BCC Staff Note: This blog was first posted at the Association of Biblical Counselors’ site and is re-posted at the BCC’s Grace & Truth blog with the permission of ABC and Jeremy Lelek. You can also read the original post at the ABC site here.
Person Centered Therapy?
Many theoretical approaches to counseling are strongly influenced by the works of Carl Rogers and his therapeutic model known as Person Centered Therapy (Rogers, 1989). His person-centered approach has had a profound influence on the fields of counseling and psychology both methodologically and ethically. From his theory emerged the notion referred to as non-directional counseling in which the counselor is trained to make a conscientious choice not to direct the counselee, but instead reflects the counselee’s words back to him or her in hopes that the counselee will discover his or her own way towards self-actualization and healing.
Therefore, much emphasis (on the part of the counselor) was placed on human potential and man’s innate goodness, while great care was taken by the therapist not to impose absolute values or even engage in any sort of confrontational methods. Certainly, it would not be fair to group all secular-counseling approaches into Rogers’ framework, but the spirit of his person-centered emphasis is extremely evident in the modern psychotherapeutic arena.
Unlike Rogers, the author of Proverbs esteemed the use of confrontation as a precious gift of God. He writes:
“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:5-6, ESV).
Here he emphasizes the importance of openness and honesty in relating to others. This is strongly contrasted to the idea he refers to as “hidden love” which may be understood as offering love in a very subliminal way. From a counseling perspective, such love may be illustrated in fostering kindness and compassion with a counselee to the exclusion of speaking truthfully about his or her sinful or maladaptive behavior, thinking, and living. Notice the phrase “to the exclusion of” here. In other words, dealing with counselees compassionately is very important, but compassion cannot be conceptualized as being equivalent to Rogers’ idea of “unconditional positive regard” in which judgments and confrontation are not allowed as it pertains to a counselee.
On the contrary, Solomon (the author of Proverbs) discourages such a view, and goes so far as saying that wounds (often created by the open rebuke of a friend) are faithful or trustworthy. A friend here may ultimately be understood as someone who seeks to influence another towards repentance before a holy God.
Conversely, he points out that an enemy may offer many kisses (e.g., compliments, encouragements, empathy, genuineness, unconditional positive regard, etc.), but that such gestures cannot be trusted. An enemy may be conceptualized, in the context of Proverbs, as anyone who engages in methods that are not ultimately centered in bringing glory and honor to God or methods that are not designed to point the counselee to truth (as a means of loving God and neighbor).
From a Rogerian perspective, such “kisses” mentioned in Proverbs do not serve this purpose, rather they are offered in hopes of connecting a client to his or her inner potential, (acquired self-esteem or self-worth) therefore fostering an assumed and illusory autonomy in which the person learns the power of believing in and trusting self. As such, a counselor may be kind and empathetic towards a counselee, but if the motives behind such gestures are misguided, the end result is tragedy!
Counseling with Authority
As counselors who seek to honor Christ, it is important to remember the words of Solomon (cited above) as well as those of Paul who instructed, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15). The context of Paul’s encouragement to rebuke and exhort pointed to the process of change that is brought forth by the grace of God alone (Titus 2:11-14). It was a call to point people to the Gospel as the only true means of hope and change.
Confrontation can often be uncomfortable, especially when as therapists we are trained that it could be profoundly anti-therapeutic. Many counselees will leave the office angry once confrontation has occurred. Some may never return. Such an outcome could prove to be extremely discouraging. But biblically, it is considered wise for the counselor or psychologist to carefully judge when it is appropriate to offer an “open rebuke” or inflict a “faithful wound” for the good of the counselee. Obviously such “good” must always be considered in reference to the counselee’s relationship (or lack thereof) with God as well as his or her relationship with the counselor. Additionally, if a counselor/psychologist chooses to implement such methods, he or she must take great care to do so with love and compassion that is void of self-righteous judgment and condescension.
Counselees may not appreciate the wound in the moment, but it may very well serve as the catalyst that eventually brings about repentance in the counselee (one of the most precious goals for which a biblical counselor can hope). So, be aware of motives that may be keeping you from offering a rebuke that is needed. If you find yourself avoiding confrontation in a session, seek the support of a colleague who may help you better understand the motives of your heart, and encourage you in the wisdom of Solomon and Paul as it regards the issue of confrontation. Biblical counseling should not necessarily be characterized by a confrontational spirit, but if godly confrontation is not a component of one’s counseling practice, then it is questionable whether such counsel may be deemed genuinely biblical at all.
Read Proverbs 27:5-6. Consider how open rebuke is better than hidden love. What might be Solomon’s rationale for making this assertion? How might you apply this wisdom to your own counseling practices?
Read Titus 2:11-15. While rebuke and exhortation are important, recognize it is grace that brings “salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,” and that it is Jesus who is purifying “for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
Make sure that your rebuke is characterized and motivated by love and compassion, and that your rebuke is for the good of the counselee and not your own self-serving agenda.
Join the Conversation
Are you fearful of confronting counselees (due to personal issues or training that has treated such methods as unprofessional)? If so, discuss your struggle with a colleague or fellow believer. What desires are motivating such avoidance? Is there merit to kind, honest, and godly rebuke?