Are Biblical Counselors Against Medication?

This past weekend I had the privilege of being one-half of a speaking duo for a wonderful group of women in Tallahassee, Florida. At the end of the conference, we participated in a question and answer session and several of the questions had to do with the topic of how biblical counselors serve those diagnosed with mental illness; specifically clinical depression. 

It is important at the outset to understand the difference between the secular and integrated counselor and the biblical counselor because there are enormous differences in beliefs, paradigms and methodology. 

The secular and integrated counselor believes (with few exceptions), that any question that can reasonably be asked about human beings and our behavior falls within the field of psychiatry or psychology which offers a plethora of theories (currently over 250) as to why we behave the way we do. These theories have led to the diseasification of many emotions and behaviors.

One popular school of thought known as the medical model, largely attributes negative feelings and behaviors to a deficiency or imbalance of chemicals in the brain and to hormonal imbalances (although numerous secular professionals are now denying the chemical imbalance theory). This model labels many behaviors as diseases, disorders and illnesses without any objective scientific proof to support such conclusions. The solution is to prescribe medications that alter brain and body chemistry to attempt to relieve the negative emotional or behavioral problems the client is experiencing.

The numerous books, medical and psychological journal articles written on mental illness and its treatment are full of contradictory statements and data about these theories. Their conclusions are often based on the use of flawed data sets, and their papers are full of statements such as, “it is suggested”, “it is hoped”, and “often seems inconsistent.” 

There are some apparent similarities between biblical counseling and other methods of counseling. For example, in both biblical counseling and psychology, we see a problem, we know behaviors need to change, and talking with and listening to the person with the problem are part of our methodology. However, even though there are some similarities, they do not justify the use of secular theories and methods in helping troubled people. Biblical counselors do not apply psychological labels to problems, nor should we, because our understanding of what has caused the problem is based on biblical truth not psychological theory. 

To be clear, biblical counselors are not against physicians, medical research or even the use of medication to treat those who are ill. If a medical condition can be proven by objective, reproducible medical testing within accepted norms and values as is found in blood work, then a proper course of medical treatment (medication, surgical intervention etc.) must ensue. Medical causes for odd or negative behavior can be proven in a laboratory (hypo or hyperthyroidism, diabetes, cancer, Lupus, etc.) unlike psychological theories. 

Because psychological diagnosis are based on subjective data and unproven theories, the diagnosis is faulty. Therefore, the treatment will be faulty. In light of a lack of medical evidence to prove a person is “sick” we view them as a fallen sinner who has developed sinful habits, and has begun to live for self rather than God’s glory. 

In contrast to the secular route, biblical counseling was not devised or contrived by man; God has designed it. We take the counselees problems seriously and rather than excusing, justifying or rationalizing them away, we examine their problems in light of and what God’s Word says directly or indirectly about them. We show them the biblical perspective on their behavior and actions and attitudes of the heart. Because God created us in His image and likeness, He knows us better than we know ourselves and He wrote a Book that is useful for application to all aspects of our lives. 

Contrary to the medical model, that saddles a person with a disease or disorder they can never overcome, the Biblical model gives them hope that they can change! Our counseling methodology should be different from secular and integrated counseling methods. After spending 15 minutes with a biblical counselor, the counselee should be able to say that no other counseling experience they have had is like this one. They must be able to tell that our counsel is not centered on their esteem, feelings, or their past. 

The message from the first prayer uttered must be about God – who is the central focus of life. All our counseling is God-centered (Jer. 17:7-8, Rom. 12:1-2). My counselee’s hear repeatedly that it is not about them, it is about God. It is not about their feelings; it is about God’s glory. It is not about worshipping self, it is worship of God. I stress that there is accountability for sinful actions and thoughts. The responsibility for them cannot be pushed off on people. 

The counselee also hears she is accountable for change! Many people want change, but they want the changes to take place in others so they will be happy. So often women tell me they want me to help them change their husband. The emphasis in biblical counseling is on change of heart that will lead to life change. We believe that before actions and words can be glorifying to God, the heart has to be changed to one that seeks after God. Once the heart undergoes change, then great strides can be made in change of life. We do not encourage lifetime counseling. Our goal is to help the person understand and implement change on one or two levels and then give them the tools to apply it to all other areas of life.