Harvard Mental Health Letter article titled “Dropping out of psychotherapy” begins by saying: “Surveys show that nearly half of people who begin psychotherapy—individual, group, or couples—quit, dissatisfied, against the therapist’s recommendation.” This dropout rate appears to be a little known fact among those Christians who advise other Christians to seek psychological counseling. Media hype and popular assumptions give Christians the idea that psychological counseling systems and therapy hold the answers to their problems of living. Thus, many Christians have come to believe their problems are serious enough to require “professional” help. In essence they do not believe that the Lord and all He has provided (in His Word and through His Spirit and the fellowship of believers) are enough. Therefore, they turn to the world and the ways of the world.

Psychological counseling systems originated in the world, not the church. The underlying theories and therapies were devised by nonChristians, and even when they are modified they are of the world. Such compromise with the world poses a number of problems for Christians. In following the ways of the world, the focus moves away from God and onto self and problems. Opportunities for spiritual growth are lost. Moreover, seeking or providing answers from the world dishonors God by not believing what He has said about providing all things necessary for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3,4). Psychotherapy deals with the nonphysical aspects of mankind—the soul and spirit. Seeking answers apart from God in the spiritual realm becomes another religion. We pray that this article will encourage Christians to leave the world of psychologically based counseling and return to the Lord.

Psychotherapy dropouts

The Harvard Mental Health Letter article sums up the following reasons why people drop out of psychotherapy: “They are unwilling to open up about themselves; they cannot agree with the therapist about what the problem is; they just don’t get along with or feel confidence in the therapist; they believe they are not improving quickly enough; they have unrealistic expectations.” A close look at these reasons for dropping out of psychotherapy reveals problems with the entire system. Let’s look at each of these and consider how each reason may actually be a wise response to this worldly system.

Five reasons for dropping out of psychotherapy

Reason number one: “They are unwilling to open up about themselves.” Therapy hours depend on a great deal of time spent on the clients talking about their feelings and concerns and about how they are affected by other people and circumstances. What might happen if a therapist expects a client to talk about his/her parents or others who are not present and the person chooses not to talk about people behind their backs? Unless the therapist can cajole the client into gossiping and complaining, there probably isn’t much else to talk about except self and feelings. Therefore, clients who do not want to talk about self and feelings have a good reason for leaving therapy. And they are better off, because focusing on self and feelings can be harmful in a number of ways, such as: becoming more self-centered and/or depressed through dwelling on problems and hurt feelings. Indeed, the very act of opening up about oneself, one’s feelings, and one’s circumstances in the counseling environment may bode future trouble.

Reason number two: “They cannot agree with the therapist about what the problem is.” Subjectivity reigns in psychotherapy. Therapists will see their clients from the perspective of their own life experience and eclectic brew of therapeutic systems. If a therapist and client cannot agree on the problem, how could they agree on a solution, even if there is one in this dim landscape of subjectivity? Notice how problem-centered psychotherapy is. Indeed, this is another good reason to drop out of counseling.

Reason number three: “They just don’t get along with or feel confidence in the therapist.” This is an excellent reason to drop out, and this is an area that the therapy industry is trying to correct with what they call the magic of matching client and counselor to bring about what is called a “therapeutic alliance.” However, even when there is compatibility between therapist and client, the relationship is to remain at a “professional” level. While this relationship, wherein the details of the client’s thoughts and feelings are shared with the therapist, may feel like a close personal relationship to the client, it does not extend beyond the walls of the office. Nevertheless, when this artificial relationship feels like a close personal relationship, the client may have difficulty separating from the therapist. Compatibility may lead to dependence and confidence may be sorely misplaced.

Reason number four: “They believe they are not improving quickly enough.” Expectations are often high when a person enters therapy. If the client has faith in the system, there will be expectations for the therapist to bring about the needed change. However, personal change and growth are more dependent on what the client does than on the psychotherapy. The client must learn whatever system the therapist is using to see the problems from the therapist’s psychological perspective. Then the client must make the changes. Psychotherapy has been touted and trusted, but it has not been able to provide more than modicum results. No wonder people drop out because they don’t believe they’re getting better fast enough.

