Monday, April 27, 2009

More on Nouthetic Counseling

The other day, I realized something.

Over 70 percent of the hits to my blog are queries with the words "nouthetic counseling". This tells me that people are looking for biblically-sound counsel, but I'm surprised that my blog is popping up so high in the search results.

I think the subject deserves a nice new post with some useful links that may help you if you are indeed researching the ministry of biblical counseling. A couple of months ago, I posted excerpts of a book I am writing about repentance and healing from eating disorders, in which I discuss at some length the differences between secular psychology, mainstream "Christian" counseling, and the sola-scriptura approach of nouthetic counseling. I'll try and make this less wordy and more practical.

First of all, I am not a nouthetic counselor. I have not taken any courses or been accredited by NANC (the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors), although quite a few folks in my church are. (In fact, it was a nouthetic counselor from church who recommended Adams' and Macarthur's books on forgiveness to me, which I reviewed last month). I have read books by folks in the field, been studying theology and hermeneutics for a few years, and was restored completely by God from addictions. That's it. Now I encourage other women struggling in the same way, to apply the same biblical principles that helped me renew my mind. Many Christian women who have read my testimony online e-mail me for encouragement in battling eating disorders, which I am happy to provide. I also tell them to find a nouthetic counselor in their local area. NANC's website contains a Certified Counselor List by state. The Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF) also has some great biblical counseling resources, as does the Institute for Nouthetic Studies.

"Nouthetic" comes from the Greek term "noutheos" employed by Paul, and it encompasses the idea of exhorting, admonishing, teaching, and rebuking with the Word of God as the ultimate standard. Unlike the more vague term Christian counseling, which may incorporate pop psychology and questionable therapy methods, nouthetic counseling confronts the counselee with the non-negotiable truth of Scripture. His or her problem is then held up to the light of the Word, which exposes sin and trains in holiness.

Nouthetic counseling is based on the premise of the sufficiency of Scripture - God has fully equipped us to deal with any and every situation through His revealed will. Nouthetic counselors help people deal with a wide range of spiritual problems, including depression, marital problems, sexual sin, addictions, and unforgiveness. As far as I know, it is generally free. You don't need insurance or $100 per hour to be fed with the bread of life, but you do need a desire to be changed inwardly by God.

In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul assures us that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." A godly man or woman who will hold us accountable is often used by God to walk alongside the struggling sinner. Nouthetic counseling goes beyond talking about our feelings - we're taught to line our thoughts and actions up with God's standard. Homework is given. Bibles are read. Scripture passages are memorized and recited. A pastor I once knew used to say, "Many times, when people come to you for counsel, they don't really want help. They just want someone to feel sorry for them." While compassionate and empathetic, the role of the nouthetic counselor is not to feel sorry for the counselee, but rather to get him or her to take those ungodly thoughts captive to Christ and start living a life in obedience to Him. All believers, in a sense, are called to this ministry. We are to familiarize ourselves with the Word in order to be able to encourage, exhort and spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).

If you have reached this page because you are seeking biblical counsel or wish to know more about it, I encourage you to visit the ministry links above.


jdray said...

What do you think about someone who suffers from schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders?

Marie said...

Hi jdray,

As far as I know, schizophrenia (like bi-polar disorder, PPD, and others) is an organic illness, and as such would more accurately be considered neurological in nature. "Psychotic" is a rather vague term, as is the oft-misused "mental illness", but if I understand you correctly you're asking if I think it is something that could be helped strictly by nouthetic counseling. From what little I know about schizophrenia, no. The brain chemistry is altered, and as such these folks need to be on medication and monitoring.

However, I have read of many cases where what was presumed to be psychotic illness was actually just deviant behavior. In more than a few cases, (going back to the '60's), biblical counselors have been able to actually "call someone's bluff" and get them to take ownership for their behavior. Feigning illness was in a sense rewarded - the sense of personal responsibility was abdicated. But there are true, organic cases of mental disorders so that is a valid question.

Just my $0.02. Anyone from the nouthetic side, feel free to correct me.

Vic Robertson said...

Dear Theo-Geek,
I am a nouthetic biblical counselor in our church. I am in the NANC certification process, and I would like to comment on this question from "jdray." Following is what I have learned from my studies over the past several years.

ALL of the so called "disorders" that are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual - IV (DSM-IV) are "diagnosed" using only the person's behavior. The DSM-IV is what psychiatrists and psychologists use to diagnose "disorders" and to bill your medical insurance.

Schizophrenia and all other "disorders" listed in the DSM-IV are based solely on behavior. There is NO blood test for ANY of them. NO chemical imbalance has ever been proven in any of them. They are NOT neurological. They are ALL behavioral. None of them are diseases or illnesses in the medical sense of those words, though the psychiatric and psychological worlds want us to think so. A great book on this subject is, "The Christian Counselor's Medical Desk Reference," by Dr. Robert Smith. You can find it here ( or less expensively here (

The American Psychiatric Association literally votes to admit new disorders into the DSM-IV. I am told that the DSM-V will include MANY new disorders that the APA has invented. Yes, invented. The drug companies love this because then they have a new disorder to use for marketing their psychotropic drugs.

