Posted by: watchman | May 29, 2009

Psycho babble

A pastor friend of mine told me that I depend too much on psycho-babble, and instead, I just to depend on Jesus. There is a lot of this sort of talk going around evangelical circles of late. They say very haughty things about faith and hope, etc. They tell me to be suspicious of the wisdom of man, but instead, firmly rely on the sovereignty of God.

This all sounds nice, but it seems a bit naive to me. It also displays a pretty warped view of psychology – a view most certainly born out of ignorance.

Now, to be fair, there are some bad eggs on the realm of psychology. There are crackpot quacks, and narcissistic ne’er do wells. As in any such profession, the field of psychology attracts a particular breed of megalomaniac. There are also a fair amount of counselors that are militantly anti-faith, and tend to see any sort of spiritual reality as oppressive. As a rule, however, I have found counselors and psychologists to be very open to faith and very helpful with the stuff of life.

The accusations being made against the fields of psychology and counseling are borne out of a false dichotomy. According to critical people in the church, there are two polar opposites on this subect:

MAN'S WISDOM  ----------><----------   GOD's WISDOM

These two polarities stand in direct eternal opposition to one another and they mix like oil and water.So,  say the critics, we should just rely on the Bible and nothing else.

This is a classic false dichotomy. This is the exact same sort of thought process that leads people to refuse medical attention.

MAN'S MEDICINE ----------><--------- GOD'S HEALING

The notion that God can not work through the gifts and talents that he has given certain people is borderline blasphemy. The fact of the matter is that God has gifted different people in different ways. If my arm gets chopped off, I want a physician, not a pastor. In the same way, if I am struggling spiritually, a doctor is probably not the best person to see.

It is the same for emotional and mental health. There are times that a prayer and a Bible verse just aren’t cutting it. Anxiety, depression, addiction, and other ailments of the mind can have a serious affect on a person’s life. Pastors are usually not equipped to properly deal with such things. In my opinion, it is much better to consult with a professional specialist for such matters.

The argument against counseling and psychological help is far too simplistic and based on some very flawed logic. Cliche arguments fail to encompass the entirety of a nuanced subject. While discernment needs to be used (God gave us a brain for a reason), we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. A counselor can be a trustworthy source of healing and help amidst life’s toughest times. We should not dismiss its value so easily.

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Responses

  1. Very interesting post. I think at times I have discounted psychology more than I should. What’s difficult is for people (me especially) to wrap their heads around something around which they just can’t wrap their heads. The person who is not bipolar is incapable of understanding what it must be like to suffer from that. And of course, you can replace the word “bipolar” with “depressed,” “schizophrenic,” etc.

    And so, I try to be more compassionate towards those suffering from that which I don’t understand. I’ve come to realize there isn’t just a one-size-fits-all remedy. And of course, it always helps having a wife more compassionate than I am…

  2. Hey, Joey. In the podcast, Jamie mentioned something important – there are quacks. Some people in the psychology/counseling field are a real mess, and a person would do well to proceed with discernment. However, there are also “quacks” in ministry. In fact, there are a lot of them. So, no label should get a free pass.

    We should all go where God leads. We should also remain vigilant and avoid putting limitations on his work.


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