Scripture and Counseling at ETS, Providence, RI

Just finished my paper presentation at the Counseling, Psychology, and Pastoral Care section meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society–meeting in frigid Providence, RI. Had the pleasure of hearing David Powlison talk about the various errors of evangelical biblical counselors and professional counselors shortchange scripture (e.g., treat it atomistically or ignore its richness altogether). He gave several case studies trying to put words to what many counselors intuitively know about the best uses of Scripture in counseling. I followed him and talked about two major problems: treating the text as a compilation of timeless truthes and missing the varied ways God is writing us into his story and the problem of either treating Scripture as a tool or a diagnostic manual–which both lead to some dangers.

I then presented one case study of what I call a narratival approach, using Scripture to meet and validate the present experience of the counselee and so make room for two things (that meeting God and seeing self may or may not change our current mental state AND that we can begin to see how God is writing a different story that we tend to imagine in our fallen states).

John Franke then gave a good talk on how a plural way of looking at Revelation supports an inerrantist model of Scripture but avoids the ONE way of articulating doctrines. He said that this way of thinking would impact counselors by: Continuing to anchor christian care in the normative foundation of Scripture, that we would resist absolutizing THE christian counseling model but find unity amongst diversity, that counseling then must be driven by wisdom and the Spirit, that counseling must be engaged in a constructive and critical dialog with secular psychology. He wants us to avoid seeing our diversity of christian counseling models as bad but facets of God’s guidance.

Well, intellectually stimulating to say the least. Now, I’m done and off to be a spectator. I’ve run into several old friends and am making some new ones as I write.


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, Doctrine/Theology

4 responses to “Scripture and Counseling at ETS, Providence, RI

  1. Jonathan Holmes

    Phil, would you be able to post your paper which you presented at ETS? I have been immensely blessed by your sharing of slides and articles and would be interested to hear what you presented at ETS.

  2. Mark O.

    I wasn’t able to attend the conference, but I did look over your slides. I have interned at a drug and alcohol treatment center for 4 months and much of what you recommended in your slides is similar to how counselors are encouraged to practice at my site.

    Is there anything definitively different in how a Christian counselor approaches counseling addicts? Other than having and promoting a Christian worldview, is there anything that differs from secular addictions counseling?

    Also, I read your review of McMinn’s “Integrative Psychotherapy” and appreciated your comments. Maybe you could recommend some book or website that attempts to understand how to integrate secular theories and techniques with a christian worldview. I often find myself puzzled by my own questions, such as, “If I am a Christian counseling a non-Christian, will my method in session look any different than a non-Christian counselor?”

  3. Mark,

    That question was asked of me at the conference. Here’s how I tried to answer it. First, the two skills I talked about are stage setting skills and so it stands to reason that we approach the start of counseling the same whether the person is a Christian or not. Why? Because all addicts need descriptions of what is/has been happening in their lives. They are desensitized to the processes and habits and consequences of the addiction. Part of waking up is waking up to the damage, to the subtle decisions, to how one is really operating. So, that much of counseling is the same. But we also know that motivations (things we do for or against God) are also at play and so conversations about one’s addictive pattern always lead to motivations AND always get to the point of one’s needing the Gospel. The Christian counseling model always points to the Cross as we humans cannot fix ourselves. While AA model agrees for the need of a “higher power” we have so much more than that, so much more than a worldview to save us.

  4. Pam

    I’m one of those folks who’s very good at taking care of others, emphasized so much in scripture, but struggle to take care of myself – beyond the obvious basics… Talking with my spiritual director today, we discussed the need for taking care of the self, which made my ponder what was the scripture basis of that? ..besides loving the Lord your God, and your neighbor as yourself….have you ever thought about that?

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