With its gimmicks and false promises, pseudo-psychology is ‘not only non-professional but dangerous.…’

Long before there was a discipline called psychology, its principles were applied within the Church, and lightly so. Psychology has helped to improve the educational program of the Church, has offered a base for pastoral counseling, has aided in missionary selection, and has been beneficial in many other ways.

In recent years, an unfortunate romantic haze has developed around the word “psychology.” Books that in the past would not have sold are now very popular; nearly every daily paper has its “Dear——”; radio and television offer a selection of lay, pseudo-professional, and professional advisers, and programs that previously would have flopped gain large followings.

The Church has become just as vulnerable to this gimmick as any other social institution. We now have one-day workshops to “train” counselors, “clinics” to help laymen solve their own problems and the problems of others, and mass meetings in which professionals conduct “family marriage seminars.” But psychology ought not to be used as a mere gimmick or trick to attract crowds; it is a discipline that can help us understand, predict, and treat human behavior. The Church should look seriously at this trend of over-psychologizing, for much of its substance is pseudo-psychology. Perhaps the Apostle Paul, if he were writing to the Church of today, would warn, “Beware of pseudo-psychologists.”

This is not to say that the Church should not address itself to the personal and domestic woes of mankind. Nor is it to say that professionals should not participate in seminars, clinics, and the like. On the contrary, ministers who try to deal with the day-to-day emotional problems of their parishioners in ways consistent with their own theological and psychological training are to be encouraged. College and seminary professors who aid the cause of mental health education through such means as public lectures and seminars are certainly helpful. And churches that strive for professional seminars are to be commended.

But those who dare to open doors must be both able and available to close them. The unconscious problems of man are too dangerous to be flushed out into the open unless they can be dealt with adequately. To listen is often not enough. The claim that “You don’t hurt people by listening” is not always true, particularly if the confessor has been falsely led or allowed to believe that the “counselor” has the legal, professional, and ethical requirements to handle such problems. Such deception may lead to disrepute for the counselor and injury for the confessor. Unfortunately, few churches know how to check the credentials of persons they enlist for psychological counsel, and as a result many a well-meaning congregation has been led into pseudo-psychology by a quack in expert’s clothing.

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The question needs to be asked, “What professional standards of competence ought to be met by those claiming the ability to counsel?” The answer is to be found in the codes of ethics set forth by professional organizations. However, since these codes are often not easily accessible, here are a few guidelines that may help. (1) The person chosen should have training and experience in the specific area in which help is desired. A marriage counselor may not be the best person to speak on mental health, and a psychologist or psychiatrist may not be the one to speak on marriage counseling unless he is also a qualified marriage counselor. Do not hesitate to ask for and check out credentials; true professionals will welcome this practice. (2) “Professionals” who use testimonials and a commercial advertising style or who claim unusual abilities are best avoided. A recognized professional would consider such things inappropriate and unethical. (3) Persons who have a program to sell and a conflict of interests should be carefully scrutinized. Professionals do not ordinarily “take offerings” for, themselves in meetings but rather speak for an honorarium or established fee. And they do not attempt to enroll prospects for “help of the month” clubs or other literature programs. (4) Persons offering counseling by mail and those who “modestly” suggest that their books will answer all problems should be avoided. (5) The person chosen ought to belong to the professional body in his discipline. Membership in a professional organization does not of itself make him ethical, of course, but it does mean that he is responsible to a professional body for his actions. Some of these are: the American Psychological Association (1200 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.), the American Psychiatric Association (1700 Eighteenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.), and the National Association of Social Workers (2 Park Avenue, New York, N.Y.).

Pseudo-psychology with its gimmicks and false promises is not only non-professional but dangerous, and churches should do all they can to guard their people from poorly qualified counselors. However, they should also realize that when theology and professional psychology are brought together on a firm base of ethics and credentials, they complement each other.

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The New Morality Extended

Among advocates of the new morality, sex is a primary subject of discussion. But sex is not the only area of application of the new morality. Consider, for example, a scene at the County Court-house, Court III, Judge Paul Nelson presiding. The judge addresses the defendant, a personable and well-bred young man of about thirty.

JUDGE: NELSON: Mr. Gilchrist, why did you burglarize Mr. Smith’s home? Evidence presented here shows that you were not desperate for money. You were not even in financial difficulty. Moreover. Mr. Smith is not your enemy. Young man, I must conclude that when a man of your superior background and established position in the community burglarizes a home and there is no evidence of any kind of necessity behind the act, we must look for some yet unknown motive. (Here Judge Nelson addresses the defense attorney.) Mr. Pritchard, I am considering adjourning the court in order to commit Mr. Gilchrist for psychiatric observation and examination, and then to continue the case upon presentation of the report of the psychiatrists. Counsel, do you agree to this?

MR. GILCHRIST(breaking in): Your honor, there is absolutely no need to commit me for psychiatric examination or to speculate about some abnormal motivation of my act. I will tell the court plainly why I did it. I did it out of love for Mr. Smith. (From the courtroom a loud “What?” is heard.) Your honor, please let me explain. I am a good Christian, a member of the church, and the teacher of the Byky Young Marrieds Sunday school class. We are adults and progressive. We discuss vital issues and discover insights. We realized through our discussions and reading that the old Mosaic commandments are outdated and have to be reinterpreted. We have concluded that what really counts is love. No matter what is done, if it is done with the sincere motive of responsible love for the other person, it is right. Now take Mr. Smith. He is old and retired. He finds very little of interest in life besides watching TV, doing some gardening, and attending Sunday school and church services. He absolutely refuses to become involved. In the world around us, there are issues to be faced and fought for. We discussed Mr. Smith’s case at Byky and decided that his trouble lies in his attachment to his possessions. Therefore, I took it upon myself to rid him of his handicap, so that he would become free to be involved. It was all an act of love.

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JUDGE NELSON: Assuming that you would not have been caught, how did you intend to dispose of the cash from his wall safe, the silverware, and his wife’s jewelry?

MR. GILCHRIST: I intended to give a third of the proceeds to missionary projects.

JUDGE NELSON: The defendant is to be committed for psychiatric observation and examination. Court is adjourned until it receives a report from the psychiatrists. Next case.

MR. GILCHRIST(being led away): Your honor, I want to say this in love. You are an ignorant man. You should attend our Byky Sunday school class. Perhaps you would learn the imperative of adult and loving involvement, and then you would be better able to communicate.… (The words become indistinguishable as he passes through the doors of the courtroom.)


Gipsy Christian Church

Gipsy, Pennsylvania

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