Quite simply, “nouthetic” counseling is biblical counseling—it gets its name  from the Greek work noutheteo which is usually translated “admonish” (Romans 15:14, NKJV). It  means “to confront as a friend” and was the normal method of counseling before  modernists invented secular psychology in the early 1900s. A study of older  dictionaries shows that it took until 1973 for the word “counseling” to change  from “giving advice” to “psychology” with its modern testing, processes, and  therapies. That change gradually came about as the secular psychology influence  changed our idea of counseling from that given by a pastor to that given by a  secular psychologist.

During the mid-20th century, many Christians  thought they could integrate secular theory into their counseling programs,  mixing the Bible with psychology. That practice (called “Christian” counseling)  was based on the false assumption that man can discover God’s truth apart from  the Bible. In the late 1960s, a number of godly pastors saw the need to reject  such damaging influences, and one man (Dr. Jay Adams) led the way in bringing  biblical counseling back into pastoral ministry. While psychology is based on  evolution and secular philosophy, biblical counseling is based strictly on  biblical principles. For counseling to be biblical, it must be Bible-based,  Christ-centered, and local church-oriented. Nouthetic counseling accepts the  premise that the Bible is God’s Word (2 Timothy  3:16-17) and that it is totally sufficient for meeting all our needs (2 Peter 1:3-4).

Nouthetic counseling is a refreshing return to a strictly biblical method of  problem-solving. Instead of focusing on the problem and expecting years of  therapy, nouthetic counseling focuses on the biblical solution and expects the  counselee to change—by the power of the Holy Spirit—conforming to the biblical  model presented (Romans  8:28-29). Nouthetic counseling is effective for believers and begins with  the evangelism of those who are not believers because biblical counselors  understand that only believers can understand the deep truths of God (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Since all believers have the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to change them (1  Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians  5:16), biblical (nouthetic) counseling depends on the Holy Spirit to change  the believer, using God’s Word as it was intended—to teach, rebuke, correct and  train in righteousness (2 Timothy  3:16).

There are few colleges and seminaries that teach nouthetic  counseling today, but the list is growing, as more and more Christians are  seeing the weakness and error in trying to integrate secular thought with the  Bible. Colossians  2:8 says, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit,  according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the  world, and not according to Christ” (NKJV). That is the reason for the dividing  line between biblical (nouthetic) counseling, Christian counseling, and secular  psychology.