Why Not Psychology to Treat Bulimia?

(HT: Gretchen Smith)

Several years ago, (seven to be exact, as of this writing), I was still stuck deep in bondage to bulimia and working at an administrative job that afforded me relatively unlimited computer time. Lonely to the core and painfully aware I was an addict, I was trying so hard to come back (or have for the first time) a right relationship with God based on faith in His Son and obedience to His Word.

Like most bulimics, (including some of you, presumably, if you are reading this site), I turned to a search engine rather than reach out to a "real person" for help. The one friend I did tell - by letter; we live on opposite coasts - responded by questioning my salvation (to this day she does not believe I am a "true Christian" because I do not use the King James version of the Bible, but that is a side-bar story).

Despairing of recovery and desperate for help, I found a very biblical site on the internet, started by a woman who had been set free from a bulimic past that resembled mine. For the first time in my Christian facade of a life, I felt a faint glimmer of hope. Gretchen was an online biblical counselor, and the straight-forward talk and exposition on her site "clicked" with what I already instinctively knew. (I say "instinctively", but in fact it is always the illumination of the Holy Spirit that reveals to us the Truth). Her counsel of repentance and ongoing surrender to Christ confirmed what I already knew: eating disorders are spiritual issues (sins), which have spiritual solutions (repentance and forgiveness).

I devoured the material of Gretchen's site and e-mailed her for counsel. Although it would be another year before I finally found complete freedom, she was a valuable person along the way who God used as a vessel of hope, help and encouragement. More recently, she has been pursuing a Master's Degree and has stepped away from online counseling, although I used some of the material on her site in my book (with permission, of course).

Recently, I was re-reading her essay on Psychology and the Bible, a topic I cover in exhaustive detail over the course of three chapters. I had first read this on her site 5 years before ever hearing of "nouthetic counseling" (counsel based on the sufficiency of Scripture), and was amused to note that the books she recommends were all titles I read during the research process. I highly encourage each one of you to check them out for yourself, or at the very least to prayerfully read her essay to understand why secular, behavioral psychology does not address the root issues of addiction (including eating disorders). I have linked to the original page in her site at the beginning of this article, and atttach the full text below:



Psychology is rooted in human wisdom, the teachings of the Bible are God's wisdom. Psychology is self-centered, Biblical counseling is God-centered. Psychology is self-saving, the Bible teaches that Christ Jesus is both our eternal Saviour and our present Deliverer. Much of psychological theory places blame for our sinful behavior on past experiences, Christianity tells us we are responsible for our own sin. Psychology provides that we can be healed of our hurts working through our pasts. God urges us to put the past behind us and put our hands to the plows, relying on Him to heal the hurts and character flaws that lead to wrong behavior. Psychology stresses self-nurture and supports self-indulgence, while the Bible places emphasis on dying to ourselves, and taking up our crosses. If the root or the seed is of one kind, how can we expect the fruit of the other kind? Can Christianity be "improved" by anything from modern psychology? Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. (Matthew 7:16-18 NIV)

Your soul (will, emotions, and intellect) is the domain of your Maker if you are a blood-bought believer. Should you then entrust that soul to a mere man who will teach you from human wisdom to become more self-centered and self-reliant than you already are? For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:25 NIV)

We are accountable to God, each individual one of us, and are responsible for our own sin. It is incorrect to blame our parents, our siblings, our friends or anyone else for the things we do. What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: " The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge?" As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to Me, the father as well as the son--both alike belong to Me. The soul who sins is the one who will die. Therefore...I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. (Ezekiel 18:2,3,30,31 NIV)

The unsaved man has but one nature, that of sinful man. He cannot keep from sinning. The born-again saint has two natures, the old sinful nature, and a new nature controlled by the Spirit of God. As believers, it is up to us in a moment-by-moment fashion to choose which nature will prevail. Psychology is attached to carnality and can only deal with man in his old carnal nature. Biblical counseling grows people spiritually and teaches them to gain victory over the sinful nature through renewing the mind with God's wisdom and by the strength of the Holy Spirit. Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8 NIV)

When we accept responsibility for our wrong beliefs, thoughts, attitudes, and actions, the response is repentance. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalms 51:10 NKJ)

Now that we know we need to change some things, how do we do it? Psychology is replete with suggestions. The Bible clearly teaches one way, and it's guaranteed! How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. (Psalms 119:9 NKJ).

