A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Is Nouthetic Counseling Appropriate for Victims of Abuse and PTSD?

UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


[November 6, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]

I could not help but notice that the more directive I became (simply telling counselees what God required of them), the more people were helped. Spelling out and getting commitments to biblical patterns of behavior after an acknowledgement of and repentance for sin seemed to bring relief and results.  (Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel)

Apart from those who had organic problems, like brain damage, the people I met in the two institutions in Illinois were there because of their own failure to meet life’s problems. To put it simply, they were there because of their unforgiven and unaltered sinful behavior.  (Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel)

The thesis of this book is that qualified Christian counselors properly trained in the Scriptures are competent to counsel — more competent than psychiatrists or anyone else.  (Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel)

The reason why people get into trouble in their relationships to God and others is because of their sinful natures. Men are born sinners.  (Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel)

Jay Adams in his widely circulated book Competent to Counsel, lays out his counseling model which he calls Nouthetic counseling. He draws the name from a New Testament Greek word used in, for example, Colossians 1:28.  “We proclaim him confronting every man nouthetically, and teaching every man with all wisdom in order that we may present every man complete in Christ. (From Competent to Counsel.)” Adams goes on to say that Nouthetic counseling consists of three fundamental elements:

  • Nouthetic confrontation necessarily suggests first of all that there is something wrong with the person who is to be confronted nouthetically. The idea of something wrong, some sin, some obstruction, some problem, some difficulty, some need that has to be acknowledged and dealt with, is central. In short, nouthetic confrontation arises out of a condition in the counselee that God wants changed.
  • The second element of nouthetic confrontation is that problems are solved nouthetically by verbal means. Nouthetic confrontation, in its biblical usage, aims at straightening out the individual by changing his patterns of behavior to conform to biblical standards.
  • The third element in nouthetic confrontation implies changing that in his life which hurts the counselee. “Instead of excuse-making or blame-shifting, nouthetic counseling advocates the assumption of responsibility and blame, the admission of guilt, the confession of sin, and the seeking of forgiveness in Christ.”

Let’s think about this model through the lens of abuse. Imagine an abuse victim, suffering the effects of ongoing, intense trauma (PTSD), coming to such a counselor. Is her behavior and thinking to be attributed to sin? Yes. But whose sin? Hers? Hardly. Oh yes, as Christians with the sinful flesh still remaining, victims of abuse might be prone to unbiblical thinking about what has or is happening to them. They can respond sinfully to abuse. But is that their chief problem? No. The problem is that these are wounded, traumatized people. Would we counsel a person who has lost their legs in a traumatic car accident that their injury is due to their own sin? Yet somehow, correct me if I am wrong, this is how Adams’ Nouthetic counseling model communicates to me. “Sin! Counter with Truth! Change of thinking! Problem solved, counseling success!” Barbara Roberts suggested the following link to a web site that discusses PTSD and critiques Nouthetic counseling’s inappropriateness to dealing with it —

Post Traumatic Stress as a Physical Process and the Inadequacies of Some Types of Biblical Counseling: Understanding Doctrine Over Person, Part VIII

Here is still another troublesome aspect of Adams’ model —

This is one reason why properly equipped ministers may make excellent counselors. A good seminary education rather than medical school or a degree in clinical psychology, is the most fitting background for a counselor.  (Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel)

I absolutely agree that if a pastor (or any person) possesses true godly wisdom and knowledge of the Scriptures, that person will be competent to counsel. However, as the sad treatment so commonly dealt to abuse victims in our churches, often at the hands of pastors, demonstrates — good seminary educations do not ensure wisdom. (And, I might add, good seminary educations are very hard to come by these days.) Pastors emerge from seminary most commonly quite ignorant of the nature and dynamics of abuse — which is really to say, they are ignorant of the nature and dynamics of sin. I can say that because I was one of them. Oh we learned facts about sin — but we never heard about the cunning, evil, scheming nature and strategies of sin that we would face in our churches. That is why many of the graduates have long since crashed and burned in the ministry — or become puppets of abusive, manipulative, narcissistic individuals in their churches.

I would submit that a good seminary education, supplemented by studies in clinical psychology would be an excellent choice for ministry preparation. Those of us who have been pastors for 30 or 40 years have studied psychology on the front lines. We have survived only by the protection of Christ and have had our thinking enlightened by His Spirit as to the nature of evil. This was a much longer and more difficult course of study. But perhaps it was the better one. Not even a PhD in clinical psychology can give the lessons that years of being in the battle can.

I am not an expert in Nouthetic counseling. I am not widely read in the subject. But I have read enough of Jay Adams’ writings, and now that I have studied abuse, to have some serious reservations about this model of counseling — especially in dealing with victims of abuse, or any case of PTSD. Who would this model be more appropriate for? As you read what I have said in this post, many of you may have been thinking — “Yeah, this is the way we should deal with the ABUSER, but certainly NOT with the victim.” I agree.

