Christian counseling: Nouthetic vs. Biblical

Last night, I spent some time on the phone with my husband’s friend’s sister (aka my former pastor’s sister). We’ll call her Natalie.

Natalie was very sweet and kind, really encouraging and strengthening me by sharing her testimony of faith in God. She suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, which has led her to take Paxil (on and off) for the past 7 years. She says the drug has helped her tremendously and who am I to knock the drug (knowing what I know about Paxil/Seroxat) when she has seen the wonders that it has worked in her life?

I briefly explained my story of depression, history of suicide, and diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Although she couldn’t fully relate, she was very sympathetic and understanding. In fact, our conversation was so fruitful, I ended up taking notes!

Jay AdamsWe briefly touched on the issue of Nouthetic counseling (NC). She has undergone the course and simply needs to be certified. The counselor I currently see is associated with the Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF), which has roots in NC and was founded by the man—Jay Adams—who developed the method. However, CCEF is now known for what is called biblical counseling. The organization has since moved away from pure Nouthetic methods and become more a bit more varied, taking bits and pieces of psychology (and perhaps psychiatry) that line up with the Bible. Adams, disagreeing with the organization’s approach, founded the Institute for Nouthetic Studies and uses the Bible as the sole counseling textbook. According to the wiki entry on Nouthetic counseling, Adams developed the word Nouthetic based on the “New Testament Greek word noutheteō (νουθετέω), which can be variously translated as ‘admonish,’ ‘warn,’ ‘correct,’ ‘exhort,’ or ‘instruct.'”

NC was developed back in the ’70s as a response to the popularity of psychology/psychiatry. Many Christians reject some of the teachings of such popular psychologists as Freud, Jung, Adler, Maslow, etc. Adams’ highly successful book, Competent to Counsel, criticizes the psychology industry and counters its teaching with a Nouthetic approach.

But NC has its Christian critics.

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CCEF: Ed Welch on Self-Injury

I’ve talked about how I get biweekly counseling from CCEF (Christian Counseling Education Foundation) in the past. I attended the foundation’s annual conference last year and have since received their bimonthly newsletters. This month, Ed Welch, licensed psychologist and author of more than more than six books and booklets (some of which are on my Helpful Reading list to the left), wrote an article about self-injury and the relief that comes from the pain. Obviously, he doesn’t advocate it but delves into the thought processes behind it and how to work on controlling the urge with God’s help. Here’s an excerpt.

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Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Introduction

“Won’t you share a common disaster? Share with me a common disaster. Oh, a common disaster.” – Cowboy Junkies, “A Common Disaster”

SuicideI receive weekly counseling at CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation) in Glenside, Pennsylvania, The foundation has an outreach program called Resources for Changing Lives that publishes educational material on different topics. One of the small booklets I purchased was “Suicide: Understanding and Intervening (SUI)” by Jeffrey S. Black. The booklet is a tad bigger than a 3 x 5 index card and consists of 31 pages. Of all the things I read in the book, the last paragraph stood out in my mind:

“In the years I have been involved in biblical counseling, I have not completely fathomed the hopelessness and despair in a believer that makes death more attractive than life. I pray that my inability is not merely a lack of empathy for someone who struggles. I hope that it is a vision for Christ and his kingdom that keeps the true ‘meaning’ of suicide out of my reach.”

While I understand Mr. Black has years of counseling those who struggle with suicidal ideations, I can’t help but wonder: What made him qualified to write this book?

In reading SUI, I felt as though the author took an objective stance in writing this. It came across as matter-of-factual rather than empathetic or sympathetic. I read the book – in all honesty – looking for answers and some kind of sympathy. I only received a slew of answers. The book should aptly be renamed “Suicide: A Factual Guide to Intervention.” No understanding required.

The book wasn’t bad; it just felt like the author wanted to keep his distance. “Don’t get too close to the reader lest you understand what a suicidal person is experiencing!” But the lack of emotion to relate to the reader detracted from many of the positive aspects of the book.

Out of five stars, I give the book three stars. Despite the absence of emotion, the book gives great bits of information I hope to share. As a person who struggles with suicidal thoughts on a recurring basis, the book was a bit of a disappointment. I know of other counselors at the foundation who could have written a more sympathetic book than Mr. Black. But he wrote it, so it’s time to delve into it.