Counseling Q&A

2017 ACBC Truth In Love Live from ACBC on Vimeo.

 

During the recent ACBC (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors) Annual Conference, I interviewed Dr. Heath Lambert about biblical counseling. Questions were submitted from all over the world. You can watch the interview or listen to it through the Truth in Love Podcast.

Below is a list of the questions asked during the interview:

6:55 “If the Bible is sufficient, then why do we have a bookstore at our conference?”

8:50: “Are there any benefits in psychology that we can use to help the heart restoration of our broken counselees?”

13:26: “In light of recent events, how is you talking about the differences between biblical counseling and integration not speaking the truth in love?”

19:28: “Seven years ago I was having what seemed like focal seizures. I was tested by two neurologists and was told there was nothing wrong with me. I sought counseling from a NANC counselor who recommended more Bible study and that I should search to relieve these symptoms. My seizure activity continued and with the improvement of technology and an impatient week at Dartmouth-Hitchcock hospital, it was found that I’ve had a brain tumor and a frontal lobe epilepsy deep in my brain. The scans confirmed and clearly showed the medical evidence. Here is my question or concern with your ministry: for seven years I was told that I did not need medication, but that this was a spiritual issue. How can you really know if something is medical or not? My experience has left me with bitterness for NANC counseling when it comes to what are perceived as “mental issues.” Please provide input as our church is considering being a part of your ministry and I have some deep concerns. I do appreciate your counseling ministry and have seen wise and fruitful results for many.”

26:24: “Where is the best place to start with a new church that is trying to start biblical counseling within their church?” And we had another question that’s similar: “How do you introduce biblical counseling to a church?”

29:36: “Do you feel that promoting certification creates an unnecessary bar for people who want to help other people by making them feel like they are not competent to counsel unless they have received extensive training?”

36:14: “What are some, if any, differences between ACBC and CCEF?”

38:39: “What is the role of women in biblical counseling?”

44:56: “Do you think there is a time for separation in marriage other than when there is imminent danger (i.e. emotional abuse, sexual addiction, etc.) and what would be your biblical defense for your position? If your answer is no, how would you suggest a woman can be best shepherded when extreme cases arise and there is much to sort out but there is not physical violence?”

51:02: Why would ACBC or the Bible not be supportive of trying to go and dig up suppressed memories? And if the person can’t remember abuse, they need to try to figure out how can they be healed.”

53:46: “How can we discern whether someone suffering from a transgender identity (gender dysphoria) is struggling with mental illness, a physical disorder between the brain and the body present since birth, or a spiritual identity issue? These seem like real possibilities to me.”

59:15: “What is the theme of next year’s conference?”

