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By Dr. Andrew Davies. BD MA PhD.

Counselling and psychotherapy were undoubtedly among the major growth industries of the 1980s and 1990s. Practitioners of all kinds of self-help therapies made their names with a plethora of TV shows and publishing deals; and the phenomenon carried over into Christian circles as well.

Far from traditional pastoral counselling, which focusses on applying general biblical truth to an individual's particular personal difficulties, we have seen the rise of 'Christian psychology' which generally amounts to little more than the application of secular psychological methods within a Christian context.

While some Churches have successfully used counselling centres as a major element of their evangelistic strategy, there are some ethical issues which need to be considered.

1. Counselling can produce dependency. This is most obvious in its excessive state, often parodied in American TV shows, where people are incapable of making decisions or do anything without consulting their therapist, but there are rather too many people in the British Church today who feel that they could not survive without their regular visit from the pastoral visiting team.

2. Persistent therapy could be seen as denying, even undermining, the effectiveness of the work of the Holy Spirit. If at conversion we truly become 'a new creation',(1) then why should the problems of the past need continual readdressing?

3. The core principles of psychotherapy - its understanding of human nature, or its approach to issues such as guilt and sexuality, for instance - are essentially non-Christian. Its founding fathers were solidly atheistic. Sigmund Freud considered all religion to be a neurosis, a crutch for the emotionally weak and frail to lean on, and Carl Jung saw his work as 'providing an alternate conceptualization of spirituality to Christianity's'(2). It is difficult to see how Christian practitioners could base their methodology primarily on such anti-Christian approaches.

4. Pyschiatry is not a purely medical and scientific discipline. Some therapies such as dream analysis and positive thinking might be considered to have their roots in Eastern religions. Spirit channelling and mediumship and other 'pyschic' approaches to counselling are clearly beyond the bounds of acceptability for Christians, although these techniques are unlikely to be used in mainstream medical psychiatry.

Hypnosis is probably in a slightly different category, however, since it does seem to depend on solid scientific data, but still opens the subject up to external manipulation and should be undergone only with care. All this does not mean, in my opinion, that there is no such thing as Christian psychology or therapy, or that it has no merit. Many people could testify to the value of a wise, insightful counsellor. However, the techniques and approaches used need to be thought through carefully and applied with as much sensitivity to the teaching of the Word of God as to the needs of the person seeking help, if the advice of the counsellor or therapist is really to make a difference to them.

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