Have You Been Burned By A NANC Counselor?

November 5, 2013

Have You Been Burned By A Nanc Counselor
Heath Lambert

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Heath Lambert

Have You Been Burned By A Nanc Counselor

BCC Staff Note: This post first appeared at the NANC/ACBC site and is used by permission of ACBC and the author, Heath Lambert. You can also read the original post at the ACBC site. Also please note that the post was written by Heath before the official vote on the name change of NANC to ACBC (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors).

Five Responses

Perhaps you are like a lot of people I have talked to since being asked to become the executive director of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC) (Now: ACBC: Association of Certified Biblical Counselors). I’ve heard stories of people who have friends, relatives, and acquaintances with terrible things to say about NANC counselors.  Some of the stories are really bad: A NANC counselor . . . “Told my brother to get off of his prescription medication,” “Told my aunt to return to her abusive husband,” “Told my mom she was sinning by using psychiatric medication,” “Berated my depressed brother for being guilty of sin.”

Statements like that are horrifying to me. I will not try and defend them. I still think, however that NANC is an incredible organization. I want to explain to you why I agreed to lead an organization with some counselors that, apparently, have such a terrible reputation.

In particular I have five things I’d like to say to anyone who’s been burned by a NANC counselor.

An Apology

First, I’m sorry. Many have been burned by counsel that is a distortion of what would be offered by the Wonderful Counselor and has, therefore, been damaging. When that happens under the banner of an organization like NANC committed, “to pursuing excellence in biblical counseling” the appropriate response is repentance. I confess that our practice has too often fallen short of the high biblical standard for which we aim, and I am deeply sorry. Please forgive us.

Judging the Many by the Few

Second, though we need forgiveness for times of legitimate failure, please don’t conclude that every member of NANC is guilty of inflicting the kind of damage that you experienced. NANC has certified counselors in every state in the union and in 14 countries. As a matter of fact, every large organization has people in it that are terrible representatives of the organization. A family friend of mine was a victim of violent police brutality several years ago. While out with friends a surveillance camera recorded a police officer beating him and another friend. Though I’m aware that there is such a thing as “dirty” cops, if someone breaks into my house tonight I’m calling the police. Why? Because I don’t think all police are like the one who attacked my friend.

Honestly, most of the stories I hear about NANC counselors are wonderful. I have seen NANC counselors, with my own eyes, weeping with folks going through tremendous pain. I’ve been in the homes of our counselors and seen pictures of families with hand-written notes expressing that their family is together today because of the care they were shown. I’ve read Christmas cards that expressed the joy of a changed life because Jesus used a NANC member to restore them in their brokenness. I’ve talked to people crying tears of gratitude because NANC counselors opened up their home for hours of free counseling when everybody else was charging money they didn’t have.

Those stories aren’t as sensational as the tragic ones, but they are true. They are also, 100:1, the ones I hear most frequently.

A Word of Encouragement 

Third, you should be encouraged by the quality of our training and enforcement procedures at NANC. NANC offers the most rigorous and biblical certification requirements available in the evangelical world. The counselors at our training centers offer comprehensive instruction in dealing with all the different kinds of issues that are crucial in counseling—not just in rebuking sin. Whenever NANC offers training we always—always—do it with a licensed medical doctor present who provides crucial medical background into counseling-related problems. These physicians always—always—remind those pursuing certification that it is not their job to practice medicine and that it is unethical to do so.

At NANC we also have an ethics and membership committee with people on it who each have decades of counseling experience. Whenever an accusation is made against one of our counselors, that committee investigates the charges and makes recommendations about dealing with them. Counselors who are guilty of the kinds of terrible things mentioned above are not trained to be that way by NANC or any of our affiliates. Furthermore, people that persist in that kind of corrupt counsel are not welcome in our organization.

Keeping a Gracious Perspective 

Fourth, incompetent counsel is common property to everyone. Everybody messes up. It doesn’t matter what you believe, how you were trained, or where you serve, a day is coming—and has probably come already—when your counsel will not be the paragon of wisdom you would long for it to be. Sooner or later, good counselors will offer bad counsel. How could it be otherwise? The good news about NANC is that when that happens we are committed to the Bible as the perfect standard to judge what is good and bad counsel. We know how and when to improve because we listen to the Bible. The same cannot be said for liberal counselors whose benchmark is their own wisdom. When liberals faithlessly counsel married couples going through a rough period to “just get a divorce” or counsel people that their homosexual lifestyle is acceptable, who is to correct them? At NANC we’re always trying to listen to God’s perfect standard and change course when it is required.

