Tuesday, June 9, 2020

An Assessment of Creation Therapy

Within ancient Greece, Hippocrates[1] speculated that creation was comprised of four elements, namely, earth, air, fire, and water. He further conjectured that the human constitution mirrors the earth’s composition such that the human body functions upon the basis of four “humors:” blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. Hippocrates attributed good health to a proper balance of the humors. Conversely, bad health or a bad state of mind was attributed to a humoral imbalance.
Hippocrates’ theory would go on to dominate medicine for several millennia until the scientific age would dismiss it as a fanciful and dangerous myth.[2] However, long prior to being dispelled, Hippocrates’ theory would be developed into a primitive personality theory. Galen, a second-century physician, extrapolated humoral theory and determined that there were four personality types or “temperaments:” sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic.

The sanguine type was even-dispositioned, warmhearted, optimistic, and energetic. The choleric was quick to action, assertive, and prone to hostility and anger. Depression, sadness, and anxiety characterized the melancholic. The phlegmatic type was listless and lethargic.[3]

Several twentieth-century psychologists would build upon temperament theory, having long since jettisoned its humoral aspects. Today, however, most of the major schools of psychology prefer other explanations for human personality (e.g., social-cognitive and psychodynamic theories).

Temperament Theory Finds a Place in the Church

In 1996, Tim LaHaye published Spirit Controlled Temperament, introducing temperament theory to a Christian audience. His book resonated with evangelicals, eventually selling over one million copies. To summarize, LaHaye’s presentation asserts several key principles of contemporary temperament theory: “Temperament is the combination of traits we were born with; character is our ‘civilized’ temperament; and personality is the ‘face’ we show to others.”[4] According to LaHaye, it is impossible for temperaments to change, but the Holy Spirit can “modify” our temperaments such that they appear to be changed.[5] Further, “We are all a blend of at least two temperaments: One predominates; the other is secondary.”[6] Lastly, LaHaye introduced the “LaHaye Temperament Analysis,” such that people may discover their inborn temperament blend.
LaHaye never attempted to find biblical justification for the four temperaments except to assert:  “In Proverbs 30:11-14 the wise man saw four kinds of people. About five hundred years later, the four were given names by Hippocrates.”[7] What LaHaye didn’t tell his readers was that a contextual reading of Proverbs 30 reveals that the four kinds of people cited by the proverbist refer to four varieties of wicked people:

There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers.
There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth.
There are those—how lofty are their eyes, how high their eyelids lift!
There are those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mankind. (Proverbs 30:11-14, ESV)

The term translated “There are those” (Heb. dôr) is literally translated “generation,” and refers not to four temperaments, but of four varieties of people who break God’s commandments. The first group violates the fifth commandment; “Honor your father and mother” (Exod. 20:12). The second group is guilty of hypocrisy, believing that they are “ritually clean” (Heb. ṭāhôr, cf. Deut. 23:12–14), but are instead covered in their own “excrement.” The third group is guilty of arrogance and pride, and the fourth group is guilty of using speech to destroy others, especially the poor (cf. Prov. 25:18).
Despite his attempt, LaHaye’s iteration of temperament theory has absolutely no biblical (or scientific) basis—not one shred. The Bible never states that our “temperament” is determined by our heredity and it never teaches us that our sin is ultimately a result of weakness brought about by our temperament.[8] The Bible doesn’t even acknowledge the category of “temperament.” Adams well observed:

[LaHaye’s] categories came from paganism, not from Scripture…Surely the framework for a system of counseling ought to arise from biblical exegesis, not from pagan Greek philosophy…[9]

LaHaye’s theory is little more than a pseudo-scientific form of biological determinism baptized in Christianese; the resurrection of ancient pagan folk-psychology dressed in church clothes.