The Laws of Attraction and the Law of God

attraction
by Sean Perron
Mystery surrounds dating and romance.
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How do people fall in love? Why are certain people attracted to each other? How can someone become desirable?
A recent article from Psychology Today called “The Laws of Attraction” by Wendy Paris touches on these topics. The article’s subheading reads
Who we desire is driven by powerful evolutionary forces, but while most of us are drawn to looks first (whether or not we admit it), human attraction is far more complex than it appears at first sight.
I’m the first to admit that the Bible never uses the word dating. It talks about romance in different categories than our modern culture has created. However, the Bible is the most important source of information about how and why people fall in love.
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After reading the article, I was struck with how superior the law of God is compared to the psychological insights Psychology Today provided. I say this not to insult the author of this article but rather to highlight the helpfulness and relevance of the Bible. The plan for romance described in the pages of Scripture is not only sufficient for a healthy life, it is able to produce a beautiful life. Which makes it superior to any other resource.
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Consider the following summary of the main sections of the “Laws of Attraction” article:
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1) According to the article, the driving force of attraction in dating comes from evolutionary compulsions. Behind attraction is Darwinian evolution based upon natural selection and survival of the fittest. The people who are the most physically appealing are the most sought after because of reproductive qualities, but there can be other factors that contribute.
…it’s more important to be well matched with your partner than to catch the most beautiful person in your circle. Couples, whether same-sex or heterosexual, tend to fall within similar ranges of size, education, religious beliefs, values, and socioeconomic status.
2) The article attributes dating preferences to chemicals in the brain that compel people to be attracted to specific types of personalities. Chemistry is not a mere metaphor, but a driving factor in why people fall in love.
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3) It concludes by giving tips and ways to improve your own attractiveness. It claims you can increase your level of attractiveness by improving how you handle your most compelling features. A person can make themselves more attractive by being confident and comfortable and by broadening social networks.
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The problems of the article is not the observations from the psychologists. The psychologists have observed common occurrences and trends in romantic relationships. There is nothing wrong with pointing out the fact that attraction can develop by couples having intimate conversations or that there are a variety of chemicals in each person. The observations made by these psychologists are not wrong in and of themselves.
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The areas mentioned in the article fall short primarily because they do not adequately understand how and why human beings function in romantic relationships. The psychologists have the wrong foundation (Darwinian evolution) instead of the biblical foundation which establishes humanity as created in the image of God. But it isn’t merely their foundation that is faulty. The conclusions and summaries from the psychologists fail to be beautiful. They miss the most central compelling realities of romance and blunt all the beauty behind it.
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Consider now the following passages of Scripture in contrast to the three areas from the Psychology Today article I highlighted above:
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1) “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6, NIV)
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There are many things that could be said about the driving forces behind attraction, but fundamentally the article has “boxed-in” love. It relegates attraction to be a result of reproductive inclinations and calculations. People are attracted to the person they (knowingly or unknowingly) believe will best suite them for reproduction and survival. (I also find this perplexing because the article includes same-sex couples in its analysis and does not address the reality that same-sex relationships cannot biologically produce offspring)
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When this Darwinian box is forced upon attraction, love is forced out. Real love is lost when driven by biological calculations. If the “Laws of Attraction” article is true, there really is no such thing as love – only sexual desires. The beauty of romance is removed from the box.
On the other hand, the Bible provides a flourishing framework that accounts for both sexual appeal and an authentic moral category of love. The “Laws of Attraction” assessment allows for one law – the law of self-pleasure, self-preservation, and self-gratification. Only the law of God can demonstrate the greatest and most fulfilling pleasure available to man is through self-sacrifice. Attraction is not merely a result of physiological instincts and urges. It can be a result of genuine care and self-less love.
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2) “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.” (1 Peter 1:3-5a, NIV)
The person who feels “ugly” reading the Psychology Today article should despair if they take it to heart. If they believe the article, they are truly hopeless because all the action is confined to physical or social sexual appeal. The person who feels “gorgeous” should also despair after reading the article. If they believe Psychology Today, they will be fooled into thinking that attractiveness is merely outward.
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The Bible provides an accurate framework that does not dismiss outward beauty (Genesis 29:17), but places the emphasis on inner beauty. The Scriptures underscore the eternal value and attractiveness of holiness. In God’s economy, godliness is the goal.
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Consider the example of Fisher and his date in the article, only the body exists in this Darwinian system. Physical chemistry has replaced the conscience, the soul, and morality. This runs contrary to the better and more beautiful picture presented in 1 Peter which discusses the adornment of the heart. The Bible isn’t as simplistic as this article in Psychology Today.
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3) Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30, NIV)
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The practical advice on how to become more attractive misses the target because it is aiming the wrong way. The goal is backwards compared to the biblical framework of attraction. The article assumes the goal is to become more physically/socially appealing and then proceeds to give tips on how to cultivate appeal with whatever body type or skills a person possesses.
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Instead, the biblical goal is to glorify God by enjoying him and serving others. When a person seeks to serve others and bring honor to Jesus, they will naturally grow in faith and confidence of their standing before God. They will become bold and brave for the gospel of Jesus Christ. As they grow in Christian love and hospitality, this might increase their social standing and reputation. This confidence and growth in warmth might then increase their appeal to others who might be romantically interested in them. But this would be a by-product of faith and obedience. This would be a result of living in Christian community and could never have been the focus.
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It could also be that confidence is boosted, social skills are enhanced, networks are broadened, and attractiveness is at it’s highest possible peak, but no one ever bites. No dates take place because no one becomes romantically interested. What then?
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Only the Christian who sought the Lord with their whole heart can be radiant. The Christian is secure because their goal was never to maximize their attractiveness for the sole purpose of finding a mate. The Christian knows that charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a person who fears the Lord is to be praised. It is only the Christian, because of the Bible, who can obtain true and lasting beauty. The blessed (happy) person is the one who walks in the Law of the Lord and meditates on his Law day and night (Psalm 1:1-6). He will be like a tree planted by streams of water that produces fruit in due season.
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In summary, if you are looking for a proper understanding into the mysteries of romance, you don’t need to read the latest in Psychology Today. Instead, you can mine the depths of the Scriptures to behold beautiful treasures. Romance is not merely about sexual attraction that is so easy to observe. Romance is about something much greater that only can be understood in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”(Ephesians 5:32, ESV)

For more information on relationships and romance, check out Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon’s new books Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement, (P&R, 2017).

Suffering and Singing: A Conversation with Joni

I recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with Joni Eareckson Tada and her husband Ken. Joni is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Joni and Friends International Disability Center. A diving accident in 1967 left Joni Eareckson, then 17, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. She shares her story on the podcast, discusses how to love people affected by disabilities, and provides insight about how she deals biblically with chronic pain and suffering.

