Discipleship Counseling, Dr. Neil T. Anderson seeks to integrate Christianity with counseling, and demonstrate to the reader how a Christian focus can make someone a more effective counselor. He disagrees with the approach taken by secular psychology and suggests that only Christian counseling can help people overcome the fact that they are born spiritually dead and can only achieve spiritual life through Christ. Anderson suggests that secular psychology can actually damage a Christian because it ignores the central relationship in a Christian's life: the relationship with Christ. Finally, Anderson discusses the idea of spiritual oppression and that those seeking the light will face opposition. Looking at these themes, this paper discusses the applicability of Anderson's teachings to the discipleship counselor and whether they can be useful to someone using a secular approach to counseling.
Understanding Discipleship Counseling by Neil T. Anderson
One of the more prevalent ideas in Christianity is that having a Christian faith can help someone in this life not just in the next one, but many Christian practitioners fail to explain the practicalities of such an approach. Embracing Christianity is seen as a positive that needs no further explanation. However, Dr. Neil T. Anderson takes a slightly different approach to the issue of Christianity and how it can be used in Christian counseling. Rather than taking the position that a Christian world view can help supplement traditional secular counseling, which is the position taken by many Christian counselors, Anderson is openly skeptical about secular psychology and its utility in helping change lives. Instead, he suggests that people are born spiritually dead, so that their bodies and souls and not united, and that only embracing Christianity can remedy this defect. Furthermore, Anderson discusses what it means to counsel in God. Though he does not reject the idea that secular psychology can provide insight into the human condition, he does reject the idea that a counselor needs anything more than a good knowledge of the Bible and its lessons in order to help individuals. He also suggests that secular psychology can be very damaging to the Christian seeking help, because it ignores the relationship between the Christian and Christ, which is the most important relationship to any Christian. Finally, Anderson discusses the idea of spiritual oppression, and how Satan can continue to work through people by spiritually oppressing him. He discusses the fact that churches that seek the truth and the light will face opposition, and not just from those in the church who seem to be troubled or in need of assistance. Therefore, he seems to suggest that a discipleship leader needs to have the faith that what he is doing is right. He reminds people that Jesus also faced significant opposition to His message, and that disciples trying to live in his image must expect that same opposition.
The Relationship between Psychology and Theology
Some critics might suggest that Anderson is against psychology. That is not an accurate representation of Anderson's position. Anderson is not a proponent of secular psychology; he believes that psychology is the study of the soul and that "the Bible has the only authoritative explanation of the soul, and it is imperative that we understand how the body, soul and spirit function together and how God intended us to relate to him" (Anderson, 2003). Anderson uses the example of Adam and Eve to explain the concept of being alive, which is to have a connection between the soul and the body. This was the state that existed prior to the fall, and the state to which people continue to aspire. However, Anderson points out that the fall had immediate consequences for mental health. The first post-fall emotion expressed by Adam is fear, and Anderson suggests that it is no coincidence that anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health disorders (Anderson, 2003). Anderson points to Cain and his depression, and the disastrous results of that depression to indicate that the fall had other mental-health impacts as well (Anderson, 2003). Therefore, this separation from God is what invited mental health problems into the life of man.
However, it is not merely the separation from God that resulted from the fall that contributes to mental health issues. Instead, it is important to realize that, like Adam, modern people continue to try to hide from God. When Adam sought to hide from God, he lost some of his knowledge and some of his ability to understand; he became a natural man (Anderson, 2003). Likewise, Adam's descendants are natural men, similarly unable to have this understanding relationship with God. Being born in sin, man can only find this redemption, this life, through Christ. "The unregenerate mind cannot function properly without the life of Christ" (Anderson, 2003). Therefore, any attempts to help people that are not focused on Christ are not going to be successful, because they are not dealing with a united body and soul.
While Anderson's position that only Christian counseling and a Christian approach can unite body and soul will be controversial to many non-Christians, it is a theme that one sees repeated by other scholars. Traditional therapy talks about the ideas of growth and healing and how counseling can help a person achieve that type of growth. However, there is little effort to define why growth, healing, or change are necessary. When this growth is placed within the context of man's relationship with God, those ambiguities disappear. "Instead of defining change as an intra-psychic, psychosocial, or biological process of 'healing' or 'growth,' we define change as turning to a Person whom we trust, fear, obey, and seek to please. Instead of letting the goal of 'health' cue our system to a medical metaphor, we set the goal of being transformed into the likeness of this Person with whom we live in relationship" (Powlison, p.2003). Living in Christ's image is the closest thing that people can do to living in the image of Adam before the fall, with a united body and soul, as man was intended by God to live. Therefore, unless a person embraces Christianity and a Christian approach, efforts at help are not going to provide the same type of success as a Christian approach.
God's Word is Enough
In fact, one of the more controversial aspects of Anderson's work is that he is openly critical of how secular psychology can impact a person. He believes that discipleship counseling is appropriate in every situation and that it does not require extensive special training (Anderson, 2003). This approach makes sense. In his ministry, Jesus acted as a counselor to many people, and his disciples did the same. There is no reason to believe that modern disciples armed with Jesus' word and living his intention, should not be able to do the same.
Anderson has devised a system that he refers to as the Steps to Freedom in Christ. It is a way that he has used to show other discipleship counselors how to help people achieve freedom by using Christ in their lives. However, it is critical to realize that Anderson does not think that his approach is the only approach or even the definitive approach to discipleship counseling. Instead, he believes that "it is just a tool to help people connect with God, who is the very one who grants repentance" (Anderson, 2003). However, through his own experience in counseling people, Anderson came to understand that people often sought counseling for a different problem than the one that was causing them trouble. People sought help for the symptoms, while ignoring the root causes, therefore, Anderson developed his steps to help identify root causes, so that he could help people reconcile with God and reach repentance. Despite that, Anderson is insistent that his method is not the only method. "The critical part is submitting to God. Resisting the devil is simple if there are no unresolved issues between us and our heavenly Father. If there is some demonic presence or influence, it will leave if repentance and faith in God is genuine" (Anderson, 2003).
Furthermore, Anderson is very concerned about the impact of secular counseling on people. Secular psychology can be very dismissive of the Christian approach, and can actually encourage people to retreat from a Christian approach. Anderson details just such an interaction at the beginning of the book. Approached by one of his clergy members who believes that she needs to enter a treatment facility to get her life under control, Anderson spends time counseling her, and actually urges her to reconsider entering the facility. At the end of their session, the woman reports feeling peaceful and at ease, but still enters into the treatment facility. Once there, the secular psychologists employed there convince her that she only needs to pursue their treatment regime, and literally help undo the good that Anderson helped her achieve before she entered into the facility.
While it would be unfair to suggest that all secular counselors would encourage a patient to ignore religious…