If you want to see an example of my concern, get a copy of Adams’ book, From Forgiven to Forgiving: Learning to Forgive One Another God’s Way, and read chapter 12. There you will find Adams describing how a pastor should deal with a wife whose husband has committed adultery. She initially and too quickly told her husband that she would not divorce him, but has now changed her mind. The ensuing “counseling session” conducted by the pastor, with the husband present, is really nothing short of bullying this woman into remaining in the marriage. She, in other words, is really treated as the problem. Her husband, because he has run to the safety zone of “Gee, honey, I’m sure sorry” – gets off the hook. Abusers are very good at crying out “Olly, olly oxen free!” (“Olly olly oxen free” is a catchphrase used in such children’s games as “hide and seek” to indicate that players who are hiding can come out into the open without losing the game, that the position of the sides in a game has changed or, alternatively, that the game is entirely over.) Adams seems to agree with this rule.

I will be very interested to hear our readers’ comments on this subject.

[November 6, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to November 6, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to November 6, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to November 6, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (November 6, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


  1. Barnabasintraining

    The reason why people get into trouble in their relationships to God and others is because of their sinful natures. Men are born sinners. (Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel)

    When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything will look like a nail.

    • Barnabasintraining

      And if it doesn’t look like a nail, they will find a way to make it look like a nail so they can use their hammer on it.

    • Jeff Crippen

      You nailed it! And it seems to me that Nouthetic counseling is a hammer. I am afraid that I have hammered people that way too in the past. The study of and awakening to the nature and tactics of abuse has radically altered my thinking on numbers of things. As I have said before, abuse is a test of our theology and ministry. We need to apply what we know about abuse (i.e., about sin itself) to our doctrines and practices. If it is faulty, the flaws will become apparent when we apply it to abuse cases. It is easy, for instance, to say that God forbids divorce for abuse — UNTIL we come to a thorough understanding of what abuse is.

    • Moksha

      Growing up with this type of counselling has made me an atheist. It didn’t change my mind when one of these loons gave me his entire plan for my psyche, before he’d heard anything about me (though this did spare me the misery of seeing him in person). Yes, I know that Jesus never said any of this nonsense, and that He would have given Jay Adams the same type of reaming He gave the Pharisees. I’m sure that most Christians would too. This doesn’t help me feel less traumatised by Christianity. I must apologise to all the Christians who act like Christ, because I do admire them very much! Even so, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to walk into a church without wanting to throw up. These are the fruits of this “counselling” technique.

      Religious or secular, university-educated or self-taught, counsellors don’t help people by telling them the proper way to feel. They help by giving a safe place to feel all of the conflicting emotions, understanding, and a compassionate ear. Life experience helps too, as long as it’s shared humbly. Too many counsellors seem to think that they’re better than the people they’re “helping” – as if they would do better in the same situation! The only difference is, the secular ones rely on their degrees to feel superior, while the “Christian” ones claim that their judging comes directly from God.

      But then, it seems to me that most problems with Christianity come from misunderstanding what “judging” means, and when it’s appropriate. I honestly wouldn’t mind if this problem went away, even if it would mean that more people would become Christians. Good luck!

      • Jeff Crippen

        Moksha – understood. Most all of us have experienced the same kinds of nonsense. That being said, how did this mistreatment make you an atheist? An atheist is someone who says “no God.” That God does not exist at all. Recognizing that there is plenty of counterfeit Christianity out there is a good thing, but it does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that God does not exist. Could it be that you are more like the blind man in John chapter 9 who eventually gets healed by Jesus, but then must go outside the establishment temple religion to find the true Temple, Jesus Christ? Many blessings in your search.

  2. Larry W Dean

    Any good thing can be used wrongly as the history of the church fully proves. All human beings (including victims of abuse) are sinners and, thus, need repentance. The early stages of counseling with a troubled couple can be confusing to the counselor with all of the “he said, she said” issues. The question that must be solved is “Where is the sin?” Once the sin is identified, the counselor changes roles and becomes a minister of the Gospel, calling the sinning one to repentance, real repentance, not this silly “I’m sorry” mess. With an abusive personality, this is the place that the process will become stuck, the issues will become clear, and the path forward will unfold. It is my opinion that the one sinned against by abuse must never be required to reconcile with the abuser unless both the abused and the minister believe that genuine repentance has occurred.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thanks, Larry. Yes —

      Where is the sin?

      That’s the issue. And that requires real wisdom from the Word as opened up to us by the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of truth and exposes the spirit of error. You are definitely correct in the Bible’s emphasis upon repentance as a key in sorting these things out.

      • joepote01

        real wisdom from the Word as opened up to us by the Holy Spirit.

        I completely agree, Jeff. Counseling requires wisdom and discernment.

        Referring back to the earlier comment by Barnabasintraining about the hammer and nail, if a counselor goes into a given situation with the presupposition that everyone involved is always equally at fault….then he will likely find what he is expecting to find….whether or not it is true….

  3. Pippa

    Yep, as a psychiatrist of 29 years and a widow of abuse for 33 years, I have several hammers. But the only reason I can recognize nails is by being a bride of Christ.

