Don’t ask your pastor for marital counseling

Why pastors should leave counseling to professionals
Your Pastor is NOT a capable Counselor

It happened again this week.  Some friends went to the pastor to save their marriage.  The man had a “porn addiction”.  The result is always the same – the marriage is not saved.  The wife continues to go to church, the ex-husband drops out.  The children are assured by the church that their daddy is a bad person.

This is because the pastors are not actually being trained in good counseling techniques.  Most of them only took a couple of introductory courses during Bible school, learn a little bit more by practicing (malpracticing) on their people with no supervision, and then finally are confirmed in their poor practice by other poor counselors and pastors who have gathered together in organization like “Focus On the Family” which should named Focus On Destroying Fathers.

Firstly, let’s get rid of the idea that God ever intended pastors to be counselors.  Just where did this idea come from?  Is it in the New Testament.  No, it isn’t.  In fact, when a man came to Jesus seeking family counseling Jesus said, “Who made me a judge or divider among you?” (Luke 12:14).

How did pastors get into the marital counselor position?  They got there because when a couple have a disagreement between themselves, they want an outside authority to force the other side to capitulate.  The husband is not obeying the anti-masculine rules that our society has made its new norm.  The wife threatens divorce unless the husband agrees to “counseling”, but instead of going to a competent counselor who can actually help, she drags him down to the church, where she knows the pastor will tell the husband that he is “sinning” by acting a like a man.    Because of his love for his wife, the husband will attempt to feminize himself for some time.  This inevitably fail.  When he does fail, the wife will feel holy as she disobeys the direct command of Jesus and leaves him.  The church ladies who all participated in the gossip surrounding this breakup will all comfort the ex-wife that she “tried” and the man will be ostracized.  The pastor is called into testify that the husband didn’t cooperate with counseling, the children are handed to the mother and told that the father is bad.

No, this has never happened to me.  My wife likes me to be a man.  Oh, yes, the sisters of the church have tried to force her to adopt the pervasive man-hatred of the church.  These women are now divorced and our marriage is strong.

The reason that pastors make bad counselors is because that they look at things in the “sin-righteousness” paradigm.  This is not bad.  The church is supposed to teach righteousness.   They are supposed to teach healthy behaviors and good habits of life.  So when a couple comes to the pastor for counseling, he looks for what is “wrong” in the marriage.   He attempts to remold this couple into the Platonic ideal of what he has been taught is the “Biblical” model of marriage.  He looks for “sin” and attempts to get the couple to let the “Holy Spirit” guide them into righteousness.

But, those of us who happen to be trained in human health – DOCTORS – know that there isn’t a perfect model of the human body or a perfect model of a human relationship.  Every body and every relationship is infinitely unique.  They cluster around certain norms, but these norms are considerably more diversified than untrained people realize.  Hearts are not all the same size or in the same position, the arteries (and especially the veins) are in much different places in the body that we expect.  As a psychiatrist, I know that people’s baseline behavior varies very widely.

And the “normal” differences skyrocket when you combine all of these widely varying behaviors into families.   Even if you simplify humans into 16 basic personality types (a vast over-simplification) you have 256 different combinations of just two people.  Now add in the in-laws, children, cousins….  The number of different combinations is astronomical.

You are not going to solve all of the myriad numbers of things that can go wrong in a marriage by teaching the husband to say, “I hear you saying….” and filling her car with balloons on her birthday.  Nor are you going to become a capable pastoral counselor by going out to Colorado Spring, CO, taking a 5 day course and getting a certificate.

You are especially not going to become a capable counselor when you are being taught a method that has no peer-reviewed studies showing its effectiveness.  Being told that we don’t need studies since the Bible already told us everything that we need to know is false.  The Bible gives us guidelines for STUDY about our relationships with each other.  It is not a textbook.  God expects us to develop expertise in how these guidelines are implemented in each culture.

It would be nice if the evangelical community decided to develop Christian counselors.   It would be nice if they started some peer reviewed periodicals to see how their different methods worked.  It would be even nicer if they actually read the Bible instead of just waving it around claiming that it supported their theories.  But none of this has happened.  Instead non-expert preachers have gotten together, pieced together some ideas based on traditions and then wrote books telling us what GOD SAID.

And the result has been disastrous for the church Evangelicals are MORE LIKELY to be divorced than people surrounding them.

The third commandment told us to not take the name of the Lord in vain.  This means, don’t use God’s name to defend your own ideas and your own vanity.  Don’t claim God said something he didn’t say in order to give authority to your bad ideas.

There is one other reason to not go to your pastor for counseling.  Because he already has a relationship with you that will get in the way.  You will not be honest and open with him and he cannot be honest and open with you.   I often have patients tell me that they are very religious and are very involved in their church.  I then ask them if they would like their pastor involved in the treatment team.  They invariably say “NO.”   Why?  Because they are afraid of what he will learn about them.  They don’t want to discuss their substance abuse, their adultery, their sins.  They have to go to church and watch him preach at them for a long time after the treatment is complete.  Therefore they hide the true problems from him.

And this goes the other way.  The pastor is under pressure to not say certain things to his parisioners.  Sometimes I have to tell my patients that they cannot continue to use marijuana if they wish me to continue prescibing for them.  I will have to give them a drug test before I will meet with them.  Can you imagine a pastor telling a congregant that if he doesn’t stop using pot he will have to leave the church?  If he did so, would he be a good pastor?

Don’t go to your Pastor for counseling.  He is not appointed by God to be your psychiatrist.  He doesn’t know what he is doing.  His position prevents him from giving the best treatment.   He will destroy you.

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