Nouthetic vs. Humanistic Counseling

What are the benefits of biblical counseling?  In order to answer that question, it is helpful to look at the two opposing worldviews.

Psychology has many theories which shape ground and goals of counseling practice.
Neuroscience, psychodynamic, behaviorism, rational-emotive theory, and humanistic; the aforementioned list a handful of the leading philosophies in psychology. Their answers to the big questions of life (e.g., what is it to be human, what is the source of our problems, and what is the solution to our problems?) determine their understanding of the role of the counselee, counselor, and the goal of counseling. The problem with each of the school’s of thought listed above is that they answer that a human is basically sophisticated biology, a product of evolution, we are basically good, and the answer to our problems lies within ourselves. Either we fix the biology chemically or biologically, by figuring out what happened to us in our environment or at the subconscious level, other people and external circumstances are typically viewed as the main source of our problems. If we correct our self-defeating thinking, eliminate toxic people from our sphere of influence, and create the ideal environment, then we will have peace and tranquility and be “normal”.

It is easy to see why these schools of thought fall short of the glory of God—their aim isn’t the glory of God.

As it pertains to biblical / nouthetic counseling, David Powlison says it, “was founded in the confidence that God has spoken comprehensively about and to human beings. The Bible, His Word, teaches the Truth. Biblical truth and methods are to be pursued and promoted in counseling.” 1 In other words, a good biblical counselor understands that human beings are created in the image of God; their main problem is sin; their main need is redemption, justification; their only hope is Jesus.

The main benefits of biblical / nouthetic counseling is that it submits to the inerrancy and sufficiency of God’s word—the Bible—as its determining source for understanding humans, the human condition, and the solution to life’s problems. You see, we were created to glorify God by enjoying him. Because of sin we no longer hold God at the center of all we do. We have selfish desires that lead us down all kinds of harmful paths. Other people do too. It is true, unfortunately, that many people suffer horrible wrongs at the hands of other humans. Sin is real. Sin is horrible. Sin has grossly distorted the image of God in humans.

After regeneration, God sanctifies his people. The main benefit of this is that God is restoring his image to fallen humans. The more we are like him, the more joy and peace we will have—with God, ourselves, and our neighbors. We learn how to think and speak and act in response to external stimuli and internal emotions in healthy ways. Understanding that our standard of healthy is God’s word. The main source of help is not in chemical/biological change, it is not in rooting out some subconscious problems that result from childhood issues. No, it is in looking outside of ourselves.

1 Powlison, David, Journal of Biblical Counseling

The hope we have comes from looking to Jesus, through the truths of
God’s word, by the power of God’s spirit, according to God’s plan. God made us to do this in community, so we do these things best in community—we do these things best in the church. The more we look to Jesus, the more we will be like him. Jesus is the foundation and source, and goal of life. Biblical / nouthetic counseling is beneficial because it calls us to repent of self-reliance and selfish desires and look to Jesus.

There are caricatures of biblical counseling for a reason. Because people have misused the methods of the Bible. They have reduced the Scriptures to magical formulas. This is where the “take two verses and call me in the morning” comes from. A biblical understanding of humans is that we are psychosomatic beings. We are body and soul, flesh and spirit. We are dualistic. This is why Jesus is the God-man. Fully human, fully God. He took on human flesh to redeem human flesh. With that understanding, we understand that humans are complicated, dynamic creatures. There is no one size fits all approach to helping unique individuals. Therefore, the loving thing to do is to get to know each person well. Not to see where there is subconscious conflict, but to see where there are patterns of unbiblical thinking and responding and pursuing. How does one respond to their suffering? What does one place their hopes in? What motivates people to do what they do? These are good questions to help people thinking through.

Biblical / nouthetic counseling is not anti-science. We appreciate science done correctly. There is a time and place when medication may be useful. Each person is different, biology really does malfunction. “Broken” thyroids can cause depression. However, this is often the exception, not the rule. Yet, we can’t rule it out offhandedly. We want to care for people well by exploring all options. At the same time, fixing a person’s thyroid problems is not a silver bullet. It will only be a component to a comprehensive, long-term, plan of growth and change.

Written by: Joshua Vallejos
Joshua Vallejos is the Executive Director of Restoration Counseling Center. You may find out more about that counseling center at RCCAVL.com. He is also a primary contributor at FunctionalTheology.com, and member of Covenant Baptist Church (covbap.org). He lives in the Asheville, NC area with his wife and two children.