Part Three of a Three-Part Series

Mart De Haan’s article “Been Thinking About . . . Counseling,” from the June 2000 Times of Discovery: News and Comments from RBC Ministries, clearly supports professional, psychologically trained people helpers. In Part Two of this series, we examined De Haan’s so-called extra-biblical examples from the Bible, his repeated confusion of the mental with the medical and of the nonphysical with the physical, and his unsubstantiated faith in the psychological wisdom of men.

De Haan’s next argument for Christians using and supporting professional people helpers has to do with time and skills. He says, “Counselors can take the time a pastor often doesn’t have. They can use skills that Bible teachers often haven’t cultivated.” The Bible-only people are the ones who believe in the priesthood of all believers. The pastor does not need to spend his time counseling. His responsibility is to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. The Bible-only people are more available for that than De Haan’s people helpers and should not charge a fee for what God has given freely. Professional people helpers run on a time schedule with a calendar full of appointments.

De Haan mentions “skills that Bible teachers often haven’t cultivated.” We would be interested in seeing his research as to what skills the Bible teachers do not have that are necessary for helping people with problems of living. Here again De Haan makes a statement without research backing and implies that his professional people helpers have some special skills that give them an advantage. However, as we have documented elsewhere, the research on “generality” versus “specificity” (the need for specific psychological theories, methods, or skills) has demonstrated that generality rules. The most recent edition of the Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, known as the “bible” of outcome research in psychotherapy, clearly states:

With some exceptions, which we will consider, there is massive evidence that psychotherapeutic techniques do not have specific effects; yet there is tremendous resistance to accepting this finding as a legitimate one.1 (Bold added.)

Dr. Morris Parloff and Dr. Irene Elkin say:

The specificity hypothesis would lead one to expect that specific benefits are associated with the application of specific strategies, procedures, techniques and experience. The failure to find empirical support for such expectations provoked the formulation of the nonspecificity or common factors hypothesis.2

Psychiatrist Jerome Frank says that from the therapists’ view, “little glory derives from showing that the particular method one has mastered with so much effort may be indistinguishable from other methods in its effects.”3 The fact that there are more than 450 different, often-conflicting psychological counseling approaches and 10,000-plus not-often-compatible techniques with various incompatible underlying psychological theories must raise a huge question mark over why they all seem to work equally well.

Aside from the presence of two or more people in a therapeutic setting, the most prominent, but least important factor, is the aspect of the conversation that is based on models and methodologies of psychological theories. Psychological theories and techniques that come through conversation comprise the third and least important factor compared to the client and the counselor. We want to make it clear that the specificity from theories, techniques or skills undergirding the conversation are the least important components regarding change, not the fact of the conversation itself. The psychological type of conversation or therapy yields equal outcomes, but the fact of conversation is common to the more than 450 different types of therapy.

Dr. Joseph Wortis clarifies this. He says, “The proposition of whether psychotherapy can be beneficial can be reduced to its simplest terms of whether talk is very helpful.” He continues, “And that doesn’t need to be researched. It is self evident that talk can be helpful.” 4

Amateurs or Professionals?

Elsewhere we note the research about amateurs versus professionals. In 40 of the 42 studies that we note, the amateurs were better than the professionals at treating patients. After commenting on the tremendous number of people who see mental health specialists during a single year, Dr. Jerome Frank, an eminent researcher known by all in the field, reveals the shocking fact of “the inability of scientific research to demonstrate conclusively that professional psychotherapists produce results sufficiently better than those of nonprofessionals.”5 Where is De Haan’s evidence to the contrary?

After examining the research, Professor Robyn Dawes says, “But we do know that the training, credentials, and experience of psychotherapists are irrelevant, or at least that is what all the evidence indicates.”6 He further says the research demonstrates that “one’s effectiveness as a therapist was unrelated to any professional training”7 and that “the credentials and experience of the psychotherapists are unrelated to patient outcomes.”8 (Italics in original.)

We have provided academic and biblical evidence for our position throughout our work, but De Haan has failed to do so.

Revealing the Inner Man?

De Haan further contends that his not-the-Bible-only people helpers “can help troubled people surface beliefs, opinions, attitudes, and behaviors they are not inclined to admit to themselves.” In contrast, the Bible-only people would say it is the Word of God empowered by the Holy Spirit that searches the heart and leads the way to repentance or change. The Word is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). No people helper, no matter how many licenses, degrees and years of experience, can provide that. The not-the-Bible-only people and their “people helpers” can hope for but never achieve what the Bible promises and provides.

De Haan says, “Many professionals and lay people have accumulated wisdom in matters of mental health, domestic violence, sexual abuse, or even finance management that can supplement the moral, spiritual, and biblical gifts of a wise pastor, or Christian friend.” However, it is not the accumulated wisdom that is necessary for change, but rather the person’s own desire to change. Even in the secular research it is repeatedly stated in all the editions of the Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change that the number one reason people change is because they want to.All else takes a much lower place.

De Haan says, “Some of us have lived long enough to see some of the most conservative people embarrassed and broken by disclosure of problems they had been hiding behind the Bible.” And, some Bible-only people have lived long enough to see the very “people helpers” that De Haan supports wreck marriages, thrash lives, and ruin families by using the extra-biblical, man-made wisdom about which God warns. On top of that they charge money for their often-nefarious services. If someone is “hiding behind the Bible” or hiding behind the psychological theories of the world, he needs to be living in the Bible so that the Word and the Holy Spirit can do a work. And, pray tell, how do the not-the-Bible-only counselors help anyone who may be “hiding behind the Bible” get into the Bible by using their extra-biblical ideas gleaned from ungodly, secular, psychotherapeutic theorists? We challenge De Haan to provide one specific, testable by research example from professional counselors instead of his own say so.