  4. Pippa

    My comment was a bit cryptic but my point is that good counseling, like good anything, requires the Love of God expressed through the Scripture, not the Law. I thought the “hammer and nail” comments as well as the post were insightful. There are so many who profess to be Christians who seem to feel that their jobs are to convict others and so turn them to the Lord. This should be the work of the Holy Spirit. Our job is to love and this is shown by listening, understanding, discernment. I do not hear Love in the quotes about Nouthetic counseling.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thank you for those insights out of your experience. It is really quite easy to forget these things, isn’t it?

  5. stray sheep

    Please feel free to edit this post for clarity and brevity. Thank you.

    I’m glad to see this issue being discussed here. I am wrestling with it myself. I have some comments about this important issue. I have experienced abuse and violence beginning at the age of three and continuing into my early twenties. I was introduced to the church around the age of 14 and “led to the Lord” in a very coercive way, which caused me no end of inner conflict as far as my trust of God went. I’ve also seen the sinful male-bias thing in action amongst pastors and been on the receiving end of it more than once. I’ve witnessed first hand that many pastors are far from “Competent to counsel” both from a biblical standpoint as well as from the standpoint of grasping how things like trauma and abuse affect people. In addition, I have experienced the usual Christianized psychology-based counselling in person, and have experienced some of Nouthetic counselling via some good books. So I would like to try and offer some thoughts on this whole thing.

    I spent a few years in both secular counselling and Christian counselling and I would say that the main benefit to be gained from it is that you receive compassion and mercy from someone who cares enough about YOU to stop what they are doing and come alongside of you, walking you through this dark valley. This is actually supposed to be something all believers can do, but it’s not often the case. Someone who can validate that what you are experiencing is common to all who have experienced abuse. Abuse victims tend to feel they are an isolated case, weird and abnormal in their responses. Abuse is an act of profound contempt and invalidation of another human being and victims of abuse show this in their almost “non-personhood” approach to life. I had a counselor who was a Christian and very kind and compassionate to me; she even saw me for free when I ran out of funds.

    However, at the end of our time together, although my sense of guilt and shame and state of near total non-personhood no longer felt as intense and deeply entrenched, where was I? Was there any real change or development that I could track? Not really; I felt better about what a crappy life I had and was relieved that it wasn’t all my fault. I had invested time and money both mine and my ex-husband’s in getting there. My marriage was no different and I was no different in it. My counselor assured me that God would still love me even if I got a divorce because He is a God of grace and mercy.

    In the end, I emerged with no realistic picture of who I was. I had no clear idea of where I was on the character and development scale, no idea how to differentiate between something that was damage caused by abuse, and something that was damage caused by sinful behaviours and responses and no idea of what I ought to be aiming for and what specific things I ought to be working on to get there. We didn’t even discuss things like that. Neither did any of the other Christian and church-based counselors. Each counselor I saw would focus on how I was the victim and had been victimized by the sin of the perpetrators. Our talk was always oriented around a detailed discussion of the events of the past and what had happened to me. Occasionally there were murmurs about forgiveness, something I didn’t see why I should do. I honestly thought that what had happened to me was far worse than any sin or depravity issue I could have and I did not really think that I owed God more than the abusers and my parents owed me.

    Never was the “O” word or the “D” word mentioned – I mean obedience and discipline of course. Trust me, discipline and obedience were areas I need major work in. I felt entitled to live by my emotions and cater to them and consequently I was a puddle not a rock. I wasn’t even asked most of the time how much time I spent in the Word, what my devotional time consisted of if I had one, how I interacted with God, or if I was obeying Him in any area of my life via serving others.

    It was bizarre. In the counselling office, I would be confirmed in my identity as a wounded and weak victim who was so very damaged by abuse that it would take years for me to even come level. How unhelpful and truly insulting if you think about it. It was offered as compassion but at the same time, there was also the effect of being marginalized by this identity, “de-credentialized” if you will. In the church, the fact of being abused automatically seemed to demote me as a person. No one wanted to be my friend because they liked me but rather because I was a ministry case or someone whom they, the obedient Christian, was supposed to show compassion to. At the same time, I was held at arms length and shunned in the most Christian way of course. A barely concealed air of condescension seemed to be directed at anyone weakened by abuse. Isn’t that the world’s value system, contempt to the weak, respect to the victorious?

    Worse, if the abuse was known to be sexual, one was held at arms length as if a potential predator, having been schooled by psychology’s view that since “all predators were victims, all victims are potential predators”. Manifest any of the signs of abuse such as PTSD, shame or feeling worthless or dirty about oneself, fear or extreme protectiveness towards self, family or children and that’s pretty much all it took for the assumptions to go towards the fear that I might be capable of doing something….weird. In fact, there are abusers who have never themselves been abused and some who had wonderful parents! Jay Adams says he thinks sexual abuse of children is about self-pity. Self-pity is an equal opportunity sin! Self-pity is also the sin that breeds entitlement to do just about anything, and if not arrested will always lead to sin of some sort and of course in extreme cases, the grossest forms of selfish gratification.

