The Bible gives the body of Christ complete instructions for ministering to one another, yet in rebellion to its teachings and the enablement that the Word of God supplies, the church for decades now has turned to man’s ways and means.
In numerous past articles (most of which are found in Psychology and the Church: Critical Questions, Crucial Answers ) we have dealt with the destructive invasion of psychological counseling in the church. Few movements within evangelical Christianity have turned believers away from the sufficiency of the Word of God in their lives as has psychological counseling, and tragically so. This article deals with some of the influential teachings and practices that claim to be biblical but cloak the psychological concepts and practices they incorporate in spiritual language .
In order to recognize where alleged biblical counseling programs deviate from the Scriptures it’s important to understand what is central to most forms of psychological counseling. It has been referred to as mesmerism, initiated by Anton Mesmer, an Austrian physician (1774-1815). Mesmer’s work—referred to today as hypnosis—became the basis for the psychotherapy of the fathers of the modern counseling movement, especially Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. That may seem irrelevant to those who wouldn’t consider using it as a technique in counseling, especially biblical counseling, but as you will see, very few are aware of how pervasive it is in nearly all forms of counseling.
First of all, “hypnosis” does not refer only to putting someone into a trance to entertain an audience (a very dangerous practice); it has many forms and techniques (some of which you may recognize). These include deep hypnosis, Eastern meditation, relaxation techniques, induced suggestions, monotonous stimulation, stimulation of the imagination, imagery suggestions, guided imagery, activation of unconscious motives, visualization, regressive therapy, altered states of consciousness, trance phenomena, induced hallucinations, hypnotherapy, autosuggestion, medical hypnosis, shamanic hypnosis, et al. Although the list is quite diverse, the activity is basically the same: the individual becomes receptive to the suggestions of a person or an entity other than himself .
The Bible has its own list of activities related to the practice of hypnosis: sorcery, wizardry, enchantments, “charming,” necromancy, astrology, consulting with familiar spirits, and practicing magic arts. None of these, as we all should be aware, are okay with God. In fact, they are condemned, and all involve deception.
Research regarding hypnosis and its variations does not speak favorably for the practice. Renowned research psychiatrist Thomas Szasz calls hypnosis the therapy of “a fake science.” Eminent research psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey sees the contemporary techniques of hypnosis as no different from that of witchdoctors and shamans. “Medical” hypnosis runs the whole gamut of therapies from relaxation inducement to Freudian regression into the so-called traumatized realm of early childhood development and the “unconscious” mind, to “past lives” and “future lives” therapy. Again, none of these have anything to do with true science, yet millions of Christians are seduced by the medical label. As Dr. Martin and Deidre Bobgan have noted, “Hypnosis in the hands of a medical doctor is as scientific as a dowsing rod in the hands of an engineer.”
A seductive myth of hypnosis is that memories recovered through that process are more accurate than normal memory and provide the key to inner healing. This delusion is a major boon to the acceptance of techniques used in the “healing of memories” ministries, nearly all of which claim to be biblical. To identify the errors resulting from the use of hypnosis in recovering memories, researchers use the term “confabulation,” meaning the tendency to remember past events to be different from the way they actually were…and even to remember fantasized events as having actually happened. This is very common in “regression” therapy, used by many Christian counselors. But in fact, as the Harvard Mental Health Letter states, “In reality, all memory is a reconstruction rather than a reproduction, and it is almost always deeply unreliable, threaded with fabrications and distortions…. Hypnotic subjects readily confuse real with imaginary events and…become overconfident about their memories” (cited in Martin and Deidre Bobgan, Hypnosis , p. 69).
Memory expert Dr. Elizabeth Loftus declares, “There’s no way even the most sophisticated hypnotist can tell the difference between a memory that is real and one that’s created” ( Hypnosis , p.71). According to the American Psychological Association, “…it is impossible, without corroborative evidence, to distinguish a true memory from a false one” (Ibid., p. 74). The Bobgans write: “Exploring the past through conversation, counseling, hypnosis, guided imagery, and regressive therapy is as likely to cause a person to create false memories as to remember accurate accounts of past situations” (Ibid., p. 76).
