Tools Can Aid, but Never Replace the Word


Originally published in Pulpit Helps, October 2007.

Counselors may use tests, books, exercises, etc., to help in the counseling they do. There are so many good tools which can excellent resources for Christian counselors today. Still, Christian counselors must be firmly rooted in and committed to the authority of God's Word in the counseling process. Good tools can help, but they should never supplant the Word of God itself.

In 2006, over $750 billion worth of self-help books were sold. Yet we still have an epidemic level of emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual distress. A movement that is making quite an impact in the counseling world is the new "positive psychology." According to Drs. Archibald Hart and Catherine Hart Webber, it is an approach that emphasizes "new strategies for developing human potentials, motives, capabilities, and strategies." It is a movement that is more about what is good than what is wrong.

Counseling typically involves some type of diagnostic procedure. We may not actually call it diagnosing, but every counselor usually tries to determine what is wrong with a troubled or distressed person. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) has been the handbook that most professionals turn to for help in making a diagnosis. Positive psychology has now introduced its own handbook called Character Strengths and Virtues Handbook (CSV). As Hart and Webber note, it is "the first attempt to identify and classify positive character traits for psychological health, not negative traits or psychological illness."

There is even an instrument (test) created by the positive psychology movement called the "VIA Signature Strength Survey." It consists of 240 questions which purport to measure 24 character strengths and virtues.

This is all good news and this new instrument and handbook may prove to be very beneficial for Christian counselors. However, the best book of virtues and character strengths is still the Bible. Christian counseling may be impacted by positive psychology in some very constructive ways, but the greatest influence on Christian counseling should be the Word of God itself. Within the pages of the Bible we have unerring truth. No book or instrument created by man can match that standard.

Many Christians today are stressed, depressed, anxious, nervous, angry, frustrated, discouraged, and hurting in so many different ways. We can diagnose a disorder by observing a cluster of symptoms. But how do we help the person grow and change in ways that are right and godly? Right thinking is good but it is not enough. Right thinking must be married to genuine faith in a very real God and honest trust in His unerring Word.

Some truths can be discovered in various ways and in different places. But the Word of God is the truth. Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them in truth; Your Word is truth" (John 17:17). A Christian counselor may use tools other than the Bible to help in his or her counseling. However, the principle that we must always keep in mind is that the Word of God is our anchor, our authority, and our standard.

James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He serves as the editor of The Baptist Courier, the official newspaper of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

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