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How to Help Psychologized Counselees

Truth in Love 230

What do we mean by the term "psychologized counselees" and how do we minister to them well?

Oct 28, 2019

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I am delighted to have with us one of our Board Members at ACBC, Tim Pasma. Tim has been a Board Member for three years and a certified member since 1991—praise the Lord for that, Tim. I’m so grateful. You’ve also been the Pastor at LaRue Baptist Church in LaRue, Ohio for 34 years. Those kinds of things inspire me to think about simple faithfulness to the Lord, what a great testimony. Every time we are together, it is a delight to my soul. I love to talk with you, to hear what the Lord has taught you, to glean wisdom from you, to hear you laugh is one of my favorite things, and I enjoy being with you. I appreciate that. I’m excited about the topic that we’re going to discuss today. Welcome to the podcast as we talk about psychologized counselees. 

Tim Pasma: It’s great to be here. 

Dale Johnson: As we talk about this issue of psychologized counselees, I think it’s best if we define our term. What do we mean, or what are we talking about, when we say psychologized counselee? What is a psychologized counselee? 

Tim Pasma: Well, we’re not talking about the folks who form the diagnostic labels, the psychological categories, not the ones who are the influencers in our culture. We’re talking about those who’ve absorbed and adapted those categories as ways of explaining and understanding their problems and their challenges. In fact, they’re the people that we talk to every day.  

Dale Johnson: That’s exactly right because our culture certainly flows in that direction, where the way we interpret and think about the problems is often from what’s common in our culture. Psychologized ideals drive the way we think about people. People will come in and that’s the way they’re trying to interpret their problem. For us as biblical counselors, why would we make a big deal about these psychologically oriented types of diagnoses, and the labels that a counselee might use when they come and talk to us? 

The problem with the psychological labels is the trajectory typically takes us away from Jesus, takes us away from Christ, Click To Tweet

Tim Pasma: Well, you know, those labels are not just simple explanations. They take us on a trajectory. They have a trajectory that can lead us to any number of places. The problem with the psychological labels is the trajectory typically takes us away from Jesus, takes us away from Christ, because they’re trying to describe and interpret their problems, their issues, and their life independent of Christ, independent of a God-centered view of reality. And so, they don’t just tell me something. They actually lead me somewhere.  

Dale Johnson: In both explanation and when we’re trying to seek a solution to the problem, it forces us in a different direction. I think that’s so helpful for us to at least understand what’s at stake here. What difference does it make whether we would address these issues of the psychologize counselor or not?  

Tim Pasma: When someone comes in using those labels, they’re interpreting their life. They’re interpreting it and defining it. It tells them where they need to go. I need to be aware of that. I need to be concerned about that because if I continue to use those labels, it’s not going to take me towards real solutions—the biblical solutions. It’s not going to take me toward Christ. It’s going to take me in different directions, because how you interpret and define a problem will determine the solution that you use.  

If someone comes to me and talks about how, “I’m doing this because I need love. My dad did not give me the love that I needed.” That’s going to lead us an entirely different direction. Well, can you still glorify God even though you didn’t get what you think you needed? But if you continue to use those labels, you’re not going to go in that direction.  

Dale Johnson: That’s right. So, as we think about biblical terminology, we’re left in somewhat of a quandary if we think about our position as a counselor. They’re using this language. The counselee doesn’t know any different language. How are we going to express their problems if we don’t want to adopt the implications of the terms that they’re using? We’re left with having to describe these problems in different terms. Why should we use biblical terminology? And why do we see that as better than the psychologically influenced language?  

If we live in a God-created world, then biblical categories are more accurate reflections of reality. Click To Tweet

Tim Pasma: If we live in a God-created world, then biblical categories are more accurate reflections of reality. Let’s just face up to that. They are more accurate than the psychological categories had people typically use. So that’s the way I want to go. I want to use something that’s more accurate. If I ignore biblical categories, my trajectory isn’t going to take me in the right direction. We live in the God-created world, so I’ve got to interpret reality with God lenses, with a God-centered view of reality. That means I’m going to use biblical terminology. If I don’t use biblical terminology, then I’m going to distort reality as a matter of fact.  

Dale Johnson: Yeah, that’s right. And I would add to that, when we think about biblical terminology, the Bible actually gives better explanations for our human experiences than just the simple descriptions that are given in the psychological world.  