Setting the Record Straight

Fifth, some of these horror stories are unfair distortions of counsel that was actually faithful. There is only one brand of counseling that is committed to calling people to repent when they are guilty of sin, and that is biblical counseling. To be sure, people need counsel for all sorts of reasons besides their own personal sinfulness. When sin occurs, however, we are not being the kinds of ministers Jesus requires unless we call people to repentance. The Wonderful Counselor Himself called a bunch of guys a brood of vipers, and they hated him for it. Such is the price of faithfulness. I once counseled a serial adulterer who was requesting that his wife learn to accommodate his repeated acts of unfaithfulness. I looked him in the eye, told him he was one of the most arrogant men I had ever met, and—on the authority of Jesus—asked him to turn from his sin. He cussed at me, walked out of my office, and now regularly tells people that I’m meaner than a snake. I hate that he feels that way, but I would repeat every word I said.  Whether that makes me mean or kind depends on whether you’re listening to that man or his wife tell the story. Whether that makes me faithful depends on neither of their renditions, but on whether Jesus, or someone else, is your model for counsel.

Those are five thoughts that I pray are encouraging to anyone who has been wounded by a NANC counselor. I pray that, like my willingness to trust the police force even after the victimization of my friend, you will not judge an entire organization of faithful and loving people by the misdeeds and misunderstandings of a few.

18 thoughts on “Have You Been Burned By A NANC Counselor?

  1. Good response. Yeah, I wound up in a VA psych ward again after the Army after a NANC Counselor told me that all I needed to deal with was my “relationship problems” and the Schizophrenia would go away. He didn’t tell me to come off of the meds per se, but I did come off them as a result of what he said. I don’t hate him or anything. I just think that he thinks that mental illnesses are greatly exagerated by clinical psychology and psychiatrists. He’s wrong. They usually get it right. There are always stories of a few who beat the odds and come off their meds, but misdiagnoses happen, and not every thing can be explained anyway. Odd things happen. period. It doesn’t mean that we should go against how the world typically treats mental illnesses like Schizophrenia.

    Anyway, clinical psychoogists and my psychiatrist have helped me a great deal, and my family and friends would say that sin hasn’t been my problem, just “hearing things” that aren’t there. I am now in “full remission.” I am also finishing up getting my teaching credential. I plan on possibly studying for an M.S. in clinical psychology as well as an M.A. in Biblical Counseling, so that I can reach out to others with mental illnesses so that they can cope with their illnesses using Biblical Counseling.

  2. I work for the Biblical Counseling Center in Arlington Heights and we train several hundred each year in ACBC certified training in Biblical Counseling. I don’t know that we are representative of what every ACBC center but I think we are fairly representative of the historic positions within NANC. We, as well as the official NANC teaching team always encourage Biblical Counselors to cooperate and defer to doctors directions for taking medicines and weening off of the medicines. One of the things we stress at our seminars is that every individual has a story, including the mentally ill. Every person has a story that God cares deeply about. God has something to say both through words and actions to the mentally ill. If medicine can help them hear more of what he has to say, we are blessed that the medicine is being used of God.

    Below is an exact cut and paste from our notes sections. Just wanted to let you know that your concerns and experiences are being addressed within the teaching centers of ACBC. Thanks for sharing your story.

    3 Questions every Biblical Counselors should ask about psychiatric Medicine

    A. Is it wrong?

    Alleviation of pain and confusion is a legitimate medical

    Prescription Drugs can be abused and cause medical

    Medications are an issue of “Christian-Liberty” and

    Additional counseling is always helpful to help them deal
    with legitimate medical issues or to ascertain the root
    causes of mental/emotional disturbance.

    B. Is it helpful?

    Some people seem to function at a higher level with the
    use of medicine. It helps them be a stronger mother/
    father and worker. It can aide in stability.

    The stability that medicine affords some people makes it
    easier for them to be more loving to those around them.

    Are they more glorifying to God on their medicine than
    off of it?

