Abuse Recovery: Should a Christian Seek Psychological Therapy?
Luke 16:8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.
We continue to encounter victims of abuse who have been taught by their pastors and churches and by fellow Christians that psychology is evil and that a Christian should never look to anything for help but the Bible. I was taught the same thing and developed a real suspicion of psychology, psychologists, psychiatrists, and secular counselors – or even Christian counselors who utilized some of the same methods and theories as non-Christian practitioners. You have probably all seen the books like “Psycho-babble” or other such titles written by people who profess to be Christians and who demonize psychology.
In particular, we find a lesser or greater degree of this (depending upon the person making the claim) among adherents to the theory of nouthetic counseling (initiated largely by Jay Adams). We have written in other articles why we do not recommend nouthetic counseling. We believe that it:
- Is far too simplistic, attributing every problem to the sin of the counselee, without considering the effects of someone else’s sin upon the counselee,
- Assumes that with the Bible alone a Christian is “competent to counsel” in any scenario,
- Discourages people from seeking help from trained psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors.
We know full well that there are bad psychologists and counselors. Some of them are Christians! As in any field or profession, there are going to be some members who are “out there,” and in the judgment of Christians are simply unbiblical or even hostile to God’s truth. We reject such people when we come across them and realize that what they believe and say is contrary to Scripture or even plain common sense. Freudian theory, for example, is certainly not a good place for anyone to go and in fact in our day it is being increasingly rejected even by non-Christian professionals.
However, as I have heard Barbara Roberts point out, God has given all human beings varying degrees of what theologians call “common grace.” It is “common” because He gives it to all human beings. And it is “grace” because it is undeserved good that He rains down upon the just and the unjust. Because of this, a person does not have to be a Christian to discover truth in mathematics, history, biology or other fields of study. Most of us had many teachers and professors in school who were not Christians by any means, yet they were wonderful teachers with real insight that we benefitted from. I could also give you a list of some really bad teachers I had in Bible College and Seminary who were Christians!
I include psychology in this list. Most of our readers know that we hold Lundy Bancroft’s books in high esteem and in fact his book “Why Does He Do That?” is generally one of the very first books we recommend to people. And then we have also commended George Simon Jr.’s books, “In Sheep’s Clothing” and “Character Disturbance.” We could go on, but you get the idea. And we would take this even further and say that for the most part the very best books on abuse, sociopathy, psychopathy and so on are written by non-Christians. And some of the very worst are written by Christians!
A related point concerns some of the discussion we have seen here on the blog of late about victims of abuse needing to take responsibility for their reactions to that abuse. We agree, but with some qualification. But let me propose this principle in question form:
How can a person take responsibility for something that they do not even realize exists within themselves?
The answer is obvious. They cannot. And when it comes to the effects of another person’s sin against us, such as the damage that abuse has done to the victim, many of those effects and even the victim’s various ways of dealing with those damaging effects are unknown to the victim. For example, a woman who was sexually abused as a child has been affected greatly by that abuse. But does she realize it? Has she been able to “connect the dots” so that she comes to realize that, for example, her habitual anger is the product of the shame she has borne all of her life? No, she has not. And she hasn’t done so because she doesn’t see the shame. She is damaged, but the damage is in her thinking and is simply not that simple to spot. These things lurk and hide. You cannot handle such issues by quoting a Bible verse that tells us we are not to let the sun go down on our anger and then telling the person they are sinning by doing so, and they need to repent and stop sinning. Yet this is the very thing that so many “biblical” counselors do.
Is the Bible the problem? No! WE are the problem. When the Bible speaks to us about anger, we so often stay on the surface in our understanding of the thing. But God’s Word plainly tells us that the real strongholds against God’s truth lie in our mind. It is our mind that needs to be renewed by God’s Word and His Spirit. So we need help in discovering the why that lies behind the outward symptom, be it anger or some sexual dysfunction, inability to trust our perceptions, and all the other long list of effects that abuse by another has upon us. Psychological therapy can indeed help us in uncovering these hidden obstacles. Good, competent, qualified therapists do have the ability to help. In fact, as an illustration of this, I was recently corresponding with a therapist who is a Christian. She was trained at a Christian university in the field of clinical psychology. I had asked if I could refer a Christian to her and that this person would really feel more comfortable with a Christian as a therapist. The therapist told me that in fact for most of the therapy and counseling she does, it really does not matter that she is a Christian or not.
Now, some Christians would go ballistic at that comment. I didn’t because I think I understand exactly what she meant. There are many conditions – personality disorders and so on – that require certain methods of therapy that psychology has proven to be most effective. Those methods are going to be the same methods used by any therapist that is competent to work with someone in a particular area. It is very similar to going to a Christian medical doctor versus going to a non-Christian. If you have a certain malady, you are going to get the same treatment from either one, assuming they are both competent.
So, at the risk of being labeled a non-Bible believing preacher of heresy, I highly recommend that victims of abuse seriously consider seeking therapy. Feel free to read books that are not necessarily written by a Christian to find out about things like shame, PTSD, tactics and effects of abuse, and so on. Evaluate what you read and what you are told through the lens of Scripture, yes. But don’t reject the common grace God has given to us. I know some abuse victims who have taken that latter route, and I don’t see them getting better very quickly and in some cases, not at all.