Tim Pasma: A mutual friend of ours who went to be with the Lord, David Powlison, once said that a lot of these descriptions are masquerading as explanations. They don’t tell us anything. Biblical terminology is more robust because it actually explains why we do what we do and tells us where to go. 

Dale Johnson: That’s so good. And what’s funny is that’s exactly the same quote that I was thinking of when I described that, so praise the Lord, we were thinking about the same stuff.  

Now, we’re not saying that the person sitting in front of us is not dealing with problems. That’s often a misnomer of biblical counseling, that people will say, “Well you’re just dismissing and saying I don’t have these struggles.” No, that’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying that the struggles are very real, but we have to give better explanations that the Bible describes about the problems that you’re facing. Now we get to where the rubber meets the road and the person is sitting in front. We’ve made some transition in the way that we talk. So, how do we then how do we then minister to someone who has adopted these types of labels?  

Tim Pasma: People are probably hearing us right now and thinking as soon as they come in, we’re going to look at them and browbeat them and tell them, “Don’t use that kind of terminology.” What you’re going to do is get to know the person. You’re not talking to a theory. You’re not talking to an enemy. You’re talking to a person who is facing problems, and they may describe them differently, but they really are suffering. They’re describing that suffering or sin in different kinds of categories, and so what I need to do is to minister to the person. I’m not out to win an argument. I’m out to minister to the person. Part of that ministry is I’m going to give them more accurate terminology. I’m not going to beat them over the head with it. But slowly as we get to know one another, as I hear their story, we’ll start talking about how the Bible describes that. And I want to listen to start, I want to get to know the person. This is not a problem with legs on it, right? 

And so, I’m going to minister to that person by getting to know that person, by loving that person, by showing care to that person, and being very careful that I don’t see that person as an adversary who’s got the wrong views.  

Dale Johnson: I think that’s critical that we’re not seeing this person as a problem that we’re trying to fix. This is really about ministry, and the way we minister is by helping them to see this problem from a biblical lens. I like that language; I use that language all the time—seeing the world through the lens that Christ describes.  

One more thing we can discuss is the change in the counselee’s perspective once we begin to use biblical language. Let’s say we get a counselee who begins by using psychological labels, and we begin to describe their experiences. From my perspective and my time in the counseling room, what I’ve seen is as I describe what someone is experiencing from scriptural terminology, people become absolutely open to what the Bible has to say.  

Whereas, when they come in the first time, they’re thinking I’m going to help them find a solution that’s driven by the psychological label. What all of a sudden happens now is because I’ve described their experience from a biblical perspective, they begin to be open and say, “You know what, if the Bible describes my experiences to that degree, maybe the Bible has answers.” Have you experienced that same thing?  

Tim Pasma: Oh, absolutely. I’ve had so many counselees say to me, “Wow, that really helps. I understand now.” Because they have a biblically based view of looking at themselves. The Bible describes them, the Bible describes people more accurately than anything out there. It’s amazing. I’ve had so many of them say, “Wow, that is my experience. That makes much more sense.” 

Dale Johnson: Maybe we can talk about one more thing, because the psychological label often becomes the person’s identity. And so, one of the things that we’re trying to accomplish is to help them to see themselves as not identified by a past experience. Their identity is not bound up in some sort of sin or mistake that they made, or what someone has done to them, or some sort of traumatic event. Their identity should be wrapped up in something else. Think about the biblical freedom that brings, when we help a person transition in that way.  

Tim Pasma: I’ll never forget one time, I’m in my office and a woman walks in. We’ll call her Sarah. Sarah walks in and the first thing she says to me is, “Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m bipolar.” That’s how she viewed her life. That’s how she viewed her experience. That’s how she interpreted everything. “I am bipolar.” And so, what happens is they don’t see, “No, I’m actually a believer. I’m a son of God or a daughter of God. I am in Christ. I am a disciple. That’s my identity, who’s struggling.” That changes the whole game because now, that label is not my identity. That’s something that I deal with, that I’m struggling with. Now I can do something about it. It’s not me. It’s something that I can deal with. 

Dale Johnson: That’s such an important nuance. Tim, this has been really helpful. And you and I could go on and on talking about the various labels and that sort of thing, but I think this will give our listeners a good place to start. We often encounter counselees who use this type of language because it’s so dominant in our culture. May I encourage you to begin to transition and help that person slowly, but surely begin to see their experiences through the biblical lens and using biblical terminology.