Tag Archives: Ed Welch

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

A Tribute to a Friend | CCEF

Here’s a wonderful post by Ed Welch about Al Groves. Al was an OT professor at Westminster and one of the delights of my education there. A kind man, he took time with students, had us over from time to time, a gentleman even in conflict. It is our loss not to have him but his gain in heaven.

For my VT friends/readers, Al was married to Libby Davis of Dutton District.

A Tribute to a Friend | CCEF

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The unpardonable sin

Ed Welch has a good post at www.ccef.org on the “unpardonable sin” passage found in Matthew 12. This is a worrisome passage for many–especially those with scrupulosity (aka Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). He hits the nail on the head that the flip answer, “if you are worried about this, you haven’t committed it” is both likely true but also insufficient for the true worriers among us. So, his post goes in great detail about the passage, its context and good conclusions to draw from it. Well worth your read!

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Filed under Anxiety, biblical counseling, Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, Ed Welch

The Value of Psychological Testing

My friend, former teacher, mentor, Ed Welch, has posted a blog on the CCEF website on the topic of psychological testing and how biblical counselors might view it. You can see his blog here as well as my comment on their site: http://www.ccef.org/psychological-tests-are-you-or-against#comment-28

Ed, as you will see, isn’t really against testing, recognizes value in it, but doesn’t really think they are all that special–no more so than a really good interview. And, in part, he is right. A really good counselor/interviewer and learn a lot. In my mind, though, testing provides confirmation of what you are learning about the counselee PLUS uncovers subtle data that you might not get quickly or at all (especially through the more objective forms of testing).

It seems people think about testing in one of two ways: either they think testing uncovers secrets that couldn’t be gotten without a test or they dismiss it as pure theory. It is neither. Good testing provides a response profile that one can look at and compare to either the general population or a specific population. That, in itself, isn’t all that helpful but when combined with a specific assessment question, the examiner can interpret the data and build good hypotheses to direct future counseling and intervention.

I love to do psych testing. I find that interacting with test results and counselees provides dialog points that wouldn’t have been as easily discovered or talked about without the data in front of us. For example, if someone takes a personality test and one of the scales suggests that they are approaching the test in a manner consistent with those who are trying to look better than they really are, that provides an opportunity to discuss an pattern in their life that we might not have had the chance to do so easily.


Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling science, Psychology

Running Scared: the book

As a final comment on this past weekend’s CCEF conference, I want to briefly mention Ed Welch’s new book, Running Scared: Fear, worry, and the God of Rest (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2007). All conference attendees got a free copy. Here are a couple of my observations about the book:

1. It is 30 chapters. You don’t have to read them in a linear fashion although they do build on each other. They have a meditative/reflective nature to them.
2. The book is really about worry. If you struggle with panic attacks, you won’t find helpful solutions. In fact, he does a brief put down of the cognitive-behavioral techniques. On the one hand, he is right that these don’t ultimately give us peace, on the other hand–sometimes they help us get through a moment.
3. He does a nice job surveying the kinds of worries that overtake us and the common responses (control, perfectionism, anger, stress, depression, overprotection, etc.)
4. What does your fear say? Ed considers a few of the common messages (e.g., I am in danger, I am vulnerable, I need and might not get…). He also points to the overemphasis of the future in all worry. Worriers, he says, live in the future (and see it in minute gory detail). Seldom does our worry come true as we thought and so much of our worry is that of false prophets–proclaiming something as nearly already happened that only is a possibility.
5. The book is pastoral. I hear Ed’s voice in this as soft and knowing. I think this book reads like his voice more than any other of his works. He reminds us that Jesus speaks tenderly when he calls us to not fear. He talks to us like a shepherd would talk to a little lamb.
6. Yes, God tests our faith and yet he is also very generous. In order for us to be rescued from danger, there has to be danger. He is near. He hears. He tests us. He gives us grace for today. He delivers (ch. 9).
7. The rest of the book details how we deal with fears about money, what people think of us, about death, pain, and punishment, and ends with a focus on “peace be with you.”

All in all, a good read for those wanting to meditate on something other than their own fears. This is especially a good read on those feeling guilty and judged because of their fear and lack of faith. You get a picture of a very generous God who knows your fear and is near. If you are looking for very practical steps (what do I do this afternoon about…) you probably won’t get ready answers, though I think you could do the work to apply some of the principles to your daily life.

Good book Ed.

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Identifying Fears: Welch session 1

Ed Welch suggests that we live with so much fear that we may ignore how omnipresent fear actually is throughout our life. Books, media and friends don’t invoke our fear but express the fears we already have. Fear is universal, whether it is the fear of the bogeyman in the closet or the fear of rejection when we get older. Fear is universal.

The most prominent command in Scripture? Do not worry. We should expect that the Bible would have something to say about worry.

Is this command not to fear a holy version of, “Stop it!” No, Welch says it is a pastoral encouragement and comfort and God reserves his most precious and penetrating word to our universal struggle. When you see Jesus repeatedly saying, Do not be afraid (Luke 12) don’t hear it as a nagging or threatening command but a soft and parental reminder of the truth. God is pleased to repeat himself. He, like us, takes deep joy in being trusted.

Is fear sinful? Welch says, “maybe” but that we should rather focus the question on to whom will we turn when we are afraid. We are going to be afraid. That is a fact. But, focus rather on the relationship with God. God has constructed a world based on trust and relationship.

Fear is a relational matter. Many of the treatments ignore this fact and focus solely on the cognitive side. What if we think more relationally about the healthy response to anxiety? Of course, this means the focus is on our relationship with the Sovereign God.

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Filed under Anxiety, biblical counseling

CCEF’s Annual Conference Topic: Anxiety

Starting Friday, CCEF is running its annual conference in Valley Forge, PA. You can click this linkto register or view speakers and breakouts. Several look pretty good. The keynote is by Ed Welch who is releasing his new book on the topic (free to conference registrants). By the way, his picture is on the page link above. Do you think it looks likes he’s trying to scare little children with that attack position? I’ll be there manning the Biblical Seminary booth and possibly live-blogging if the Wi-Fi is free as it was last year. If you are going to be there, come by and say hello.


Filed under Anxiety, biblical counseling