Creation Therapy

Richard Arno and his wife Phyllis are credited with designing their own Christian alternative to secular psychology. This method, entitled “Creation Therapy,” is essentially a therapeutic adaptation of LaHaye’s temperament theory. It includes a fifth temperament, the supine, which is alleged to refer to a conscientious and servile person.
Like LaHaye, the Arnos claim that mankind has an inborn temperament that  “determines how he reacts to people, places, and things.”[10] This “inborn” and immutable temperament is cited in distinction with the belief that “people are born as blank slates,” a viewpoint the Arnos claim was originated by Thomas Aquinas. This is a completely spurious claim since Aquinas’ anthropology was thoroughly in line with Christian orthodoxy. Aquinas wrote, “Christ alone excepted, all men descended from Adam contract original sin from him.”[11] Aquinas did not believe humans are born “blank slates,”  and instead, he affirmed a conventional doctrine of original sin.
The Arnos claim Creation Therapy is “the mechanism by which man is given the ability to find balance between body, soul, and spirit, allowing him to be the best that God created him to be.”[12] The Arnos allege that their system identifies one’s “temperament needs” such that those needs can be met in order that “all areas of the inner man” may be in “perfect balance.”[13] Character defects and sinful predilections are recast by the Arnos as “temperament weaknesses.” Indeed, the language of sin and grace is nearly absent from Creation Therapy. Once a counselee’s “temperament blend” is identified, counsel is issued upon that basis.
Following the example of LaHaye, the Arnos developed the “Arno Profile System” (APS)[14] in order to help people identify their inborn temperament. The APS is essentially a coopted version of the FIRO-B test produced by psychologist, William Schutz. Schutz introduced a theory of interpersonal relations entitled  “Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation” or FIRO. He argued that every person has three interpersonal needs: inclusion, control, and affection.[15] Schutz then developed a fifty-four question test (i.e., FIRO-B) in order to measure persons according to their three interpersonal needs. The Arnos adapted the FIRO-B in order to fit their iteration of temperament theory calling it the “Arno Profile System.”
Having obtained a copy of the APS, I examined the questions in order to determine if this test was a legitimate means of gathering data such that meaningful and relevant counsel could be provided. What I found was a series of surface-level questions that are largely irrelevant to the problems faced by those seeking godly counsel. The test consists of fifty-four questions which may be answered with one of six choices ranging from “never” to “usually.” The questions in this test are designed to divulge what a counselee thinks about himself as it pertains to his temperament (e.g., “I let other people control my actions,” and “I like people to invite me to things”).
  The APS is alleged to disclose what “temperament blend” the counselee has as it relates to Schutz’s three categories of inclusion, control, and affection. Once one’s temperament analysis is conducted via the APS, a creation therapist then attempts to issue counsel upon the basis of the set of preconceived attributes that are associated with the counselee’s temperament. As one National Christian Counselors Association (NCCA)[16] certified counselor put it, “Temperament holds the answers to every relationship problem.”[17]
The trouble with this methodology is obvious: NCCA counselors are not actually counseling people, but are instead counseling temperaments. Instead of gathering data in order to truly understand who a counselee is and what he or she is facing, creation therapists merely find out which temperament boxes their counselee fits in so that canned responses can be offered to address the counselee’s problems. Such a methodology has more in common with astrology than biblical Christianity.
At times, it is hard to distinguish the Arnos counseling methodology from bald manipulation. For example, when counseling “the Melancholy,” the Arnos insist that the counselor approach the counselee with “intellectual superiority,” since people who have a melancholy temperament are “rebels.”[18] They further instruct their counselors that “It is imperative that you establish your superior intelligence to this person.”[19] The Arnos suggest letting melancholy counselees “see your credentials” and that “If they have a higher educational degree than you do, let them know that you have 25 years of experience.”[20] Additionally, the Arnos require that their counselors “never confront a Melancholy counselee with their mistakes.”[21] Not only is this approach evidently manipulative, it is utterly unbiblical. Jesus and his apostles taught that it is right to confront a brother with his sin in order to establish reconciliation, repentance, and righteousness (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Tim. 5:20).
From the perspective of secular psychology, the APS/FIRO-B test fails to live up to the hype. In 2003, the Buros Center for Testing, the reputable testing organization of the The University of Nebraska, evaluated the FIRO-B. The evaluation revealed significant deficiencies. The FIRO-B “appears to fall short of the mark due to flaws in conceptualization and implementation.”[22]
In his text, Case Studies: Epistlemological [sic] Validation of the Arno Profile System: Temperament Studies, Alex Appiah, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, has attempted to mount a defense of temperament theory and the APS by demonstrating their efficacy via case studies. What this book demonstrates is precisely the opposite. In one case, Appiah writes of a woman named “Daniella” who sought counseling because of depression and anger. After having run her through the APS, Appiah then reviewed Daniella’s “inborn” temperament traits with her. Appiah then counseled her to adjust her life to fit these traits. For example,  according to the APS, Daniella isMelancholy-Compulsive in the area of Control.” Appiah then concluded that Daniella “Has a compulsive need to ‘appear’ competent and in control.” He then counseled her to “learn to submit to authorities while maintaining control of her own personal life.”[23] Not once did Appiah appeal to the gospel and its implications to for this woman’s life. Never was the rich treasury of biblical wisdom applied to her anger and depression. Daniella was never confronted with her sin and her need for grace. Daniella’s counselor was focused upon the results of the APS and not the reality of her life.