    With regards to me and what fellow Christians saw in my life, no one ever bothered to say things like “I noticed that you were acting this way or that, what was going on?” But they would say things behind my back and share observations with others. Or they would share an observation about me where they had observed a wrong behaviour as a judgment but not as an invitation to work through it that invited my own thoughts and participation.

    A specific example that happened to me was when I was holding a baby only a few months old for a friend who was at the other end of the church in music practice. Around this time, I was having quite a reaction to being in a new relationship after the end of my first marriage (failed first marriage happened independently of new relationship) and it seemed every fear and past issue I had was up for grabs as far as inner and outer spiritual warfare was concerned. As I held this tiny baby, I was so awestruck by her total trust in me as she lay sleeping in my arms that I felt fiercely protective of her. Her vulnerability seemed almost sacred, holy and something not to be disturbed.

    When a friend strolled over, oblivious to my ruminations and breezily and I thought, too loudly, began chatting away, it seemed obscenely insensitive and disrespectful of the little one to me and I curled myself around the baby even more protectively, as if to ward off the insensitivities of an oblivious world. My friend quickly sensed my “get lost” vibe and departed. I immediately felt terrible, realizing that I had acted out some feelings that were not her fault at all and regretted that I probably hurt her feelings. The thing is, this friend shared this with others but never mentioned it to me and I was obviously talked about behind my back and judgements were made.

    One of our pastor’s wives had been sexually abused and had spoken in public about how her abuse had made her feel as if she had to control everything in her marriage and relationships. This same woman when her adorable little boy wrapped himself around my leg one day, pulled him away as if I was unclean. I was extremely hurt. Yet this pastoral couple would approach me in the hallway and try to act all loving with me, putting their arms around me as if we were best buds. It was so painfully obvious that they were as uncomfortable with their own issues as they were with mine. I had worked in the church office for a time and as my ability to manage what I now suspect was at least partially PTSD seemed to break down, I seemed to regress into an almost childlike state of incapacity. I was enduring endless accusation from the enemy at this time over every aspect of my life, as he had held a lot of ground through abuse and the lies I had believed because of it. But sadly, there was no one willing or able to discuss such facts with me let alone help me with it on staff at our church. Telling the truth about what was going on once again made me a spiritual leper.

    I remember once cutting out some things this same pastor wanted done and having them handed back to me, via another person who I was working with and being told that the job I had done was sub-par and not good enough, “totally unacceptable” he said. He did not speak to me directly at all. It never occurred to him to ask why an adult woman who had training and experience in this field was suddenly having trouble cutting out some simple shapes! He did not care to and did not think to. He did not ask why someone who was recently divorced and in a new relationship was almost having a breakdown or if I needed help. But he cared about those darn paper shapes an awful lot!

    Abuse seems to be the one sin / crime where the victim is more stigmatized and persecuted than the perpetrator. And where the victim becomes terrified of themselves as if somehow the abuser has “rubbed off” on them and they are forever tainted and suspect by it. The church could help if it understood things like spiritual and emotional transference from an abuse perspective and more importantly, a biblical one, and was willing to get down in the trenches and actually believe what they say they believe. I suspect what psychology calls “transference” is what the Bible means when it speaks of witchcraft being a work of the flesh. If you understand witchcraft as rebellion, idolatry and control and the act of projecting undealt with issues onto an innocent person as unforgiveness and revenge, it kind of makes sense.

    Eventually I began to realize that there was more to my problem than just being victimized. I was literally blind to who I was and victim-oriented counselling did not help but instead gave me an identity based on other’s sins against me. The church could not help me because it often did not want to unless it was easy and it only seemed to want to love the lovable and let’s face it, those who’ve grown up miserably aren’t always the sweetest.

    It wasn’t until I read Martha Peace’s book “The Excellent Wife” that I began to understand some of my behaviours and what the Bible said about them. Oh! That was eye-opening. While it was true that I experienced much in the way of Christian jerkdom, some of it was self-engendered. I had issues with unforgiveness, bitterness and anger lodged deep in my heart that no amount of “poor you” could touch! I didn’t even know that some of the ways I lived were based on things that were warped. For instance, my parents lived their lives by what they felt at any given time and in their minds no matter what wrong thing they did, it was justified because they felt….fill in the blank. I did not know this was wrong and amounted to living according to the flesh. Nor, sadly, have I ever had this described so forthrightly in the church. So I lived this way, thinking feelings were the barometer of reality! Despite almost twenty years in the church hearing “feel good” sermons and prophecies, I still did not know this most basic of biblical thoughts!

    So what do I think about Nouthetic counselling and those who practice it? Well, the one flaw I’ve seen is that there is a tendency towards Phariseeism, that is proclaiming the correct truth about a given situation or behaviour but without much in the way of compassionate down-in-the-trenches, walk-alongside-with-you-as-a-fellow-sinner-who-knows-your-struggle mercy. I don’t know that Jay Adams himself is like this in person and have in fact read of someone who watched him counsel that they were amazed at his mercy.

