Nuances of Biblical Counseling
May 17, 2023
As one of Westminster’s core distinctives, Biblical counseling is a non-negotiable element of our curriculum. The discipline of Biblical counseling is very nuanced and is often confused for other Christian counseling theories. With that in mind, this article will cover Westminster’s deep history as the root and origin of Biblical counseling, the distinction between Biblical counseling and Integrationist Christian counseling, the distinction between Biblical counseling and Nouthetic counseling, and licensure versus non-licensed counseling.
Origins of Biblical Counseling
Westminster has a rich history of biblical counseling dating back to some of our earliest years. Jay Adams has long been considered the founder of the biblical counseling movement, with figures like Dave Powlison being the “second generation.” Both men were educated at Westminster, but there is an earlier generation of biblical counselors who predated Adams.
Edward Heerema graduated from WTS in 1937 and applied the covenantal apologetic method he learned from Cornelius Van Til to the secular psychology of his time, serving as the Spiritual Advisor at the Christian Sanatorium in Midland Park, NJ. Likewise, William Hiemstra graduated from WTS in 1942 and served as Spiritual Advisor for the Christian Sanatorium in Wyckoff, NJ. Hiemstra gave an address to the alumni association in 1951 titled “The Reformed Faith and Mental Health.” Christian and pastoral counseling has always been an integral part of ministry, but Westminster has sought to ensure that counseling ministry be as aligned with the principles of confessional reformed theology as possible. From Heerema in 1937, to Adams and the founding of CCEF, to Powlison and the present day, the result has been the development of the discipline of Biblical counseling.
Biblical vs. Integrationist
Another form of Christian counseling that is often juxtaposed with Biblical counseling is called Integrationist Christian counseling. Integrationist counseling is named as such because it seeks to integrate the findings of secular psychology with Christian theology, employed in the process of counseling. Integrationist counseling is not accurately conceived of as a single counseling theory but rather a number of counseling theories that are then integrated with Christian theology like tools in a tool belt.
Integrationist counselors typically take issue with biblical counselors as not fully taking into account the “whole person” insofar as they are not as dependent upon the findings of secular psychology and neuroscience in their counseling methodology. While the criticism is untrue insofar as biblical counseling does, in fact, critically appreciate the findings of secular psychology as the fruit of common grace, more concerning is the latent admission within the critique that secular psychology has a greater understanding of the complexities of the human mind than the author of Scripture, the creator of the human mind.
The reality is that Scripture is the greatest tool for ministry of any kind. It is living and active, it pierces to the division of soul and spirit and is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12). It is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and training in righteousness. By it, the Christian can be equipped for every good work (1 Tim 3:16-17). That doesn’t mean that we ignore the common grace findings of secular psychology, but it does mean that Scripture is to be the highest authority in any form of Christian counseling.
Biblical vs. Nouthetic
Yet another distinction among Christian counseling methodologies is the distinction between Biblical counseling and Nouthetic counseling. The name of Nouthetic counseling comes from the Greek word “noutheteo” which means to confront or admonish. The term was coined by Jay Adams who used “Nouthetic” and “Biblical” counseling interchangeably. The coterminous nature of these terms carried into the next generation of biblical counselors like Powlison and Welch, who sometimes referred to their counseling methodology as “Biblical-nouthetic counseling.”
However, over time there has been something of a diversion from one another. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but most Nouthetic counselors consider themselves Biblical counselors, while not all Biblical counselors consider themselves Nouthetic counselors. So what is the difference? Generally speaking, Biblical counselors (as opposed to Nouthetic counselors) focus more on understanding and hearing their counselees, and approaching them with a softer confrontation.
Nouthetic counselors tend to have a heavier emphasis on confrontation and try to arrive there sooner than later in the counseling relationship. The result is that Nouthetic counselors are more focused on the people they are counseling as sinners, and their responsibility for that sin. Biblical counselors attempt to understand those they are counseling as simultaneously perpetrators of sin and victims of sin, sinners and sufferers.
Licensure vs. Non-Licensed Counseling
Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) are mental health professionals that are licensed by the State. Different states have different requirements for licensure, most of which are not amenable to Christian counselors in general and Biblical counselors specifically. Most state licensure requirements are becoming increasingly hostile towards counselors who hold Biblical positions on marriage, homosexuality, abortion, and other topics.
However, that does not mean that employment opportunities are limited for Biblical counselors. Biblical counselors often work for Christian counseling centers, crisis pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, as well as at churches, and in campus ministry. Additionally, Biblical counseling is a vital aspect of any faithful pastoral ministry.
Biblical counseling is an integral part of the education you will receive at Westminster, and has been a vital focal point in our training programs since the earliest days of our seminary. If you have questions about our approach to Biblical counseling, our theological distinctives, or enrolling in a program at Westminster, you can connect with one of our Admissions counselors here and they would be happy to assist you.
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