Review by Dr Pravin Thevathasan
The Cult of Self-worship
by Paul Vitz
Competent to Counsel
Introduction to Nouthetic Counselling
by Jay E Adams
Paul Vitz is professor emeritus of psychology at New York University. His book Psychology as Religion is quite
simply the best book of its type and it tells us what happens when a group of influential psychologists go beyond
the area of their expertise and call us to live according to their belief systems. In other words, they have turned
psychology into a religion. They devise a certain number of doctrines which we must hold on to rigidly. Carl Rogers,
for example, tells us to be non-directive and non-judgemental and show empathy. It goes without saying that he
is partly right: we do need to listen with empathy and not be judgemental towards the person. However, it would
be hypocritical for a Christian counsellor to be non-directive and non-judgemental towards the act when confronted
by someone contemplating abortion. It also goes without saying that there is such a thing as good self-esteem:
divine filiation is, after all, a central belief for Christians. However, there is also such a thing as bad self-esteem
and this is something Rogers and Maslow failed to understand. What makes these psychologists so dangerous is that
they are not entirely wrong. The humanistic psychologists also claimed that everyone would benefit from their therapy.
How can we forget the Daughters of the Immaculate Heart, nuns who went into group therapy only to find out that
it virtually destroyed their order?
Does this mean that all forms of secular psychology and counselling are bad? I do not think so.
It is important to note that Rogers, Maslow and others discussed by Vitz are not as influential as they used to
be. Also, there are many clinical areas such as anxiety and depression where Christian morality may not play a
Which takes me to my thoughts on the book by Jay E Adams, the Reformed Christian best known for
founding Nouthetic Counselling, derived from the Greek word to admonish. Its strength lies in its biblical roots.
Its weakness lies in its complete dismissal of secular counselling, which is regarded as a pseudo-science. Adams
is surely right when he roots his counselling on Christian virtues because we believe that it is an authentically
Christian life that makes us happy. He is wrong to dismiss secular counselling even when the secular counsellor
is not attempting to go against a Christian world view. I would argue that counselling has its own role, independent
of belief. Problems arise when counsellors offer advice that contradicts the commandments. Psychology and religion
can work together. The book is also dated: people with severe psychosis are not going to improve simply by means
of counselling whether Christian or not.
In summary, when I first read the book by Vitz, it was a real eye opener and it has lost none
of its power. The book by Adams is recommended with some reservations.
Copyright ©; Dr Pravin Thevathasan 2016
Version: 21st May 2016