We have been concerned about the biblical counseling movement, which too often sounds like and looks like its secular counterpart—psychotherapy. Many biblical counselors are operating outside the church in community-based centers, where they charge fees for their services, payable with cash, check, or credit card. The appointments are often calendared just like those for secular psychotherapists. Many other biblical counselors function within churches but still charge for services and calendar appointments just like the licensed psychologists.
Too many who call themselves biblical counselors are really integrationists who merely syncretize psychology and the Bible. True, many of them don’t even realize they are doing it, but others do and rationalize it by calling it "recycling" or by using some other phrase such as "spoiling the Egyptians." In our book Against "Biblical Counseling": For the Bible, we tell some of the reasons why we left the movement and document why we oppose the charging of fees and separated-from-the-church counseling centers. In our book Competent to Minister: The Biblical Care of Souls we describe guidelines for biblically ministering to individuals.
We have recently come across one more counseling copycat: E-therapy, psychological counseling online via the computer, which has been around for awhile. It didn’t take long before biblical counseling entrepreneurs caught on to a whole new way to do counseling and make money—and without even leaving their computers. We were surprised (but should have expected it) when someone suggested that we check out a biblical counseling (E-therapy) web site: <www.crowncounseling.com>.
The Crown Counseling director is Jon A. Thompson, a young entrepreneur having graduated from high school in 1994. Nevertheless he claims that "he has had extensive experience in the fields of teen and young adult counseling." Thompson says this about himself on his web site:
Thompson claims that he "has felt the calling and leading of the Holy Spirit into the field of Christian Counseling since coming to Calvary Bible College in 1995, and specifically to online Biblical Counseling, or E-therapy, as it is commonly called, over the past couple of years."
Thompson is obviously ambitious to spread his "leading of the Holy Spirit . . . online Biblical Counseling," as he says of himself:
Thompson’s web site lists a number of subjects. We will quote from the site regarding billing and legalities and encourage the readers to visit Thompson’s site to get a broader picture of Crown Counseling.
The following is excerpted from the "Billing" page:
Thompson mentions "Special Considerations" under billing. He says:
Those who complete one of the Crown Counseling forms will be given a special rate:
Before receiving counseling, each person must sign a Liability Waiver form. This is a very strong liability waiver form. We excerpt from the beginning of it here:
Reading the entire statement will reveal how much the person who receives services from Crown Counseling is asked to waive and how strongly Crown Counseling is attempting to protect itself. However, we asked a local attorney how much such a waiver form will protect Crown Counseling. He said, "Not at all." Apparently this form is being used to make clients believe that they will not be able to sue Crown Counseling, which is in fact untrue.
So What’s Wrong with E-Therapy?
Charging for biblical counseling and separated-from-the-church biblical counseling ministries are matters of grave concern. We have written about these matters elsewhere and our concerns apply to E-Therapy. Moreover, there are a number of problems with E-therapy in addition to charging and being separated from the church.
The common kinds of things that happen in regular face-to-face biblical counseling cannot happen in E-therapy. The loss of dialogue that normally occurs, where one speaks and another responds both verbally and nonverbally, cannot occur in E-therapy. The tone of voice and bodily expression cannot be observed in E-therapy. People express themselves both in what they say and how they say it. Voices are modulated in various ways. Expression is communicated through the eyes as well as through the hands, arms, and the rest of the body. Also, there are times of silence in the presence of one another that will not be involved in E-therapy. And, how will the tears be heard through email? Or, the raising or lowering of the voice.
With all these essential interpersonal forms of communication absent in E-therapy, how does one communicate caring, which is a whole body response, and how does one emphasize the Word with an open Bible and reading verses together? E-therapy and FAX-therapy are giant leaps backwards from phone therapy, which is at least a huge step away from personal communication between or among persons in the same physical space. Crown Counseling specializes in E-therapy and utilizes phone therapy and FAX therapy, all of which are light years away from direct, face-to-face, one-to-one contact between persons.
A person’s relationship with the Lord is crucial to real change. How does one explore via email another person’s walk with the Lord or even whether the person is truly saved? Imagine people emailing their testimonies and being charged by the person receiving and evaluating it?
Professional therapists are well aware that clients lie to them at times. Would it not be easier for people to lie "long distance" than when the counselor is sitting right in front of them and when they regularly see one another within the same church fellowship? Because these people at each end of E-therapy are not in the same church, how would one know whether sin (not mentioned in the emails) might be involved or if any change is taking place? How would an E-therapist know if the counseled person is obedient to the Word? And, how would an E-therapist bring a sin before the person’s pastor or elder if that should become necessary?
Where is the work of the Holy Spirit in the E-therapy interchange? One can teach and preach in E-therapy, but the person wanting counseling is in need of someone to be directly available to draw along side to help bear the burden and "so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2). There is too much technological, geographical, and personal distance for this to happen in E-therapy.
Consider how all this gets complicated by E-therapy marriage counseling. Think of a couple each emailing or emailing together and think of all the complications already mentioned. These would be significantly amplified when more than one person is involved.
Many people have difficulty putting their thoughts into writing. Some even miscommunicate because of poor writing skills when attempting to express what they truly want to communicate. Also, if a husband and wife are in E-therapy, one might have better writing skills and seem more righteous because of that ability.
With geographic distance, would an E-therapist be available for an emergency call at 2 am or would the emergency have to wait until the computer is turned on? And what if there is a necessity for someone to physically go to the person in need?
E-therapy cannot even approach the possibility of a dynamic, spiritual interchange between believers who are in the same fellowship and in the same room with one another. E-therapy replaces the care of souls with a deadly, cosmic, internet, question and answer interchange, separated by many miles and characterized by the limitations of the media being used.
After awhile Crown Counseling, like many ministries, will develop what is known as "boilerplate" responses to such questions as "Is divorce wrong?" To repetitiously charge "a flat rate of $20.00 per general question" seems like gross exploitation. Crown Counseling should put such information out on their web site so that people can access such information free of charge.
We want to make it clear that we are not opposed to the use of the internet to educate, inform, preach, and teach. After all, we do have a web site which individuals can access free of charge. We are not opposed to people communicating with each other by email and even sharing their problems or concerns with each other. However, the counseling relationship is a most private, intimately and spiritually challenging one, which cannot be accomplished by E-therapy. The more difficult the problem, the less likely will be the success; the more clearly doctrinal the problem (e.g., "Is divorce wrong"), the more didactic it will be. However, we wonder why people would not ask their own pastors about doctrinal questions?
Thompson is in the process of certification with three counseling organizations. We’re certain that the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) will not be critical of what he is doing. However, we are interested in what the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC) and the International Association of Biblical Counselors (IABC) will do about certifying Thompson and speaking out about such a travesty of what is called biblical counseling. Only time will tell.
PAL V9N6 (November-December 2001)