Joni is one of the godliest people I have ever met. She is genuine, sincere, and full of love. I don’t think it is possible to feel awkward around her. If you are nearby, she welcomes you like Jesus Christ would welcome you. I want to be like Joni and exude with the Holy Spirit’s love. I’m confident that meeting her for this podcast is one of the highest honors of my life.

I hope you enjoy this 45 minute interview that is personal, encouraging, and challenging. Personally, my favorite part of the podcast is when she sings a few stanzas in response to one of the questions.

 

Early Marriage | Are you ready?

In this new 10 minute podcast, I (Spencer) talk with Sean about why he chose to marry Jenny early.
Questions discussed in this podcast:
  • You had many years to live as a single person. Why would you get married so young?
  • How did you know you were ready to get married?
  • Does the Bible allow for young people to get married early?
  • What are some of the indicators that you are ready for marriage?
  • How much money do you need in the bank before marriage?
This is the second unspokenblog podcast. The first podcast was Intro to the Bible, Dating, and Courtship

Two New Books: Letters to a Romantic

Dear Readers,

We have some exciting news.

We have been working on a project together over the past two years. We have been writing two books that are expanded versions of our Letters to a Young Engaged Man blog series. These books are being published by P&R and will release simultaneously in the Fall of this year.  

The books are called Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement.

The book On Dating begins with topics related to singleness and then covers a wide range of topics such as breaking up, physical affection, early marriage, and discussing sexual history. Some chapter titles include:

  • Marriage vs. Singleness
  • First Date
  • Should We Be in a Relationship?
  • Do We Have a Bad Relationship?  
  • What if I am not a Virgin?
  • Should I Guard My Heart?

The book On Engagement walks couples from the time right before a proposal all the way to their wedding night. Some chapter titles include:

  • The Length of Engagement
  • Till Death Do Us Part
  • Loving Your New Parents
  • Should We Elope?
  • Handling Conflict
  • On Birth Control

The chapters are designed to be short and can be read individually or together as a couple. Even though we don’t know the specifics of your situation, we have made a concerted effort to make each chapter as practical as possible. It is our prayer that this content feels immediately helpful and comes from a refreshing peer-like voice.  Our wives have also contributed to many of the letters and provided their own warm touches throughout the books.

Our prayer is that your plans for dating and engagement would begin aligning with God’s plans to glorify his Son in the world.  We pray that these letters will tune your ears to hear God’s voice in his Word and that these letters will provoke many conversations between you, your partner, and godly mentors in your life.  

We are not relational gurus.  Quite the opposite.  We would be the first to admit to you that when we follow our own wisdom… we get lost.  We are sinners who are desperately in need of God’s illuminating Word in every facet of our lives.  We have simply tasted the goodness of God’s shepherding voice in our romances, and we want you to taste it too. We pray that you fall in love with hearing his voice in the Bible so that it guides you in singleness, dating, and engagement – and every other season after that.

In the meantime you can check out the recent Truth in Love podcast with Dr. Heath Lambert and Sean on the topic of Physical Boundaries Before Marriage that discusses a controversial portion of the dating book.

As we continue to write to you, we always want to hear your letters. Don’t hesitate to send us your feedback and share your story with us.

 

Until then,

Sean and Spencer

 

The Bible is Practical

pexels-photo-186570
By Sean Perron

The Bible isn’t relevant for life if the Bible can’t be applied practically. Biblical counseling must be practical or else it will be irrelevant. This is because we obey or disobey God in specific ways. Our idolatries are not vague. Our sins are not general. When we are fearful, we think fearful thoughts in our mind. When we are sinfully depressed, we neglect real responsibilities. When we act in anger, we do things with our tongues and our hands. Thankfully, the Bible offers practical ways to overcome our sin and change us in concrete ways.

The practical nature of the Scriptures for counseling can be seen in three verses in the New Testament. Romans 12:19-21 is just one example that gives us insight into the powerful and tangible ways the Bible can be used in counseling.

Verse 19: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 

 

1) Command and Motivation

The command in verse 19 is to never take revenge. This command is simple, but it is not merely a command. In Romans 12:19, the motivation for the command is given. We should not seek revenge because this is only God’s prerogative. Vengeance belongs to the Lord and we are called to trust him instead of taking matters into our own hands. To not take revenge requires faith. The command is given and the motivation to obey the command is also explained.

Verse 20: To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 

 

2) One Practical Application

Verse 20 goes beyond both the command and the motivation and moves into a practical example. If your enemy is hungry, you can not take revenge by feeding him. If your enemy is thirsty, you can fight anger by giving him something to drink. This is one practical way of fighting the urge to take revenge. Instead of giving your enemy poison, you should buy him coffee. Instead of giving your enemy a mouthful of harsh language, you should give him a mouthful of food.