    But some of his followers are not so merciful but in fact seem a bit arrogant. They seem to be largely concerned with rendering the correct judgement and having done that, self-satisfied, place-hands-behind-head and say, “My work here is done. If you didn’t like how I did it or you don’t agree with me, it’s because you’re in sin and unwilling to be corrected.” I’ve confronted a Nouthetic guy who I corresponded with online for his arrogance, in that he made some judgements that were totally insensitive and amounted to saying that I liked the attention the abuser gave me. He refused to acknowledge that he had said or done anything wrong. This identifies the trouble with being a “book jockey” and counselling out of knowledge that comes academically but isn’t tempered with experience, and with a deep and real walk with God. It is one-dimensional and lacks depth and understanding and is based on principles read and agreed with but not necessarily fought for and lived out where it’s hard to do it. Until you actually have to fight your way through a swamp full of alligators and poisonous snakes, it’s easy to glibly say “God has provided, all you need to drain the swamp!” The problem isn’t that Nouthetic counselling is wrong; I think it’s mostly right. The lack is in not hearing “I have struggled with this particular aspect of my own depravity and know we are in for a war; I will walk with you through this if you let me”.

    The Bible does have the depth and compassion to help people with severe issues related to trauma and abuse but sometimes the pastors and counselors don’t. This and a tendency to like to skim the surface with easy, worldly believism, convenient theology, and a lack of critical thinking skills that come of maturity contribute. Many pastors I’ve met seem more into their own personal agendas and kingdom building than in it truly for Christ and His agenda. It’s too much about self-validation, which again comes more of undealt with sinful reactions to their own issues than it comes of anything authentic. My biggest problems have been not with what happened to me, as bad as that has been, but with how I have responded to it and what beliefs and reactions I’ve formed around it.

    It just isn’t helpful to be continually told that I am acting this way because I’ve been so very hurt. That part is understandable but not justifiable. I need to be shown what right behaviour looks like, how I would look if I was whole and holy. I would respond if I was rock solid in Jesus, not continually reinforced that because bad things happened to me I am justified and stuck with living the way I am. I was shocked to find underneath the hurt of being victimized, self-pity and pride. Bitterness, unforgiveness and yes, revenge. But it was cloaked and hidden behind a hundred little “legit” categories, often supplied by victimhood psychology. I was shocked how often “hurt” was really pride in drag! Because the abuser’s actions attacked my image of myself. My sense of worth and value and I was mad at God for allowing it to happen. Rebellion because “authority doesn’t work” and since God invented that authority why should I obey it? Hurt because of abuse? Yes? Sin in response to the hurt? In spades.

    In my opinion, which may not be so humble, 🙂 , I think psychology is only useful in so far as it can identify human reactions and behaviours in response to specific stimuli. It is also dangerous because it supersedes biblical truth. In my opinion it’s more a pagan religion than a true science and it supplies alternative meanings to what the Word of God would say. Fleshly witchcraft which is wrong and rooted in rebellion and revenge, becomes transference because you are helpless when your issues get triggered and not responsible to do something about them. Refusing to meet the legitimate requirements of marriage over a continuing time, without really dealing with them, which the Bible calls “defrauding”, becomes “your right to say “no” because you’ve been abused”. Your life being a reaction to your abuser, which the Bible calls “idolatry”, becomes “your need for healing because you’ve been abused and this person really hurt you”. I spent almost thirty years of my life attending psychology-based counselling and support groups trying to find emotional healing. No one ever told me that emotions respond to what you tell them you believe is true. They change course as radically as a ship changes course upon receiving corrected compass bearings! They are transient not solid. I never thought of living on that basis as being something I could repent of. Repentance doesn’t always mean you’re saying that you did it. It also means saying you are not going in God’s direction and are living on a wrong basis and are now changing it.

    So no, I don’t think the answer is for pastors to bone up on psychology. I think they should get deeply into God and His Word and pay attention to Jesus when He confronted for instance, the woman taken in adultery or the rich young ruler, or the widow whose only son had died. Thanks for listening to me go on. Hope there is some meat amongst the bones. Blessings.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thank you very much, SS. You make some excellent observations here. There really is a negative to remaining a victim, isn’t there?

    • Jimmy

      So no, I don’t think the answer is for pastors to bone up on psychology. I think they should get deeply into God and His Word and pay attention to Jesus when He confronted for instance, the woman taken in adultery or the rich young ruler, or the widow whose only son had died.

      Well said; written. I don’t think the answer for pastors is to “bone up” on secular psychology. I do think some pastors have the gift of counseling and others don’t. Scriptural wisdom is very important.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Jimmy – I agree that some pastors are more gifted in regard to counseling than others and that wisdom in understanding and applying God’s Word is vital. However, I have found things to be a bit more complicated than just an “either Scripture or psychology” scenario. I have just been reading, for example Judith Herman’s wonderful book on Trauma and Recovery [*Affiliate link]. She is a psychologist and to my knowledge not a Christian. But her insights and the insights of other scientists who have studied trauma and its effects are absolutely remarkable and I find that they serve to open my eyes up hugely to things that Scripture is saying that I NEVER would have seen on my own. So while Scripture is primary and our final authority, we would all do well to listen to things that even secular science is discovering. Compare it with Scripture, yes. But don’t close our eyes to it. One of the reasons that so many pastors are not competent to counsel is that they have never studied things like trauma (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the mentality of abuse, the effects of abuse upon its victims, and so on. This is why so many victims of these things are being treated with injustice and malpractice in the church.

