Worldly culture creeps into every church through cracks and gaps in the wall of sound biblical doctrine. When the thinking of the age influences biblical understanding, Christians can become weak in their walk and witness. Without even realizing it, we can all become more like the world than like Christ, and the deception increases as we begin to see Christ more according to our culturally-influenced imaginations than according to the unchanging Word of God.
Since the middle of the last century we have been living in a psychological era to the degree that one author titled his book The Psychological Society.1 Psychological thinking, especially from the field of psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies, prevails. Self has taken center stage to the degree that nearly everything surrounds the self and is even defined by the self. In fact this very emphasis on the self helped form the seedbed of postmodernism, where the individual self defines reality, where “truth” is reduced to “whatever is true for you.” And, while Christians may struggle with postmodernism and its assault on truth and on the very Word of God, many of us have nevertheless been naively weakened through the influence of psychological counseling theories and therapies.
Many churches that once took a strong stand for sound biblical doctrine may not have noticed how cracks and gaps were undermining their fortress of truth through the very subtle deception of what we call “psychoheresy.” Psychoheresy is a shift in faith from confidence in the Word of God to confidence in unproven, unscientific psychological opinions of men about what God has already addressed in His Word. Psychoheresy involves a subtle inclusion of psychological ideas into the faith so that it becomes another faith—a faith combining the psychological wisdom of the world and the Word of God. It is a psychologizing of the faith to the degree that Scripture becomes distorted and interpreted according to psychological notions, such as the popular justification of self-esteem through manipulating Scripture.2
Most of churches in America are infected with psychoheresy. Few people realize how quickly America moved within a half-century from no psychological counseling as practiced today to its current popularity among Christians and non-Christians alike. In fact, one can see how the church has kept up with the world in welcoming psychotherapy. Less than sixty years ago there were no state licenses for counselors; now all fifty states have licensing requirements. At that time there were no insurance reimbursements for counseling; now most insurance companies provide at least minimal reimbursement and the new federal law regarding equity for counseling expands that availability. In a parallel manner, there were no Bible college, Christian university, or seminary programs offering psychology majors; now there are many with psychology being one of their most popular majors.3 At that time there were no uniform graduate programs leading to licensing for counseling; now all major state universities, as well as many private universities and even Bible colleges and seminaries, provide such programs. Fifty years ago evangelical Christianity was almost totally devoid of psychoheresy; now it is predominantly embraced by Christian schools at all levels, mission agencies, denominations, and individual Christians of all persuasions.
Does your church have a psychological therapist on staff or does your pastor refer people out to psychological therapists? Many pastors have been convinced that they do not have the proper psychological knowledge or skills to help people with problems of living, even though research indicates that “amateurs” do as well on average as a highly qualified, experienced psychotherapist.4
Other reasons pastors may refer out might be to reduce their work load, but such personal ministry should be possible within the fellowship of believers. However, even if a pastor or mature fellow believer would be willing to provide personal ministry, many Christians have been so greatly influenced by psychology themselves that they would prefer a “professional,” especially a “Christian psychologist.” After all, Christian bookstores and radio waves have been loaded with Christians espousing and promoting psychological counseling ideas since the 1970s.
But what is a “Christian psychologist”? Why should anyone trust a Christian psychologist over a non-Christian psychologist? “Christian psychology” is fraught with the same confusion of contradictory counseling theories and techniques as secular practices. The only difference is that a “Christian psychologist professes Christianity.” Consider the following statement made by a “Christian psychologist”:
We are often asked if we are “Christian psychologists” and find it difficult to answer since we don’t know what the question implies. We are Christians who are psychologists but at the present time there is no acceptable Christian psychology that is markedly different from non-Christian psychology. It is difficult to imply that we function in a manner that is fundamentally distinct from our non-Christian colleagues … as yet there is not an acceptable theory, mode of research or treatment methodology that is distinctly Christian.5
While that confession was made many years ago, there continues to be such broad differences among those Christians who practice psychotherapy, that there simply is not one combination of theories and techniques that they would all subscribe to as “distinctly Christian.” Since there is a plethora of counseling theories and techniques, counseling psychologists each pick and choose which ones to use. Christians will attempt to use only those elements that they think agree with Scripture. But even on this matter there fails to be any consistency.
