A concerned pastor who is on our newsletter mailing list asked us to review the book Joy for Mourning1 by Anne Miller. Because of the fact that the author of the book received much counseling and communicates a mixed message, we decided to review it. As we read the book we found numerous concerns about which we have already written, including an unholy mix of the Bible and worldly psychological theories and therapy, the resultant public undressing of private lives, a dangerous Freudian influence, recovered memory therapy, inordinate self-focus, and a lack of sound biblical doctrine.
The Public Undressing of Private Lives
We ask the following question in our book Stop Counseling! Start Ministering!2 How did the church move from the comfort and confidence in the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in the fellowship of the saints to its current condition where solutions to the issues of life are found in the unbiblical evil speaking (Eph. 4:31) that takes place in problem-centered counseling and in the public undressing of private lives? People provide many justifications for such disclosure, but the bottom line is a lack of confidence in the Word of God applied by the Holy Spirit and ministered to one another in the body of Christ. Such personal exposure of private lives began in the counseling room and expanded into the public media, with broadcast blather filled with trash talk and personal memoirs exposing the sins of others.
Miller presents her theme on the cover of her book: “A personal testimony of healing from childhood sexual abuse.” Joy for Mourning repeatedly emphasizes the seriousness of sexual abuse and its affect on victims. Sexual abuse is a serious sin that needs to be addressed by church leaders rather than by those influenced by psychological counseling theories. Not all women respond in the same way as Miller. She was especially vulnerable, both because of her various circumstances (including losing a baby) and what she refers to as her bipolar tendencies. We hesitate to critique a book written by a woman who is so emotionally vulnerable. However this book was encouraged and is no doubt promoted by her counselor, John Coblentz, who has greatly influenced a very conservative segment of Christianity. As a counselee, Miller would have taken in many of his ideas which then influenced her writing. Thus the book involves a great deal of misinformation gleaned from popular psychology, both through Miller’s own “biblical counseling” and from reading various psychologically tainted books. Moreover, the encouragement to recall vague or forgotten memories and to focus on them with the idea that doing so will bring healing is counter-productive.
Much unnecessary suffering comes when adults examine early memories, as they are reconstructed and influenced by present information and misinformation. In fact, recovered memory therapy often makes a person even more emotionally unstable, as one can see even by reading this book. Miller suffered much from what she identifies as “emotional overload from the memories of sexual abuse” (69). Because of misteachings regarding memory and sexual abuse, many people conclude that their sexual abuse is the cause of their current life problems and often relate their own current sinful behavior to their abuse.
Miller reveals in detail how she has suffered throughout her life. We are sorry about the extreme difficulties she suffered. And, we are grateful that she did write about growing in grace along the way. However, within her story of agony are a number of biblical and practical problems that could be treacherous stumbling blocks to her readers. It is those stumbling blocks that need to be revealed to guard other believers from error. Christians need to be like the Bereans who “searched the scriptures daily” to see “whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). Thus, we must look specifically at Miller’s teachings in the light of Scripture and also to examine her claims by available evidence.
As Miller takes her readers through her tortuous life she leaves a trail of unbiblical and questionable examples to follow. In expressing her personal opinions about matters and also presenting what she has heard from others as facts, she has naively indulged in communicating misleading and false information. The grave danger in telling one’s personal story is that personal ideas, impressions, and images are presented as factual and true simply based upon the author’s say so. We will probe beyond Miller’s say so to reveal how unbiblical and untrue many of her statements are.
Regarding childhood sexual abuse, any sexually related advance to a child is abuse. Miller’s sexual abuse is never really revealed in detail because she herself had just vague and possibly untrustworthy memories as to what happened. She does indicate that she was four years old when it first happened and that she “had never been raped” (11). We also learn that her sexual abuse was “not a case of incest” (197). It appears that the abuse was that of fondling, which occurred on several occasions. Miller refers to what was done as “shameful touching” (33, 108). She describes a barn incident in which she was abused, but says, “My memories of the barn incident are not accurate” (19) and “The barn story is a conglomerate of memory fragments” (19). She repeatedly refers to “blocking out memories” (25, 26, 28). She says she didn’t know “which memories were factual, and which memories were fabrications of an overwrought manic brain” (29). She reveals, “I was nearly forty years old when my memories returned” (46). Though her memories are vague, Miller does indicate the authenticity of them as she reveals how Eric, the abuser, agreed to a meeting, confessed his sins, and asked for forgiveness (Chapter 8).
In spite of the ambiguity over the years about what happened when she was abused, Miller knew that Eric did it. Eric’s abuse and Miller’s bipolar behavior are the two central and oft repeated subjects of the book, which at times overwhelm her personal testimony to the goodness of God. Miller asks an important question: “Could I attribute my emotional disorder to that abuse?” (30). She later asks, “Had manic depression [bipolar disorder] caused my abuse memories to erupt or had the abuse memories cause the manic depression?” (170). It’s a cause and effect question that she revisits several times. Miller says, “I had great hope that healing from childhood sexual abuse would bring healing from bipolar disorder and from my other physical ailments” (72).
At one point she says, “While the memories were all so new and fresh on my raw nerves, it seemed sexual abuse was all I could eat, sleep, and talk for the next long season of my life” (90). The “eat, sleep, and talk” are prolifically expressed throughout the book to such a degree that the reader is agonized through the repetitious expressions of the torture that Miller experienced. And, beyond her own sexual abuse, Miller tells about the sexual abuse of more than a dozen other women.
