Therapeutic uses of scripture in counseling

“The Bible is the Word of God and is powerful to transform people’s lives. However, as counselors, we need to wise, discerning, and strategic about how to use it with our counselees. I want to highlight the importance of spiritual assessment. You will be counseling people who have different religious backgrounds and even when you advise Christians; they may have varying levels of spiritual maturity and knowledge of Scriptures. Therefore, you cannot have a “one-size fits all” approach. In my final thread this week, I’d like to encourage you to read this brief article by Dr. Moitinho that discusses many ways in which we can use the Bible with our clients or counselees. I hope that it will be helpful for you in your ministry” (Holland, Dr., 2015).

It is necessary for the counselor [and pastors] to know why they are attempting to use scripture in a therapeutic setting.

Is it to benefit them or the care seeker? 

The lecture indicated that the most important therapeutic uses of scripture are during the following counseling scenarios: The care seeker is:

  1. experiencing feelings of guilt
  2. demonstrating anxiety
  3. suffering from trauma, stress, or depression.
  4. experiencing interpersonal conflicts with family members or even co-workers.
  5. grieving  (methodology – the empty chair)
  6. having financial difficulties (“Week 5: 1 The Bible in Christian Counseling[PowerPoint Slides],” 2015)

According to McMinn (1996) scholars writing on the topic of using scripture for therapeutic purposes have suggested using Bible passages in small group counseling to facilitate:

  1. codependency concerns
  2.  in marital counseling to help couples recover from sexual affairs,
  3.  in individual child therapy
  4.  to confront irrational beliefs in RET, and
  5. using Scripture memory and meditation as homework in cognitive therapy (Kindle location 1898).

McMinn (2011) cites Eric Johnson’s eight arguments for the use of Scripture in counseling.

  1. First, the Bible plays an experiential role in our lives, providing a rich resource for wisdom and personal maturity.
  2. Second, Scripture plays a foundational role, providing a common starting point for understanding our basic assumptions and beliefs.
  3. Third, it plays a contextual role that allows us to understand human nature, meaning, and purpose in life.
  4. Fourth, Scripture plays an axiological role, giving us standards for what should be.
  5. Fifth, the Bible plays an anthropological role, providing us an awareness of the historical narrative of human sin and divine redemption.
  6. Sixth, it plays a canonical role, providing an unchanging standard of truth.
  7. Seventh, Scripture plays a dialogical role, providing rich resources for discussion and comparison between psychological knowledge and special revelation.
  8. Eighth, the Bible plays a creative role, allowing us to consider and explore concepts and ideas that might not be considered from a purely psychological worldview. These eight roles that Johnson outlines suggest that Christian counselors have only begun to examine the potential of integrating the Bible and psychology.  (Johnson as Cited by McMinn, 2011, Kindle Location 1938).

Whereas these arguments validate the use of scripture and its rightful place in Christian counseling and the psychology of science they are not presented as therapeutic.

When people come to me for advice it is usually after having been beaten over the head with the fact that “sin lies at their door” and that is why they are depressed; sometimes it is because of sin, it could also be a chemical imbalance.  That statement is usually followed by a litany of scriptures used to prove the point that they are in conflict, depressed, or have feelings of guilt, anxiety, etc., because of sin.

After I get to know the person and a personal relationship has been established, and they trust me enough to reveal their concern and invite me into their world I can begin with the foundational role of scripture.

Folks will tell me what they believe and why. I am open about what I think. Almost all of my counseling is conducted online because I have an online ministry.  There is no body language to read or facial expressions to gauge.  So, I always begin with the foundation role of scripture.  Invariably someone will state, “They feel like Job, and they think their friends are like Job’s friends.”  That is a red flag that I must proceed with caution.

People know my position and my belief systems because I do post scripture and what they mean to me as a child of God.  People go to my devotional page on a regular basis, so they know that the Bible is my standard.  They also know that I am not perfect because I am very open about things like that.

I am constantly evaluating what I am doing, thinking, or about to type.  I ask myself these question:

Will using scripture with this person bring about a:

• Healthy sense of self
• Healthy sense of need
• Healing relationships (McMinn, 2011, 61-64)

Neither emotional nor spiritual maturity and understanding will automatically come from the use of Scripture in counseling.  It all depends on the person’s level of brokenness.

Johnson’s reasons for using scripture during counseling are very valid, but the cautions in this are to be taken seriously.  We can do more harm than good. McMinn (2011) gave some stellar examples of how using scripture can enable some people and prevent them from seeing their part in their story.

Stanton Jones offers some excellent strategies for the use of scripture in counseling   (“Week 5: 1 The Bible in Christian Counseling [PowerPoint Slides],” 2015)

Finally, scriptures can be used as a part of the spiritual formation process; although we can use scripture in counseling sessions we should be cautious about how it is used (“Week 5: 2 Using the Bible for Spiritual Formation [PowerPoint Slides],” 2015) .

 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Philippians 4:8 NIV).  Never use Scripture to browbeat people.  It negates God’s grace and makes you look petty and cruel.

References

Holland, W. (2015). Week 7: Strategies for biblical counseling [Discussion Board Post]. Lecture, Liberty University Integration of Psychology and Theology. Retrieved from Blackboard.Liberty.edu

McMinn, M. R. (2011). Psychology, theology, and spirituality in Christian counseling [Kindle Edition]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Week 5: The Bible in Christian counseling[PowerPoint slides]. (2015). Lecture 1, Liberty University Integration of Psychology and Theology. Retrieved from Blackboard.Liberty.edu
Week 5: Using the Bible for spiritual formation [PowerPoint slides]. (2015). Lecture 2, Liberty University Integration of Psychology and Theology. Retrieved from Blackboard.Liberty.ed
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