A number of years ago we conducted a survey of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS). CAPS members are psychologists of various kinds, many of whom practice psychotherapy and are committed to the integrationist view of the Bible plus psychology. We found in the CAPS survey how they all pick their own mixture of ideas and, at the same time, how different from one another these CAPS members were. In other words, instead of having a consistent blend of psychology and the Bible, they all picked from different and conflicting theories and techniques. As a result of our survey of CAPS members, as well as information from numerous other psychologists, it was found that all of these psychologists (every one of them) contend that they use “sound psychological principles” and that they are completely biblical or at least do not violate Scripture, even though they use a variety of the almost 500 available psychological approaches, many of which contradict one another. One follows Freud, another follows Maslow, another follows Ellis, another follows Jung, and on it goes. However, Carl Rogers tops them all as far as influence.
Carl Rogers’ popularity has prevailed through the years. In surveys conducted in both 1982 and 2006, Rogers had far more influence on therapists than any other major theorist.6 His self-theory emphasizes the innate goodness of man and places self at the center of all things. Self is honored in his client-centered therapy where people are encouraged to follow their own internal values and where all experiences are evaluated in terms of a person’s self-concept. In her very revealing book titled The Road to Malpsychia, Joyce Milton cited Abraham Maslow’s prediction that “psychologists would soon seize control of values from religion and be able to create an ideal society made up of ‘self-actualized men and women.’” She tells how “Maslow became the prophet of the new humanistic psychology movement,” but she credits Carl Rogers with being “its leading practitioner…who used encounter groups to teach people how to get in touch with the dark impulses of their ‘true selves.’”7
Rogers rejected Christianity and proceeded to develop a religion of the self. His ideas may sound biblical, such as the importance of love between persons, but when one delves into his teachings, one finds that he places self as number one. Instead of faithfulness in relationships and true love and regard for others, Rogers says:
The man of the future … will be living his transient life mostly in temporary relationships … he must be able to establish closeness quickly. He must be able to leave these close relationships behind without excessive conflict or mourning.8
One local psychological counselor, who phoned us to complain about a local pastor not referring his people to her, attempted to convince us that Carl Rogers’ teachings on “positive self-regard” are biblical when in fact, when truly examined, they are far from what Scripture actually teaches. She is convinced that as she counsels people according to Rogers’ ideas, where self is central and God has been denied, she is helping her clients grow in their spiritual life. This is just one small example of how ungodly theories creep into counseling conducted by psychotherapists who claim to be Christians. Much of this deception regarding one’s understanding of Scripture enters when imbibing in the psychological cisterns. Pretty soon psychology interprets Scripture rather than Scripture guiding the thinking.
The Bondage of Professional Counselors
Psychologically trained and licensed counselors, marriage and family therapists, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists are chained to their training and licenses, both of which determine much of their practice. Not only do “Christian psychologists” dip into the same cisterns of psychological theories and therapies; they are also bound by law to practice in a similar manner. What does this mean? This means that licensed “Christian psychologists” must follow the codes of their state license. For instance the “Non-Discrimination” clause from the “Code of Ethics for Marriage and Family Therapists” states: “Marriage and family therapists do not condone or engage in discrimination or refuse professional service to anyone on the basis of race, gender, gender identity, gender expression, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic, or marital status.”9 These restrictions are also espoused by all the national associations for psychologists and psychiatrists, and they are included in much of the state licensing.
Consider the reference to “sexual orientation.” Every state has its own licensing requirements for clinical psychologists and marriage and family therapists, as well as other therapists such as psychiatric social workers. We decided to ask our two state licensing offices here in California questions with regard to a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) person coming to a licensed counselor. Could the psychologist or marriage and family therapist (MFT) refuse service to such a person? Could the psychologist or MFT attempt to talk the person out of his/her orientation? If the LGBT person desires to live more peacefully as an LGBT person, would the psychologist or MFT be obligated to assist with this objective? Of course the answers to these questions apply equally well to a Christian licensed psychologist and MFT. In each case the answer from our California State offices was that if an LGBT person filed a complaint because of the refusal to serve him/her, or an attempt to talk the person out of his/her sexual orientation, or failure to assist, an investigation would surely follow. Although we were not told what the outcome would be, it doesn’t take much imagination to see that at minimum there would be a reprimand and a need on the part of the licensed Christian psychologist or MFT to follow the “Non-Discrimination” section of the “Code of Ethics” or lose his/her license!