Reason number five: The final reason given in the article is that the clients “have unrealistic expectations.” Because of all of the stated and implied promises made by those who believe in psychological counseling, people do expect way more than what really happens. Expectations for change in circumstances, other people, and self abound, and those expectations all appear to be what the individual who seeks counseling wants. Having unmet expectations is another good reason to abandon psychotherapy, because such unreasonable expectations are built into psychotherapy marketing. Much is promised, but little is delivered.

People who do not drop out

If “nearly half of people who begin psychotherapy” drop out, more than half stick with it, and in some cases they stay in for years and years. Many people stay in therapy because talking about self feeds the flesh. They are the center of attention for each 50-minute hour. Even when it is clear that psychotherapy is not helpful, clients continue for various reasons. Many stay in therapy because they are afraid to drop out; there are enough messages out there telling them that they’ll be sorry if they quit. After awhile they become dependent on the therapist. If they do leave one therapist, they often seek another. Psychological counseling becomes a way of life for them.

Reasons why Christians should turn to the Lord instead of psychotherapy

The following are just a few reasons why Christians should turn to the Lord when they are experiencing problems of living. These reasons are not listed according to importance, but rather according to the order of the five reasons why people drop out of psychotherapy.

Reason number one: Whereas people may be “unwilling to open up about themselves” to a therapist, there is no need to fear exposure in the presence of the Lord. He already knows us inside and out.

LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether (Psalm 139:1-4).

Nothing is hidden from the Lord. He knows we are sinners who cannot fix ourselves to make ourselves good enough for God. Jesus came to pay the price for our sin and to give us new life in Him. Therefore John declared:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8,9).

Not only does He know our sin and cleanse us from it; he knows His plans for us and He works in us to that end.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:28,29).

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:1,2).

Therefore, we can come to Him with confidence and know that He not only knows us inside and out, but He is also working in us towards a glorious goal of becoming like Jesus and knowing and enjoying Him in His eternal glory.

Reason number two: Whereas people drop out of psychological therapy because “they cannot agree with the therapist about what the problem is,” Christians can be confident that God sees the entire landscape of a person’s life—the inside, the outside, the past, present, and future. He is not limited by human shortsightedness. He knows what the problem is and how He will use it for the individual’s good and for His glory. However, Christians often forget that God is at work behind the scenes in the midst of their problems. They may easily become focused on the problem and get discouraged when they don’t see God solving problems in a particular way and within a particular time frame.

Problems are generally far more complex than people realize. There may be multiple causes, extenuating circumstances, various people involved with attitudes and inconsistencies, and possible ongoing consequences. Each person involved is limited and usually biased in perception according to his/her own life experiences, emotions, and knowledge. And while other believers may come alongside and even offer suggestions, only the Lord has the clear vision as to what is best for all involved. He has eternity in view. He is the potter and each believer the clay (Rom. 9:20). He knows what kinds of trials will bring forth pure gold (1 Peter 1:7) and He knows how much a person can take (2 Cor. 10:13). As one person said in casual conversation, “For the unbeliever trials are problems; for the believer they are sanctification.” Problems of living are opportunities to trust and obey God. They serve as catalysts for spiritual growth.

Reason number three: Whereas people drop out of psychotherapy because “they just don’t get along with or feel confidence in the therapist,” Christians should certainly feel confidence in the Lord. However, if there is unconfessed sin or a misunderstanding of the Gospel or a misperception of God’s love expressed in mercy and truth, one may feel distant from Him. Also, if an individual blames God for the problem or for allowing the problem in the first place, he/she sets up a barrier for trusting the Lord. Lack of confidence, trust, and faith in God may be the very reason people turn to the world with its psychological theories and therapies.

However, there is no one in whom believers should have more confidence, faith, and trust than the Lord Himself. If there is a lack in this area, fellow believers can encourage the person to spend time reading the Word, which is God’s revelation of Himself. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Fellow believers may also pray for the person according to Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:16-21:

That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

One of the wonderful things about ministry in the body of Christ is that there are many who can minister in a variety of ways to the person experiencing problems of living. If one person rubs another the wrong way, there are others in the body who can minister. But, above all, the Lord has given His Holy Spirit to indwell every believer. Jesus told His disciples:

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you (John 14:16,17).

