Tag Archives: David Powlison

Competing Models of Christian Counseling? Who is Right?

A couple of recent pieces have me thinking about (a) models of Christian counseling and, (b) the intramural conversation amongst Christians on which model is most Christian. One piece is David Powlison’s article in the Summer 2011 issue of the Westminster Today magazine (this link is to the magazine site but the current issue is not yet up). The second is by Ed Welch–a blog on Biblical Counseling Coalition website.

This is not a new topic for me. From my “About Me” page you can see that I have training in biblical counseling and also in clinical psychology. I respect the folks at CCEF who had a huge impact on my life and thought–especially that lovely editor they employ ;). While getting my PsyD I published on the historic divide between biblical counselors and Christian psychologists and the need to build bridges. I’m an associate editor for Edification, a Christian Psychology peer-reviewed journal.

All that to say, I have some thoughts on some ways we might move beyond right/wrong while still being concerned about building a clear, cogent, God-honoring model of Christian counseling.

Drop the labels

Yes, we should drop our labels. What is the difference between a Christian counselor, Christian psychologist, integrationist, or biblical counselor? These differences are as varied as the numbers of people who use them. Yes, there are probably some benefits to communicating a personal stance with one of these terms. But, for every benefit, there are probably any number of negatives, including the use of the label as a curse. “Are you that kind of biblical counselor” (whatever kind you find offensive)? “Are you a Christian who happens to be a psychologist or a Christian psychologist?”

In addition to dropping labels, we should also drop broad brush judgments. Calling Christian psychologists “syncretistic” is offensive and ill-fitting. Calling biblical counselors “psychology bashers” does not accurately portray their nuanced approach. Saying that psychology and biblical counseling is “fundamentally incompatible” (from either side of the debate) ignores the benefits that both sides gather from each other.

No labels? What then?

Facets. I’m sure there going to be problems with this idea too but let us choose to focus on facets of counseling models. For example:

  • How does Scripture shape counseling foundations and goals?
  • How do we learn from, utilize, and critique psychological constructs, data, etc?
  • How does typical human development trajectories influence our understanding of the change process?
  • How do we learn from those who do not share our epistemic foundations?
  • How do we articulate diverse counseling goals (suffering well? symptom reduction? discipleship? skill acquisition? insight?) as all working toward the common goal of glorying God and enjoying him forever.

Listen first, repent first

In Ed’s blog post (linked above on the BCC site), he captures the most essential characteristic needed if we are going to learn from each other. We ought to,

listen and enter into the world of the other person (or in this case the other counseling perspective) in such a way that the person representing the perspective says, “Yes, that’s me. You understand.”

It is a sad thing that we counselor types start with diagnosing other model builders without listening first to both the content of that model and the person behind it. We treat our fellow counselors in ways we would never treat a client. How should we listen to others? Can we see what they see? Can we see what they see that we tend to ignore? Can we see the benefits of what they do and the potential liabilities they see in our model?

Be willing to repent where you have unfairly labeled, categorized, and marginalized one who was working for Christ’s kingdom–even if you think you have been hurt more.

List own weaknesses first

Most debates, whether between thinkers or spouses, rarely succeed in winning over the other person. Why? Because we are too busy defending, explaining away, pointing out the weaknesses of the opponent to actually deal with reality.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear a counseling model builder express his/her models weaknesses or needed growth points first before exploring the deficits of the another? “My model doesn’t yet have a good understanding of ____. Your model does so much better with that and I want to learn from you.”

Build the center

Rather than start with the differences (which do indeed exist), what if we cataloged the similarities and areas of agreement among Christian models of counseling? In addition, what if we recognized those things we might not have noticed with out the help of those outside our own community. For example, Scripture may speak a great deal about loving neighbors but a particular model of psychology may flesh out what loving a very unique population of client ought to look like. Even if Scripture is sufficient, we do not diminish it when we acknowledge we hadn’t made a particular application without our neighbor’s help.

Acknowledge differences

We will not see eye to eye. We will disagree. Let us acknowledge these where they arise. Let us make sure the differences are real and categorize them into those that are peripheral and those that are substantial. For example, David Powlison speaks about the need for a counseling/care for the soul model back in the 1950s. Despite quality practical theology and discipleship programs, he asked,

But what was the quality [in the 50s] of corporate wisdom in comprehending the dynamics of the human heart? What sustains sufferers and converts sinners? Westminster Today, 4:1 (2011), p7

Right away I ask myself, are these the only two options (sustaining, converting) for Christian counselors? Is it possible also to have the role of treating symptoms? Teaching skills? Reducing suffering? I’m fairly sure that this initial difference is not really there. I suspect David does not reject mercy ministry to reducing suffering. But in dialog, he and I might end up agreeing that some biblical counseling models fail to focus on skill intervention in their quest to address the human heart. And we would likely agree that some christian psychology models fail to address the spiritual discipline of suffering well and the need for conversion. Might we end up agreeing that we want a full-orbed model that neither diminishes nor over-promises symptom care or sanctification?

Promote each other

Finally, we do well to promote each other at our conferences and learning communities. We encourage wide-ranging reading, critical interactions (note, not criticizing), and sharpening of each other. And we commit to lovingly correcting those of our “friends” who speak ill about our neighbors. We reject the fear of defending an outsider for fear of being rejected ourselves. 



Filed under AACC, biblical counseling, CCEF, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling, counseling science, Psychology, Uncategorized

What to say to suffering people: When truth isn’t helpful

Is the truth always helpful? Always the best option?

