For the last 25 years we have been writing about the myths and unholy mixtures promoted by “Christian psychologists” and psychologized Christians. We presented four major myths about psychology in our book PsychoHeresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity; we listed 29 false assumptions in our book Competent to Minister: The Biblical Care of Souls; and we have confronted a number of misconceptions and misguided ideas throughout our articles and various books.
Every once in awhile we notice that those who have been paying attention to what’s going on in the field of psychology and primarily psychological counseling recognize that some of psychology’s most popular ideas are indeed misguided. In its first issue of 2005, Psychology Today featured an article entitled “The Loose Screw Awards,” in which Dr. Robert Epstein exposes some of psychology’s “Misguided Ideas.”
Epstein points out the fact that even after theories and techniques have been shown to be useless and even harmful and “no matter how persuasive the evidence, people often cling to bad ideas.” He then introduces some of the “faulty concepts from the mental health professions that have yet to disappear” and says, “Sometimes their effects have been benign; other times, put into practice, such ideas have harmed many people.”
Before discussing a few of Epstein’s “Misguided Ideas” from psychology, we would say that the actual number of misguided psychological ideas is extremely large and Christians have bought into not only the ones listed here, but many, many more that are just as useless and often dangerous.
Epstein’s first award is “The Jackson Pollock Prize for Ambiguity: Projective Tests.” Projective tests, such as the Rorschach Inkblot Test, are very subjective personality tests. While the projective personality tests are at the farthest end of subjectivity, we would give the prize to all personality tests, because they are all subjective. Moreover they fail to meet appropriate reliability and validity standards and have many other problems, which are discussed in The Cult of Personality by Annie Murphy Paul, former senior editor of Psychology Today. Personality tests can give false information as easily as true information. How would you like a screening device for cancer, for instance, that is as likely to give you an incorrect diagnosis as a correct diagnosis? For more information on this topic, see our books Missions & Psycho-Heresy and Four Temperaments, Astrology & Personality Testing and our article “The Cult of Personality” in the March-April 2005 newsletter.
Recovered Memory Therapy
Epstein’s award titled “The Idea that Launched a Thousand Suits: Recovered Memories” exposes recovered memory therapy, which has destroyed lives and families of people who entered counseling and were subsequently convinced by their therapists that their problems were due to their past and that they must retrieve so-called repressed memories to become well again. Epstein notes that “the source of many of the recovered memories was the therapist. Leading questions, especially when combined with drugs, hypnosis and suggestive dream interpretation, can easily produce false memories that seem quite real to patients.”
We began warning about inner healing in the seventies and recovered memory therapy in the eighties. Numerous individuals were falsely remembering and “reliving” horrendous experiences that never happened to them in the past, but that took a terrible toll on them as they kept reaching back for answers and experiencing the pain of such horrors as sexual abuse and satanic ritual abuse, even though these had never happened to them.
Even though this therapy has been debunked and recovered memory therapists have been sued for damages inflicted through this kind of therapy, Epstein warns that “according to the director of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, recovered memory therapy is still being practiced.” And, indeed, it is! Christian counselors continue to use various forms of inner healing, recovered memory therapy, and what is called “Theophostic Prayer Ministry,” which is a form of regressive therapy in which people experience their recreated past in the misguided hope of psychological-spiritual healing.
We have been writing about the problems with self-esteem teachings since the 1980s. We argued against promoting self-esteem in our book Prophets of PsychoHeresy II, which we later republished as James Dobson’s Gospel of Self-Esteem & Psychology. Therefore we were happy to see Epstein’s award titled “Most Overrated: The Cult of Self-Esteem.” He says:
Hundreds of studies have failed to show that self-esteem training produces lasting positive results. To put this another way, merely feeling good about yourself doesn’t necessarily make you more effective. What’s more, recent studies suggest that self-esteem training may be harmful—that it leads many students to overestimate their abilities, for example. One study even shows that people with high self-esteem are more likely to be violent or racist.
Scientific American reports that teenagers “with high self-esteem are less inhibited, more willing to disregard risks and more prone to engage in sex” (“Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth,” Jan. 2005; www.sciam.com).
