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What's Wrong With Therapeutic Counseling?
Andy Bustanoby
(C) May 28, 2005

     When I received a newsletter from 9Marks Ministries with an article
     by David Powlison titled "What's Wrong With the Therapeutic
     Approach to Counseling," I had to reply.  You can read his article
     from their May 2005 Newsletter by searching
     The following is my reply.

                                    * * *

   This sounds like a variation of "all problems are sin problems."  Let's
   not get hung up on the word "therapeutic."  I prefer "principles of
   intervention" that use proven psychological principles that enable us
   to intervene.

   I don't suppose that my counseling is going to cure anyone, but I can
   intervene in such a way that the problem may be identified and
   hopefully, arrested.  The counselee has a responsibility to respond to
   my intervention.

   There are several psychological principles that I have in mind that
   have been very useful in intervention.

   **Systems Theory does not look at the individual but at how the system,
   made up of two or more people, functions.  In marriage and the family,
   people who are having problems are unaware of how the system is being
   controlled by people or circumstances.  Revealing this destructive
   control and showing the individuals how to change the situation can
   correct it.

   More often than not, the circumstances or behavior of individuals have
   nothing to do with sin.  They are often the results of immaturity or

   When I speak of stupidity, I'm not talking about what the Bible calls
   "foolishness."  I'm speaking about absence of "common sense" in our
   culture with it's philosophy of relativism, which tells us that
   knowledge, truth and morality vary with the individual and his
   culture.  Common sense is no longer common.

   **I have found that the psychological principle of paradox is very
   helpful in dealing with panic attacks.  I myself have had this problem
   and deal with it by paradoxically responding to the attack by inviting
   it and actually trying to have one in order to dispel its onset.  Panic
   attacks need us to fight them in order to overpower us.  Deliberately
   giving in defuses the problem.

   **Principles of communication and exercises that teach how to use them
   can correct dysfunctional communication in a marriage or family
   system.  For example, Revolving Discussion Sequence teaches couples to
   listen and hear what the other is saying.  "I Messages" rather than
   "You Messages" can make a conversation less volatile.

   Saying that problems are sins against God ignores the fact that all
   problems are not sin problems.  The manifestation may be sinful.  But
   the root cause may be immaturity or stupidity.  Those problems are not
   due to the sin nature but to the vagaries of the untaught human being
   who should be old enough to know better, but doesn't.

   Our humanity is not the same as our sin nature.  Jesus was human, but
   without sin.  As a human he "grew in wisdom and stature and in favor
   with God and man."  Certainly it was not Jesus' divinity that grew, but
   the man.

   He also showed the limitations of being a man.  He grew weary.  He
   cried over the death of Lazarus, even though He was going to raise him
   from the dead.  He understood in human terms and experienced the sorrow
   of death.  This is what Hebrews means when it says that He learned by
   obedience.  As God, He had nothing to learn.  As man, He had much to
   learn about the experience of being human.  And He did it without sin
   being an issue.

   He also showed anger at the Scribes and Pharisees.  He showed His
   disappointment in His disciples when He rebuked them on the night of
   His betrayal.  While He suffered at the thought of crucifixion, they
   slept.  Often the obtuseness of the disciples distressed Him.

   All problems are not sin problems.  And all problems are not cured by
   being more spiritual.  Problems of immaturity or stupidity cannot be
   dealt with as "spiritual problems" until the individual understands
   what the problem is.  Then the question is whether or not He is willing
   to allow God to intervene with corrective measures that the Bible calls

   This is when we have a spiritual problem--when the individual is not
   willing to yield to the correction God has in mind.  Romans 5 tells us
   that trial works endurance, endurance works character, and character
   works hope.  Sometimes, effective intervention by a counselor can be
   just the kind of trial that is needed to confront immaturity and

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