Category: Should a Christian see a psychologist / psychiatrist?

Psychology and Christianity often find themselves at odds. Some have  promoted psychology as a complete answer to the human condition and the key to  living a better life. Some psychologies consider faith in God as an illusion  created as a sort of coping mechanism. In reaction to these unbiblical ideas,  some Christians discount all psychology. Some fear using a soft science to help  people with emotional or psychological disturbances, believing psychology to be  too subjective and that man’s problems are better addressed spiritually. Some  Christians, especially those involved in biblical counseling, believe the Bible  contains all that is necessary to overcome any issue, psychological or  otherwise; psychology is unnecessary because the Bible alone is our life manual.  On the one hand, we have Christians believing that a person’s struggles are  primarily spiritual and that God alone can heal, and on the other hand, secular  psychologists claiming biological or developmental disruptions that man can fix  himself. Despite this polarization, psychology and biblical counseling need not  be at war.

It is important to recognize that psychology is not  monolithic; there are many different theories of psychology, some of them even  contradicting the others. The concepts of human nature, life struggles, health,  and treatment modality in psychology span a broad spectrum. The majority of  counselors and psychologists today practice somewhat eclectically; they are not  strictly Freudian or Jungian but are versed in several theories and employ  different parts of the theories for different presenting issues. For instance, a  counselor may gravitate toward existential theory when counseling for grief, but  bring in cognitive behavioral theory when counseling for behavioral issues. In  other words, a counselor may cherry-pick what he thinks will help the most. A  psychologist is free to use certain person-centered techniques without accepting theories concerning self-actualization. It is common to work out of  one or two primary theories and use a variety of techniques from myriad  theories.

Christian counselors often adopt certain psychological  theories in part, but they do not embrace any underlying philosophies  that deny God or biblical truths. In essence, Christian counselors use  psychology as a tool, but they do not view it as absolute truth. Psychology is  not a competing religion, but a field of study that could actually lead to a  deeper understanding of humanity and, therefore, of God as Creator, Savior, and  Healer.

Nouthetic counseling, or  biblical counseling, is a form of counseling that relies solely on Scripture and  the power of the Holy Spirit to achieve results. Rather than promote any  psychological theory, nouthetic counselors state that Scripture is sufficient  for all human difficulties. Certainly, the Bible speaks of the power of the Holy  Spirit to transform our lives. The Word is powerful (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12; Isaiah 55:11) and allows  the godly person to be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). Plus,  God is our ultimate healer (Exodus  15:26; Matthew  8:17). However, it is interesting to note that those who ascribe to  Bible-only counseling do not necessarily ascribe to Bible-only medical treatment  or Bible-only education. The question becomes what parts of life are to be led  only by Scripture and what aspects can be informed by secular  learning.

Paul spoke of becoming all things to all men for the sake of  evangelism (1  Corinthians 9:19-23). When people are seeking psychological treatment, it  may be helpful for a Christian to use psychological theories as corrected by  biblical truth. A Christian counselor can use the tools of psychology to  reveal to people their need for a deeper healing than what psychology can  provide. Spiritual discussions are not rare in counseling rooms. A counselor is  expected not to impose his or her values or beliefs upon a client, but often  just opening the topic leads a client to search. And we know that when people  search for God, they find Him (Jeremiah  29:13; Proverbs  8:17; Matthew  7:7).

More practically speaking, many instructions or concepts in  the Bible do not seem easily applicable. For instance, we know that we should  abstain from immorality, but other than through prayer and “fleeing” it (1  Corinthians 6:18), we do not know how. Psychology might provide practical  techniques to overcome the struggle with lust. Knowledge gleaned from psychology  may provide insight into what is encouraging a person to remain in sin, and if  we can identify internal proclivities to sin, we can strip those things of their  power.

Psychology may also help people become aware of the importance of  expressing their emotions and bringing them to God, much like we see happening  in the Psalms. Ultimately, psychology may help open the door to an understanding  of our deepest needs. We will not experience full satisfaction or fullness of  life through therapy, but we will increase our hunger for fullness of life. In  turn, we can take our hunger to God, for life comes from Him alone (John 14:6).

Nouthetic counseling is opposed to  psychology. However, there can be genuine Christian counseling that is biblical  and also uses psychological theories. If well-trained Christian counselors are  able to integrate their faith with their education, they can remain faithful to  biblical standards but also avail themselves of the science of  psychology.