These anti-discrimination rules also apply to university psychology and counseling programs, which are subject to the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics. There have been at least two cases of students being dismissed from counseling programs, one because of referring a LGBT individual to another counselor and the other because she expressed her biblical beliefs about sexuality and refused the university’s “remedial training,” which she contended would be against her beliefs.10
Other requirements for licensed Christian psychologists and MFTs, about which we will not elaborate, have to do with abortion and same-gender marriage. In addition, Christian psychologists and MFTs would be required to assist atheists, occultists, satanists, and individuals of all faiths without being able to proselytize, persuade, or dissuade in matters of faith and practice. In summary, Christian licensed counselors are obligated by license and profession to operate within the bounds of using their psychological training, techniques, theories, and methodologies within the framework of a professional code of ethics, absent their Christian beliefs, no matter how contrary their counselees’ beliefs and practices are to the Bible! That is one more reason why we recommend against Christians becoming licensed as psychological counselors of any kind.
In addition, there was a recent ruling that prohibits licensed counselors to help a LGBT teenager conform to a “straight” sexuality. A news article reported, “A federal appeals court sided with California on Thursday and upheld the first law in the nation banning a psychological treatment that seeks to turn gay youth straight.” 11
Interestingly, the law says that “therapists and counselors who practice the therapy would be engaging in unprofessional conduct and subject to discipline by state licensing boards.” However, the article noted that “the activities of pastors and lay counselors who are unlicensed but provide such therapy through church programs are not covered by the law.”12 In other words, by law a pastor and fellow believer is more able to help other believers build their faith according to Scripture than any state-licensed counselor. For this and other reasons related to the anti-discrimination clause, churches should not refer out or have licensed psychological counselors on their staffs.
“Christian Psychologists” in Your Church?
In spite of the research to the contrary and in spite of the dangers of psychological theories and therapies undermining Scripture and in spite of the fact that such counseling is governed and restricted by their training and licensure, psychologically trained professional counselors abound in the church, either as members of the staff or as receivers of referrals. Psychological counselors who are also Christians develop relationships in a church and soon increase their clientele through referrals from pastors, leaders, and others in the congregation, since nowadays, when someone shares a problem, the expectation for help is through counseling, which generally means licensed professional counseling. Moreover, many of these psychological counselors have excellent interpersonal skills in that they naturally relate well with people and are able to develop rapport with pastors and leaders as well as members of a congregation. And with the misplaced confidence in psychology, people are easily enticed into the arms of a psychological counselor, either as a source of referral or as a client.
Psychological counseling is all about relationship—a paid relationship, that is. In order to build up an clientele, these paid professionals must woo clients through their so-called expertise and/or through their personal rapport. Then, once counseling begins, that rapport must be developed and sustained in order to keep clients. Professor Jeffrey Kottler, in his book On Being a Therapist, says, “Various studies of therapy dropouts estimate that roughly one-third of clients don’t return after their initial interview, and close to half don’t come back after the first two sessions“13 (bold added).
Kottler also says, “A therapist with a large turnover might require more than four hundred new referrals every year just to survive.”14 For those who make a living at psychological counseling, a prime motivating factor for the counselor is to keep each counselee in counseling as long as possible. While there is no scientific support for this idea, the justification on the part of psychotherapists involves the rationalization that the longer the counselee is in counseling, the greater good the counselor can do.
Underneath the rationalization is the reality of the revolving door of counselees, quickly and continually going out in large numbers, and a need to have an equal number of counselees coming in. After all, the rent and utilities have to be paid and a sufficient income maintained. By our estimates, to make a decent living, a counselor would need to have at least 21 paying counselees per week. However, after the first counseling session, an average of 7 do not return, and after the second counseling session, the average increases to 10 non-returning counselees. Paid counselors not only have to “hold their breath” about the possibility of each new counselee not returning, but must be constantly on the prowl for new customers, and that is a great motivating factor for soliciting clients from a pastor’s flock and keeping them as long as possible.