    Medicine is not “the solution” unless the struggle is
    purely medical. However, our body responds to medical
    issues (outer man) with a spiritual response (inner-man)
    to physical suffering, either for good or for bad. Focus
    your counseling on the spiritual struggle and
    sanctification process.

    C. Is it necessary?

    Have they tried adjusting rest, exercise, thought and
    nutrition patterns first?

    Have they had a physical exam by a doctor to rule out
    neurological complications or disease?

    Can you begin counseling them without it? Are they
    stable enough to receive counsel?

    Is it clearly a spiritual issue at its root? Have they
    identified the root?

    Final Word of Caution:

    Since most biblical counselors are without Psychiatric and Pharmacological training, it is necessary to defer to the psychiatrist and to be a humble learner. Psychiatrists truly intend to help people, just like you do. Never make it your primary goal to help someone come off their medicine, and be humble enough to insist they follow the doctor’s orders if they intend to come of their medication.

    Final Word of Hope:

    While there is clearly much confusion in this area of psychotropic
    medicine and in understanding all the dynamics involved, what
    the hurting person needs more than anything is hope. Hope
    comes by knowing the Lord, obeying His Word and by
    experiencing the joy of abiding in Christ. Make that your goal!

  3. We totally agree with your article, Have You Been Burned by an NANC Counselor? Two years ago we sought help for our son. We indured name calling, harsh words and unethical practices. He quit on us after 5 times. We serve a souvoreign God and He lead us to a Christian counselor but not in NANC. God used this man to help bring healing to our son. We never reported this counselor because we felt some how he would try to hurt us again. We can’t describe the hurt we felt and resently met someone who was in the process of this training. She met with us, loved us, prayed with us, called us, and was a servant of our King. She encouraged us to say something to someone. So here it is…..

  4. The scars bad NANC Counseling has left have effected two generations. There is now a generation of children that no longer want to love Jesus.

  5. My life and marriage were radically changed by God through a loving NANC counselor in 1992. I’ve never been the same. Since then I’ve served as a NANC counselor myself and watched others serve with me. We have over 40 people doing counseling in our church who have been trained by NANC (ACBC). While mistakes have certainly been made along the way, I am confident the people who have been graciously helped (at no financial cost!) far out number the ones that were hurt. Thank you for leading us, Heath! The future is bright for ACBC to continue to be one of God’s channels of grace and truth, for His glory.

  6. My life was literally saved by the Biblical counseling offered through Vision of Hope in Lafayette, IN. I have never met more gracious, compassionate truth tellers who loved me in the midst of my destroyed and devastated life.
    The Biblical counselors I know have gotten up at midnight, come in early, spent hours studying, mourned, rejoiced, attended court hearings, celebrated weddings, opened up their homes for baby showers, gone back to school for more training and selflessly given of themselves.
    The TRUTH is what set me free, even though most of the time I didn’t want to hear it and had quite a bad attitude about what they told me.

  7. I’m not entirely sure about my own thoughts on all of the above except to say that I don’t know very much at this point in my life. All I know is that psychiatrists and psychologists have been more helpful than Biblical Counselors, and I don’t say that in spite. I’m just saying that my problem was medical, though to the Biblical Counselor who was counseling me, it was clearly spiritual for some reason. Anyway, I have no misgivings about anything that you are saying above except to point out the fact that it may be a useful tool to go to the medication nearer to the begining of the counseling situation rather than, as it seems in your post, as a last resort after other things don’t seem to work. A psychiatrist may be more helpful earlier on than Biblical Counselors seem to acknowledge.

    I guess that’s the one thing about the above that I have a misgiving about though my opinion is uneducated. I think that medication is a perfectly legitimate option “earlier,” whatever that may mean in an given counseling situation. If there is nothing wrong with medication, then people can use it, and if necessary and with the help of a psychiatrist, try to come off of it, if the psychiatrist agrees. Anyway, that is my thought at this point without much education, yet.

  8. Thank you for sharing your opinion on a site like this. Your comments, questions and replies are always welcome and should be respected. This is a community of people seeking to sharpen and strengthen each other in our ability to care biblically, compassionately and wisely. My hope is that your experience here is that you are treated with respect and taken seriously. I only write what I do below to be helpful and to hopefully alleviate some of your concern about how ACBC counselors might help you or others like you who may be reading.

