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CDC1-01. What is Biblical Counseling? 1 {Transcript}

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Psychology and theology both deal with the same fundamental issues of meaning and value. Many modern approaches have unscriptural presuppositions and practices. This opening session introduces biblical counseling and the importance of approaching these issues from a Christian perspective.

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Harmful Errors of Modern Psychology (Continued from page 2)

Unscriptural presuppositions and practices of certain schools of psychology. (Continued from page 3)

Excuses sin and denies personal responsibility.

Along with this psychology not only misunderstands who man is as a responsible being in the image of God, who has fallen, who needs redemption, psychology also excuses sin and denies personal responsibility. And here’s the quote I mentioned from Maslow, “The good impulses within people are easily warped by cultures. Sick people are made by a sick culture.” And this is something we see in everyday life; this isn’t just at universities. This is when John Hinckley shoots President Reagan, thankfully not killing him, and he’s declared innocent because he has mental problems. It’s when many years ago there were two brothers who killed their parents. And, again, they blamed the abuse they received for the acts that they did. And you see celebrities who engage in bizarre or evil behavior, and they’ll say, It’s because this happened to me when I was a child. You’ll see a young man has been arrested for some horrible crime and his mother we’ll say, “Oh, he’s a good child, he’s a good child! He just got in with the wrong crowd.” Rogers writes, “I see members of the human species like members of other species, as essentially constructive in their fundamental nature, but damaged by their experience.”

The scripture says that we are accountable to God, that sin is sin. And one way responsibility is denied is the label of mental illness, and calling what the Bible says is sin an illness. I wanna emphasize that there are people who really do have diseases of the brain. You can see, and research has shown that, for example, schizophrenics, people who are truly schizophrenic, their brain is deteriorating. People with Alzheimer’s, and people with Alzheimer’s may blurt out ugly, bad things because they don’t have their filters working, and their brain is deteriorating. They really have a sickness, and there are some areas in which we can’t be sure because we don’t fully understand the human brain. And, so, people may have physical brain problems that contribute to the struggles they have, and we take those seriously, but even then if the Bible labels it as sinful behavior, there’s also a spiritual issue involved. I like what Ed Welch said that, “Even when there’s a physical issue involved, whether there is or not, there’s always a spiritual issue involved.”

Just as an example, to treat alcoholism as a disease, well, the Bible says it’s drunkenness. You catch a disease if I’m on an airplane with somebody who’s got a bad cold or the flu, and I sit next to him and he sneezes on me, I’m kind of a victim of that. Or if I get cancer, usually it wasn’t my fault, it was in my genetics or something. The very point of scripture is in order to really overcome sin, you have to deal with the fact that you’re responsible for what you’ve done. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in is,” John writes, “It’s if we confess our sin that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And now every kind of bad behavior virtually gets labeled. Well, this person has a sexual addiction. This person has a gambling addiction. I had a lady I counseled many years ago, who had been diagnosed with, I can’t even remember what she was diagnosed with, but in the course of the counseling session with her husband there, she spewed forth a profane, angry, nasty, tirade against her husband. And after she got done with this yelling, she looked at me and smiled, and said, “You know, I’m a sick woman.” But I think by that she was saying, “I have an excuse for what I just did.”

Now, you say, “Is there such a thing as mental illness?” There is such a thing as physical brain illness, definitely; but so much of what is called mental illness, the Bible would say is, “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked; who can understand it?” The Bible used sickness as an analogy, but it’s sin. Thomas Szasz, the psychiatrist, writes, “In the 18th and 19th centuries, when people spoke of the cure of souls, everyone knew that the diseases such cures were supposed to heal were spiritual, and that therapists were clerical, and the cures were metaphorical. “Whereas today, with the soul securely displaced by the mind and the mind securely subsumed as a function of the brain, people speak of the cure of mind, and everybody knows that the diseases psychiatrists treat are basically similar to ordinary medical diseases, that the therapists who administer such treatment are physicians, and the cures are results of literal treatments.” And he means that’s a bad thing.

