Monday, January 31, 2011

How Not to Help People Change

I recently completed reading a book entitled How to Help People Change: The Four-Step Biblical Process by Dr. Jay Adams, the father of Nouthetic Counseling. In this book, he lays out the foundation for what he believes to be biblical counseling and the four steps that biblical counseling is built upon: teaching, conviction, correction, and disciplined training in righteousness.

While this theory that he lays out is quite interesting, there are a few particular aspect that I find to be…well…wrong. Adams tells his readers that we must avoid the temptation to adopt the rationalistic systems of men (Ellis) and others that will appear on the scene. Why is Ellis’ A-B-C Theory so wrong? That is a good question.

If Adams’ theory is correct, why is it not acceptable to examine it in a rational way? If something is correct, it not remain intact under the examination? He never explains himself. Perhaps that if it is thoroughly examined in a rational way, the idea the Scripture is all that is required when counseling will be proved not to work. That instead of change, the end result of nouthetic counseling could be that you are left with clients who still have self-esteem issues, still are grieving over their lost wife or husband, and cannot see any way out. However, now they know Scripture.

Adams’ call for his readers to step away from rationality is a bit misdirected. Instead, why not move towards rationality and incorporate Scripture when it is applicable rather than attempting to get something out of the Word of God that is not really there; in this instance, a counseling textbook.

Honestly, I wholeheartedly believe that Jay Adams has the best of intentions. He loves God and wants nothing more than to see God’s people restored. However, his view of the Bible containing all you need to counsel is simply just too naive to have any kind of practical application.


  1. I think you brought up some valid arguments, when analyzing Adams work. Particularly, your challenge against Adams' call to step away from rationality. The modern church seems to be persistent in creating a false dichotomy between rationality (sciences) and Scriptures, as if the two cannot exist together. You are right in suggesting that rationality can be used to help point towards the Scriptures, as well as, use them in an effective manner.

    However, I do disagree with your final conclusion of the Bible being insufficient to providing everything needed to be a counselor. Before I present my points, I do have to acknowledge that my arguments come from the assumption that the counselor is a strong believer, as well as, counseling individuals who are Christian as well. If they were counseling someone who was not a Christian, then by no means could the Bible be fully depended upon, as they would not view the Scriptures as foundational.

    The main purpose of a Christian Counselor is to bring individuals to a position, in which they can develop a closer relationship with God. Of course, during this journey their are many snags and thorns that hinder individuals from growing in their walk. These snags could be anything, from depression, self-esteem issues, anxiety or habits, such as alcoholism or drug abuse. Ultimately, none of these issues are new, but are problems that have plagued humanity since the dawn of sin. They are just reprocessed and demonstrated in new manners.

    The church has a tiny part, in the process of seeing individuals through these "snags." But it is the Holy Spirit, who has the main role of changing individuals so that they can encounter these issues. This is a process that has been occurring, since the beginning of the church, as the Holy Spirit has continually worked in the lives of believers to develop them into Christ-like individuals . When thinking of this process, I think of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, which demonstrates a variety of issues (many, I'll wager, that the modern counselor deals with quite a bit) that these believers were delivered from. One key part of this passage is the fact that, "you were sanctified..." a process that gradually occurs for every believer through the Holy Spirit. This was not an instant process--saved and then "poof" all of these temptations were gone--but one that was gradual, slowly changing the believer to the likeness of Christ.

    And this is the job of the Christian counselor, to assist in the process of leading fellow believers in their walk with Christ towards sanctification. A process that has started way before the birth of the modern science of psychology and counseling, aided only by the Holy Spirit and Scriptures. A process that members, in the church family have been participating in since the birth of the church. Therefore, wouldn't it be arrogant to assume that anything more then the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit is needed in the counseling process?

    But don't take me wrong. I don't reject the modern science of psychology or counseling, as I do in fact support it. But I think it is a not a question of whether it is essential, but a question of mediums. I think God chooses to use whichever medium He prefers to accomplish His will. Whatever it may be, God has communicated His love over the history of humankind through many different mediums of art, music, science, literature, etc. Why would counseling be any different? God can use the modern realms of psychology to lead individual to a closer relationship with Him.

    The only thing that matters is if the Christian counselor is being fully obedient to the leading of God, through the Holy Spirit and Scripture. If so, then God will ultimately accomplish His will through that individual, regardless of what psychological method is used in the process. Therefore, this leads me to the conclusion that the modern science of psychology and counseling is only supplement/auxiliary to the Scriptures.

  2. I can certainly see the draw of "Professional Counseling" and why many counselors are frustrated by Jay Adams. After all, he makes the audacious claim that true counseling must be between a Christian counselor and a Christian client. How terribly limiting! And how arrogant of Adams to think that he has found the only legitimate way to help people. But if we try to help people using something other than scripture, what exactly are we accomplishing? We may be able to help people behave better and enjoy a more comfortable life, but if the person is still in need of a savior and our "help" has produced the effect of numbing them to that need, we've actually made their situation worse. We are broken people, born into a broken world and we have a fundamental need to have our relationship with God restored. Until that happens, no amount of counseling will make a person "better" regardless of the methods used. The Bible is not a Counseling textbook, it is something so much better. The words of God on a page. God did not abandon his church to wait in confusion until the dawn of modern psychology. He gave the word of God and the Holy Spirit and it was enough.

  3. I can understand your frustration when reading Adam’s book, Matthew. I too found many of his arguments to lack sound logic and the same critique he applied to others. (Many of his passages struck me as downright spiteful, though I want to be careful not to judge his thoughts based on an emotive analysis.)

    Adams builds the majority of his book off of one passage: 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which reads "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

    Without even examining the textual or historical context, there seems to me to be a flaw in his reasoning. His thought process seems to go something like this: If all Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training, then all teaching, reproof, correction and training is found in Scripture. But this simply does not follow. It is on the same level as the argument that reverses the statement if it rained, then the grass is wet, to say, the grass is wet, therefore it rained. That simply is not necessarily the case. The grass could be wet for any number of reasons apart from a rain shower. And in the same way, teaching, reproof, correction and training can be profitable and come from a number of various sources.


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