    It’s not that biblical counselors view medicine as the line of last resort but rather It is much more frequent that we counsel those who have already pursued the help of psychiatric medicine and psychological help. Rarely are counselees seeking our opinion of whether they should take medication. Frequently, they are asking questions about the effectiveness and longevity of the medical approach. They also are wondering if biblical counseling might be part of the answer for them in getting “better” holistically.

    The teaching above reflects that we have traditionally had seemingly polar opposites in our seminars that we have tried to balance out. The two sides are those who think medicine will cure a purely physical problem and those who think that medicine should play no part in curing what is obviously a spiritual problem. As a center, our counselors have counseled nearly 75,000 hours and we don’t find that either position is most helpful to our counselees spiritually or physically.

    If there is a clear neurological or physiological condition, biblical counselors are taught to recommend a physical check-up immediately. Even in cases where the cluster of symptoms is unclear, most biblical counselors would prefer to rule out clear physical issues. I frequently ask those I counsel to go get a physical evaluation from a doctor. If the symptoms are clearly indicating a psychiatric condition, I will probe why they have or have not pursued psychiatric medication. If they are incapable of receiving counsel and their physical symptoms are so severe that they are severely impairing their ability to function, I would certainly recommend they see a psychiatrist quickly to see if their might be medicine that could help stabilize them.

    In addition, I would work with them to see if we can develop exercise, nutrition, rest structure , and encouragement of healthy community. When we say everyone has a story, we mean that it is rare that someone comes to our offices and says that everything in my life was “normal” and then I woke up with a mental illness. When we listen to the story, most counselees with a psychiatric condition start to unpack a complex story of hurts, thoughts, relationships, physical problems and entrenched emotional patterns. Biblical Counselors believe that our body is complex web of interaction between the inner man and outer man and rarely is mental illness located purely in the outer man (Physical) although with some neurological conditions it is. Our inner man trains the responses of the outer man and the outer man influences the functioning of the inner man. They cannot be easily divided.

    Biblical counselors are not content to just address the outer man when we know that there is a spiritual inner man response to all of life including our physical state and infirmities. No person can completely control or take complete responsibility for their physical state but every person is called to care for their physical bodies. Caring for the inner man is an important way we care for our bodies. Hurts, thought patterns or relational struggles do take a toll on the physical body so biblical counselors view this part of a counselee’s story as vitally important to both their physical and spiritual health. Exercise, rest, nutrition, structure and encouraging community are both spiritual and physical responses when the are pursued to care for the body that God has given us. They all have scientifically well-document results in physical and spiritual help for those with many mental disturbances as well.

  9. That sounds pretty good. Your second to last paragraph is the only part that I think I might disagree with only to what degree, I don’t know. I’m not sure that psychiatrists, who know about mental illnesses from a medical standpoint, would agree with what you said at least at face value. I mean about the part that rarely is a mental illness just something in the outer man, or simply physical. I personally manifested an unwillingness to be discipled in a couple churches and really that only meant going to Bible studies and doing some of the things that people were asking me to do, spend time with Christian roommates, do “discipleship homework” and so forth. When I eventually got too “lazy” to cooperate, I was excommunicated from one church. Anyway, I say this to say, that I heard voices in my head telling me to be lazy and not cooperate more or less, and I complied.
    You could argue that that is partly a spiritual issue because I heard these things in my own imagination from other people in my own head, or you could say that it was only a consistent trait of someone suffering from Schizophrenia, Undifferentiated type. When I had become tired of listening to Biblical Counselors talk about my sin, which I understand not everyone in the ACBC community would respond just in that way especially after they knew I had had Schizophrenia, I was put in counseling from psychologists and medicated by psychiatrists at the VA after the Army. After that, I recovered fully, but only after it was treated strictly as a physical problem, not a spiritual one.
    All that to say, I think the first resort, and you may have said this, is to check for physical problems, and treat them as such. I think that alongside that it is appropriate to deal with Spiritual problems, just as I have been doing post-Army by meeting with my Pastor regularly.
    The upside of all this is that I’m doing well, and I’m in full remission, but I was so confused and distracted while Schizophrenic, that I couldn’t cooperate with people. It was in essence a physical problem, not a spiritual one, per se. I’m not saying that any of this literally contradicts what you said above. I’m just throwing it out there for your consideration as such.
    Anyway, I’m looking very much forward to hearing about what ACBC has to say at Grace Community Church, which is one of the churches that I was going to, not the one that actually kicked me out though, that came afterward. It will be interesting to here much more detail about what ACBC believes about these situations there. It’s gonna be pretty interesting.
    I’m also looking forward to getting my M.A. in Biblical Counseling from The Master’s College out there some day. I really do appreciate Biblical Counseling. It’s the best stuff. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me about all of the above.

