Is psychology compatible with the Bible?
Counseling has always interested me. In Bible college and now two journeys through seminary, when I have an open elective, I often take a counseling class. God has provided me with many opportunities to do counseling in an informal sense.
Many of the questions we receive at GotQuestions.org have a counseling component. Some of the questions we receive are identical to the type of issues that Christian counselors work with. GotQuestions.org absolutely does not advertise itself as a counseling ministry. When a question is submitted to us that requires more guidance than we can or should give via email, we always encourage the questioners to speak with a pastor or Christian counselor in person. But, we can’t simply avoid counseling related questions. Sometimes, sadly, a question submitted to us may be the only time a person is willing to ask for help. So, we strive to provide biblical and compassionate responses to such questions.
In the limited counseling training I have received, I have been taught by biblical counselors (those who reject that modern psychology is at all compatible with the Bible) and by “integrationist” Christian counselors (those who believe there is value in modern psychology that a Christian counselor can employ). I am struggling to discern precisely where I land on this spectrum.
I absolutely believe that the Bible is sufficient (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). I am convinced that many psychological problems are, in fact, sin problems. Whether it is the fact that indwelling sin has corrupted us to the very fiber of our beings, or whether it is sins we have actively and personally committed, biblically speaking, sin is what is wrong with us. In most cases, people need the spiritual transformation that occurs through faith in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and the power of the indwelling Spirit (John 14:16-18; Romans 8:11; 2 Peter 1:3), followed by discipleship, not psychotherapy.
To an unbeliever, any attempt to provide counseling that falls short of the gospel is triage at best. Until the core need of salvation is addressed, even the best counsel is essentially providing pain relief to someone with a mortal wound. It can make the person feel better, but it does not address the core issue.
For the believer, counseling that does not point to the truth of who we are in Christ and to the spiritual tools we possess is a poor substitute to what we truly need. A change in thinking to agreement with God’s truth (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 10:5) is the key to positive mental, emotional, and psychological change.
“All truth is God’s truth” is an accurate statement. I do not deny that modern psychology has discovered many things about humanity that are true. Through observation, testing, and evaluation of what works, modern psychology has developed methodologies and techniques that help people and provide insights into how the human psyche works.
I struggle, though, with how much truth can be discovered by psychologists approaching the issues with anti-Christian presuppositions and unbiblical foundations. While psychological data itself is often objective, the manner in which the data was collected, and how the data is interpreted, is subject to the worldview of the interpreter. If you have the diagnosis wrong, can you prescribe the correct solution? Does the saying “even a broken clock is right twice a day” apply here?
While I absolutely do not trust the secular developers of modern psychology, I am increasingly striving to trust the intentions, perspectives, and integrity of Christian counselors who integrate some aspects of modern psychology into their counseling ministries. I am progressively trusting that, in the hands of a Christ-following, Bible-committed, and prayer-dependent Christian counselor, some aspects of modern psychology can be integrated, to the betterment of the counseling.
Do some Christian counselors integrate more of modern psychology than they should? Likely so. Are some biblical counselors using techniques remarkably similar to what is found in modern psychology, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy? Yes.
I am definitely still a work in progress on this. While I lean strongly towards a biblical counseling approach, my desire to help people overcome the spiritual, mental, emotional, and psychological issues they face makes it difficult for me to completely negate the possibility that some of the insights and techniques of modern psychology might be helpful.
S. Michael Houdmann
Is psychology compatible with the Bible?