        If the Spirit of God can tell us to go to the ant and learn from its industry and hard work, then surely the general revelation of nature and that discovered by science can instruct us.

        *Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.
    • Stray Sheep, my deepest apologies for only now having read this comment of yours. I am closely tracking with everything you said, and am intrigued by your discussion of witchcraft and transference. I’m not sure why others did not get involved a lot in this discussion, but I want you to know that I’m willing to chew the fat with you for a long time over all the subject matter of your comment. I am so glad you’ve come to the blog, and I want to get to know you better!

      PS I am not sure why I overlooked your comment before, but I must have been skimming the blog comments a bit, and marked it as ‘get back to’ but never did. But when you wrote your two comments on today’s post, I looked to see if you’d written any previous comments (which I can do from the back of the blog) and found this gem. 🙂 Thank you!

  6. Jeff S

    My opinion on Nouthetic Counseling in general is very negative. I simply do not agree that the Bible was intended to speak definitively on mental health. I DO think the Bible is the definitive word on SPIRITUAL health, and since both mental health and spiritual health affect our behavior it often becomes difficult to see how the two are distinct, but I’ve seen people suffering from mental health issues and I know that it is real stuff and not always related to sin. Seeing a guy with PTSD from barely surviving a burning building laughing and joking knowing he was catatonic a month and a half earlier – give his therapists their due. This guy’s condition didn’t come about because of sin and it wasn’t healed by repentance.

    I do not know what my ex-wife suffered from. I am certain there was both a mental and spiritual component to it. She was admitted to mental hospitals three times and I can say without hesitation that there were people in that place both because of sin issues AND spiritual issues, usually a mixture of the two. In my opinion, she did not take responsibility for dealing with either kind.

    There are some medical issues that are only treatable with medicine – in these cases it would be foolhardy to deny that person the medicine they need in the search for a nonexistent sin. I witnessed the testimony of a woman who suffered from depression get up in front of my church and say that she suffered for years with depression, unwilling to take medication because she felt like she should be able to turn it over to God and He would fix her. Finally she relented and took the medication and that, coupled with a lot of work on her own, has produced a fruitful, growing Christian woman who thanks God that He made provision for her in the form of medicine.

    When I was coming out of my divorce, my wounding was mental, not spiritual. Sure there was sin in my life, as we all have, but my therapist wasn’t dealing with me in those areas (though the Holy Spirit was). And he did NOT allow me to have a “victim mentality”. He did not give me an abnormal amount of sympathy and he was quick to call me out when I allowed my ex-wife’s behavior to control me. He wouldn’t have kept working with me if I hadn’t taken responsibility for my own healing because that’s the only way it works.

    I believe in common grace, and I believe that human behavior is driven by more than just sin. If you break my arm I am GOING to behave differently than if I had no injury, and this is no different from a mental wounding. I don’t go to the Bible for addressing how to fix a broken arm, and I’m not going to the Bible to address Schizophrenia either.

    Now having said all that, I have NEVER in my life been to a place where so many people were clearly aware of their spiritual need without any direction of meeting that need as I did at the mental hospitals. It was talked about ALL THE TIME and most of the people there were CLEARLY spiritually ill. I can only imagine if I could see beyond the vale that that place would be crawling with the powers of darkness waiting to swallow up the weak and vulnerable. My guess is that many people in those institutions get their mental needs met only to be left empty where it really counts – their spiritual needs.

    But by ignoring the vast amount of work done in the secular world by therapists, Nouthetic Counseling isn’t doing anyone any favors. I flatly do not trust Nouthetic Counseling because I think it is based on a flawed premise. I believe the reason it exists is to address the situation I spoke of in my previous paragraph – but I don’t agree that it is the right answer. The right answer is to create places where people can become completely whole and be ministered both in their spiritual need right along side any mental or physical issues they have.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Very well put, Jeff S. I agree completely. I meet Christians repeatedly who actually think that if they go to the doctor for depression and take medication, they are somehow lacking in faith and sinning. Not so.

  7. lydia

    Yes —

    Where is the sin?

    Too often in counseling the pastor will think her lack of submissiveness is the real sin.

  8. Randy Stephenson

    Reblogged this on Stumbling Upward [This link is broken. Click here [Internet Archive link], scroll down the linked page to Nouthetic Counseling and the Law of Unintended Consequences (July, 11, 2013), where you can find a link back to the ACFJ post Is Nouthetic Counseling Appropriate for Victims of Abuse and PTSD? Editors.] and commented:
    No it isn’t.