Reflections of Freud
One of the legacies of Sigmund Freud, who was an enemy of the Gospel and the truth of Scripture, is his concept of repression. The Dictionary of Psychology defines repression as “Freud’s term for the unconscious tendency to exclude from consciousness unpleasant or painful ideas. It is a concept of major importance in psychoanalysis.”3 Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of repression has been highly influential in the thinking and writing of many. Most important is the accompanying assumption that repression is pathological.4 The Freudian influence has led many to believe that, if repression is pathological, then expression is healthful, and thus creates a climate where people feel free to express their negative emotions, speak sinfully about others, and seek emotional healing through talking about their problems and the people involved.
Even though there is a big difference between Freudian repression, which is supposedly involuntary and unconscious, and the general use of the word repression, which means voluntary and conscious, people still assume that any repression is harmful. Therefore, it has been concluded that it is better to express than to repress. Couple this with the fact that the patient in psychoanalysis is to “free associate,” which means to say whatever comes to mind without restraint, and you end up with the express-all and tell-all environment currently prevalent both inside and outside of the counseling room. The exaltation of expression set the stage for the psychotherapies and much of the biblical counseling that followed.
In spite of the almost universal acceptance of the idea that expressing one’s feelings is beneficial and repressing them, in the ordinary sense of the word, is harmful, research has shown that this popular assumption is actually questionable. In fact, using the ordinary (non-Freudian) meaning of the word repress, it has been found that “repressing one’s feelings may have greater psychological benefits than expressing them.”5
Miller repeatedly uses words and expressions in her book that appear to reflect her extensive amount of counseling. Several words and expressions that she naively uses are Freudian. She refers to “blocking out memories” (25), “blocked memories” (27, 28, 165), and “repress their emotions” (137). Read in context, her use of these expressions is reminiscent of Freud’s unique use of the term repression, i.e., unconscious and involuntary. Dr. Adolf Grunbaum, Andrew Mellon Professor of Philosophy and Research Professor of Psychiatry, refers to Freud’s idea of psychic repression as the cornerstone of psychoanalysis.6 After carefully analyzing Freud’s arguments for his theory of personality and therapy, Grunbaum finds “the cornerstone theory of repression to be clinically ill-founded.”7
In addition to terms that function like Freud’s term repression, Miller describes her experiences in the same sense that Freud used the word unconscious. Freud’s theory of psychic determinism is that we are what we are because of the effect of the unconscious upon our entire life. Freud believed that “we are ‘lived’ by unknown and uncontrollable forces.”8 These forces, according to Freud, are in the unconscious and control us in the sense that they determine all that we do. Thus, we are puppets of the unknown and unseen unconscious, shaped by these forces during our first six years of existence. He taught that our psyches are shaped by people in our environment and especially by our parents. Psychic determinism establishes a process of blame that begins in the unconscious and ends with the parents. As we demonstrate later, Miller follows the Freudian path to parental blame.
Freud removes a person’s responsibility for behavior by teaching that everyone has been predetermined by one’s unconscious, which has been shaped by the treatment primarily given by parents during the first few years of life. There is a giant difference between being influenced and being determined. Individuals are not stuck with their early upbringing if it happened to be bad, nor can anyone guarantee that someone with good upbringing will turn out well.9
Miller often uses the term subconscious, but in context it functions like the Freudian unconscious, which is another indication of the fallout from all the psychologically tainted counseling she received. For example, she speaks of “feelings I had stuffed in my subconscious” (26), “a pattern I had unconsciously developed” (29), “repentance for the wrong patterns I had subconsciously developed” (101), and it “may have been a subconscious effort to ease the pain” (111). She believes that “The shame of sexual abuse drove me to work beyond my limits and to sacrifice more than my healthy share. This was a subconscious effort to atone for my shame” (74-75). These are all learned responses gleaned from distinctly Freudian-tainted counseling.
Aside from this being a cathartic journey for her, how does this public display do her or anyone else any good? Are there such lengthy and agonizingly descriptive examples in Scripture as detailed in Joy for Mourning? Miller apparently views her own cathartic process as beneficial for herself and others. However, her public display of private experiences resembles secular public confessional books, but with a God additive. Her book is not unique, as there have been numerous books with similar mistaken notions about the soul that have come from the world. Not only does her book reflect the world, but it is a blatant example of how the church and various forms of biblical counseling reflect the psychological way, which distorts and supplants the God-given spiritual way of sanctification.
To be continued….
1 Anne Miller. Joy for Mourning. Harrison, VA: Christian Light Publications, Inc., 2010. Hereafter references will be indicated with page numbers in parentheses.
2 Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2011, p. 13.
3 Philip Harriman. Dictionary of Psychology. New York: Philosophical Library, 1947, p. 289.
4 Karin G. Coifman et al, “Does Repressive Coping Promote Resilience? Affective-Autonomic Response Discrepancy During Bereavement,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2007, Vol. 92, No. 4, p. 745.
5 Christina Hoff Sommers, “The Republic of Feelings,” American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, AEI Online, Jan. 1, 2001.
6 Adolf Grunbaum. The Foundations of Psychoanalysis. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984, p. 3.
7 Ibid., back cover flap.
8 Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id, Joan Riviere, trans., James Strachey, ed. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1960, p. 13.
9 Victor Goertzel and Mildred Goertzel. Cradles of Eminence, 2nd ed. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, Inc., 2004.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, March-April 2014, Vol. 22, No. 2)