When you catch yourself lying to your therapist, you know it’s a waste of money. Jay McInerney link
Incredible picture of Jupiter just posted by NASA
(Note: The abbreviation BCM will stand for Biblical Counseling Movement for the purposes of this post.)
Easy peasy…This is my latest favorite phrase from my favorite Stranger Things character, Bob. I binged watched most of Season 2 last night while shopping online. Netflix has a winner in this series. I even liked Season 2 better than Season 1. Without any spoilers, let me tell you about some advice Bob gave his girlfriend’s son, Will. Bob, obviously not getting what is going on at this point, attempts to help Will cope with his fear of a monster which is slowly taking control of Will.
Bob tells Will that he used to have dreams of a clown which would cause him to be afraid, even after he woke up. He told Will that the dreams stopped when he confronted the clown and yelled “Go away.” The clown disappeared and Bob never dreamed of him again. Unfortunately for Will, his monster was not a dream. Will bravely confronted the monster, yelling “Go away” with disastrous results that last until the end of Season 2.
I thought of that when I began writing today’s post. There are many in the biblical counseling movement (BCM) who are counselors like Bob. They just don’t get how serious the situation really is and think a Bible verse or two will make the bad stuff go away.
Today, I will begin a series that will look at the serious issues surrounding the Biblical counseling movement (BCM) which I believe has caused harm and pain to many Christians. Let me distinguish between two groups up front.The first group are a number of well trained counselors: psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers who happen to be Christians and effectively integrate modern psychology treatment modalities with the faith if that is a desire of their clients. I know this because I developed serious anxiety surrounding my daughter’s struggle with a serious brain tumor when she was three years old. Her tumor was rare and the prognosis was thought to be bleak. Our family lived with the possibility of that tumor taking her life for from 11/1991 until 2001 when the brain tumor team believed that she was most likely a cure.
I viewed myself as the strong Christian. Although I didn’t believe that God was going to cure her, (He doesn’t in most cases), I felt my faith in Jesus would get me through. So, I swallowed my fear, pushed through my anxiety and pretended that all was well. Finally, I sought the counsel of both a Christian psychiatrist and a Christian counselor (MSW). I was given some medication to treat the underlying anxiety that I pretended wasn’t present and began a long conversation that combined the best of modern psychological intervention with the Bible. These two men were NOT biblical counselors but they were Biblical as well as counselors. I am not talking about counselors like them.
Throughout this series, I will refer to some techniques that I found useful such as dialectical behavioral therapy and show how well this integrates with a Christian worldview. I also want to differentiate between psychological counsel and spiritual counsel. They are different and should be viewed as such.
Timberlake Baptist Church, in Lynchburg, Virginia, will be our role model for biblical counseling.
As I did some reading in preparation for this series, I developed some anxiety because I felt I was dealing with the many legged Mind Flayer monster and the Demogorgon and Demo-dogs of Stranger Things. It can be terribly confusing. However, I came up with an idea. Why not tie the whole series together by featuring an actual biblical counseling center in a church since this how many of these biblical counseling centers operate.
I looked for a church which seemed to align with today’s current Reformed Baptist movement since many in this group are amongst the leaders who are pushing this sort of counseling to the forefront in churches.
Timberlake Baptist Church is a successful, medium sized church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Their resource page is filled with books from the leaders of the Reformed movement such as 9 Marks, John Piper, The Gospel Coalition, the Founders, etc. Yet, it is not one of the leading churches in this movement. This is important. In discussions with some 9 Marks and Reformed folks on serious issues like Karen Hinkley and The Village Church, I often have heard the excuse that such and such church just “applied things wrong.” I contend that churches do not apply these tactics in error. They are following a playbook which clearly spells out the rules. Sadly, I believe that it is the playbook that is in error and I hope to prove my point in the posts to come.
As I searched for a representative church, I looked for one that took their counseling program seriously. That is evident in this church. It appears that their Sunday evening services are actually training sessions for the members of the congregation on how to be Biblical counselors. This is quite fitting since it appears that the BCM believes that the average church member can be trained to be *competent to counsel.” We will be dealing with this in subsequent posts.