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  11. Have You Ever Been Loved By A NANC Counselor? Someone who has been tenacious enough to walk you through repentance while you were behaving like a “beast before the Lord in bitterness and rebelion”, as Psalm 73:21-22 states. It is a pure act of Love to “Faithfully Wound” a person in this condition Proverbs 27:5-6. Knowing that “He Who Rebukes A Man Will Afterwards Find More Favor Than He Who Flatters With The Tongue” Proverbs 28:23. I wonder if, “Some Who Have Been Burned By A NANC Counselor” were those who would not respond to the authority of God Romans 13:1-5, and Scripture 1 Timothy 3:16-17. If they were “Not Bringing Forth Fruit In Repentance” Matt 3:8. If they were exhibiting “the sorrow of the world” rather than “Godly sorrow which proves itself as 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 speaks of. We need to speak the Truth In Love as Ephesians 4:15 teaches, otherwise we will be a “noisy gong” to those we counsel. 1Corinthians 13:1. I wonder if some who were “burned by a NANC Counselor” wanted an “easy way out” of there problem and sought the inferior approach and vain philsophy Col 2:8 of Psychiatric philosophy, rather than to be challanged to be “Disciplined For The Purpose Of Godliness” 1 Tim 4:7-8. Then if challanged in love to put on the armor of God Ephesians 6 and walk in the Spirit Galatians 5:16-17 they “felt unloved” by there NANC counselor. I wonder?????

  12. My experience w/ a NANC counselor was, raising his voice to point of being heard beyond a closed door, He accused me of lying since in my distress i couldn’t remember a lot of things. He made a lot of false conclusions about me because of bad experiences,caused by his arrogance, of a church similar to my history but different. He answered a matter before he heard the whole story.
    He said taking antidepressants proves a lack of faith. He and you do not know my history, piling guilt and condemnation is very destructive.
    His only answer to everything I brought up was “You just need to trust God more.”
    I do trust God, I have stacks of Godly books and bibles.
    1) My husband claims to be a believer, tho his only fruit is church attendance. The only thing my husband knows about marriage is I am to be submissive regardless, no disagreeing w/ him, I have no rights, only he does. I could go on and on.
    The NANC counselor told me I just need to be MORE submissive. I have been submissive to the point i have no mind of my own. but he never heard me out on our interactions in marriage. I could write a book on my misbeliefs that come from extreme legalism.
    The counselor and I’s last exchange went like this,
    Him” You just need to trust God more!!!”
    Me “i confess I have trouble trusting God” (It is hard to trust God when my own HUSBAND has very little concern for me).
    Him “Oh! God hates it when we don’t trust Him! It makes Him ANGRY!)
    So what he told me is God hates me and is angry w/ me.
    Although I am thankful for those last words since it proved to me that he WAS wrong on many other issues. I am His child! God does not hate me and he is not angry w/ me. My heart is contrite and He loves me!
    When I went to express my concerns to another counselor, he,Counselor #2, said “should we bring him ( ‘counselor #1) in and hear what he has to say? I said “Yes!”and motioned toward the door.
    Counselor #2 said” wait sit down!”and chastised me. He did not want to hear what I had to say. He didn’t even let me finish.
    I am not the only person who has had trouble w/ both of them.
    The whole time the Holy Spirit was telling me in the clearest voice I have ever heard from Him “That’s not true, it’s not You he’s angry at, he is wrong, that does not apply to you…” over and over for 25 minutes.
    He used scripture, but he misapplied, because he argued w/ me so I shut up.
    We are to focus on Christ, not self, which is what “Self Confrontation ” by J.C. Broger teaches.
    I have benefited immensely from Godly counselors who apply psychology (which is how the mind works, like a cardiologist, the heart) w/ biblical understanding.
    If anti depressants and counselors w/ techniques to help bless and encourage me, why would you tell me it’s wrong? What good am I in a mental hospital or suicidal? Is that pill that keeps me at home and remaining married and functioning well a sin?
    Christian counseling and medication is best left up to the individual. To imply it’s wrong only adds more sorrow, guilt and grief.
    We don’t ascribe to bible only medical treatments or education, God has provided for us though medications and an understanding of how the mind works, how to change our behavior. What ever method, it is God who heals.