  9. Searching

    I am thankful to have found this post. I have a diagnosis of PTSD and have experienced Nouthetic counseling. It left me hopeless, suicidal and sure that God hated me. I am now getting professional counseling from someone who is not even a believer. Her experience is PTSD resulting from the specific trauma I experienced. Although she is not even a Christian, I have benefitted, more freedom to trust God from her counsel than anything Nouthetic. For the first time, I am finding some freedom from the flashbacks, nightmares, panic, etc..

    I feel guilt that I am finding this freedom through non-biblical counseling. Sometimes that makes me doubt and I lose ground, but when I trust her and trust her counseling, I find myself also learning to trust God and see Him as good.

    [Paragraph break added to enhance readability. Editors.]

    • So glad to hear this from you, Searching. I am not surprised that Nouthetic counseling caused you to feel suicidal. It is a terrible method of counseling, especially for victims of abuse and trauma.

      The counseling you are getting from the non-Christian sounds very good. To deal with the lurking doubts and guilt you have about getting non-biblical counseling, I suggest you remind yourself that as part of God’s providence and common grace, He bestows gifts and blessings to unbelievers and secular disciplines as well as to the church. He sends rain on the just and the unjust….and He has given counseling skills to this secular counselor who is now helping you. So I suggest you receive it as a blessing from God.

      And by the way, welcome to the blog!

    • Jeff S

      Searching, I too found much better counsel through an unbelieving counselor. Be encouraged that God can and does use folks like them in the lives of believers.

  10. stray sheep

    Hi, Barbara, this is kind of funny in a way, I forgot that I had posted this here awhile ago! Wonder what else I’ve been up to that I’ve forgotten, lol. Perhaps I should check and see if the milk is in the cupboard again and not the fridge. 🙂

    Re: Jeff’s comment about Nouthetic counselling being based on a false premise. Jeff, would you mind describing what you believe the false premise is? Are you thinking of how the Nouthetic guys apply the verse about God having given us all that is needed for life and godliness, as referring to the Bible itself? Just curious, like I’ve said, I’ve found much of Nouthetic counselling helpful as far as biblical thinking goes but it does break down at some points, probably because it’s somewhat systemized and the Bible is a living book. One can handle God’s Word and totally miss God in the process just like the Pharisees did.

    It’s interesting to me that when God asked Ezekiel to cook his bread over human excrement [Paraphrase of Ezekiel 4:12.], and Ezekiel resisted because that was offensive and unclean [Paraphrase of Ezekiel 4:14.], God didn’t say “Ezekiel, I am God and therefore am always right, so you are wrong for resisting me, now do as I say or you shall suffer punishment.” Instead He said “Very well, you may bake your bread over cow manure” [Paraphrase of Ezekiel 4:15.] if I recall rightly. God could have forced Ezekiel into line with His will and been totally right in doing it, but He did not. He treated Ezekiel with consideration where he would have felt forced and violated otherwise.

    When we begin using coercive methods because we think we are right, we are moving out of range of God’s ways, I think.

    [November 7, 2022: We corrected Stray Sheep’s prior references to Jeremiah to Ezekiel. Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]

    • Jeff Crippen

      Stray Sheep – you really have it stated there pretty well. The false premise I see in the Nouthetic counselors I have seen is that everything, every problem, is due to the counselee’s own sin. And they hammer the counselee on this point. The fact is, as in abuse victims, many of the emotional, spiritual, and physical problems we face in life are due to OTHER peoples’ sins against us. Nouthetic types seem though to bypass this fact and focus on confronting the counselee with things like their own sin of unforgiveness. Things like PTSD can then be just blown off. In addition, it is my opinion that Nouthetic counselors operate on the “me and my Bible” premise, similar to what you have mentioned here. They fail to utilize the blessings of God’s common grace available to us in the discoveries of even secular psychologists. In the case of abuse, it still remains true that the best books on the subject are written by non-Christians, not Christians.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Stray Sheep, P.S. – I in no way mean that the Bible is not sufficient for teaching us about our new life in Christ. And it does indeed have MUCH to say about things like abuse, its tactics, what it looks like, and so on. But over and over again I am seeing pastors and Christian counselors failing to get those things from Scripture. Why? It seems that until a thing actually touches US, we can read about it over and over and still not get it. Scripture must be opened up to us by the Holy Spirit, and one way He does that I believe is to give us experiences so that we actually feel and see and know the thing, and then He applies His Word to us and we go “Wow! So that’s what that verse means!” See for example the Lord teaching Paul through hard experience the blessings of God’s comfort. Then Paul got it and could comfort others —

      Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

      For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Cor 1:3-10 ESV)

  11. stray sheep

    Hi, Jeff, thanks for responding to my question regarding your thoughts on Nouthetic counselling. I agree too that Scripture must be illuminated to us by the Holy Spirit — He takes from what is Christ’s and communicates it to us. I suspect that it’s a humility problem where someone doing counselling is hammering on another person in a way that lacks mercy. We aren’t inclined to do that when we’ve been humbled by a view of our own lack of righteous credentials before God.