Occasionally the APA votes to REMOVE some disorders from the DSM. So one year something is a disorder that they medicate you for, charge you for, and bill your insurance, and the next year it's voted as a normal set of behaviors. It is just their opinion on what normal is for a human being. The last normal human being to live was Jesus Christ. He is our model of normal.

There are real illnesses caused by organ malfunctions that result in real, testable, provable chemical imbalances. These real illnesses can change behavior. These illnesses are NOT listed in the DSM-IV because they are true medical problems that medical doctors diagnose with physiological testing, and treat with medication, surgery, and other means.

I have placed "disorder" in quotation marks because while psychiatrists and psychologists call it that, Christians call these behaviors "sin." That might sound callous or even mean to you. Which is more callous or mean? (1) Telling someone they have a disorder for which there is no cure. (2) Telling them they are in sin along with the joyful news that Jesus has forgiveness, and peace of mind, and contentment, and a joyful life for them if they will repent and obey Him! I chose (1) as mean and (2) as kind and true.

Find a nouthetic counselor, and let him or her teach you about your sin and about the complete and holy solution for that sin that Jesus offers.

Marie said...

Hi Vic,

Thanks for stopping by, and many thanks for your straight-forward response. I did not know that about the specific conditions listed, or that there was no empirical medical test for them, but the "voting" process as described doesn't surprise me. Elsewhere in my earlier 3-part series on nouthetic counseling, I quoted John Macarthur from a scathing article where he says the psych fields basically invent syndromes and disorders, then convince people they have them.

I completely, 100% agree with you that "disorders" are sins. In fact, that was my thesis in the book I just wrote about repentance and restoration from eating disorders (a term I use only because it is universally recognizable; I used the more specific "anorexia" and "bulimia" wherever possible). 86,000 words later, and they're still sins.

Big, fat "amen" that the kindest thing you can do is call sin "sin" - that should give hope, because all sin can be repented.

I don't know as much about other conditions and the "psychotic disorders" mentioned by jdray, but all addictions are now considered "diseases" (even taught as such in health class), a fallacy that annoys me no end.

Thanks for the info, and I will check out the book you mentioned for my own benefit.

~ Marie

Vic Robertson said...

You are welcome! I really enjoyed your blog posts on nouthetic counseling. Don't feel bad about your misunderstanding regarding the mythical chemical imbalances. These unproven imbalances have been spoken of so often and so widely that everyone takes it for granted that they have been proven. One false "proof" often pointed to is, "If there is no chemical imbalance, why do psychotropic drugs affect the behavior of people diagnosed with mental disorders?" Good question. If you ask a psychiatrist how those drugs do what they do, those "doctors" have no idea by what mechanism psychotropic drugs work. All the drug companies have proven is that when these drugs are administered, they sometimes provide relief of some symptoms. When you drink caffeine it affects your behavior. When you drink alcohol it affects your behavior. Does that mean that caffeine and alcohol have addressed a chemical imbalance!? Obviously not. Chemicals affect our behavior. One chemical often prescribed is lithium. The natural level of lithium in the human body is NONE.

I suppose I get a little emotional over this because I know so many in our church who are medicated and who have medicated their children. These parents medicate their children because a teacher said the child has ADHD or ADD. The teacher does not want to take time to discipline the child and neither do the parents. We just want our small children to be docile and compliant. If you want to get angry at psychiatry, go here ( and read the criteria for diagnosing ADHD. These are behaviors that parents and teachers simply need to teach kids to control or eliminate.

If, someday, someone finds a causal chemical imbalance at the bottom of these many mental disorders that would be wonderful. Then a real doctor can treat them. Even then, though, the behavior caused by them is sin. If chemical imbalances do exist behind depression and other sinful behavior, then they existed at the time Moses wrote the law and when the disciples wrote the New Testament, and God certainly knows about them.

Marie, you will enjoy the videos at this site:
I would not use them in a serious setting because it is obvious that there has been some heavy editing, but they do express a truth, they are short--and they are funny!

Dr. Smith has been my teacher several times, and he knows what he is talking about. He practiced medicine for 20 years before retiring from medicine to be a nouthetic counselor at Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette, IN. Buy his book here:

Since you enjoy these kind of studies, I also strongly recommend these two books:
--When People Are Big & God is Small, by Edward Welch
--Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands, by Paul Tripp


Anonymous said...


Sand said...

Dear Vic , As a strong christain, parent of a child with mental illness, training in NANC council. I suggest you go two places , and depression testing. There is now a blood testing for depression. It can differentiate between 4 different types. As well as SPECT scanning for all types of mental illness. The book Your Brain On Joy by a Christain Dr Earl Henslin. He discusses what they have found in the brain doing 45,000 scans. Only God knows if a behavior is purely sin, unless you can look in the brain yourself with absolute omniscience you don't know.