Timberlake Biblical Counseling and Training Center
This counseling center is considered a major ministry of the church and is featured on the website. Not only does this center provide services, it also exists to train members of the church to become certified counselors with the International Association of Biblical Counselors (IABC). I will be discussing this group and others in subsequent posts. Suffice to say, they are at the heart of the BCM.
The training background of Mark Hager
This center is headed by (Dr) Mark Hager. However, his doctorate is not what you might expect.
His Undergraduate and Masters degrees do not appear to be from an accredited college. If I am wrong, please let me know. His DPT is also from an unaccredited school which describes his Doctorate of Practical Theology as not requiring a traditional dissertation or major writing project. An amusing aside, the school actually links to Wikipedia to prove the value of such a degree…
Also, his current school in which he is completing a PhD in Biblical Counseling,Trinity Theological Seminary, appears to have similar problems with the rest of his degrees. Hint: whenever an institution of higher learning needs a page to explain why it does not have the appropriate accreditation, you may have a problem. You might find list of well known recipients of this sort of PhD to be interesting. Note, in particular, Elyse Fitzpatrick who is pushed by The Gospel Coalition, John Piper’s Desiring God, etc. as a counselor of women and families.
If I am correct about his training, I find his use of the *Doctor* in front of his name a bit misleading.
However, be that as it may, it doesn’t really matter because those who are involved in the BCM do not believe that excellent education is required in order to be an effective counselor. Compare that to a psychiatrist that must not only complete a 4 year undergraduate degree but must be accepted into an accredited, 4 year medical school and then do a 3-4 years of residency and fellowship training after that.
Now, to the good stuff.
What you should learn about Timberlake’s counseling program before you step foot in front of their counselors.
Timberlake has graciously outlined the ins and outs of the counseling program on their website. I have downloaded the contents in case they disappear down the road. However, if they suddenly disappear, I would wonder why since they seem to be the poster kids for the BCM as it is lived out in churches all over the country.
Always read this types of documents carefully!! They hint about things that you might find disconcerting when you are already in a counseling situation.
I will be referring back to these documents in future posts. So, for today, I am going to point out a few things things under each header that I think might be considered red flags for many people. At least they are red flags for me. Feel free to point out others since they are certainly present!
- The Word of God is a therapeutic tool as well as a theological one, thus it can be used to address emotional problems, as well as psychological and spiritual ones.There is an assumption here that must be considered. Is the Bible meant to be a therapeutic tool for all emotions? Emotions are tied up in the brain which is an organic structure that ties into nerves, hormones and other body organs. My daughter’s pediatric neurosurgeon told me that he felt like a caveman operating on the brain because there is so much that we don’t understand. We learn more and more on a daily basis. Is the Bible a therapeutic tool for other medical issues like leprosy or diabetes? Where does it start and where does it end?
- Christ-centered and biblically sound counseling that will assist you in solving problems biblically, grow in your faith spiritually, and realize the peace of God in a blessed relationship with Him and others.They do not define what “biblically sound” counseling looks like. They use buzz words such as “Christ centered* without defining what that is. There is a danger in assuming what they might mean. For example, some counselors might think it is Christ centered to have a wife return to an abusive husband. Always beware of undefined Christin lingo.
- This methodology is in contrast to typical professional counseling that is man-centered and problem-focused.Note the absolute dismissal of an entire body of professionals and research. This all or nothing approach is dangerous and is indicative of potential zealotry as opposed to thoughtful disagreement. Many of those professionals are also believers and are God centered. Those who aren’t are still capable of of diagnosing mental illness and even applying techniques like dialectical behavioral therapy which meshes well with with Biblical thinking. In fact, my guess is that traditionally trained professionals would be less likely to recommend dangerous actions like encouraging an abused women to stay with her abuser.