    I wonder how much of pastors and counselors increasingly failing to get from Scripture that mercy, humility and understanding that is so needful in our dealings with others, has to do with how much Christianity has become cultural and not biblical these days. I’m thinking of Jesus’ interaction with the widow on her way to bury her only son. Or the rich young ruler who went away sad because he couldn’t part with all his goodies. Or the sinful woman at the well whose life rivaled that of some Hollywood actresses. There is very direct confrontation of what was what in each person’s life but the compassion and mercy of Christ was so evident. The only people who ever really “got it” from Christ were the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, and those who blocked others from finding God by turning the temple into a market place.

    I have no doubt that there are quite a lot of folks in pews and pulpits who have been told they are saved because they were led to say a sinner’s prayer by some leader or ministry group that is in such a rush to validate how “successful” they are, that they don’t bother to wait on God for evidence that the Spirit is doing a work in that person’s heart and instead practice what I call “cattle-ramp evangelism”, which basically involves pressuring, rushing and herding people in the direction you want them to go. Being results-oriented instead of truth and reality oriented. Instead, they have more faith in the methodology of man, often borrowed from the corporate business world, and it produces false converts who cannot manifest the grace and mercy of God because they have not, in fact, really tasted it for themselves. One cannot give what he does not have.

    • cattle-ramp evangelism

      Sound bite extraordinaire! Whoo hoo!

  12. stray sheep

    Okay guys, I saw the sheep cartoon on another post and I almost died of asphyxiation from laughter!

  13. Mimi

    I have been a first-hand witness (and victim) of the abuses of the Nouthetic Counseling movement. It is a militant form of abuse in and of itself. I sought their comfort and counsel when I lost my dad (I love him very much and was devastated when he passed away). The lack of concern, compassion, and sympathy was lost on these folks. Of course, they just blamed me for the “lack of joy” in my life. I was told that “I don’t trust God,” or “my dad was an idol.” Ironically, the apostle Paul says, “grieve with those who grieve.” My implication here is that THEY were the ones in sin, and legitimately so! They were the ones who disobeyed Scripture by not grieving with me. They truly are pharisaical, arrogant, and lacking in compassion.

    The movement has unfortunately created a culture of condemnation, which fits beautifully into the Devil’s hands. If you’re down, they’ll kick you in the face. Instead of providing comfort, they blamed me for feeling devastated about my beloved father’s passing. I naturally became more agitated and defensive when they would strike at me, which only intensified their “blaming-the-victim-game.” I would leave exhausted and ABUSED. By God’s sweet grace, I managed to discern their “sin-issue” (a term they use way too often!!). They are sinning and as such, are in need of a good dose of their own medicine! God forbid you try to challenge their thinking — don’t even bother — they’ll charge you with “rebellion.” It makes me sad because I believe they’re abusing Scripture to serve their power structure. They definitely lack humility, and they are nothing but self-styled “counselors.” I was so deeply hurt by them.

    All that said, I do believe that the Word of God (when properly used) can bring healing. I also believe it’s to our (Christians) benefit to use all the research and data accumulated by the secular psychological community. They have amassed a lot of valuable information for us to use. What makes me ashamed of the evangelical church is that we haven’t invested in doing the research. We’ve become ingrown, lacking in academic sophistication. We might as well migrate to the backwoods of Tennessee and inbreed (no offense to Tennesseans!!!). This mentality has created a militant, fascistic culture that doesn’t even remotely resemble biblical Christianity. It’s an affront to the Word of God (which is ironic), to the Gospel, and a brazen misrepresentation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. These Nouthetic counselors need a swift rebuke. Good luck with that!!!

    [Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]

    • Barnabasintraining

      Hear! Hear!

      I’m so sorry for how you were treated over the loss of your dad. Jesus wept with Mary and Martha at Lazarus’ tomb but these people rebuke the grieving. 😦

  14. Finding Answers

    The link to the PTSD article filled in a few more pieces of the puzzle, pieces I had not encountered in my other non-secular research resources. With this information, I can see some areas for which I have been blaming myself, things over which I (currently?) have no control. (I was already aware of a few different areas….some of which are slowly resolving.)

    There is no single resource that will answer everything, for everybody, every time. (I am merely repeating what has already been stated.)

    Without realizing it, I have been applying a partial variant of Nouthetic counselling on myself — a thought tickling the edge of my mind just prior to reading through the start of a recent series on Jim Berg started by Rebecca Davis.

    Quieting a Noisy Soul by Jim Berg — A Response (Part 1) [Internet Archive link]

    The Solutions to the Noisy Soul — a response to Jim Berg — (Part 2) [Internet Archive link]

    Maybe it’s a timing thing….before being led to ACFJ, I had read through the BJUGrace website. I’ve read – here and elsewhere – critiques on Nouthetic counselling.

    I’m not sure the extra information will provide much relief, but it reduces the size of the hammer.


  1. Nouthetic Counseling and the Law of Unintended Consequences – Stumbling Upward
  2. Final Thoughts on the Biblical Counseling Movement | Revolutionary Faith
  3. Final Thoughts on the Biblical Counseling Movement | Revolutionary Faith

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