Is the Arnos’ System Biblical?

Whereas the Arnos have asserted that their theory is rooted in the Bible and is completely in harmony with the Christian faith, Creation Therapy, like that of LaHaye’s temperament theory, is completely absent of biblical support. The only text the Arnos have attempted to marshal to demonstrate the biblical nature of their theory is, unsurprisingly, Proverbs 30:11-14. As noted above, this passage says nothing about temperaments but instead characterizes those who break the commandments of God within the context of the writer’s life. So too, the Arnos have engaged in proof-texting in order to demonstrate that the human temperament is comprised of inclusion, control, and affection. They have cited a handful of texts (e.g., 1 Cor. 2:10; Luke 1:46-47; Eze. 18:31), all of which say nothing about temperament nor inclusion, control, or affection—psychological categories that are completely foreign to the biblical text.
To put it plainly, there is absolutely no biblical justification for any part of temperament theory or the Arnos’ system. Whereas the Arnos make much of the fact that they reject modern psychotherapies,[24] their system is rooted in the backward thinking of an unbelieving worldview (i.e., that of Galen and those who would build on his theory), and it is thoroughly influenced by secular psychology. For example, the Arnos have appropriated the introvert/extrovert paradigm popularized by the occultist and psychologist C. G. Jung.[25] Much the same can be said regarding the Arnos appropriation of the language of “self-esteem.” By implication, the Arnos’ counseling methodology implies that the Bible is insufficient to equip the church for the good work of counseling (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Specifically, creation therapy presupposes that the Bible insufficiently teaches the doctrine of anthropology and counseling methodology.[26] Instead of the genuinely godly counsel given by, say, the apostle Paul, the Arnos and the NCCA, give counsel from a baptized version of an ancient and long-discredited personality theory.
The Bible does not teach that each human being has an unchanging and innate temperament. Rather, the expectation of Scripture is that Christians would change comprehensively according to the Spirit’s ministry of sanctification. Instead of seeking to identify our inborn temperament in order to understand ourselves and our needs, the Bible directs us to live a God-focused life wherein Jesus is our greatest treasure. The Triune God calls forth, “listen to me” (Isa. 51:1), “turn to me” (Isa. 45:22). The Scripture never directs those who are afflicted to look to themselves in order to understand or solve their problems.
The ad-hock attributes associated with the various temperaments are completely baseless and recast human identity in a two-dimensional framework that is neither realistic or pragmatic. Whereas the Arnos believe that their theory is the key to giving godly counsel, they depart from the biblical text in order to derive its content. Like psychology and psychiatry, temperament theory originates from the unbelieving world and is fundamentally man-centered.
The Arnos’ have asserted that sin is essentially brought about as a result of unmet temperament needs.[27] Subsequently, recognizing these needs, fulfilling them, and maintaining a balance will result in individuals refraining from falling “into an area of temperament weakness.” This paradigm, however, is also completely unbiblical. The command of the New Testament is not to get our “temperament needs” met, but to deny ourselves and follow Christ (Matt. 16:24). Man’s sin is brought about most fundamentally by the idolatry of self and is only corrected by trust in the true God and a denial of self. Christianity then is an exercise in delayed gratification: Putting to death our selfish desires (Gal. 5:24), setting our minds “on things above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1), and patiently awaiting our glorious reward, namely, Christ himself.