Solid counseling should recognize that neither the counselor  nor the client is the healer. Only God can truly heal. Counseling is one tool  that can help us come to an understanding of who we are in Christ and find  meaning in our lives. However, it is not a quest to find worth in and of  ourselves or to find healing apart from God. Nouthetic counseling is correct in  stating that the deepest problem is in the soul, and only the Holy Spirit can  truly transform that.

Panic attacks, anxiety disorders, phobias, and depression affect millions of  people. Panic attacks can be particularly debilitating as they can strike a  person with no warning. For most sufferers, what they experience is rooted in  fear: fear of rejection, fear of acceptance, fear of responsibility, fear of the  unknown. Something will trigger fear which drives the person to feel like he or  she is losing control. Panic attacks are often both physically and  psychologically intense.

Although medical experts believe that many  times the above-mentioned ailments originate within a person’s psyche, there are  times when a chemical imbalance is the cause. If this is the case, medication is  often prescribed to help counter the imbalance, which in turn treats the  symptoms of the psychological ailment. Is this a sin? No. God has allowed man to  grow in his knowledge of medicine, which God often uses in the healing process.  Does God need man-made medicine in order to heal? Of course not! But God has  chosen to allow the practice of medicine to progress, and there is no biblical  reason not to avail ourselves of it.

However, there is a fine line  between using medicine for healing purposes and continual reliance upon medicine  for daily living. We need to recognize God as the Great Physician, and know that  He alone holds the power to truly heal (John 4:14). We  need to look to God first and foremost for our healing. Medicine used to treat a  case of panic attack should only be used to the extent that it allows the  sufferer to deal with the root cause of fear. It should be used to give back  control to the sufferer. However, many sufferers take medicine in order to avoid  dealing with the true cause of their ailment; this would be denying  responsibility, denying God’s healing, and possibly denying others the freedom  of forgiveness or closure to some past event that could be contributing to the  ailment. This, then, does become sin, as it is based on selfishness.

By  taking medicine on a limited basis in order to treat the symptoms, then relying  upon the Word of God and wise counsel to enact transformation in one’s heart and  mind, gradually the need for the medicine will diminish. The believer’s position  in Christ is affirmed, and God brings healing into those troubled areas of the  heart and mind which are causing the ailment. God’s Word has much to say about  fear and its place in a believer’s life. Reading through the following  Scriptures and meditating on them is the universal cure. The following verses  give confidence, and illuminate the truth behind what being a child of God  entails: Proverbs  29:25; Matthew  6:34; John 8:32; Romans 8:28-39; 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 10:132  Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:4-9; Colossians  3:1-2; 2 Timothy  1:6-8; Hebrews  13:5-6; James 1:2-41 Peter 5:72 Peter  1:3-4; 1 John 1:94:18-19.

God can heal supernaturally and  miraculously. We should pray to that end. God also heals through medicine and  doctors. We should pray to that end as well. Regardless of which direction God  takes, our ultimate trust must be in Him alone (Matthew  9:22).

Secular psychology is based on the teachings of psychoanalysts such as Sigmund  Freud, Carl Jung, and Carl Rogers. Biblical, or nouthetic,  counseling, on the other hand, is based squarely on the revealed Word of God.  Biblical counseling sees Scripture as sufficient to equip the child of God for  every good work (2 Timothy  3:17). Biblical counselors teach that man’s basic problem is spiritual in  nature; therefore, atheistic psychologists, who are spiritually dead themselves,  have no real insight into the human condition.

On a related note, what  is usually called “Christian counseling” is different from “biblical counseling”  in that Christian counseling often uses secular psychology in addition to the  Bible. This is not to say that a Christian counselor is not also a biblical  counselor, but often Christian counselors are Christians who integrate secular  psychology into their counseling. Biblical or nouthetic counselors reject  secular psychology wholesale.

Most psychology is humanistic in nature.  Secular humanism promotes mankind as the  highest standard of truth and morality and rejects faith, the supernatural, and  the Bible. Therefore, secular psychology is man’s attempt to understand and  repair the spiritual side of man without reference to or recognition of the  spiritual.