  13. We were sinned against by a NANC counselor breaking the 6th and the 9th commandment against us. We reported it to Randy Patton who strung us out for close to 2 years and then said he was no longer on the Board and we would get a letter from the Board. After pursuing the matter for another month, we get a letter from Mr. Heath telling us “too bad, so sad” type of story but no repentance or apology from the counselor. Then Mr. Heath tells us it just a “personal dispute” and that we should approach the counselor’s local church on the matter. Why did they not tell us that in the first place?
    Since when is sin just a “personal dispute” that is not their business? Does ACBC really care about the Holiness of God?

  14. Biblical counseling at my church has not helped. I sought counsel, was open to discussion and difficult messages about my relationship with my husband who has passed. The counselor included referring to my family in a derogatory manner, accusing me of not doing the assignments and with a good, open heart about it —- NOT TRUE on either account (I did the assignments, took them seriously, and learned from them) — I realized the counseling was not about my healing or growth but her validation as a “counselor,” and then she strongly suggested that my husband was not saved! Who is she to state or strongly suggest that? How can you so strongly suggest that someone is not with God, then contradict that stating, “only God knows for sure” (and have several other contradictions like this throughout “counseling.”) Someone in a Christian church points to an aspect of a loved one’s life, implying they did not live as a Christian due to this or that circumstance, so they “must not have been saved,” (thus, they are not with God!). I do not always look or sound like a Christian (sorry, but, yes, I still sin and have faults and fall short — does that sound familiar?), yet, I KNOW I am going to Heaven because Christ is my Savior. Wow, what type of training was received? I suppose you are right — you cannot judge all by a few. However, when someone goes for “Biblical counseling,” I would expect much better than this. People grieve, mourn, seek help at the worst times of their lives, and when a “counselor’s” pride and need for validation and self righteous attitude get in the way, well, so much injustice is done. Still seeking God, however, and peace in my life. I suppose some things should be handled alone (well, with God) and allow time to heal.

  15. More than a decade ago, the church I attended sent all their ministry leaders to a NANC 2-day workshop to better prepare us to serve those under us in ministry. I attended, and was shocked by some of the “training” I received. Three of the workshops that left the strongest impression were on 1) Bipolar – they said behaviors of individuals claiming this disorder were sin, and they should not be treated either medically nor psychologically, rather they should repent and they would be fine 2) ADHD – the speaker stated there is no such medical condition; these children just need to be spanked more frequently and more aggressively, and 3) the Role of the Christian Wife – we were told that it was the responsibility of every Christian woman to meet her husband at the door when he arrived home from work, in a dress and heels, with any young children bathed and dressed nicely, and that the husband should be able to smell the aroma of dinner cooking as he entered his home. I was appalled that such non-Biblical ideas were being touted as God’s Word or God’s expectations, and that individuals who needed professional help were told that all their illnesses would dissolve if they prayed more – or had it beaten out of them!! I see the comments indicate apologies for poor counseling, but state that such counseling is not the fault of the NANC organization, which provides Bible-based training. I would like someone to address whether there has been a change in the “Bible-based” training which, in my personal experience at a paid-for 2-day training, was largely not related to any teaching of the Bible. As an aside, I have continued to be a ministry leader – for over 25 years now. We need strong Christian counselors, and I certainly hope the new ACBC organization is not following the beliefs of NANC from past years.

  16. Same thing happens here. The effect of videos clients watch who are not sure what they believe about God is that they think if God and Christians and the Bible are being reflected in this mentality, they don’t want anything to do with it. It turns them away from Christ and salvation.

  17. Mr Lamberth must not have real stats, only opinions, about how many so called biblical counselors are arrogant, condemning vs gracious, harmful and extremists. He doesn’t seem to realize that the actual behavior of acbc counselors reveals their source to not be biblical, but rather Pharisical.

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