The way of the cross is for the present; glory and reward will come only in the future, when Jesus comes to reign. Discipleship means certain death.[28]

Unlike Creation Therapy, the Christian faith calls us to conformity to the image of Christ, and that conformity requires comprehensive change. Our desires, needs, character, personality, minds—indeed everything that we are must change and be conformed to Christ. Thus, whereas Creation Therapy aims to teach counselees to ‘know thyself,’ the Christian faith teaches counselees to set aside themselves and to know God.  
Creation Therapy is predicated upon a trichotomist anthropology which asserts that mankind is a “triune being…made up of body, soul, and spirit.”[29] According to the Arnos, the soul includes the human’s intellect, will, and emotions (cf. Schutz), and it is “in the soul” that the Arnos have located temperament.[30] Simply put, the Arnos’ trichotomist anthropology is wrong. When God created man, he created him from two components: breath and dust (Gen. 2:7).
When we examine the manner in which the terms “soul and “spirit” are used in Scripture, it is clear that these are synonymous and refer to the same immaterial component. For instance, Mary's famous song, the Magnificat, states, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47). Mary’s statement is a classic example of synonymous parallelism indicating that the terms “soul” and “spirit” are interchangeable. John 12:27, records Jesus as saying, “Now my soul is troubled.” In an entirely similar context, John 13:21 states, “Jesus was troubled in his spirit.” Jesus uses soul and spirit synonymously when he says that we are body and soul (Matt. 10:28) and body and spirit (Matt. 26:41). Both the soul and spirit are characterized within Scripture as the immaterial component of man (Luke 24:29; 1 Cor. 2:11). While there are many more examples we could appeal to, suffice it to say that these terms are used synonymously. So too, the interchangeability of “soul” and “spirit” is confirmed in the lexicons. Taking these terms as they are found in the New Testament, the term psuchē (i.e., “soul”) is defined as “life on earth in its animating aspect making bodily functions possible—life, life-principle, soul.”[31] The term pneuma (i.e., “spirit”) is defined as “that which animates or gives life to the body.”[32]
Given the above, when we analyze the two principle texts marshaled in defense of trichotomy (i.e., 1 Thess. 5:23, Heb. 4:12), there exists little reason to interpret these two verses as teaching an anthropology otherwise unknown in the New Testament. When Paul wrote, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23), we ought to recognize that he “accumulates terms to express completeness, a common idiom.”[33]
Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” While virtually all trichotomists point to this text as evidence for their view, the term translated “division” (Grk. merismos) and its New Testament cognates always refer to the dividing up or distribution of the same thing.[34] For instance, Hebrews 2:14 speaks of “gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed (merismos) according to his will.” Matthew 27:35 states, “And when they had crucified him, they divided (dimerizo) his garments among them by casting lots.” Here, as in every occurrence of this verb, it is a single object that is being divided or better, distributed (cf. Luke 11:17-18; John 19:24).

Academic Chicanery

In researching the Arnos, I attempted to examine their claims to considerable doctoral-level education credentials. Richard Arno claims to possess a “D.Psy.” from Faith Theological Seminary, a Ph.D. from Andrew Jackson University, and a D.D. from Jacksonville Theological Seminary.[35] Mrs. Arno also claims to possess a Ph.D. from Andrew Jackson University.
My curiosity was piqued since “D.Psy” is not a recognized abbreviation for the degree of Doctor of Psychology. To no avail, I attempted to locate the institution which issued this degree. I then attempted to verify the Arnos’ Ph.D.s from Andrew Jackson University (AJU). This institution underwent a name change and is now New Charter University (NCU). NCU/AJU is a nationally accredited business college, offering only degrees in business and communications via distance education. Noticing that the school does not currently offer doctoral degrees, I inquired of NCU and asked the registrar if the school ever had a doctoral program. I was told that neither NCU nor AJU has ever had a doctoral degree program. Given that “Doctor of Divinity” is universally considered to be an honorary degree within the U.S., I’ve concluded that there is little reason to countenance the Arnos claims to doctoral-level education.
After developing creation therapy, the Arnos established the NCCA. This group provides training, credentials, and even degrees for those who desire to practice creation therapy. One can earn a “Bachelor of Arts in Christian Counseling” from NCCA by completing a mere fourteen courses![36] In the U.S., baccalaureate degrees require approximately one hundred and twenty credit-hours of study or roughly the equivalent of four years of full-time study. I contacted a school that is authorized to administer NCCA programs to inquire how long it would take for someone to earn a Bachelor of Arts from NCCA. I was told that one could earn this degree in as little as one year in full-time study. Needless to say, NCCA academic requirements are exceptionally deficient when compared to conventional standards.