Along with the world, numerous Christians still believe in promoting and fostering self-esteem, even though it is an unbiblical goal. The Bible clearly says that we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought (Romans 12:3) and “let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3). In spite of all the verbal juggling to justify self-esteem, it still boils down to pride.
In describing his award titled “Most Likely to Make Good People Feel Bad: Codependency, Enabling and Tough Love,” Epstein says, “In the 1980s, some substance-abuse writers and counselors claimed that the family members of alcoholics ‘enabled’ alcoholism by being too loving.” With that came the whole codependency issue that put much of the blame on family members of substance abusers—as if the problem was almost as much their fault as that of the abusers. Epstein declares, “Considerable evidence suggests that the codependency idea is dead wrong.”
During that same period of time people kept asking us about AA and about the issue of codependency. Therefore, we researched the subject and wrote 12 Steps to Destruction: Codependency/Recovery Heresies. We exposed problems with 12 Step programs and the whole codependency idea back then. We were not the only ones. Nevertheless, Christians have been hopping onto the bandwagon and developing their so-called Christianized versions of these misguided worldly ideas.
Another issue Epstein brings up in this section is the erroneous idea that codependency is due to earlier child abuse. In fact, he says:
Some also insisted that all adult problems were the result of child abuse, and co-dependency was sometimes defined so broadly that almost any act of love or self-sacrifice could fit the definition. Best sellers like Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More and Robin Norwood’s Women Who Love Too Much thrust these ideas into the public consciousness, where they remain to this day.
Epstein further says that the child abuse idea “contradicts the evidence.”
It is grievous to know that one of the most popular books at Willow Creek Community Church has been Beattie’s Codependent No More (see PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, Vol. 12, No. 5). It reveals how eager Christians have been to believe worldly ideas that have no true biblical foundation.
The Grief Bureaucracy
Epstein’s award titled “Most Bureaucratic: Stages of Dying” is about Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s theory of dying that included five stages that she said everyone must go through: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Her 1969 book On Death and Dying was so influential that, if people failed to go through these steps in her prescribed order with the expected emotional intensity, counselors attempted to “help” them experience these feelings. However, Ross’s model was never examined scientifically. She came up with these stages through her own limited observation, and they became mandated both as stages of dying and as required stages of grieving.
In 1992 we wrote an article titled “Death and Dying: Grief by Prescription,” which was later reprinted in the PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter (Vol. 11, No. 3). In spite of the lack of research support and in spite of a number of exposes demonstrating that prescribing the manner of grieving is unnecessary and can be harmful, many Christians have bought into the method. Moreover, many still insist that those who have suffered loss need grief counseling. This is one more example of how Christians have turned to the world rather than to the Lord, who is the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
Catharsis and Ventilation
Epstein’s award titled “The Sound and the Fury Award: Catharsis” is about ventilating emotions, especially anger. He explains:
The idea behind catharsis is that current psychological pain is the result of pent-up energy left over from unresolved trauma. Like a fluid trapped under high pressure, energy is vented when someone relives an old experience while expressing intense emotion. In the 1960s, when extreme self-expression was all the rage, therapies in which people screamed (primal-scream therapy) or were goaded into states of near-panic (implosive therapy) became mainstream. Most people still believe that anger is some sort of force that can be “bottled up,” and that it’s healthy to “vent” or “let go.”
We are grateful that Epstein included this in his list of psychology’s misguided ideas.
We wrote about this misguided idea in our critique of Paul Meier and Frank Minirth in Prophets of PsychoHeresy I. Since the book is out-of-print, the section on Meier and Minirth is currently posted on our web site, www.psychoheresy-aware.org, under Book Chapters. Meier and Minirth taught that repressed anger causes depression and therefore recommended ventilating anger, verbally expressing anger, and talking about anger.