Bernard Diamond, a professor of law and a clinical professor of psychiatry, says that court witnesses who have been hypnotized “often develop a certitude about their memories that ordinary witnesses seldom exhibit.” They “graft onto their memories fantasies or suggestions [that were] deliberately or unwittingly communicated by the hypnotist” (cited in Hypnosis , p. 76).
Researchers have found that subjects who are put into deeper states of hypnosis have spiritual experiences very much like the state described by the Eastern mystics, including “an emerging sense of infinite potentiality, a separation of mind and body, and ultimately reaching the sense of oneness with the universe.” This should come as no surprise even to secular researchers, since various forms of hypnosis are found throughout ancient occult religions and have continued to be the primary techniques that shamans, witchdoctors, and medicine men use to contact spirit entities and employ in their healing techniques. Medical doctor William Kroger notes that “for centuries, Zen, Buddhist, Tibetan, and Yogic methods have used a system of meditation and an altered state of consciousness similar to hypnosis” (Ibid., p. 84).
Although the connection between hypnosis and the occult spiritual realm is obvious, it’s important to understand that the findings of the researchers regarding this apply not only to those who are put into a trance state. Even more critically, these findings apply to people who have been given “suggestions” by a counselor—whether he calls himself a psychotherapist or a “biblical” counselor—who is employing techniques that are directly related to hypnosis.
Given the pervasiveness of various forms of hypnosis in counseling, a Christian needs to realize that whatever form hypnosis takes, 1) it is not scientific, 2) it is no more helpful than a placebo, 3) it is not true to its positive claims, 4) it is often mentally and physically dangerous, and 5) it cannot be isolated from its occult roots. Furthermore, from a biblical Christian perspective, hypnosis and its various techniques a) are specifically condemned in the Old Testament, b) are never taught as a method for spiritual or physical healing, c) use deception and a submission of one’s will to another person or created spiritual entity, d) employ techniques that are occult, and e) can open a person up to doctrines of demons and demonic oppression, and, in the case of the unsaved and professing but not true Christians, demon possession.
Even though a great deal of information is available from secular researchers discrediting hypnosis and its stepchildren, and, more important, the teachings of Scripture that are in opposition to it, numerous professing Christian counseling programs have opted for spiritualized psychotherapeutic versions that use hypnotherapeutic concepts and practices. This is very evident in programs that major in inner healing.
The Inner Healing Movement may be the oldest of the erroneous contemporary approaches that claim to be biblical but are psychological at best and occult at worst. It is simply a Christianized version of Freudian psychoanalysis that uses the power of suggestion (again, a form of hypnosis) to supposedly solve the problems that in most cases it has actually created. The healing of memories process that was supposed to solve problems in fact has created pseudomemories. In numerous cases, false memories induced by the therapist have destroyed the lives of the client and those who, based upon the false memories, were wrongly accused of everything from Satan worship to child molestation and rape. Furthermore, this methodology displaces a believer’s reliance, through simple faith, upon the promises of the Bible.
Tragically, Christians become dependent upon practitioners and practices that attempt to mediate God’s blessings through emotional experiences and periodic cartharses created by guided imagery through visualization. It was brought into the church by Agnes Sanford, the founder of the School of Pastoral Care, where she trained or influenced a host of “inner healers” who had a huge influence in Christendom in the ʼ70s and ’80s, including John Wimber, Richard Foster, John and Paula Sandford, Francis MacNutt, Ruth Carter Stapleton, and David Seamands, a pioneer of the movement, who declares, “The imagination is used to 1) recreate the painful memory…visualize it as it once took place” and 2) to visualize Christ present at the time of the painful incident (cited in Hunt, Beyond Seduction , p. 205). This is possible, he claims, because Jesus transcends all time and space. Jesus isn’t the only one whom inner healers visualize. Spiritual counselors include visualizing all sorts of inner guides, one’s inner child being a favorite.
