How Nouthetic Counselors Misrepresent The DSM-5 by David Lee Chu Sarchet 

Nouthetic Counselling is Not New

DSM-5- The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses

As some of you may know, I have been following the teachings from modern Nouthetic Counselors very closely. I find some of their teachings to be either intentionally misleading at worst or downright ignorant at best.

Does this mean that everything they teach is wrong? No! They do offer a lot of great insight into the human psyche from a Biblical perspective.

However, where they veer away from traditional Reformed tradition is when they deny that secular psychology is useful. This assertion is a fundamental Two Kingdom Theology.

Am I a DSM apologist? No I am not. I will freely admit that the DSM-5 is a flawed book. However, what we do have in its pages is very helpful in understanding mental illness and how to effectively treat them.

In this blog, I will discuss some ways that I have seen Nouthetic Counselors misrepresent the DSM-5. When reading this, please keep in mind that I am mainly talking about people such as Voddie Baucham, Todd Friel, John MacArthur, Heath Lambert, Dr. Charles Hodges, and Jay Adams. These are the main names that come up when discussing this matter.

The ways that these Counselors misrepresent the DSM-5 are as follows:

  • 1) They do not properly define mental illness
  • 2) They do not properly define the purpose of the DSM
  • 3) They pretend that mental illness is not common
  • 4) They wrongly trivialize how the DSM was put together
  • 4) They do not acknowledge Christian psychology
  • 5) They are in error about the Sufficiency of the Bible.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list but here are the few errors that I have noticed them make. I will do my best to address these errors because no one else will.

If anyone subscribes to the Nouthetic Counseling ideology that they will realize the errors they have been making and will then change their thinking on this subject. I also hope that anyone who are not Nouthetic Counselors, but know about these errors, will know how to address them when they come up. 

Proper Definition of Mental Illness

This is a huge error that I see many Nouthetic Counselors make in their speeches and in their literature. It seems almost as if they do not understand what exactly constitutes a mental illness. This is especially surprising in the case of Dr. Charles Hodge because he is a medical doctor so he should know better.

However, these Nouthetic Counselors frequently equate mental illness with “emotional problems” and they frequently state that mental illness is not a chemical imbalance, a fact that virtually all mental health professionals agree on.

First mental illness is much more than just “emotional problems” and when one defines mental illness in this way it trivializes what people with mental illness really are going through. A proper definition for mental illness would be “any thought, word, or behavior that deviates from the norm and severely impairs one’s daily living“. I would like to emphasize the last part because this is a fact that gets lost in the conversation.

Mental illness is a disability because it cripples someone from doing daily life activities. Nouthetic Counselors would do well if they understood this.

Secondly, when they deny that mental illness is a chemical imbalance they are essentially denying medical science. They will frequently make this claim that there is no medical test for mental illness when there actually are. By making this claim, they demonstrate the fact they do not understand that we know that  a rise or fall in dopamine and serotonin and cortisol levels can trigger mental illnesses. As a matter of fact, this is why medication is so effective because they restore the balance in the serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol levels in the brain. 

Use of The DSM

Another thing that Nouthetic Counselors do not understand is the proper usage of the DSM. If you do not know what the DSM is, it is the Diagnostic Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders. There are currently five editions of this text that are in print and it is used by all mental health professionals, especially psychiatrists, in order to assist them in better understanding mental illnesses and how to treat them.

It was not written with any political agenda or in an attempt to “undermine the Christian faith”. It was solely written to assist mental health professionals.

Is it perfect? Absolutely not! The DSM is flawed and Nouthetic Counselors are right to call out the flaws in the textbook. However, as of right now, the DSM is the best possible means we have to understanding mental illnesses and for understanding how to treat mental illnesses. When Nouthetic Counselors attack the reliability the accuracy of the DSM, they are doing a disservice towards the mentally ill community by helping spread the stigma in society. 

Commonality of Mental illness

As I’ve stated in an earlier blog, mental illness is very common. A recent study has determined that over 50% of our society has a mental illness, regardless of whether or not they are actively seeking treatment or are even aware of their mental illness. Nouthetic Counselors will look at this insurmountable evidence and declare that this is the result of our living in a “psychologized” culture. They frequently think the behaviors described in the DSM applies to everyone.

However, this demonstrates that the concept of mental illness evades them. It is true that at one time in history, psychiatrists were overly diagnosing people with mental illness and overly medicated them too. However, today we do have a better understanding of mental illness and we know better how to treat it through medication and therapy.

Medication and counseling has been proven to be the most effective means to treating mental illness. This does not mean that they cure mental illness however but they help people better manage their symptoms. This is an important point to make because Nouthetic Counselors wrongly assume that since medication and psychology does not cure mental illness then this means that they are failing. However, this assumption demonstrates that they do not understand the purpose of medication and psychology. There is no cure for mental illness but with medication and therapy people with mental illness can learn to manage their mental health better. One of the dangers of reading the DSM is that we can be tempted to read ourselves into the text however we must no do that/ We must allow our psychiatrists and psychology that we come to visit  to do all the talking. 

How the DSM Was Made

Voddie Baucham and others seem to make this mistake a lot. Their claim that since mental illness is not a medical issue then the way the DSM is put together is by haphazardly getting to together for voting on what would be considered mental illness. This is factually untrue because it took many many years and a lot of research and experimentation before they came together to discuss their results that should be put into the DSM. They did not just randomly get together and vote on what to put into the DSM. The process is always very long and strenuous. 

Christian Counselors

This mistake demonstrates that Nouthetic counselors are disingenuous because they are not willing to acknowledge that there are mental health professionals who are Christian. They do not acknowledge this fact because it goes against the “Us vs Them” mindset.  I am currently reading a book by Dr. Mark McMinn called “Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality”. and it is very exciting book because he clearly shows how mental health and  Christianity go together and it is theologically sound too. There are many more Christian psychologists out there too.  

Sufficiency of Scripture

This is a common mistake that many Nouthetic Counselors make: They frequently assume that the Bible  is sufficient in all things.

Now, I do believe that the Bible is sufficient in everything that it talks about but it does not talk about everything. This is a slight nuance but let me elaborate. The Bible talks about all things concerning faith and godliness but it does not tell us how to treat Schizophrenia or how to play chess or how to fix a car. For these things it is wise for us to consult experts in the fields mental health, chess, and car mechanics. This is perfectly fine because God is by definition Truth so all truth found in any field outside of the Bible is ultimately God’s truth. After all, The Lord has given us two books to read: the book of the Bible and the book of nature and we must learn to properly interpret them both if we are going to understand what God is teaching us. 

-David Lee Chu Sarchet 
Christian Mental Health Advocate 

Click Here To Read More by David Lee Chu Sarchet

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