What should Christians consider before seeking psychological counseling or therapy?

Christian Counseling and Education Foundation
May 02, 2023

(The following is a transcript of the video above, edited for readability) 

First thing I think I'd say is that psychotherapy is qualitatively different from chemotherapy or physical therapy. Those are there's something wrong. You got a cancer, it's trying to attack the cancer. You had a broken leg, you're trying to rehab the leg. Psychotherapy, maybe the first thing worth knowing about it is that it's simply a transliteration of the Greek word for the cure of souls. It's a word that actually originated within Christian faith. It's a word about how do you take what's most wrong with us and make it right? How do you lead, shepherd, disciple a human being to deal wisely and rightly with their sins and sorrows, with the hardships of life and with the things that are wrong about us as people? So the origin of not only the word, but the practice goes back into the pastoral care of the church in seeking to help people with their troubles.

Why do people seek psychotherapy, seek counseling? It's for trouble. It's the troubles that come upon us, life sufferings, hardships, disappointments, griefs. It's because we are troublesome to others or ourselves with our addictions, our temper, our immorality, whatever. It's because we feel troubled. We have a sense of distress or being overwhelmed or feeling guilty or anxious, upset by our lives. Every attempt to try deal with the troubles of human life is some kind of cure of souls or other. One of the things that, again, most people might not know is that Sigmund Freud, for example, who was really the pioneer of a secular psychotherapy, he described a psychoanalyst and those who would follow him as secular pastoral workers. He believed that in a culture that had no more need for God, that was passe to deal with real guilt before a real God, that people still had all the same troubles.

They felt miserable, and depressed, and anxious, and guilty, and frustrated, and their relationships didn't work, and they were addicted. They needed some cure of souls. He basically sought to provide a secular cure of souls. I think you can tell where I'm going in that. Basically what that means is that every single form of psychotherapy, every counseling system, when you take it apart at heart, it offers those who seek help an evangelism leading to a discipleship, because there's always a worldview that's imparted.

There's a way of understanding your sufferings and hardships. There's a way of understanding yourself. There's a labeling provided for what's wrong with you. There's a theory of why you have those problems. There's a view of what human flourishing would look like, and there's some agent power at work to change you. I'll oversimplify, but in a secular form of counseling, the agent of change is almost invariably yourself and your own self-trust. What's wrong with you is usually a combination of your personal history, bad experiences, and your body. It's not your sins. Christ is not your savior. So the labels used are things that kind of steer you in a semi-medical or quasi-medical way of understanding life's troubles.

So as I think about what are the things you look for when you feel those very real human distresses that lead people to seek counseling is you want someone who is going to operate within the worldview that is faithful to reality, that deals honestly and candidly with human struggles, and deals with them in a way that recognizes that the power and the mercy and the aid that we most need lies outside of ourselves. It's not just a matter of me telling myself things that can make myself feel better or feel more self-confident. It's not just a matter of me making better choices that lead to a healthier lifestyle, but I need a savior. I need a helper. I need someone who can work on the inside to make me new.

I remember about 25 years ago, there was a gathering of about 5,000 psychotherapists out in Phoenix, I believe. They called it the Psychology Super Bowl. The commentator afterwards said they disagreed about everything, but the one thing they agreed on was that the answers to our problems lay within ourselves. I thought as a Christian, they actually got most wrong the one thing they all agreed on. In a Christian, think looking for help, I want them to look for someone who will respect what is most profoundly true about their need and God's mercies towards them.

For more information about David Powlison, visit: www.ccef.org

For more information about Christianity, visit: www.christianity.com

(Article published June 18, 2013)

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