Like LaHaye, the Arnos have done the church a fantastic disservice in purveying a completely unbiblical approach to helping hurting people. While the Arnos have sought to uphold the value of their modality by touting Creation Therapy’s effectiveness, their counseling method is antithetical to Scripture. Creation Therapy was not founded upon a thoroughgoing exegesis of the Bible, but the pagan presuppositions of Galen and those who would build upon his theory. While the Arnos claim that Creation Therapy is “A Biblically Based Model for Christian Counseling,” its tenets (e.g., the category of “temperament”) are entirely foreign to the biblical text.  
Functionally, the Arnos’ system is detrimental to those that receive its counsel since it does not accord with the Bible’s teaching. As shown above, NCCA counselors do not counsel people, but temperaments. The Arnos’ system commodifies people and their problems, recasting them in a two-dimensional temperament framework.

[1] There is some uncertainty as to whether these theories may be properly attributed to Hippocrates. Jouanna has noted that the theory of the four humors first occurs in the writings of Polybus, a student of Hippocrates. See Jacques Jouanna’s “The Legacy of the Hippocratic Treatise the Nature of Man: The Theory of the Four Humors,” in Philip Van Der Eijk ed., In Greek Medicine from Hippocrates to Galen: Selected Papers (Leiden, NL: Brill, 2012), 335-6.
[2] Hunt notes that bloodletting, a popular means unto balancing the humors, had caused “incalculable” harm. Morton Hunt, The Story of Psychology (New York: Anchor Books, 2007), 18.
[3] D. G. Benner, P. C. Hill eds., Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999), 1233.
[4] Tim LaHaye, Spirit Controlled Temperament (Tyndale House Pub., 1994), 16.
[5] Ibid., 19.
[6] Ibid., 51.
[7] Ibid., viii.
[8] I am not suggesting that people are not born with certain tendencies, both in character and disposition. These creational differences, however, are not to be confused with immutable temperaments born of heredity.
[9] Jay E. Adams, The Practical Encyclopedia of Christian Counseling (Stanley, NC: Timeless Texts, 2003), 175.
[10] Richard G. Arno, Phyllis J. Arno, Creation Therapy, 7th Ed. (n.p., 1983), 1.
[11] Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Vol. 1 (Notre Dame, IN: Christian Classics, 1948), 501, cf. 415: “The sin in which a man is conceived is original sin,” and “original sin infects every part of the soul.”
[12] Arno, Creation Therapy, 19.
[13] Ibid., 18.
[14] Prior to the year 2000, the Arnos called their test the Temperament Analysis Profile or TAP.
[15] J.E. Roeckelein ed., Elsevier's Dictionary of Psychological Theories (Amsterdam, NL: Elsevier, 2006), 218.
[16] The NCCA is a degree and licensure granting organization founded by the Arnos. See intra.
[17] Rick Martin, God Created You: A Guide to Temperament Therapy (Charlotte, MI: Jesus is Lord Ministries, 2004), 5.
[18] Arno, Creation Therapy, 73.
[19] Ibid., 75.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.
[22] D. Oswald, 2003, “Test review of FIRO-B(tm),” in B. S. Plake, J. C. Impara, R. A. Spies eds., The Fifteenth Mental Measurements Yearbook, http://marketplace.unl.edu/buros/.
[23] Alex Appiah, Case Studies: Epistlemological [sic] Validation of the Arno Profile System: Temperament Studies (n.p., 2018),  Kindle Edition, loc. 1296.
[24] Arno, Creation Therapy, v.
[25] While it is claimed by certain Jungian psychologists that Jung was not a “believer” in the occult [e.g., Calvin S. Hall, Vernon J. Nordby, A Primer on Jungian Psychology (New York: Meridian, 1999), 25.], Jung’s own writings easily betray such a claim. Jung believed in the full gamut of occultism: clairvoyance, prophecy, animal magnetism, visions, divination, ghosts, human levitation, etc. See C. G. Jung, Psychology and the Occult (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1977).
[26] C.f., the comments made by Sewell: “The Pastor who wants to facilitate healing in the Body of Christ will seek to have a better understanding of temperament…the Word of God has to be applied in different ways according to the temperament…” Selvyn Sewell, Pastoring the Temperament: A Guide for Pastoral Counseling (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2008), 11.
[27] Arno, Creation Therapy, 241.
[28] David L. Turner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 412.
[29] Arno, Creation Therapy, 10.
[30] Ibid., 12.
[31] W. F. W Bauer, W. F. Danker, F. W. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Ed. (Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2000), 1098.
[32] Ibid., 832.
[33] Robert Letham, Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 340.
[34] John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1982), 30.
[35] National Christian Counselors Association: Licensing Program for Christian Counselors, 52.
[36] National Christian Counselors Association: Licensing Program for Christian Counselors, 22-5.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