Verse 21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 

3) Many Practical Opportunities

The practical nature of the commands of God can be seen even clearer in verse 21. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. The practical nature of doing good in order to combat revenge isn’t bound up in giving away meals or bottles of water to your arch enemies. There are hundreds of ways in which you can tangibly show kindness instead of wrath to those who upset you. Romans 12:20 gives one practical example, but Romans 12:21 allows for a thousand other acts of kindness that are in keeping with verse 19.

 

Biblical Counsel is Practical Counsel

How do you give advice to others? Do you talk about God’s commands? Do you explain the motivations behind those commandments and how faith is required? Do you give practical examples to implement these truths? Do you then teach others to think of new ways to obey God when faced with a variety of circumstances?

Romans 12:19-21 is just one example of how the Scriptures are powerful and practical to help people change. It is my prayer that this text is an opportunity for us to ask ourselves: Do we counsel like the Bible counsels?

This post was originally posted on The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors blog. 

Counseling the Words of Christ: Where Else Can We Go

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

Can the Bible truly address life’s most complex issues?

I am convinced it can and I believe biblical counseling is the vehicle God uses to minister to broken people. Counseling from the Bible is simply a specific avenue of discipleship and the great commission.

There are some who are skeptical of biblical counseling because it seems too simplistic. Maybe you resonate with the following concern: biblical counseling seems to repackage all their solutions into a simplistic two step formula – repent and believe.

Perhaps this is how you think about biblical counseling:

  • “Are you struggling with anorexia? Repent and believe.
  • Are you struggling with depression? Repent and believe.
  • Fear? Repeat.
  • Anxiety? Again.
  • Anger? One more time.
  • Repent and believe.”

I actually think this caricature of biblical counseling is too simplistic. It does not offer a full picture of faithful counseling. I would be concerned if this was all of the biblical counseling I received!

Biblical counseling is more than telling people to pray, read their Bible, and trust in Jesus. But it is nothing less than this. Biblical counseling is both simple and complex. In a very real way, discipleship is taking the two categories of “believe” and “repent” and seeking to apply them in all the right and varied ways.  Does this bother you? It doesn’t have to.

Simplicity vs. Sloppiness 

I think one of the reasons simplicity is a turn off is because it gets confused with sloppiness. Simple and sloppy are not the same thing.

If we aren’t careful and caring, lazy counseling has the potential to feel like offering a bandaid to someone who has fractured their femur. Biblical counselors must be “sophisticated” in their ability to listen, diagnose, and administer the Bible.

Our society may call this “sophistication”, but the book of Proverbs calls it wisdom. No matter what you label it, biblical counseling requires seasoned skill, scriptural knowledge, and Spirit-infused intuition.

An infinite God can be studied for one thousand lifetimes and yet never be fully known. And yet, a young child can truly have a relationship with the God of the universe. The Bible is simple in it’s message and yet complex in it’s application. (Matthew 3:2; Romans 12:2)

Is Simplicity Shameful? 

I want to emphasize that simplicity is not inherently negative in counseling. In reality, simplicity indicates clarity. This is a wonderful blessing from the Bible.

The biblical counselor shouldn’t be ashamed of the truth that the gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16) In our quest to be sophisticated we should not seek to be accepted by the world and sound like a psychology textbook. Jesus’ mission was not to impress the elite and educated. The solutions to problems of “life and godliness” can (and should) be boiled down to issues of faith and repentance. (2 Peter 2:1-3) There are nuances to be said and complex problems to be examined, but at the end of the day we must counsel faith and repentance. This wasn’t too narrow-minded for Paul who determined to know nothing other than Jesus Christ crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)

Simple Means Solutions

As biblical counselors, we can take heart in the simple message of the kingdom. We don’t have to go anywhere else except the Scriptures for wisdom in counseling. In reality, we can’t go anywhere else.

Our counselees don’t have to despair trying to find some secret knowledge that a psychiatrist possesses. They don’t have to wander around for years needing weekly therapy. They can be assured that change is possible and a real solution is within their grasp.

When we counsel from the Bible, we can actually be guaranteed to accomplish the will of God. We can be sure that his word will accomplish everything God intends for it to do. The mission cannot fail because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to the Risen Counselor. (Matthew 28:18-19)

Let us spend our lives learning how to call people to repent and believe the gospel in a wise and timely manner. We should agree with the disciples of Christ: where else can we go? Jesus has the words of eternal life. (John 6:68)

For more information on the medical components of counseling, there are several videos on the counseling and medication from ACBC.