counselees in biblical counseling. Patten throughout this counseling enactment usurps Trey’s spiritual headship and at this point treats Trey as a one-down inferior to whom he barks an order. This is one of numerous reasons why men do not want to be in counseling.3 One of many reasons why the traditional men do not want to be in counseling is that they are treated in unmanly ways. Patten’s “No Bible, No TV” is a perfect example of undermining the husband’s spiritual headship to the max and in the presence of his wife who is to “see that she reverence her husband.” This is reason enough why the real Treys of the world do not return for counseling.
In addition, the typical authoritarian, nouthetic approach of one-up/one-down (one-up and two-down in this case) is seen throughout these three contrived counseling sessions. Though contrived, this enactment does represent the ideal for how nouthetic counseling should begin, proceed, and conclude. Therefore, we conclude that, in spite of some excellent biblical teaching along the way, nouthetic counseling is problem-centered, one-up/one-down, and involves the usual evil speaking we elaborate on in Person to Person Ministry.
Problem-Centered, Evil Speaking
The sad part of this enacted ideal example of nouthetic counseling is that it reveals how problem-centered it is with its evil speaking and all and, therefore, how unbiblical the process is. Sadder yet is that Patten and the other problem-centered counselors are so stuck on their problem-centered system that they do not realize how unbiblical it is or how they could give the needed help without making talking about problems a necessity.
Biblical Counseling Center DVDs
The only other DVDs we could find were produced by the Biblical Counseling Center (BCC) in Arlington Heights, Illinois. The title of these ten-session DVDs is “Portraits of Biblical Counseling.” Unlike the DVD counseling sessions from FBC, these ten BCC DVD counseling sessions are with real counselees rather than ministry staff acting as counselees. However, one similarity is the fact that the BCC also uses a nouthetic counseling approach.
Even though these are live counseling sessions, we repeat: The progress and success on these DVDs must be viewed in the context of whether these counseling sessions are truly representative of what literally goes on in nouthetic counseling. Are these counselees truly representative of all counselees that come for counseling? The answer is “No.” First, it was necessary to obtain the counselees’ permission to be filmed, which we were told was given. It is known in research that individuals who, for example, volunteer or consent to be counseled on film represent a different sort of statistic, are not truly representative of the total population, and should not be used to generalize about either how they responded to the counseling or the counseling methodology itself. Second, we were not told how many other counselees were filmed and not used. Nor were we informed as to whether any editing was done of the ten sessions used.
We viewed the ten sessions from BCC and found the usual unbiblical problem-centeredness and evil speaking. In addition, BCC charges money for their counseling, as indicated on their web site: “Initial visit is 1 ½ hours long and the cost is $100. Follow-up Visits are 50 minutes long and the cost is $75.00.”4 In contrast to the usual counselees being charged these amounts for counseling, we were told by Ron Allchin, the director of BCC, that the counselees who were filmed for the ten DVDs were not charged.5 From viewing these ten sessions, which included just one or two of the numerous sessions of counseling conducted by different counselors with different individuals, it is obvious that each of these counselees was seen additional times that were not included on the DVDs. Multiply the number of counseling sessions received by each couple or individual by $75 and one can see a nice savings incentive for being filmed, which takes away from these DVDs being truly representative of the counseling at BCC and which therefore is another reason to distrust the results of the counseling.
All the reasons given here should lead one to distrust any seeming success that might be involved and disbelieve any idea that the counseling sessions are truly typical as far the responses of the counselees, who know that they are being filmed. Nevertheless this DVD series does demonstrate some of the methodology, and, as with the previous DVD series, the evil speaking problem-centeredness is revealed during the ten counseling sessions.
We have often written about the untrustworthiness of counseling anecdotes and literal case studies that show forth a positive result for a particular approach. The same is true of these two DVD series. And, even though the numerous counseling anecdotes and cases, which we have read, heard, and now seen, attempt to prove the efficacy of the methodology used, they fail to do it validly. However, the content of both DVD series does demonstrate how problem centered and therefore unbiblical the biblical counseling movement truly is.
Oprah Winfrey and Problem-Centered Trash Talk
Admittedly women are the prime clients in counseling and that is true for both psychological and biblical counseling. Janice Peck explains this well in her book The Age of Oprah, especially in her second chapter titled “The Therapeutic Enterprise and the Quest for Women’s Hearts and Minds.” As we have revealed elsewhere, when men appear in counseling it is often an “or else” situation with the threat being used by the woman. However, Oprah got to the point where even she, who built a trash talk TV empire, changed her mind about the trash talk problem-centeredness, which she helped to promote. Oprah is quoted as saying:
The time has come for this genre of talk shows to move on from dysfunctional whining and complaining and blaming. I’ve had enough of people’s dysfunction. I don’t want to spend an hour listening to somebody blaming their mother…. I’m tired of it. I think it’s completely unnecessary.6
Isn’t it about time that those in the biblical counseling movement abandon the trash talk (evil speaking) problem-centeredness and minister what God has given them in their inheritance?!
John MacArthur and Albert Mohler
The Master’s College and Seminary (John MacArthur) and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Albert Mohler) have NANC-oriented counseling programs. Apparently neither MacArthur nor Mohler are aware of the unbiblical nature of biblical counseling, including nouthetic counseling, or it would cease to exist at their institutions. Both MacArthur and Mohler have taken strong stands against many of the latter day false teachings. The biblical counseling movement is rife with false teachings and false practices in the church and needs to be thrown out wherever it exists.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, November-December 2009, Vol. 17, No. 6)
1 Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Person to Person Ministry: Soul Care in the Body of Christ. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2009, pp. 82-85.
2 Information on the DVDs.
3 Bobgan, Person to Person Ministry, op.cit., pp. 66-68.
5 Phone call with Ron Allchin, director of the Biblical Counseling Center, July 9,2009.
6 Janice Peck. The Age of Oprah: Cultural Icon for the Neoliberal Era. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2008, p. 14.