A Concise Christian Appraisal of Psychology and Psychiatry

Fifty years ago Jay E. Adams, the father of the modern biblical counseling movement, concluded that psychology and its “illegitimate child” (i.e., psychiatry) are in serious trouble.[1] The basis for Adam’s assertion was that despite its grandiose claims to the contrary, the interventions offered by psychology and psychiatry didn’t work. Today, the conclusions Adam’s drew in the 1970s have been validated ad infinitum by the crises in psychology and psychiatry. This essay seeks to provide a concise articulation of a few of the problems within these disciplines, demonstrating that the evaluation issued by Adams in the 1970s has continued to find validation.

The Unscientific Science

In 2012, Ed Yong, a science journalist, published an article in Nature which outlined a few of the significant methodological problems inherent in research psychology. According to Yong, the vast majority of research results published in major psychology journals are actually incapable of being reproduced.[2] Yong cited Chris Chambers, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Cardiff University, who noted that “High impact journals often regard psychology as a sort of parlour-trick…When we review papers, we’re often making authors prove that their findings are novel or interesting.”[3] Chambers continued, “We’re not often making them prove that their findings are true.”[4] Similarly, Scott Lilienfeld and Irwin Waldman have recognized the scandalous nature of this crisis:
Indeed, in the pages of our field’s most prestigious journals…scholars across diverse subdisciplines have maintained that the standard approaches adopted in published psychological investigations tend to yield a disconcertingly large number of false positive findings.[5]
How significant is this problem? In 2015, the Open Science Collaboration (OSC) published an assessment of the replications of one hundred studies published in three of the most prestigious psychological journals. OSC found that “A large portion of replications produced weaker evidence for the original findings despite using materials provided by the original authors, review in advance for methodological fidelity, and high statistical power to detect the original effect size.”[6] Further, OSC found that only one-third of the replications attested to the findings of the original studies.

Trust Us, We’re the Experts…

Despite being repeatedly outed as about as scientific as alchemy, research psychology and its resultant therapies still find considerable support within both the church and the general public. This is partially due to psychology’s continual effort to market itself as a necessary and effective means unto human flourishing. Articles frequently emerge touting the effectiveness of psychotherapy, reinforcing psychology’s place as a bona fide science. One such article, published by the American Psychological Association (APA), claimed, “Psychotherapy is effective, helps reduce the overall need for health services and produces long-term health improvements.”  To substantiate its claim, the APA cited “more than 50 peer-reviewed studies.”[7] That is, the same psychological establishment whose studies have been shown to be legitimate only one-third of the time has also claimed upon the basis of “more than 50 peer-reviewed studies,” that its therapies work. Moreover, several bombshell studies have emerged that suggest psychology’s confidence is vastly misplaced. For instance, one study published in 2015 concluded that the efficacy of psychology’s interventions for depression have been significantly overstated.[8] Purveyors of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the current “gold standard”[9] in psychotherapy, have been shown to massively exaggerate the effectiveness of CBT. One meta-data study indicated that only seventeen percent of trials of CBT for depression and anxiety were shown to be effective.[10]

One might imagine, given this sordid state of affairs, that psychology would dampen its enthusiasm for itself. Hardly. Brian Hughes, Professor of Psychology at the National University (Ireland), has observed that even though psychology “considers itself agile at producing authentic insights about the human psyche,”[11] it actually suffers from “excessive self-esteem:”[12]

As attempts to replicate their research produce a mounting series of damp squibs, you might expect that by now psychologists will have become quite cautious. Psychologists should be nervous about the way their popular paradigms contradict each other: they should surely realize that one theoretical explanation is difficult to defend alongside another that is its exact opposite. Psychologists should be equally apprehensive about their vague and imprecise approaches to measurement. They should be obsessed with equivocation: after all, those margins of error must mean something. Their statistical struggles…should breed additional trepidation. Psychologists should surely react by limiting the ambition of their inferences. And each time they remember that their research captures just a thin snippet of the world’s population, psychologists must feel the torrents of collective embarrassment running down their spines.[13] 
Psychiatry similarly suffers from a self-esteem problem. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or what is more popularly known as “Shock Therapy,” is a well-hyped intervention designed to aid people with either severe or persistent emotional disorders.[14] In ECT, epileptic seizures are introduced to the brain while a person is under general anesthesia through the use of a device.[15] Eighty-five percent of those who undergo ECT are seeking relief from depression.[16] This, in itself, is curious since there is no known pathology that causes depression.[17] Thus, introducing seizures into someone’s brain in order to “cure” depression is obviously misguided.