God's Word is what accomplishes the changing, the delivering, and the healing. He sent His Word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions. (Psalms 107:20 NKJ)

Most of us believe or have heard that God heals physical bodies, but do you know that He's concerned with your inner man as well? He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalms 147:3 NIV)

God's Word is useful and powerful for helping us, shaping us, changing us. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16,17 NIV)

I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalms 119:11 NIV)

    For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit (spiritual man), joints and marrow (physical man); it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account. (Hebrews 4:12,13 NIV; words in parentheses mine)

    As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10,11 NIV)

Jesus is the standard and the model for maturing Christians. We seek to change in accordance with what we are learning about the Lord. Psychology does not encourage Christ-likeness because it's focus is not Jesus, who is the Word. The Bible reveals who Jesus is and also who we are right now. When we continually put the Word into our spirits, the Holy Spirit has something to work with in the transformation process. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17,18 NIV)

Specifically, how is it we are transformed? The Bible has the only viable answer. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2 NIV)

Transformation, whose vehicle is mind renewal, is accomplished by none other than the Word of God! If you want to be cleansed, if you want to be without stain or wrinkle, do not turn to a mental health clinic. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27 NIV)

Psychology may provide some manner of relief. It might last, it might not. If it's behavior changes you are seeking, you may gain control over the one area, only to find your sinful nature seeking to express itself in another way. Try the rest and come back to the Best. Nothing can set you free like Jesus! So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36 NIV)

The Bible contains everything we need for living. Why dilute it with psychology? His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him Who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3-8)

There is a reason for psychology and a place for its existence in society. It is useful for the unsaved counselor to help the unsaved counselee from completely falling apart and self-destructing. It may offer a salve of comfort and relief in not having to face something alone. But it is, at best, a false hope and a temporary remedy, and definitely it does not point the lost man back home. The Christian counselor is responsible to tell the counselee the Truth, that their complete salvation is in the person of Jesus Christ, not in some substitute offered by psychology. When dealing with unsaved people or immature Christians, this may take some time to present and may meet with rejection. Pray for those who cannot accept Biblical counseling and release them, entrusting them to God to send other laborers to till the soil and water the seeds you have planted. Never be tempted to compromise life-giving truth by substituting godless therapy for the sake of "helping" somehow. Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18 & 7:1)

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3 AV)

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8 NIV)

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither, and whatever he does shall prosper. (Psalms 1:1-3 NKJ)

Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and opposing ideas of which is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. (1 Timothy 6:20,21 NIV)

People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. (2 Timothy 3:1-7 NIV)

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:11 NIV)

Come to Me , all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest--I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest--relief, ease, and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet--for your souls. (Matthew 11:28,29 AMP)


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  2. I find this article very relevant in the fact today's 'doctors and therapists' will guide you to a Rx to fix you for the rest of your 'life'.. yet Jesus for "FREE" guides us to HIM and He can fix anything and you are totally renewed inside where we live. And it's forever. Thank you for your website.

  3. You're very welcome; thank YOU for visiting!

    You know, that is the exact same thing that occured to me when the Lord was guiding me out of my food addiction. A secular therapist will charge you upwards of $100 per hour for "talk therapy" with no real answers, then write you a scrip for a psychotropic drug (which is esssentialy a plaebo), but our Heavenly Father Who is perfect doesn't charge a cent.

    Interesting, I've never spent a dime on my "recovery" (even the Bible was a gift). His grace truly is free, and it is real!

    May He bless you this day.

  4. May I ask ~ What if there are REAL social, mental, or relational, etc. issues to deal with? I know that God has the answer to every problem, but not every counselor is equipped to help with everything. Since this is an anonymous post, I hesitate to write this, but ... in seeking Christian counsel, I've been told that "I (the counselor) struggle with overeating myself," or "I'll pray for you."

  5. Hi anon,

    The issues are very real - that is not the question. The difference lies in HOW to deal with them - by using the Bible as the ultimate authority (which is what nouthetic aka biblical counseling is based upon); or by medicating and usiing various theories and treatments man has devised (secular psychology).

