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The Dangerous World of Biblical Counseling: Part 1

By Larry C ~ 

One of the biggest dangers to a person's mental well-being and health is getting the wrong diagnoses. I have seen some true "miracles" of positive change happen to persons who were diagnosed and then treated properly with therapy and - if needed - medication. I have worked in the substance abuse treatment and mental health fields for several decades now. I am a Masters level clinician and have a good grasp of what particular symptoms and behaviors could mean, and what needs to be done to help a person.

My work as a counselor is "evidence-based". This means that the practices that I use must be based on real research and results and just not some unproven and untested "theory" of human psychology. Such was the case for many years when psychologists and psychiatrists were interpreting people and their problems based on Freudian, Adlerian and Jungian "theories" which had not been put through any real clinical trials or review.

I started out trying to help people through various fundamentalist Christian "ministries," who all believed that because they had the Bible, they did not need anything else in order to help people change or solve their problems of living. I want to relate two instances from my own personal life where "biblical counseling" had disastrous results.

The first incident took place when I first entered college in the Fall of 1973. I had become something of an agnostic in my last year of High School even though I was raised in a "King James Version" only Baptist Church (a church which taught that only the King James Version of the Bible was "God's Word"; all other translations were deemed as demonic "perversions" of God's "Holy KJV Word"; even in the world of fundamentalism, such a position is generally viewed as a very ignorant one).

I was 19 when I started dating a Baptist preacher's daughter named Ruth. We had met while we both worked in a department store.

Ruth's father had sent her to a very strict independent fundamentalist(and unaccredited) Tennessee Temple College in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Ruth had been "rebellious" against her father's strict rules. She had done things like run off to California with his credit cards and lived on a hippie commune, had lots of lovers, smoked dope and dropped acid. She had ran away from home many times and once ended up in Washington, DC and had been arrested with anti-war protesters. She related that one time she had accompanied her father to a downtown homeless men's mission where he was to preach to the derelicts who were required to hear a sermon before they could get their evening meal. While her father was preaching, Ruth wandered off and ended up having sex with some unknown homeless guy in an alley next to the Union Gospel Mission! She was just in her mid-teens when this happened. I was shocked and disturbed to hear all this. I had never met anyone with problems that she had. Here was this woman who had been raised in a "godly" Christian home going out and doing all kinds of outlandish and immoral things. She fit the proverbial wild preacher's kid gone bad!

But besides living a life of "sin," Ruth had also been suicidal: she had several past attempts. I had never met anyone who was suicidal or even attempted suicide. I was puzzled by it all: here was this beautiful, young 19-year-old woman who was smart, articulate and artistic, but also severely disturbed. I wanted to help but I didn't know what to do.

I grew very concerned for her when she revealed to me that voices would speak to her. She had thought for several years that the voices were her guardian angels, but now she had her doubts. While taking a bible class at the fundamentalist Christian college she started thinking that the voices were perhaps those of "demons" since they always told her to do "sinful" things. Even though I was still an agnostic at the time, I still had a lot of old fundamentalist tapes in my head. I had not developed other ways of understanding why people do what they do.

I asked my sister what I should do to help Ruth and she suggested I talk to Kay Arthur, a young, vibrant woman in Chattanooga who had started a Bible teaching center. Kay was a graduate of Tennessee Temple's Bible School division where she earned a diploma in Christian ministry (Kay now has an internationally known teaching ministry called Precept International.) I called Kay and explained what had been happening and she gave me the number to "Dr. Bob," who had been the head of the psychology department at a local evangelical college and also had his own private Christian counseling practice.

I went and saw Dr. Bob at his office in a high rise office building which housed the offices of other medical and legal professionals. Dr. Bob appeared distinguished, caring and confident about what could be done to help Ruth. He had a Ph.D from a state university in psychology. I explained my concerns over my girlfriend and he listened. He asked me to bring her in for an appointment. The only thing I expected that day was that Dr. Bob was going to "talk" with her about her problems. Isn't that what psychologists do? Ruth and Dr. Bob were in session for about 20 minutes. Then he stepped out from his office to the waiting room where I was sitting and asked me to join them. When I entered, I saw Ruth sitting in a chair and looking like she was in some kind of dazed stupor. He explained to me that she had demonic oppression due to her sinful lifestyle. Satan had gained a foothold in her life because of her sinful ways. He went on to explain how he had diagnosed her problem: he had asked her to read a verse from the Bible but she had refused. He said he then asked what the name of the "demon" was that was speaking to her and she had told him that "it" would not allow her to say it's name, but she could write it out for him. She wrote the name "Mora" on a piece of paper, which Dr. Bob showed to me. She had also refused to confess that "Jesus is Lord," something which he explained demonically oppressed individuals cannot do. He explained that these tests were clear evidence that we were dealing with a case of demonic oppression and just not psychological problems.