I think it is. But when we humans seek to convey truth, we never capture it all. As a result, what truth we do share may not be the truth that is most helpful. There are two things that have me thinking about this today:

1. On Monday night I shared with a class some of our experience with infertility. Some things said to us were downright stupid and wrong. Other things were true. In fact, God does have a wonderful plan for us. But it wasn’t helpful to tell us that when we were hurting. Scripture teaches us that when we sing songs of joy to the downcast it is like drinking vinegar or adding baking soda to it. Kaboom!

2. In recent weeks, CCEF has posted a couple of things on their website that need to be read together. This week they posted David Powlison and John Piper’s “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” to their homepage. This was written by both men when they were in the throes of Prostate cancer. I encourage you to read it from the perspective I am reading it. My wife has breast cancer. We hope to beat it. But we are in the throes of chemo right now. How does this sound to you. True? Helpful? Now, when you have read that, go read Ed Welch’s post: “What Not To Say To Suffering People.” He wrote a follow-up here.  How does this sound to you? True? Helpful?

Seems the first could be seriously misused and does not address all of what you say for comfort in the heat of the battle. Surely we need to be a bit careful about what the person needs to hear. Yes, we can “waste” the cancer in a “woe is me” mentality. But be careful not to go there too quickly! Know your audience and what they need NOW from you.

What do you think? I’d like your feedback.


Filed under biblical counseling, CCEF, christian counseling, counseling, suffering, Uncategorized

On-line counseling courses through Biblical Seminary

Those interested in taking an on-line, graduate-level counseling course might wish to consider this new joint offering from my school, Biblical Seminary, and the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF).

Counseling in the Local Church (2 credits)

The course is taught by Dr. Tim Lane, Director of CCEF and runs from 1/18/2010 to 3/19/2010. It is completely on-line with mp3 lectures, assignments, and threaded discussions with others in the class. You can register here for this class. If you have Internet access and an undergraduate degree, you can take this class.

Later in Spring 2010 we will offer David Powlison’s Dynamics of Biblical Change.

CCEF started Biblical’s counseling program back in the mid 80s and has continued to lend their faculty to courses here and there at Biblical. They have been offering on-line and residential courses (non-accredited credits) for 25 years. In my personal opinion, our joint venture brings together quality biblical counseling and theological expertise with practical and professional counseling expertise!

Now, we have a chance to work together to provide on-line students with quality teaching from CCEF but now for academic credit. (You must have an undergraduate degree already)

What can you do with these credits? Well, for one, you could apply them to a number of Master’s degrees at Biblical. They could count as elective credits in our MA Ministry, MDiv, or MA Counseling program. Second, you might seek to have them transferred to your own local graduate school program. Biblical Seminary is ATS and Middle-States accredited and so will be considered a legitimate institution. However, you should know that every school sets its own polices regarding transfer of credits. Usually they look to see if the course fulfills a course they would have required in their own program. Remember that it is up to you to find out if they will transfer.

Or, you can just take them because you want to be enriched! We’d love to have you as a student!

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Filed under biblical counseling, Biblical Seminary, CCEF, christian counseling, counseling, counseling skills

I’m not worthy…

…to be on the same page as David Powlison and Mike Emlet! Check out CCEF’s home page. They have the audacity to put my mug up there (advertising next year’s annual conference) right next to David. That should never be!



Filed under "phil monroe", biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling skills, Sex, teaching counseling

Dialog between Christian Psychology and Biblical Counseling

Yesterday Robert Kelleman made a comment on an old blog post of mine about my model of counseling. In that comment he said the following:

Your readers might find of interest my summary of last week’s symposium on biblical counseling where Eric Johnsons (SCP), myself (BCSFN), David Powlison (CCEF), and Steve Viars (NANC, FBCM) discussed with Jeremy Lelek (ABC) the state of biblical counseling/Christian psychology:


To me, true biblical counseling and true Christian psychology should be the same thing. They use biblical psychology (understanding people, diagnosing problems, and prescribing solutions) theory to guide their biblical counseling (sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding) practice.

Bob Kellemen

The link takes you to Bob’s own site and has links to christiancounseling.com where DVDs of the dialogue will be available. It is good to hear of the unity among these cousin models of counseling.


Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling skills, Psychology

CCEF recap: David Powlison’s “Escape to Reality”

Sunday morning, David Powlison gave a plenary talk entitled, “Escape to Reality.” He used 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 as his launch text. It was vintage David, chalk full of many examples of both soft and hard addictions. One could easily take his 10 points (which I don’t have exactly because I was sitting with my son who was lounging across me) and turn them into a 10 week bible study or SS class. As I remember them, he made the following points about the path back to reality:

1. Wake up (to see God, self, and other)
2. Own up (without excuse)
3. Stop the Death spiral (sin, guilt, and shame all tempt us inward. But we see in Christ, someone who is able to stay connected to God and other on the Cross even with the pain)
4. Connect to others (We need others to talk to so that we hear ourselves and get good feedback) SO, ask for help!
5. Ask for forgiveness (and none of that, “If I hurt you…” kind of half hearted repentance)
6. Forgive those who have hurt you
7. Rethink the problem of pain (pain shouldn’t be ignored or used as excuse)
8. Rethink the problem of pleasure (we vacillate between workaholism and overindulging in pleasure. We are made for pleasure but within bounds)
9. Re-evaluate the struggle. When someone shows signs of stopping addictive behaviors. Maybe they only go into a rage 3 times in a week instead of 12. That’s something to celebrate. But of course the struggle continues and there’s more to repent.

Um, I’m missing the tenth. Someone there remember what it was?


Filed under addiction, biblical counseling, Biblical Reflection, counseling, Forgiveness