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Have You Been Burned by an ACBC Counselor?

Five things for anyone who’s been burned by an ACBC counselor.

Oct 16, 2013

Perhaps you are like a lot of people I have talked to since being asked to become the executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).  I’ve heard stories of people who have friends, relatives, and acquaintances with terrible things to say about ACBC counselors.  Some of the stories are really bad:  An ACBC counselor . . . “Told my brother to get off of his prescription medication,” “Told my aunt to return to her abusive husband,” “Told my mom she was sinning by using psychiatric medication,” “Berated my depressed brother for being guilty of sin.”

Statements like that are horrifying to me. I will not try and defend them. I still think, however that ACBC is an incredible organization.  I want to explain to you why I agreed to lead an organization with some counselors that, apparently, have such a terrible reputation.

In particular I have five things I’d like to say to anyone who’s been burned by an ACBC counselor.

An Apology

First, I’m sorry.  Many have been burned by counsel that is a distortion of what would be offered by the Wonderful Counselor and has, therefore, been damaging.  When that happens under the banner of an organization like ACBC committed, “to pursuing excellence in biblical counseling” the appropriate response is repentance.  I confess that our practice has too often fallen short of the high biblical standard for which we aim, and I am deeply sorry.  Please forgive us.

Judging the Many by the Few

Second, though we need forgiveness for times of legitimate failure, please don’t conclude that every member of ACBC is guilty of inflicting the kind of damage that you experienced.  ACBC has certified counselors in every state in the union and in several international countries.  As a matter of fact, every large organization has people in it that are terrible representatives of the organization.  A family friend of mine was a victim of violent police brutality several years ago.  While out with friends a surveillance camera recorded a police officer beating him and another friend.  Though I’m aware that there is such a thing as “dirty” cops, if someone breaks into my house tonight I’m calling the police.  Why? Because I don’t think all police are like the one who attacked my friend.

Honestly, most of the stories I hear about ACBC counselors are wonderful.  I have seen ACBC counselors, with my own eyes, weeping with folks going through tremendous pain.  I’ve been in the homes of our counselors and seen pictures of families with hand-written notes expressing that their family is together today because of the care they were shown.  I’ve read Christmas cards that expressed the joy of a changed life because Jesus used an ACBC member to restore them in their brokenness.  I’ve talked to people crying tears of gratitude because ACBC counselors opened up their home for hours of free counseling when everybody else was charging money they didn’t have.

Those stories aren’t as sensational as the tragic ones, but they are true.  They are also, 100:1, the ones I hear most frequently.

A Word of Encouragement

Third, you should be encouraged by the quality of our training and enforcement procedures at ACBC.  ACBC offers the most rigorous and biblical certification requirements available in the evangelical world.  The counselors at our training centers offer comprehensive instruction in dealing with all the different kinds of issues that are crucial in counseling—not just in rebuking sin.  Whenever ACBC offers training we always—always—do it with a licensed medical doctor present who provides crucial medical background into counseling-related problems.  These physicians always—always—remind those pursuing certification that it is not their job to practice medicine and that it is unethical to do so.

At ACBC we also have an ethics and membership committee with people on it who each have decades of counseling experience.  Whenever an accusation is made against one of our counselors, that committee investigates the charges and makes recommendations about dealing with them.  Counselors who are guilty of the kinds of terrible things mentioned above are not trained to be that way by ACBC or any of our affiliates.  Furthermore, people that persist in that kind of corrupt counsel are not welcome in our organization.

Keeping a Gracious Perspective

Fourth, incompetent counsel is common property to everyone.  Everybody messes up.  It doesn’t matter what you believe, how you were trained, or where you serve, a day is coming—and has probably come already—when your counsel will not be the paragon of wisdom you would long for it to be.  Sooner or later, good counselors will offer bad counsel.  How could it be otherwise?  The good news about ACBC is that when that happens we are committed to the Bible as the perfect standard to judge what is good and bad counsel.  We know how and when to improve because we listen to the Bible.  The same cannot be said for liberal counselors whose benchmark is their own wisdom.  When liberals faithlessly counsel married couples going through a rough period to “just get a divorce” or counsel people that their homosexual lifestyle is acceptable, who is to correct them?  At ACBC we’re always trying to listen to God’s perfect standard and change course when it is required.

Setting the Record Straight

Fifth, some of these horror stories are unfair distortions of counsel that was actually faithful.  There is only one brand of counseling that is committed to calling people to repent when they are guilty of sin, and that is biblical counseling.  To be sure, people need counsel for all sorts of reasons besides their own personal sinfulness.  When sin occurs, however, we are not being the kinds of ministers Jesus requires unless we call people to repentance.  The Wonderful Counselor Himself called a bunch of guys a brood of vipers, and they hated him for it.  Such is the price of faithfulness.  I once counseled a serial adulterer who was requesting that his wife learn to accommodate his repeated acts of unfaithfulness.  I looked him in the eye, told him he was one of the most arrogant men I had ever met, and—on the authority of Jesus—asked him to turn from his sin.  He cussed at me, walked out of my office, and now regularly tells people that I’m meaner than a snake.  I hate that he feels that way, but I would repeat every word I said.  Whether that makes me mean or kind depends on whether you’re listening to that man or his wife tell the story.  Whether that makes me faithful depends on neither of their renditions, but on whether Jesus, or someone else, is your model for counsel.

Those are five thoughts that I pray are encouraging to anyone who has been wounded by a ACBC counselor.  I pray that, like my willingness to trust the police force even after the victimization of my friend, you will not judge an entire organization of faithful and loving people by the misdeeds and misunderstandings of a few.