The word “comforter” can also be translated “counselor.” The Holy Spirit enables believers to understand and apply the Word of God in the midst of problems, both for the purpose of sanctification and for the ongoing life of the believer, all to the glory of God.

Reason number four: People drop out of psychotherapy because “they believe they are not improving quickly enough.” It is this very reason why people may give up on trusting God alone. They want a fast solution. They are not willing to wait on God. However, God gives promises to those who will wait on Him, such as: “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Waiting on the Lord honors Him and builds faith. Waiting on the Lord is not passive. It is active, doing what is right according to His Word.

Many problems are actually spiritual battles:

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints (Eph. 6:10-18).

If a person is in too much of a hurry, he/she may use fleshly means of solving problems and will lose the spiritual battle. Turning to the world to solve personal problems is like turning to the enemy of our souls to help us win the battle. Therefore, we urge all Christians to submit to God, “resist the devil,” “draw nigh to God” (James 4:7,8), and wait on the Lord in faith and obedience while He works in them and in their circumstances for their good and His glory.

Reason number five: People drop out of psychological counseling because “they have unrealistic expectations.” Christians often fall into the trap of unrealistic expectations. They may have misunderstood what the new life in Christ is all about. They may mistakenly believe that the new life should be problem free. But Jesus made it clear that they could very well have more problems as Christians than as unbelievers. He told His disciples to expect persecution.

Christians can expect great things from God, but the greatest of all is to know Him. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). When Christians turn to psychotherapy they miss out on a grand opportunity to know Jesus and “the fellowship of His sufferings” as well as “the power of His resurrection” (Phil. 3:10).

A Different Focus and a Different Goal

People enter psychological counseling because they see that something is wrong with their lives and they want change. They are dissatisfied with their circumstances or themselves, and they want help. Psychotherapy attempts to help the client through gaining insight into self and through changing thinking and behaving. But, the real work is up to the person, rather than the therapist. Research has found that the most important ingredient for change is the person himself—the person’s willingness to change. In other words, psychotherapy is a very expensive, assisted, self-help program, which only slightly helps people accomplish a little more than they might do on their own.

Not only is psychotherapy merely a monetarily assisted, self-help program; it is focused on self and works to improve the flesh. We are living in an era of self (2 Tim. 3) with a focus on meeting certain so-called needs of the self that have been promoted by psychological theories. In numerous ways people have been taught that their first duty is to themselves and that before they can love and serve others they must love themselves and have various felt needs met. Much of counseling psychology promotes so-called needs for self-esteem, self-worth, security, significance, and feeling good about self. Psychotherapeutic theories have set these forth as necessary goals for mental health, and psychological therapists attempt to help people have these “needs” met.

Even though the Bible does not teach us to put self first, there have been many subtle intrusions of this idea into the church at large, not only through “Christian psychologists,” but through pastors, teachers, and books written for Christians. Therefore, numerous Christians truly believe that psychological counseling will help them become better and happier people. As a result, many of them are willing and eager to open themselves up and to focus on self with psychologically trained counselors who will give them “unconditional positive regard,” no matter what they say or what they’ve done.

In contrast to self-help and self-improvement, the Bible teaches us that we are to deny self (Matt: 16:24). Moreover, the old self is so sinful that it has to be put off (Eph. 4:22). In place of the sinful self resident in the flesh, Christ has given believers new life. That new life is not simply a substitute self. Instead, the new life is eternally connected with Christ. Paul expressed it this way:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).

This new life in Christ is not a dependent self in any way. It is relationship. It is being part of His Body. It is knowing and loving Him more and more. It is eternal life!

Christians have plenty of reasons to drop out of psychotherapy, both as clients and as providers. Christians have a different focus and a different goal. Why waste one’s life focusing on self and problems when God has called us to a higher calling: to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ forever and ever?

(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, January-February 2006, Vol. 14, No. 1)