Breaking down Christian Counseling barriers

Maybe it’s a stage of life, maybe I’m hallucinating, but it seems to me that the divisions withing Christian forms of counseling are exploding. And to that I can only say hurrah!!

Let me give you the clifnotes version of American Christian counseling history (minus many important details) starting with the 20th century:

  • Fundamentalist/Modernist fallout after the turn of the century builds division between fundamentalist/evangelicals and academics, including psychology. Division over naturalism
  • Christians authoring psychology related books (Boisen, Clinebell, Hiltner, Narramore) in 30s-50s
  • Creation of Christian Association of Psychological Studies in 1956 by Dutch Reformed pastors but later broadened to include those wacky Californian evangelicals interested in psychology. Writings at this time were broadly evangelical but often contemporary psychology models with bible verses attached. Beginnings of the integrationof psychology and Christianity movement with creation of doctoral training programs by Fuller Seminary and others.
  • Jay Adams counters in late 60s and early 1970 (Competent to Counsel) with nouthetic counseling model to return to the power of the Scripture to change people and to throw off the humanistic clutches of psychology. Numerous models of biblical counseling birthed. Most prominent: CCEF
  • Divide between Biblical counseling models and professional Christian Psychology widens in the church. Much maligning of each other. To associate with one meant no possible association with the other. Biblical counseling avoids professional jargon; integrative psychology pushes for meeting state licensing standards
  • Biblical Counseling moves in 1980s from predominantly deconstructive and critique oriented to more positive model building
  • 1990s: some beginnings of dialogue between key thinkers/authors in biblical counseling and integration movement. Integrative clinicians see benefits of the biblical work done by biblical counselors, see problems with many superficial integrative models, and both sides seem to be less separatistic and more open to learning from each other
  • Now in the 21st century: A new version of Christian Psychology willing to embrace biblical counselors, psychologists, theologians, etc. and desiring to build a robust, biblically founded understanding of people informed by psychological research.

Okay, that’s in broad brush strokes and I left out huge developments and individuals. But yesterday I received a survey about biblical counseling programs. It’s clear our old divisions and categories no longer work. Now, today I get an advertisement for a biblical counseling conference that includes a wide variety of speakers. We are truly crossing lines! I’m interested to see what comes of this in the next 5 years.

FYI, interested in a fuller history? Start with the 1st chapter in Eric Johnson and Stan Jones’ “Psychology and Christianity: 4 Views” book. Follow their reference list. Then check out David Powlison’s U Penn PhD dissertation on the history of Jay Adams. Neftali Serrano published his PsyD dissertation on the beginnings of CAPS. That will whet your appetite.


Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, History of Psychology, Psychology

5 responses to “Breaking down Christian Counseling barriers

  1. Phil,

    Excellent, very helpful synopsis. I would add that another sister division of the Christian Psychologists is joining the bridge-building effort: the Biblical Counseling and Spiritual Formation Network which seeks to provide equipping in comprehensive, compassionate, culturally-informed biblical counseling and spiritual formaton.


  2. Phil, are you familiar with the Psychoheresy Network? Martin and Deidre Bobgan? I get their newsletter (keep your enemy close, right?) and just get so aggravated over their supposition that the Bible and the DSM can’t go hand-in-hand. I’d say if I was going overseas and could only take two books…those would be it.

    Do you do a lot of nouthetic counseling? Just curious what your stance was. Great post.

    • Jeannie, I don’t know many people who still use that term. Focuses on confrontation and directive work. Most use a more broad term: biblical counseling to refer to the wide range of ways of relating to God’s people.

      FYI, The Bobgans aren’t for nouthetic counseling either. They’ve distanced from Jay Adams (founder of nouthetic) along with every other form of counseling.

  3. I use the term Biblical counseling, as well. Or sometimes just Christian Counseling. I knew the Bobgan’s don’t like any of that. I find their newsletter more amusing than anything else. They don’t like Larry Crabb, and I really like most of his books.

    Again, thanks.

  4. great synopsis. I appreciate your work here. Good to see my twitter friend Bob Kelleman commenting here too.

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