There was an article in our local newspaper some time back about pedophiles in the community. And a professor, who’s a clinical professor of psychiatry, who also spends a great deal of time testifying in court cases of pedophiles was quoted saying, “Pedophilia is a mental disorder, and people who suffer from it should be viewed with compassion.” So, people who molest small children, they’re the ones who are victims is what this person is saying, and this person who has something to do with whether they’re sentenced to jail or not. No, the victims are the children. And pedophilia, no matter what’s happening to your brain physically, no matter what’s happened in your life through experience, is an evil that deserves punishment both the government’s responsibility, and that ultimately that would come from God. Szasz writes that, “The concept, the notion of a person having mental illness is actually scientifically crippling.” And what he means by that, he says, “That it undermines the principle of personal responsibility upon which a democrat political system is necessarily based. By assigning to an external source, the illness, blame for antisocial behavior.” And in many cases, the diagnoses that people receive when they’re given these labels are not really very scientific.

And we’re gonna be talking about specifics as we go through the course, but just using an example with depression. And depression is very complicated. There may well be people who have something wrong with their brain. I think it’s a minority, but there may be people who have something wrong with their brain, and they really have something going wrong that maybe there’s a medicine that will help them. But a lot of depressed people are just sad. And a wonderful book by Charles Hodges, Good Mood Bad Mood talks about this. But when someone goes to the doctor’s office, and they’re told, they describe sadness, and then the doctor says, “No, you have the mental illness of depression, and that’s because your serotonin levels have gotten off.” And I’ve talked to so many counselees, Did they test your serotonin? No. There’s actually not a test by which they do this. They take a description of how badly you feel. There’s a list of several things in the DSM, and if you hit enough buttons, you get the meds, but sadness is often not caused, it’s not like your brain suddenly started producing less of something or more of something. Circumstances in life often cause that.

And the explanation may sound very scientific, but it’s based on feeling. It’s also interesting that, and we’ll talk more in this section on depression, how in, there had been studies showing how the antidepressants don’t work for the great majority of the people who are on them, especially when you take into account the placebo effect of how just the hope of taking something makes people feel better for a while. I’ve counseled a man who would actually go to the county ’cause he learned how the different medications made him feel, and he’d go to County Mental Health, and he would go in and give a description of how he feels. And he knew what medicine they would give him, so he could get the meds that he wanted. And, no doubt, that changed how he felt, but it wasn’t dealing with the root issue.

I think of situations in the Bible where Paul had been beaten, and he’s thrown in jail, and he doesn’t know when he’s gonna get out. He might be able to, first of all, I’m sure he felt badly. He might have felt very, very sad, and if there was a way of testing his serotonin, they might have found out that as a result of feeling sad, maybe that does lower your serotonin, I don’t know. He might have been a candidate for Prozac, or something like that. Likewise with David. When David describes how in Psalm 32 how his body was wasting away, and he couldn’t sleep, and he was miserable. No doubt, David was depressed, and might have qualified to be clinically depressed; but it was because circumstances in his life, in that case it was because of sin. And, so, what we take very seriously, that some people may have brain issues going on. We have to be very humble about it because, quite frankly, just as the family practice doctor doesn’t really know if the serotonin level has changed ’cause he doesn’t have a test for it, and he also doesn’t know why it might have changed. Whether the moral choices of the soul of the person had something to do with the bad feelings that might cause the serotonin to be down, as opposed to just a random serotonin event.

We, too, can’t know with our counselees always why they feel badly, or some of the other things where people, you have other diagnoses, be it ADHD, or OCD, and all these other letters. We can’t know for sure whether something’s going on in the brain, but often times the doctors really don’t know either in terms of the brain. Many, many cases there are issues in the lives of a person that explain the symptoms. And when the spiritual issues are dealt with, the symptoms change. In Psalm 32, again, David being depressed, when did he start feeling better? He never got meds. He repented of his sin, and turned back to God, and he prayed, “Restore to me the joy of my salvation.” And we’ve had several cases of people who had been diagnosed with all these different labels, and on various meds. And when the spiritual issues in their life were dealt with biblically, they made the choice to try to get off the meds, and in many cases they’ve been successful. One thing about the meds is they change how you feel. I’ve heard people complain. It’s kind of like your emotional range just narrows, and a lot of people don’t like feeling that way, anyway. If that’s what they choose to do, they can. I would emphasize here, as we’ll emphasize later, we don’t tell people not to take meds. We don’t tell people to get off their meds.