Like biogenic theory, ECT also relies upon a reductionistic view of the human person that rejects the existence of the immaterial soul. What the anxious or depressed person needs is the wisdom of God’s Word, sound teaching, compassion for their suffering, and prayer—and not a brain seizure.[18] Moreover, the terrible side effects of ECT are numerous and well documented.[19] Scientifically, ECT and its supporting studies have been shown to have grave problems. In 2010, Drs. John Read and Richard Bentall conducted a meta-data study that analyzed all scholarly literature published on ECT with particular emphasis on depression. In this study, Read and Bentall noted that the vast majority of ECT studies neglected to include a placebo.[20] Further, Read and Bentall found several other methodological problems with almost all of the other ECT studies. After their comprehensive review of the literature, Read and Bentall concluded with another scientist who wrote, “There is no evidence at all that the treatment has any benefit for anyone lasting beyond a few days…The short-term benefit that is gained by some simply does not warrant the risks involved.”[21]

Marketing Illnesses

We might ask, “Hasn’t the world benefited from psychology’s identification of mental illnesses?” The innumerable disorders present in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th Ed. (DSM-V), have been well observed to be, shall we say, over the top.[22] Do you really need that cup of coffee in the morning? You likely have “Caffeine Use Disorder.”[23] Obsessed with that new video game? You’ve got “Internet Gaming Disorder.”[24] Or, are you nervous in situations where you might be embarrassed? According to the DSM-V, you may have “Social Anxiety Disorder." Given the DSM-V’s range of “disorders,” it is no wonder why one in four to five adults in the U.S. are said to have a mental illness.[25]  

Psychology and psychiatry have effectively marketed the existence and even causality of certain major DSM-V disorders to the general public and this without basis or warrant. Bipolar disorder, in its various iterations, is a case in point. Bipolar is something of a catchall diagnosis that is dependent upon a perceived set of symptoms.[26] There is currently no known pathological cause for bipolar, and subsequently, there is no treatment known to the medical community “that provide[s] sustained, symptomatic, and functional recovery.”[27] Indeed, the scholarly assessment of bipolar has concluded, “From a neurobiological perspective there is no such thing as bipolar disorder.”[28] Yet, bipolar is routinely characterized as a “brain disease” by the psychiatric and psychological communities. While the symptoms experienced by those who are said to have either bipolar I or II are entirely genuine, misidentifying these symptoms as a “brain disease” is antithetical to providing genuine help.

Psychotherapy’s Moral Vacuum

Steming from Freud’s insistence that psychotherapy lands within the realm of the scientific[29] (i.e., as a clinical expression of psychological science), psychotherapy has sought to portray its practice as an objective and “value-free” discipline. However, it is undeniable that there exists a set of moral presuppositions that underly psychotherapy. One cannot give a word of counsel without presupposing what is right and wrong. One cannot quantify therapeutic effectiveness or even “mental health” without first rooting these concepts in a system of moral truths. The question is, therefore, from whence do these morals come? What is the moral grounding for the psychotherapist’s counsel? Are the relevant moral commitments of therapists divulged to their counselees prior to the giving of counsel? More likely, psychotherapists merely impose their personal moral commitments upon their clients under the pretense of “science.”

CBT, for example, operates upon the basis of a great variety of undefined moral concepts (e.g., “meaning,” “dysfunction,” “good/bad thoughts,” “improved behavior”):
In a nutshell, the cognitive model proposes that dysfunctional thinking (which influences the patient’s mood and behavior) is common to all psychological disturbances. When people learn to evaluate their thinking in a more realistic and adaptive way, they experience improvement in their emotional state and in their behavior.[30]
Never are these moral concepts fleshed out in the literature and are instead merely assumed in practice by the therapist or counselee. Tellingly, some researchers in the field have proposed ethical training for therapists in order to fill the moral vacuum.[31] Others have proposed the equivalent of a married bachelor: moral neutrality.[32]


In many ways, psychology and psychiatry are akin to those chained within the confines of Plato’s cave: Both are disciplines which confidently assert their ability to understand and aid the public while failing to apprehend basic truths. The findings of these disciplines are often both contradictory and dubious, and many of the therapies purported to help hurting people are, in reality, ineffective and detrimental.

