Appeal to Todd Friel
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
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."
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.
However, there are some things Friel has said which give me pause.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.