De Haan says, “We’ve lived long enough to know that some of the people who say the Bible is all they need are really saying they don’t want anyone poking around in their personal business.” Another major difference between the Bible-only and the not-the-Bible-only groups is that the former relies on the Word and the Spirit to do the “poking around,” whereas the latter think it’s their place to “poke around” through extra-biblical means, in spite of Jeremiah 17:9,10: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” De Haan probably does not realize that one major problem in psychological counseling is that clients generally hide a great deal from their therapists and even lie to them.

De Haan’s naivete and his insight-therapy-oriented, extra-biblical thinking are quite evident in the above statement. His words reveal how much he has sold out to the insight-oriented therapy industry, which is contrary to the Word of God. God knows the heart and no amount of extra-biblical insight-oriented probing will ever reveal it to a people helper. Instead, the people helper uses the theories to guess and fabricate what is going on inside the person being “helped.”

Adding the World’s Wisdom to God’s Word

De Haan begins his last paragraph by saying, “In our efforts to help people, we must make sure that counseling resources do not replace the Word of God.” If De Haan is referring to extra-biblical “counseling resources,” they are totally not needed, but will generally dilute the Word or divert one’s attention away from the Word, resulting in a missed opportunity to permit the Holy Spirit to work.

De Haan ends his last paragraph by saying, “But we must also realize that the Scriptures were not given to replace human relationships, medicine, wise counsel, or even general revelation.” All would agree that Scripture is not given to replace medicine, but what exactly does he mean regarding the Scriptures not being “given to replace human relationships,” “wise counsel, or even general revelation”? Is this one more argument advanced from the not-the-Bible-only position? Is it not also true that the extra-biblical, non-Scriptures have not been “given to replace human relationships, medicine, wise counsel, or even general revelation” either?

The position of the Bible-only group is that Scriptures are used to minister in “human relationships,” are the true source of “wise counsel,” and reveal the extent and limits of “general revelation.” The extra-biblical people helpers can offer only paid relationships, the wisdom of the world, and guesses garnered from what they believe general revelation includes.

De Haan ends with a prayer. He begins by saying, “Father, forgive us for focusing too little or too much on Your Word.” The not-the-Bible-only crowd will certainly never be accused of focusing too much on the Word. The use of the Word will be diminished by the amount of extra-biblical material used by them. Is it really possible to focus too much on the Word of God when ministering to souls? “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10,11). The Bible-only group, when at their best, will use the Word, knowing that it alone reveals the truth about man and will search the heart and provide what man needs to be conformed to the image of Christ (Hebrews 4:12).

Who’s Withholding Bread?

De Haan prays on: “Forgive us for withholding ‘bread’ from starving people because we were convinced that what they really needed was spiritual food.” This is a direct and false criticism of the Bible-only group. No one we know in the Bible-only group would withhold bread from starving people and give only spiritual food. As a matter of fact, because they themselves are following Scripture, they will offer practical help, including food, fellowship, friendship, clothing, a place to stay, etc. They will come alongside and truly bear the burdens. Indeed, De Haan’s criticism is true of too many people helpers who use their ears and mouths to listen and speak one hour a week to people, many of whom are compelled to pay fees they can ill afford. It is the rare professional people helper who will leave his office and use his hands and feet to help those in need.

De Haan ends his prayer with the following words: “Please teach us to love others the way Your Son cared for the needs of those around Him. Show us how to let our knowledge of Your Word be the beginning of our love—rather than the end.” One difference between the Bible-only and the not-the-Bible only groups is in the understanding of how Jesus “cared for the needs of those around Him.” The Bible-only group would say, “Biblically,” but De Haan’s extra-biblical group would disagree.

It is ironic that De Haan would end by referring to the “knowledge of Your Word” when his entire article defends the not-the-Bible-only, extra-biblical position, that is, the not-the-Word-only position. The Bible-only group would say that Jesus ministered perfectly, according to biblical truth and not according to extra-biblical theories and therapies. It is God’s Word that is both the beginning and the end of a Christian’s love because it expresses all that God has directly revealed to His people.


Mart De Haan’s reasoning, lack of proof for his position on “professional counselors,” idea of what in the Bible is extra-biblical, and his strong not-the-Bible-only position when it comes to the issues of life not only lead to questions about his thinking and theology, but raise questions about his orthodoxy. We know little about Radio Bible Class and its ministries. However, we do wonder how much of what De Haan has revealed through this article has permeated the various ministries of his organization. We have laid the groundwork that raises questions that need to be investigated and answered by others who may be interested. We hope that what we have done will be used for such a purpose.

1 Allen E. Bergin and Sol L. Garfield, “Overview, Trends, and Future Issues,” in Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, Fourth Edition. Allen E. Bergin and Sol L. Garfield, eds. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1994), p. 822.
2 Morris B. Parloff and Irene Elkin, “The NIMH Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program” in History of Psychotherapy: A Century of Change, Donald K. Freedheim, ed. (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1992), p. 448.
3 J. D. Frank, quoted in Lambert and Bergin in “The Effectiveness of Psychotherapy” in Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, op. cit., p. 167.
4 Joseph Wortis, “General Discussion” in Psychotherapy Research, Janet B. W. Williams and Robert L. Spitzer, eds. (New York: The Guilford Press, 1984), p. 394.
5 Jerome Frank, “Mental Health in a Fragmented Society: The Shattered Crystal Ball,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, July 1979, p. 406.
6 Robyn M. Dawes, House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth (New York: The Free Press/Macmillan, Inc., 1994), p. 62.
7 Ibid., p. 15.
8 Ibid., p. 38.
9 Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, op. cit., p. 825.

PAL V9N1(January-February 2001)