Sometimes, though, when a counselee’s doing better, they’ll say, “I’m not sure I need this stuff anymore, and I don’t like how it makes me feel.” Then we say, “Well, work with your doctor who gave you the meds, and see if it will work for you to get off.” One of the cases early on for me at IBCD was a man who came in, and he was in his late 60s. He was diagnosed as being depressed. He’d been on various meds, and was on some very, very strong high-dosage medications. He was told that he had developed this mental illness late in his life, and that he was gonna be on these medications for the rest of his life. He also had gone, he was drinking, he was told that he had the disease of alcoholism, and he was told that he had to go to 12-step meetings for the rest of his life, and he would always be an alcoholic. And there were a few other things, as well. He and his wife had gone to marriage and family therapists. All these people thought, “Oh, you,”

And as he came in this particular case, by God’s grace, as he came the Lord showed him through the scriptures that there were some sin issues in his life. And, in his case, it wasn’t like David committing adultery and killing the husband, but it was simply really an issue of selfishness, and upon retirement just living for himself rather than living for God and for others. And I remember we were reading Psalm 32, and when David’s describing how miserable he felt, which was Herald was sleeping 16 hours, and no desire for life, and very miserable. He’d even been institutionalized for a period of time because of his problems. But when I was reading Psalm 32, he was the one who said, “Do you mean that my problem may be not that I have a disease, but that I’m a sinner?” And I said, “Yeah, that may well be the case.”

And in this particular case, by God’s grace, as God gave him grace to repent of his sin, that he, as he restructured his life biblically, focusing on growing closer to the Lord, serving God, serving others, it’s been nearly 20 years, and so far as I know, over time he went back to his doctor. Actually the doctor said, “Oh, if you get off these drugs, you’ll,” They were worried about him committing suicide, or something like that. But by God’s grace, he did get off the meds, and has not fallen into what he fell into, again. And in many, many cases, I’m not saying all, and I’m not saying, again, if somebody comes in, what you wanna do is deal with their spiritual issues and not the drugs. But I do think in many cases, the drugs could even distract from the spiritual issues.

Right now in counseling, biology’s been kind of the hot topic. In the previous generation in psychology and psychiatry, most of what was done was talk therapy, where you would come in. It was really trying to deal your nurture problems. And, so, we’re gonna hear about your childhood, and your past, and you get it all out, and somehow days and days, months and months, weeks and weeks of psychotherapy, somehow that would make things better. In recent years there’s been instead nurture, it’s been more on nature in terms of brain chemistry has been seen as the physical aspect of our life. Our genetics is seen to be the big problem, and, so, that’s where the research is, and that’s where the treatment is. So, now people, again, they go to the family doctor, and he’s prescribing psychotropic medications for anxiety, or worry, or depression, whatever it may be. Again, the local newspaper, another quote that, “Psychiatry seeks explanation for pedophilia in brain chemistry and genetics.” I think one reason this may be attractive to some also is with the change in the structure of how medicine is practiced. That it takes much less doctor time to spend 10 minutes with the patient, hear how he feels, and give him the medication, as opposed to insurance paying for many, many sessions of talk therapy. The prescription, not just to adults but to children, of psychiatric, psychotropic drugs has multiplied many, many times over. Statistics showing how the majority of these taken in the world are taken by people in the United States.

Again, in counseling we don’t tell people, “Put your pills down the toilet.” There may be a real medical issue the doctor has identified that needs to be addressed. These pills can have issues of withdrawal. The people on psychotropic drugs, if they decide they wanna get off, and I would say, by the way, many do want to get off these drugs, deal with the spiritual issue first, and then if they wanna make that choice, it’s something to be worked out between them and their doctor.