Next, the Dr. started commanding the "demon Mora" to leave her. Ruth came out of her fog and covered her ears and started crying. He continued on, and she started screaming as if she was being tortured. She turned to me and said through tearful eyes, "Larry get me out of here!" I refused. Even though the scene was something out of a Grade-B movie, we were staying so Ruthie could get the help she needed! At one point she got up to walk out and Dr. Bob pushed her back into her chair. I became concerned during all the hysterics that she might make a move to jump out of his 9th floor window. The commanding and the crying continued on longer. It seemed like it was all building up to some kind of explosive climax.

Then, all of a sudden, Dr. Bob stopped commanding the demons to leave and matter-of-factly told Ruth that he wanted to make a follow-up appointment with her. Ruth instantly regained her composure and said she needed to use the bathroom and left the room. I turned to Dr. Bob and asked him why he had stopped the exorcism for it looked like something was about to happen. Dr. Bob told me that he had to stop because he had another appointment coming in. He also informed me that Ruth cannot get free of her demons because she "loves her sin too much"; consequently, the demons have a spiritually legal foothold in her life as long as she is unrepentant; thus blocking the power of the Holy Spirit from freeing her. Though I had been a skeptic, suddenly all my years of fundamentalist programming came back to me. What Dr. Bob said made perfect sense. I was a struggling college freshman and he was this highly educated, professional. He had been the Chair of a psychology department at a Christian college. He has this earned doctorate from a "secular" university. He must know what he's doing. I totally accepted this man's interpretation of what I had just witnessed. All my skepticism abut the Bible and faith went out the proverbial window. I reasoned: if "demons" were real and the name of Jesus makes them leave, then Jesus was real and the Bible which tells us about these things is a reliable guide after all! This whole event resulted in me getting "right with the Lord" and putting away all my doubt and unbelief that I had allowed to creep in. I felt excited and wonderful. I didn't have to try to figure everything out on my own any longer. It was true: the Bible was God's word! Now I just needed to diligently study the Bible and the Lord would show me what to do. Truly, "God's Word" is all I needed in order to live my life. I had gone from a deconversion to a conversion experience.

What happened to Ruth? Well, she dropped out of her fundamentalist college and left town. I did talk to her once before she left. I wanted to talk about the attempted exorcism. She didn't want to. When I asked her, "Who is Lord?" I was shocked when she smiled and confidently replied, "Why Larry, Jesus is." I was confused at her ability to now mention the name of the Lord with ease whereas at Dr. Bob's office she seemed unable to.

This event, and the interpretation given to me by Dr. Bob, unfortunately set me up for a true disaster eight years later when I met and married my young "spirit-filled" wife, who turned out to have - you guessed it - demon problems too! I discarded any interest I had in the study of psychology. Now I just needed to know God's Word. With the "whole counsel of God" I would be able to help anyone with any problem because of the sufficiency of scripture. . . or so I thought.

Now, 37 years later, I interpret all that happened differently. Ruth, far from being in some state of demonization, exhibited classic symptoms of psychosis (hearing voices). Her impulsive actions regarding sex and risk taking strike me also as possible she had Bipolar Disorder. Her extreme sexual behaviors I would now want to know if she had ever been sexually molested. In other words, instead of making her behaviors as simply evidence of either godliness or sinfulness, or God or the Devil, what is the bigger picture? Though Dr. Bob had been exposed to regular psychological views about human behavior, he had decided to be strictly "biblical" in his counseling approaches. And since the Bible only mention "demons" as a source for what ails you, then demons it is! His idealogical commitment to the sufficiency of scripture regarding all manner of living blinded him to other possible interpretations of Ruth's dramatic actions. I also see her actions as her playing along with the fundamentalist narrative that she had been raised in. And at the same time, perhaps Ruth was just plan upset with the heavy handed approach Dr. Bob took: you are sinful and you have allowed demons to enter you! Being told that could be upsetting for a vulnerable and troubled 19 year old woman.

Unfortunately, Dr. Bob's "biblical counseling" approach I would retain and use when I encountered another person with problems years later. Sadly, I now know that Ruth did not get the help she so badly needed. Dr. Bob and his biblical approach failed her. It blamed her for her problems. I hope she eventually got the help she really needed. Sorry Ruth. I failed you too.

Next: Part II Learning The Hard Way