The influence of the counselor generally far surpasses the influence of the pastor or other believers in the fellowship. In fact, one pastor told us that he sends people to counselors purposely because people are more likely to do what the counselor says than what he says. We wonder if he realizes the seriousness of such a statement.
Another reason psychological counselors are so well accepted in churches is because psychological notions are already there. If psychology has been integrated into the Bible teaching in the church, people will see little difference between what the pastor and other leaders may be teaching and what the psychological counselor is saying. In addition to psychological counseling itself intruding into your church, psychological ideas of why people are the way they are, why they do what they do, and how they change are incorporated into the teachings of the church, including small groups (often called community groups), Sunday School, Bible studies, and the pulpit ministry itself. With so many “Christian” books and so much influence in every area, psychological ideas are well accepted as truth and even as “biblical.”
In his book Therapy Culture, Frank Furedi says:
The invasion of the therapeutic ethos into other professions and forms of authority is particularly striking in relation to its former competitor—religious institutions. Recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury has claimed that therapy was replacing Christianity in western countries. According to Archbishop Carey, “Christ the Saviour” is becoming “Christ the counsellor.” Priests are increasingly encouraged to adopt counselling skills. Gradually, the theologian has assumed the role of a therapist. Organisations that have sought to harness therapeutic expertise for the work of the Church inevitably assume a secular orientation.15
What to Do about Psychoheresy in Your Church?
How might Christians who may not be familiar with all the psychological theories and therapies discern whether psychoheresy is intruding into their church? Probably the best way is to stay in the Word and then ask the question at every point, “What does the Bible say about this?” and then be wary of some new interpretation that lends support to any form of selfism. Further testing of ideas might be to place them against such Scriptures as Romans 6-8 and other Scriptures that contrast the flesh and the spirit.
What might Christians who find that psychoheresy is in their church through the use and influence of psychological counseling theories and therapies do about the leaven? First, they can bring it before the Lord and ask Him if they themselves have embraced some of the wrong ideas and get their own theology back to the Bible. Next they can be watchful in prayer and ask God for wisdom. As each one of us becomes more devoted to the Lord and His Word we will know how to respond and what to do. Some may stay in their church and be a cleansing influence; others may find that they themselves are too vulnerable to the ideas to stay in a fellowship that has embraced psychoheresy; others may stay or leave for other reasons as the Lord leads.
1 Martin Gross. The Psychological Society. New York: Random House, 1978.
2 See for example Martin and Deidre Bobgan. James Dobson’s Gospel of Self-Esteem. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 1998, Chapter 8.
3 Cara Marcano, “Growing Christian Shrinks,” Opinion Journal from The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page, http://opinionjournal.com.
4 See Martin and Deidre Bobgan. PsychoHeresy, Revised and Expanded. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2012, pp. 222-233.
5 P. Sutherland and P. Poelstra, “Aspects of Integration.” Paper presented at the meeting of the Western Association of Christians for Psychological Studies, Santa Barbara, CA, June 1976.
6 Psychotherapy Networker, March/April 2007, p. 24.
7 Joyce Milton. The Road to Malpsychia: Humanistic Psychology and OurDiscontents. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2002, 2003, back cover.
8 Carl Rogers, Graduation Address, Sonoma State College, quoted in William Kirk Kilpatrick. The Emperor’s New Clothes. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1985, p. 162.
9 American Psychological Association, Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct,
General Principles, Principle E, http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx?item=3.
10 Maggie Hyde (RNS), “Christian Counselors Claim Discrimination Over Religious Beliefs on Gays,” Huffington Post, 5/25/11, www.huffingtonpost.com; “Jennifer Keeton, Anti-Gay Counseling Student Who Refused Remedial Training, Lawsuit Dismissed, Huffington Post, 6/27/12, www.huffingtonpost.com.
11 Paul Elias, “Court Upholds First Ban on Gay Aversion Therapy,” Santa Barbara News-Press, 8/30/13, pp. A1, A13.
12 Ibid., p. A13.
13 Jeffrey A. Kottler. On Being a Therapist, Fourth Ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010, p. 126.
14 Ibid., p. 120.
15 Frank Furedi. Therapy Culture: Cultivating Vulnerability in an Uncertain Age. London and New York: Routledge. Taylor & Francis Group, 2004, pp. 17-18.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, January – February 2014, Vol. 22, No. 1)