A Biblical Evaluation of 4 Secular-Based Theories in Counseling

In this essay, I will define, describe, and provide a biblical evaluation for 4 secular-based therapies: The 12 step recovery program, cognitive-behavioral therapy, the biogenic theory of mood disorders, and electroconvulsive therapy. It is my goal to fairly evaluate the pros and cons of each position and determine any redemptive quality in them. It is my hope you learn these approaches well and choose the most rational course of action for alleviating mental issues.

The 12 Step recovery program is a set of principles for spiritually minded people to tackle problems such as alcoholism and drug addiction. The American Psychological Association summarizes the program’s goals by the following actions: one cannot control their alcoholism, only a higher power can restore sanity, taking responsibility for past errors through making amends, learning to live a new life of positive behavior, and alleging to help others who suffer from the same addictions.[1]

The benefit of this program is its emphasis on taking personal responsibility for past errors. The fifth step specifically states, “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”[2] This approach is biblical because the Apostle John states, “If we confess our sins to one another, God is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9).” I appreciate how this method avoids blame shifting sin on environmental factors, other persons, or genetic anomalies; instead, the method allows for individual accountability.

A weakness in the 12 step program is its fatalistic mindset—once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.” This is not true. When someone repents of their alcoholism, the Bible asserts they are a new creation in Christ; the old has passed away; the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore, the sober person who attends a 12 step program for years without relapse doesn’t need to label themselves as alcoholics. Their personality has been truly transformed into a new creation whereby identity is found in God, not alcoholism.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) works to solve thinking and behavior. The basic steps in CBT are to identify critical behaviors, determine abnormalities, evaluate the frequency and duration of these abnormalities, and attempt to decrease them through the process of becoming aware of your thoughts and identifying negative thinking.[3] CBT’s circle diagram below shows how emotions, thoughts, and behaviors directly affect each other. Within the circle, there is a triangle of core beliefs, which include: yourself, others, and your future.

Depicting_basic_tenets_of_CBT

The strength of CBT is its practical nature to help someone cope with specific challenges through restructuring their negative thought processes. Similarly, biblical counselors believe negative thoughts will directly affect your behavior and feelings. For example, the internal thought: “Person X makes me so upset” can lead to negative feelings of rage. The negative feelings of rage can lead to acting out that behavior—either by yelling or physically hurting that individual. Because your thoughts can negatively affect yourself, others, and your future, it’s vital to receive cognitive therapy.

The weakness of CBT is attempting to change the heart of an individual without God in the equation. In my opinion, this secular-based therapy may modify the behavior, but it doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. For instance, someone who receives CBT counseling may successfully rewire their cognitive processes in an effort to reduce anger symptoms, but this is just half of the issue. The other half not only includes putting off the old self, which is corrupt through deceitful desires, but to be renewed in the spirit of your minds created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:22-24). Thus, the goal is changing negative attitudes and replacing them with positive attitudes like love, joy, and peace (Gal. 5:22).

According to the Free Medical Dictionary, the Biogenic Theory states: “Defects in physiology and metabolism, such as certain amines like dopamine and serotonin, are pathologically linked to certain psychiatric illnesses.”[4] Consequently, therapists who focus on this methodology are primarily focused on using drugs to alleviate negative symptoms and stabilize one’s mood disorders; however, these counselors may also add individual and group therapy to help the individual develop back into society.

There are several problems with this approach. Dr. Ron Leifer, a New York Psychiatrist, states, “There is no biological imbalance. When people come to me and they say, ‘I have a biological imbalance, I say, ‘Show me your lab results.’ There are no lab tests.” Leifer uses the analogy of diabetes versus depression to defend his argument. Diabetes has a definitive test and biochemical imbalance because it shows high blood sugar, but nothing like that occurs in a patient suffering from depression.[5]

Furthermore, in Leifer’s article The Chemical Imbalance Fraud, he quotes the Chair of Public Affairs of the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. Mark Graff, when he was required under medical pressure to acknowledge there is “no clean cut lab tests” to determine imbalance in the brain. So what’s the real reason? Bioethicist Carly Elliot, a professor from the University of Minnesota, states it succinctly: “The way to sell drugs is to sell psychiatric illness.”[6]

Finally, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a procedure in which small electric currents are passed through the brain, which causes a seizure lasting shorter than 60 seconds. The goal of ECT is to reboot the brain in order to reverse symptoms of mental illness. Before having an ECT treatment, an individual will need a full medical history, physical exam, psychiatric assessment, an electrocardiogram to check heart health, and basic blood tests. ECT is typically the last resort when medications aren’t tolerated or other forms of therapy haven’t been successful.[7]

From a biblical perspective, ECT is not a wise choice. It has been shown to cause memory loss, confusion, and serious heart problems. The Bible informs us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and do not belong to us but to God (1 Cor. 6:19). Therefore, humans ought to respect their bodies and not subject it to undue physical harm from ECT. Moreover, ECT does not deal with the problem. Someone may struggle with depression even after shock therapy and will need a counselor to help them cope with it. On the contrary, the role of a biblical counselor is to empower the person to overcome their depression and help restructure their brain chemistry, not through an inanimate lifeless machine but by a living breathing human being. There is no comparison between the two.

In conclusion, I have given you an evaluation concerning four secular-based approaches to counseling: 12 Step Recovery, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Biogenic Theory and Electroconvulsive therapy. My goal was to provide a biblical response by expressing the pros and cons of each therapy and ways to integrate some of them into Christian based counseling. It is my hope you will learn about these approaches and decide for yourself which counseling views are most rational.

[1] Gary R. Vandenboss, APA Dictionary of Psychology (Washington, DC: APA, 2007).

[2] The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous Material from the General Service Office.

[3]  “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy”, Mayo Clinic (October 16yh, 2015). Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cognitive-behavioral-therapy/basics/what-you-can-expect/prc-20013594

[4] “The Biogenic Amine Theory,” Free Medical Dictionary (October 16th, 2015). Available at: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/biogenic+amine+theory

[5] “Blaming the Brain: The Chemical Imbalance Fraud”, Dr. Ron Leifer (October 16, 2015), Available at: http://www.cchr.org/sites/default/files/Blaming_The_Brain_The_Chemical_Imbalance_Fraud.pdf

[6] Shankar Vedantam, “Drug Ads Hyping Anxiety Make Some Uneasy,” The Washington Post, 16 July 2001.

[7] “Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT),” Mayo Clinic (October 16th, 2015). Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/electroconvulsive-therapy/basics/why-its-done/prc-20014161

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