In the meantime research has demonstrated just the opposite: that when anger is expressed it increases. When children, for instance, are encouraged to act out their anger, they become more aggressive and belligerent in their subsequent behavior. While people may initially feel relieved to “get it all out,” their anger does not go away. It actually continues to grow and cause further problems. As researcher Dr. Carol Tavris declares in her article “Anger Diffused”:
The psychological rationale for ventilating anger does not stand up under experimental scrutiny. The weight of the evidence indicates precisely the opposite: Expressing anger makes you angrier, solidifies an angry attitude, and establishes a hostile habit.
This is the old hydraulic theory of emotion that continues to rage even though it has been shown to be fallacious. Nevertheless, many Christians continue to believe these ideas that have been incorporated into various forms of “Christian counseling.” They have evidently forgotten biblical admonitions such as Proverbs 14:29; 15:1, 2; 15:18; 19:11; and Ephesians 15:1, 2.
The Ultimate Misguided Idea
A number of us have been warning the church about these “Misguided Ideas” for many years. Now that the world is exposing them, maybe a few Christians will wake up. On the other hand, too many have wed these psychological ideas to their faith by following the “Christian psychologists” who have been mixing psychological falsehoods with biblical truth.
The worst misguided idea from psychology was not listed by Epstein. The worst idea is that psychological counseling theories and therapies have anything to offer the Christian other than fodder for the flesh. This worst idea has been embraced by numerous psychotherapists, counseling psychologists, marriage and family counselors, psychiatrists, and social workers who call themselves Christians. This worst idea is embraced by most pastors and their flocks. This worst idea is even embraced by some “biblical counselors,” who emulate their psychological counterparts in various ways. This worst idea flourishes in the church and there are very few who are concerned. In fact, this worst idea has been integrated not only into therapy and counseling, but into sermons, books, Christian colleges, seminaries, and schools.
Our concern applies to all of the schools of psychotherapy and counseling psychology, along with the personality theories that underlie them. Research studies reveal gross shortcomings in personality theories, counseling psychology, and the underlying psychologies, which deal with the nature of man, how he should live, and how he can change. With each one we could fill in details of their anti-God, antibiblical bias. Attempting to syncretize psychology with Christianity denies the sufficiency of the Word of God and the sufficiency of the Spirit of God in all matters of life and conduct.
The vast preponderance of what Christian therapists attempt to integrate with the Bible is based upon those theories which, in turn, are based upon unbiblical presuppositions. Every one of the nearly 500 different systems of psychological counseling (psychotherapy) is based on theories devised by non-Christians. The presuppositions upon which those theories are based include evolutionism, secular humanism, atheism, psychic determinism, environmental determinism, and various forms of non-Christian religions.
Because many in the church believe that theories and techniques of counseling psychology are based upon empirical evidence, they put them on the same level of authority as science. But those psychological theories give no more substantive, authoritative insight into understanding the intricacies of the human psyche than literature, mythology, world religions, sociology, or philosophy. Although they may seem to reveal truth, they are clouded by subjectivity and based upon secular presuppositions.
When Christians restate their favorite theories to make them sound Christian, they often distort the truths that have been given by God in His Holy Word, which is our only fully reliable textbook on the human condition. Furthermore, we have seen how many Christians now see the Gospel, the Bible, and the work of the Holy Spirit through the lens of one psychological theory or another and how many pastors, teachers, and writers eisegete Scripture accordingly. Unfortunately those who dispense psychotherapy believe that they are dealing with proven facts and great truth. They do not realize how much is simply opinion cleverly devised as theories. However, psychological counseling theories and therapies do not lie in the realm of science but rather in the realms of philosophy (from which they evolved) and religion.
Even the best ideas from these theories and therapies are limited to the flesh. At most, they enhance the old man, which Scripture tells us to put off. When a person receives new life in the Spirit through the gift of faith in the finished work of Christ, he is a new creature. Since these theories were developed by unbelievers, we must ask: How can an unredeemed mind tell a Christian how to walk in the Spirit? This is why attempts to integrate counseling psychology with Christianity fail to develop the spiritual man. In fact, if the church were walking after the Spirit (Romans 8) rather than according to the flesh, there would be no interest in the kind of psychology that we oppose. Christians would abandon this ultimate misguided idea that has taken over the church.
PAL V13N4 (July-August 2005)