The Bible declares that mankind is a unique creation of God,  made in the image of God (Genesis  1:26, 2:7). The  Bible expressly deals with man’s spirituality, including his fall into sin,  sin’s consequences, and man’s current relationship with God.

Secular  psychology is based on the ideas that man is basically good and that the answer  to his problems lies within himself. The Bible paints a very different picture  of man’s condition. Man is not “basically good”; he is “dead in trespasses and  sins” (Ephesians  2:1), and the unregenerate heart is “deceitful and beyond all cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). Therefore,  the biblical counselor takes a drastically different approach: rather than  seeking solutions to spiritual problems within one’s own mind, he seeks to  confront sin, obtain wisdom from above (James 3:17),  and apply the Word of God to the situation.

Biblical counselors, as  opposed to psychotherapists and some Christian counselors, see the Bible alone  as the source of a comprehensive and detailed approach to counseling (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:4). Biblical  counseling is committed to letting God speak for Himself through His Word.  Biblical counseling seeks to minister the love of the true and living God, a love that deals with sin and produces obedience.

Psychotherapy is needs-based. The needs for  self-esteem, love and acceptance, and significance tend to dominate. If these  needs are met, it is believed, people will be happy, kind, and moral; if these  needs are unmet, people will be miserable, hateful, and immoral. Biblical  counseling teaches that true satisfaction and happiness can only be found in a  relationship with God and a pursuit of godliness. No amount of psychotherapy can  make a selfish person unselfish, for example, but the obedient servant of God  will be satisfied in his joyful, unselfish giving (2  Corinthians 9:7).

So, how does psychology work with biblical  counseling? In fine, it doesn’t. Secular psychology starts and ends with man and  his ideas. True biblical counseling points clients to Christ and the Word of  God. Biblical counseling is a pastoral activity, a product of the spiritual  gift of exhortation, and its goal is not self-esteem but sanctification.

Psychologists and psychiatrists are professionals who work in the field of  mental health. People often confuse their roles or mix them up with other mental  health professionals such as psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, or mental health  counselors. There are many variations of mental health professionals that  require several different educational paths and use many treatment methods.  Psychologists must attain a Ph.D. in psychology and focus primarily on doing  research, teaching on a college level, and maintaining private counseling  practices. They can administer testing for many cognitive and emotional  assessments as well. Prescription privileges were made available to  psychologists in New Mexico in 2002, and various psychologist groups are working  to gain such privileges in other states. A psychiatrist is actually a medical  doctor who specializes in mental disorders. Psychiatrists are highly trained in  pharmacological treatments for mental health and are the primary mental health  professionals to prescribe medications. General practitioners (medical doctors)  and nurse practitioners are also able to prescribe psychological  medications.

When people feel the need for services such as testing for  dyslexia or counseling, they may consider going to a psychologist. Typically,  people see a psychologist or other counseling professional before they are  referred to a psychiatrist. Some psychiatrists practice counseling, but others  only administer and monitor medications while partnering with other  professionals who perform the therapy. As in any vocation, some  psychologists/psychiatrists will be Christians, and others will not.

Christians usually want to know how the Bible relates to these professions. The  truth is that neither psychology nor psychiatry is wrong in a sinful sense. They  both serve valid and helpful purposes. None of the mental health professionals  have the ability to fully understand how God made man, how the mind works, why  we feel and act the way we do. While there is an abundance of worldly,  man-centered theory about mental and emotional issues, there are also many godly  people involved in these professions seeking to understand the human mind from a  biblical perspective. For Christians, it is best to seek a professional who  professes to be a believer, can express knowledge of Scripture, and exhibits  godly character. Any counsel we receive must be filtered through Scripture so  that, as with everything in the world, we can discern what is true and what is  false.

Seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist is not wrong. However,  mental health professionals come from many different beliefs and backgrounds.  Even Christian psychologists and psychiatrists will be unable to give perfect  answers, or they may be weak in some area of their biblical knowledge. Remember  that the Word of God is our first answer to all that ails us. Arming ourselves  with the truth is essential to discerning what is helpful and what is leading us  astray (Ephesians  6:11-17; 1  Corinthians 2:15-16). Every believer is personally responsible for studying  the Bible for his own personal growth and discernment. The Holy Spirit will use  the Word to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ, which is the ultimate  goal for all Christians (Ephesians  5:1-2; Colossians  3:3).