NANC counselors don’t think people have medical problems.
NANC counselors think every problem is a spiritual problem.
NANC counselors don’t want anybody to go to the doctor they just think people need to get close to Jesus.
Every now and then you hear someone make a statement like one of these. You get the point: there is an idea floating around out there that counselors certified by NANC don’t like to talk about medical doctors, and don’t like to use them because if people would only have a closer walk with Jesus then their life would be fine. The idea seems to be that if you’re going to be committed to biblical counseling then there is no room for anything but spiritual problems.
This is just not true.
The Bible, Your Body, and Counseling Ministry
In fact, this is such a fabrication of what NANC actually believes and teaches that it is hard for me to understand where it came from. Every single NANC counselor I know goes to a physician when they are sick, and encourages their counselees to go see one when they need medical attention. It is our belief in the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling that encourages practices like that, rather than discouraging them.
As a matter of fact, the Bible—which we use as our authoritative and sufficient resource in counseling—drives us to embrace medical science. The Bible is clear that humans are embodied beings, rather than just spiritual ones. Because we are physical beings, the Bible encourages care for those physical bodies. Such teaching in Scripture invites the use of medicine, medical practitioners, and medical technology in caring for people.
Very personally, in my own counseling I am “trigger happy” on sending people to the doctor. My personal creed is When in doubt, check it out. When a counselee of mine is experiencing almost any kind of extreme in physical behavior—even if it has been a while since they have been to the doctor for a check up—I encourage a visit with a full physical. I believe such medical evaluations are part of counseling best practices. They constitute the “hearing a matter” that protects biblical counselors from folly and shame (Prov 18:13).
So Why the Myth?
If it is true that the Bible teaches the importance of care for your physical body, and if it is true that NANC counselors believe and practice the Bible . . . then why the myth?
Well, as I said before, I’m really not sure. Perhaps it is like the myths Arminians spread about Calvinists that they don’t share the gospel. Maybe it is like the myths Calvinists spread about Arminians that they don’t really trust God’s sovereignty. It is all too easy to spread a caricature of someone’s position instead of engaging the real thing.
If I had to take a crack at an explanation for the genesis of this particular myth, I’d suggest two realities.
The first reality has to do with ministry location. Folks who are NANC certified are trained to do ministry of the Word in the context of counseling ministry. We talk about problems in living from the perspective of life lived before a sovereign God. We point people with trouble to comfort from a Redeemer. We point people with sin to atonement from a crucified Christ. We point people overwhelmed with life’s problems to a Christian community who can help bear their load. We are caring for people in this specific context.
We are not doing medical ministry. Medical ministry is important, and we are thrilled that there are many wonderful doctors available in our world today. The assumption that biblical counselors don’t care about medicine because they don’t practice medicine is as sane as assuming that surgeons don’t care about sterile operating rooms because they’re not on the cleaning crew.
Sometimes the best way to demonstrate that you’re in favor of something is to leave it to those who know what they’re doing.
The Medical Model vs. the Moral Model
A second reality driving this myth might be the medicalization of spiritual problems. As true as it is that people need medical attention for their physical problems, it is also true that we live in a secular culture that regularly attaches a medical diagnosis to problems that are actually moral and spiritual in nature.
We live in an increasingly secular culture that, in an effort to suppress the truth in unrighteousness, tries to redefine spiritual problems in terms of physical pathology. Scores of problems such as worry, sorrow over sin, and even teenage rebellion get mutated into secular diagnoses like anxiety disorder, dysthymic disorder, and obstinate defiant disorder.
When biblical counselors address these problems as the spiritual difficulties they are, we are not rejecting medical science. We’re being the salt and light Jesus commanded all Christians to be. A society that tries to treat every spiritual problem with physical remedies is a secular one that has denied Christ and the Bible.
It is a myth that NANC counselors don’t care about medical science. We care a great deal about it. We show that care in leaving the practice of medicine to those who know how to do it as a part of their vocational setting. We also show that care by refusing to prescribe physical remedies to spiritual problems that Jesus wants to heal.