How serious a concern is the use of visualization, a technique of hypnosis, by Christian psychologists and inner healers? “Visualization” and “guided imagery” have long been recognized by sorcerers of all kinds as the most powerful and effective methodology for contacting the spirit world in order to acquire supernatural power, knowledge, and healing. Such methods are neither taught nor practiced in the Bible as aids to our faith or prayer. Those who attempt to do so are not following the leading of the Holy Spirit or the Word of God, but are practicing an ancient occult technique for communing with demons.
Two of the most popular spiritualized psychotherapeutic programs among Christians that are shrouded in religious terms are Theophostic Counseling and Sozo. Theophostic Counseling, now known as Theophostic Prayer Ministry, or TPM, was developed by Ed Smith in the mid-1990s. Its counselors pray for the counselee that the Lord, who is visualized , will give a specific revelation as to the source of his or her problem. The counselor determines whether the visualized Jesus with whom he is communicating is in fact Jesus or a demon masquerading as Jesus. Smith gives his basis for discernment: “I have found that when a person looks carefully at the face of a demon ‘Jesus,’ it will usually be dark or hazy, or look angry, scornful, or evil” (See TBC Extra, 09/06).
TPM is said to work equally for non-Christians. According to Smith, “People consistently say [the resolution and subsequent peace] was from God. This is even the case with those who do not profess any relationship with God” (Ibid.). And later he says, “God does not seem to require confession of sin from a nonbeliever” (Ibid.).
To put all of this in perspective, we have a Christianized counseling methodology that: 1) is contrary to the Scriptures, 2) is Freudian, (i.e., it allegedly searches out deterministic traumas in the past that are buried in the subconscious), 3) involves occult techniques producing a false Jesus, and 4) even works for unbelievers, resulting in the “peace of God” without repentance. It’s shocking that so many Christians would buy into this!
Sozo is one of the latest inner healing practices to enter the church, particularly among those who are into signs and wonders, healing and prosperity, word-faith, and the Latter Rain/New Apostolic Reformation movements. The Sozo website declares that “Sozo is a unique inner healing and deliverance ministry aimed to get to the root of things hindering your personal connection with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. With a healed connection, you can walk in the destiny to which you have been called.” Sozo was developed and is led by two women, Dawna DeSilva and Teresa Liebscher. Another leader, teacher, and mentor in Sozo is Randy Clark, who instigated the bizarre manifestations allegedly of the Holy Spirit at the Toronto Airport Vineyard.
Although claiming to be biblical, Sozo is a problem-solving approach based upon discovering root issues that are blocking spiritual growth. The issues supposedly reside in the subconscious memories of the individual and are identified as a person is regressed by the use of guided imagery and suggestion by the Sozo therapist. Of course, the Sozo therapist is trained to believe that the guided visualization is superintended by the Holy Spirit. This again is spiritualized psychotherapy, using techniques drawn from occult methodologies.
There is neither chapter nor verse nor example in Scripture supporting the approach promoted in the Sozo program. Since there have been a number of healing-of-memories therapists successfully sued for inducing through suggestion incredibly destructive false memories in their clients, ministries such as Sozo have their clients sign a liability release form. It should certainly raise a red flag when a believer needs to sign a liability release in order to have someone pray for him (For more information, see TBC Extra).
The Bible says that all believers in Jesus Christ are to minister to their brothers and sisters in Christ, and they are do so according to the Scriptures : “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual , restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians:6:1-2).
There is no gift of counseling, but there are numerous other gifts of the Spirit to be used for ministering and building up of the body of Christ. Being “spiritual” refers to anyone who is walking in the Spirit (Romans:8:1,4; Galatians:5:16,25) and not in the flesh. That should be every believer in Christ. We are to minister to other believers by bearing their burdens (coming to their aid during trials, tribulations, failures, struggles, restoration from sin, giving them counsel from the Word of God, etc.) That is fulfilling the “law of Christ,” that is, His love. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John:13:34). “Ye” means ye— all of ye. Until the true church returns to the truly biblical way of ministering, it will continue to suffer the same destructive problems of living that are evidenced by an unbelieving world.