Appeal to Todd Friel

Introduction

    Having given this some thought, I'd like to write an article about one of the main people behind the biblical counseling movement, Todd Friel.  Todd Friel appears to be a smart person.  Indeed, he is also very charismatic.  Todd Friel has a blog called Wretched.  Todd Friel has said some great things in defense of the Christian faith.  However, unfortunately, I believe the stain of bearing false witness has cropped up in his life.  I say this humbly, knowing I am also a sinner and prone to attack others.  But I write this in hopes that Todd Friel will change.

What He Says

    I would like to focus specifically on one of Todd Friel's videos in which he misrepresents the therapeutic process.  I know that Friel was probably trying to exaggerate in some ways, and in other ways generalize the therapeutic process.  However, Friel's prevailing accusation is that therapists are "yes men" who sweep problems under the rug.  As such, whether intentionally or unintentionally, Friel bore false witness.  (Though given his other blogs and his association with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, it is more likely Friel did this intentionally.)  You see, ACBC and others tend to try to prove how good their methods are by attacking others rather than proving their own methods to be good.

    Some of the things Friel says in the video:

    "And how do you feel about that?"

    "You've got the solution inside of you."

    "And your wife will take you out to dinner..."

    "And you'll be a good husband..."

    "and the Freudian method..."

    "maybe I could ask him about his dreams..."

    "I'll reward his good behavior..."

    "Because according to Carl Rogers, he has the answer inside himself."

    (Implied by the quoted video of another ACBC counselor preaching) "When you call it an affair rather than adultery, there's no hope."

    On the DSM-5, "... have everything backwards.  Man is not the problem, our surroundings are."

    Friel also essentially accuses psychology of encouraging people to (in regards to sin) "keep doing the same bad things until you're not guilty any more."

The Good

    To be fair, if Friel is caricaturizing some therapists who lack substance, I can agree with Friel.  One can find bad examples of theory and practice within any profession.

    I would also point out that the Bible is often a superior counseling source when it comes to various problems in people's lives.  I don't disagree with Friel there.

    Also, I agree with 1 Peter 1:3, the Bible has given us "everything required for life."

    If Friel is trying to discredit Sigmund Freud, more power to him.  Plenty of people within psychology object to some of Freud's arguments, even writing books on the topic.  Personally, I strongly dislike Freud.

The Bad

    However, there are some things Friel has said which give me pause.