Jay E. Adams, Competent to Counsel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 1.

Ed Yong, 5/16/2012, “Replication Studies: Bad Copy,” Nature, 485.7398, 299.
Scott O. Lilienfeld, Irwin D. Waldman eds., Psychological Science Under Scrutiny: Recent Challenges and Proposed Solutions (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017), xxi.
Open Science Collaboration, 08/28/2015, “Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science,” Science, 349.6251.
2012, “Research Shows Psychotherapy Is Effective But Underutilized,” American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2012/08/psychotherapy-effective.
Ellen Driessen, Steven D. Hollon, Claudi L. H. Bockting, Pim Cuijpers, Erick H. Turner, 09/30/2015, “Does Publication Bias Inflate the Apparent Efficacy of Psychological Treatment for Major Depressive Disorder? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of US National Institutes of Health-Funded Trials,” PLoS One, 10.9, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0137864.
Daniel David, Ioana Cristea, Stefan G. Hofmann, 01/29/2018, “Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Is the Current Gold Standard of Psychotherapy,” Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9.4, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5797481/.
Falk Leichsenring, Christiane Steinert, 2017, “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy? The Need for Plurality in Treatment and Research,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 318.14, 1323-4.
Brian M. Hughes, Psychology in Crisis (London, UK: Palgrave, 2018), 119.
ibid., 120.
ibid., 119.
Max Fink, Electroshock: Healing Mental Illness, (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999), 1.[15] ibid.[16] A. Rajendran, V. S. Grewal, Jyoti Prakash, 04/2015, “Does Criticism of Electroconvulsive Therapy undermines its benefits: A Critical Review of its Cognitive Adverse Effects,” Delphi Psychiatry Journal, 18.1, 160.
Gregor Hasler, 10/09/2010, “Pathophysiology of Depression: Do We Have Any Solid Evidence of Interest to Clinicians?,” World Psychiatry, 9.3, 155-61.
Psa. 23:4; Prov. 12:25; Matt. 11:28; 1 Pet. 5:7.
ibid., 160-3, John Read, Richard Bentall, 2010, “The effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy: A literature review,” Epidemiologia e Psichiatria Sociale, 19.4, 342-4.
ibid., 334.
ibid., 344.
Allen Frances, Saving Normal: An Insider's Revolt Against Out-Of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis DSM-5 Big Pharma and the Medicalization of Ordinary (New York: William Morrow & Company, 2014).
Diagnostic Statistical Manual, 5th Ed. [DSM-V] (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013), 792-3.
ibid., 795.
Kathleen Ries Merikangas, Marcy Burstein et al.,  2010, “Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in U.S. adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication--Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A),” Journal of the American Academy Child Adolescent Psychiatry, 49.10, 980‐9.
DSM-V, 121-39.
Vladimir Maletic, Charles Raison, 08/25/2014, “Integrated Neurobiology of Bipolar Disorder,” Frontiers in Psychology, 5.98, 1.
Jeremy Holmes, 1996, “Values in Psychotherapy,” American Journal of Psychotherapy, 50.3, 259-60.
Judith S. Beck, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Basics and Beyond, 2nd Ed. (New York: The Guilford Press, 2011), 3.
E.g., in her study, Popescu has noted that, “Ethical questions and moral dilemmas are an important part of the therapeutic or philosophical counseling process that cannot be neglected…Existential issues are of utmost importance in both types of practices, since issues like meaning, scope, death, freedom and isolation are intrinsic to the human conditions…” Beatrice A. Popescu, 2015, “Moral Dilemmas and Existential Issues Encountered Both in Psychotherapy and Philosophical Counseling Practices,” Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 11.3, 520. Cf. Michelle J. Pearce, Harold G. Koenig et al., 03/2015, “Religiously Integrated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A New Method of Treatment for Major Depression in Patients With Chronic Medical Illness,” Psychotherapy, 52.1, 56-66.
Richard C. Springer, 1994, “Morality and the Practice of Psychotherapy,” Pastoral Psychology, 43, 81-91.