- It is understood by the participant counselee(s) that all biblical counseling will be provided by intern counselors or certified biblical counselors who may or may not be state licensed under the State of Virginia statues.Here is where the rubber meets the road. They are telling you that they may not be state accredited counselors (I bet few, if any, are) and they are going to put newbies in to mess with your mental health.. You are a guinea pig if they want you to be. You have no choice in the matter if you sign up for their program. (However, to be precise, you can refuse a student counselor.)
- That no representation has been made, either expressly or implied, that the biblical counseling, as conducted by the above-mentioned counselors, is accepted as customary psychological and/or psychiatric therapy within the definitional terms utilized by those professions.They are admitting to you that you are not getting customary therapy that is peer reviewed. They have no standards that are acceptable or measurable outside of their own little circles.
- releases of the Timberlake Biblical Counseling and Training Center, its affiliates, counselors, or employees from any liability or claim arising from the undersigned’s participation in biblical counseling.They know they are providing counseling that can lead to issues and they are telling you that you cannot sue them. Dirty little secret: I bet a good lawyer could sue them if they really mess with your head and cause injury or death…
- Don’t trust your feelings about the success that biblical counseling is making in your counseling process or progress.In other words, they are competent to counsel you because they read a few questionable books (we will deal with this soon) but you are not competent to trust you feelings if you think something is wrong with the counseling. If you are uncomfortable with the counseling or counselor, get the heck out of there and go find a professional and discuss your concerns with him/her. You could have been abused or harmed by that counseling relationships. Never forget. Your counselors are sinners as well and they can do some pretty bad things.
- Make the proper investments in your counseling.They are talking about money here. They want to keep you coming to see them for as long as they think it takes and they want you to spend your money. They claim it is a vital as *chemotherapy is for cancer.* Good night! Be careful here. Make sure you investigate what are usual and customary costs. Also, if you go to a real psychiatrist or psychologist, there is a chance that some of your sessions will be covered by insurance. That is not the case for this type of counseling.
- We will not be using secular therapy or unbiblical terminology. NO SECULAR LABELING HERE!That means that labels such as narcissism, pedophilia, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc. might not be used. Why?
- Be careful. You are giving a lot of personal information to the counselor. Once that is given, it cannot be taken back. Who might see that information?
- Most of the counselors will possess a biblical certification from various certifying agencies, and some may possess additional higher education in counseling.Make sure you understand that these supposed *certifying agencies* are outside of the mainstream of professional counseling. Do not be fooled. Note the *may possess additional education in counseling.” Do not forget that some institutions of higher learning may not be accredited or even worthy of that name.
How do counseling staff view confidentiality?
We plan to take a good hard look at the guarantee of confidentiality for clients by those who engage in the BCM. Before you enter into any agreement with a counselor, especially one associated with a particular church, ask exactly what they mean by confidentiality. In fact, make sure they guarantee it. Many will not.
I found the confidentiality agreement at Timberlake to be confusing and would admonish (a good biblical term) anyone considering such a relationship to explore it further. Here are two different statements from the Personal Data Inventory on the matter.
- 1. The first statement appears to ask the client’s permission to consult with their pastor. I am assuming that this is a client who is not a member of Timberlake Baptist Church as you will see by the second statement.
Here is the second statement.
- 2. Read this carefully. The counseling staff is mentioned but so are the elders and the pastoral staff of Timberlake Baptist Church. As far as I can tell, there is no clear statement of who/what such confidentiality entails.
It is possible that the counseling staff at Timberlake are very strict when it comes to confidentiality. However, there appears to be some in the BCM who believe that there should be no confidentiality from a pastor of the client who is a member of a church.
This is the beginning of a look at the BCM. I would be interested in hearing from any folks who have undergone counseling at Timberlake. I would also love to see any confidentiality agreements, counseling descriptors, etc. from counseling centers which are part of the BCM. Such correspondence will be held in strict confidentiality. Only my co-editor and the Guy Behind the Curtain know about such correspondence and we have tight lips.
Counseling another person is not easy peasy. It is a deadly serious business which can have life altering consequences. I plan to open a few windows and shed some light into the problems in this movement. I have already hinted at a few today.