    "Christian" counseling can mean almost anything nowadays, which is why NANC and those involved in nouthetic counseling use the term "nouhetic", which defines the type of counsel as being strictly from the Bible and not subjective advice that (while it may be solid) the counselor may come up with. Biblical counseling has a much stricter interpretation than the more generic "Christian" counseling, which typically blends pop-psychology with feel-good Christian sentiments (while omitting the concepts of sin and repentance).

    If you are seeing a Christian counselor for a food addiction, and that counselor struggles herself, that would raise red flags for me. Not because she is necessarily a less spiritual or sincere Christian; but rather because it sounds like she hasn't learned herself yet how to renew her mind in this area.

    Praying for someone is great, but it is not the solution an addict needs in the counseling room. If you have not read it, I would recommend my post of a few months ago, "Renewing Your Mind with the Washing of the Word" which goes into more depth explaining how a food addict can learn to retrain her thinking by "reprogramming" it with God's Truth. There are many, MANY biblical passages that speak of the thought life, and there is a direct connection between what a person dwells on and what will, ultimately, become an unhealthy obsession.

    The theology of counseling is an in-depth topic which I cover in my book; it would be difficult to do it justice in one blog post or combox, although I have discussed it in past posts. O great book I would recommend that discusses the biblical basis for counsel, admonishment, rebuke and exhortation is Jay Adams' "Competent to Counsel". The counselor herself should be walking the walk she exhorts her counselee to embrace - self-control is a fruit of the Spirit and it concerns me that someone with the same issue would be attempting to counsel you.

    Does she use the Bible in her counseling sessions? Do you memorize Scripture, and do homework based on specific passages? There is a link to NANC (the certifying body of nouthetic counselors) to the right. All of NANC's members are highly trained and competent at usiing God's Word to help people confront the sin issues and weaknesses in their lives.

  6. Dear Marie:

    The perfectionist in me comes back here to give a brief reply. In order to protect the guilty (who has since asked me to forgive), I would like to decline answering any particular questions about my experience in that instance.

    I agree that seeking solutions to problems using Scriptures is very wise and spiritually productive (if heeded). I do believe that God has give us all we need for life and godliness in this perverse generation; all we have to do is mine the Word of God by seeking, asking, and knocking until God provides the answer(s) to our needs. But even after the answer(s) comes, then there is a choice to make ~ either to act on it or not.

    I would like to ask ~ What if someone giving advice, especially spiritual advice, is partially right and partially wrong? (Perhaps this can be described as a mixture of Bible teaching and personal opinion.) I'm actually wrestling with something at this moment that directly relates to bulimia; I am a a bit confused, especially during this time of the year.

  7. When truth is mixed in with error, in other words. Well, obviously it's better not to err at all; but, I think we've all been in that situation. This may surprise you, but I was set free from bulimia when I was going to a charismatic church for intercessory prayer. I believe that God heard those prayers, and they were indeed offered in sincerity, but those well-meaning folks were also "binding spirits" and endorsing a lot of false doctrine - including regular claims of private revelation. I started reading Joyce Meyers (who is a rank heretic) and later when I started studying charismatic dogma more closely, I realized the error.

    However, this does not change the fact that God set me free. Nor does it change the fact I DID, in fact, grow in my faith and grow closer to God - even while swallowing a lot of error (mixed with even more truth). God meets people where they're at, and He often will work with and use someone or something less than ideal to accomplish His purpose in you. (He "used" Pharoah). I think we can all think of books or teaching that at one time, maybe really helped us - when, looking back with eyes of discernment, we can now see those things weren't wholly sound. But sometimes the net result will still be growth.

    To avoid error/truth mixing, I always point people towards knowledgeable, trained, doctrinally sound teachers and counselors. Hence my endorsement of NANC and CCEF - these people are biblically-grounded spiritually, and use the Bible as the ultimate source of authority - NOT subjective opinion. In fact, the theology of counseling demands that counseling come NOT from the counselor's opinion, but be objectively based on Scriptural principals. Yes, the counselor may speak out of her experience, but only insofar as her advice or instruction can be supported biblically.

    I hope that answers your question, but feel free to e-mail me with your specific dilemma if you'd like. Hopefully I can help shed some light on it.


Thanks for visiting! Please leave me a message, share your testimony, or feel free to ask questions. Anonymous comments are welcome. Or e-mail me privately at marie4thtimemom@yahoo.com.