  1. The therapist doesn't ask people how they feel about something in order to only affirm someone.  We do this to get people to think and feel.  Often, this can be the "jumping off point" to uncover the fact that the client can already feel bad about their bad behavior (if that's what they came to talk about).  (Keep in mind, the therapist doesn't exist to call someone or their symptoms good or bad, necessarily.  The focus is on the solution.)  If we begin our first session with someone judging them for being a sinner, no matter what our setting (psychological or biblical), we're going to judge the person out of our office.  Even good biblical counseling is more focused on koinonia, that is, to come along side the client and help them, not to judge them.  To be fair, Friel's example is a bad one: someone who beats their wife usually doesn't come to therapy or counseling unless court mandated.
  2. While some models of therapy consider the client to be the expert on themself, the therapist's job is to see if they already know the solution to their problems.  Even someone who has no solution how to handle their anger will probably say, in Friel's example, that the solution is not beating their wife and kids.  That is, unless they don't accept that they have done something wrong, in which case neither psychological or biblical counseling is going to do any good until they recognize that they have a problem.  The psychological model would try to gently help the client come to the realization that it's bad to beat their wife and kids, so Friel's example isn't too good here.  And I wonder if Friel intended this so that he could try to discredit psychology.  But anyways, if the client doesn't have motivation to change, there's Motivational Interviewing.  If the client doesn't see that their actions are wrong, there are ways to gently lead them to that conclusion, or else if court mandated notify the court of refusal to change possibly.  If the client has no clue whether their anger is wrong or right, there's psychoeducation for that.  And if the client wants this explained in a biblical framework, they can sign a release and the therapist can address it from the Bible all they want.  No therapy model, to my knowledge, says that absolutely every solution is inside the client, and plenty of therapists would educate their clients if it was revealed they really don't know why anger is bad.
  3. Friel's "and your wife will take you out to dinner" is not worth addressing, as it seems to be only an inflammatory remark.  Does Friel realize how much of a bully and/or jerk these type comments make him appear to be?
  4. Friel's remark "and you'll be a good husband" would probably not be uttered in therapy, as psychology is trying to use science, not moral frameworks, to help clients.  In fact, I am aware of writings that tell the therapist not to call the client "good" or "bad."  This isn't because psychology teaches people that moral labels do not exist, so much as it is trying to refrain from a perjorative or judgmental environment.  Indeed, one should be aware of this in therapy or counseling, even biblical counseling, because people don't often like to come to therapy or counseling to be judged.  If they want to be preached at, they can listen to a sermon.  The reality of the human condition is that "Godís kindness is intended to lead [us] to repentance", not His judgment (Romans 2:4, HCSB).  (God does judge unrighteousness, but often only after a long time trying to get us to repent.)  If the goal is to see people change, that should direct us towards grace and kindness in the counseling office.  That doesn't mean we refuse to call something bad so much as we try to get people to change.
  5. Friel, like many biblical counselors, and like ACBC, focus on discrediting Jung and Freud, frequently erecting the "Jungian-Freudian" straw man.  It gets old.  I find it odd that Freudian therapy models aren't listed here, for example.  That's because psychodynamic therapy has been displaced by other potentially better models.  I think people who attack psychology focus on Freud only because he's an easy target.
  6. Carl Rogers may have said that people have the solution inside of themselves, but nothing he or anyone else said ever precluded the possibility of the client needing to be educated in some way.  If I understand correctly, Rogers was speaking of a philosophy and focus, not an absolute truth statement.
  7. The implied reference within the video of another ACBC counselor speaking on biblical counseling is that psychology, using the word "affair" rather than "adultery", implies that there is no hope.  (I've seen this speaker in person before.)  This is bearing false witness and slander, and reveals a very deep ignorance to what therapists do.  In fact, it does a good job revealing the truth about nouthetic counseling: it rushes to judgment and prefers judgmental terms.  Why else would (as the speaker implied) would you correct your client and make them call it "adultery"?  Not even Jesus did this with the woman at the well.  In my opinion, if Jesus had been a member of ACBC, John 4 would not have ended in the woman becoming a believer, but instead walking away because Jesus was harshly judging her.  By Friel's logic, Jesus was wrong for not correcting the woman at the well and making her call her current living situation "adultery."  This also underscores a very grave and deep failure to understand the nature of human beings.  When's the last time you met someone you were able to judge and/or ridicule into changing?  If the goal is for people to come to Christ, both to be saved and to repentance, maybe Friel and ACBC would consider not pushing them away from the altar with their judgmental attitudes.  But I digress.  People heal in safe environments, not in judgmental ones.
  8. Ironically, Friel says the DSM-5 claims our surroundings are the problem, not us.  This is ironic because that sounds more like the mistake a person in a social work master's program would make by too heavily leaning on "Person In Environment," or PIE.  (Such a student is also wrong.)  Saying the DSM-5 faults our surroundings is also a blatant lie: I've read it, and it doesn't do that.  Todd Friel is lying.  Furthermore, as psychology refers to a biopsychosocial model.  This incorporates biology, psychology, and sociology; basically physical, mental, and social.  No single problem is solely the result of our surroundings.  And in the psychological dimension, people can absolutely have bad thought patterns that are the source of other problems in their life like fear, anxiety, and depression.  The DSM-5 isn't making a moral implication of who to blame, only studying the problems.  The good part of the biopsychosocial model is that it doesn't blame one thing: it opens the door for multiple avenues of explanation as to one's current situation.  Indeed, my hypothetical example of secretly injecting a pastor with 400mg of caffeine and that pastor experiencing the biological impact of caffeine elevating their anxiety is something I go back to.  If I have a pastor come into my office complaining of anxiety and they drink in excess of 400mg a day, or really any caffeine, I'm going to recommend to them gently that they taper off to having zero caffeine.  This is because of the medical science behind how caffeine works: it elevates anxiety.  It may not cause it, but it will surely make anxiety more difficult to manage.  The biological dimension can also point out the medical scientific discovery that exercise reduces anxiety (which ties into how God made us to work, cf Genesis 2:15).  We can take every thought captive (2 Cor. 10:4-5), which ties into the psychological dimension.  And we can also tie into other social factors (such as someone telling me they recently received a death threat: that can be very anxiety-provoking).  And finally, the beauty of this model is that we can add (as AACC does) the spiritual dimension, biopsychosociospiritual, and realize that God is sovereign over all these dimensions.  God is sovereign over biology because He made us and can heal us.  God is sovereign over psychology because He can help us take every thought captive and bring it to obey Christ.  He is sovereign over our social lives in that He can protect us (Psalm 118:6).  God makes Himself known in our lives.
  9. Psychology does not, as Friel implies, recommend to us that we keep doing the same bad things until we no longer feel guilty.  Indeed, in the above example, if the client who says he beats his wife and children isn't being court mandated to this therapy session, in virtually every state the therapist has a duty to report this problem.  Being in jail would surely put a stop to "doing bad things until we no longer feel guilty."  I understand Friel's discussion is a poor example, but it's noteworthy.  The therapist may not use moral labels in an attempt not to judge the client (which is counterproductive) but at the same time, some psychologists have said before that, in an abstract way, by calling something a "disorder," we are at least slightly implying "bad" versus "good" being neurotypical.  Any therapist is going to recognize beating one's family members as bad, law or not.  Why is it bad?  Even on the level of improving family functioning, physical abuse destroys healthy family relationships.  It is also seen as being bad from the perspective of the client because it destroys one's actual intimate relationships with other family members.  In short, there's really no good that can come from it.
    This leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that Friel is actively and intentionally bearing false witness against his brothers and sisters in Christ who are involved in  psychology and therapy.  As such, I beg him to stop doing so, because not only is it wrong, but it only further divides the body of Christ.  Especially sad is that this division comes at a time where there are simply not enough therapists and counselors to help everyone in America.
    I humbly ask Todd Friel to abandon his war against psychology.  He is making himself a liar, and a bully, while doing nothing that helps the kingdom of God at this point.