Until the late 1990’s “there was a 17-to-1 negative-to-positive ratio of research in the field of psychology. In other words, for every one study about happiness and thriving there were 17 studies on depression and disorder” [The Happiness Advantage, 11].

Consequently, most psychologists spent their time helping people with problems get back to an “average” human experience. Their aim was to help people who were operating at sub-normal levels to get back to normal (e.g. sober up the alcoholic, remove anxiety, etc). Little attention was given to making people happy and optimistic, to lifting them above the average.

Positive Psychology
In 1998, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, rebelled against this imbalanced negativity and led a shift to studying the positive side of the curve, the above average, the “abnormally” happy, etc. Thus, “positive psychology” was born with the emphasis being “what works” rather than “what’s broken.” [12]

Instead of traditional psychology’s focus on “Why are people unhappy?” and “How can we help them out of the slough?” positive psychology asks, “What makes people happy?” and “How can we help them flourish and excel?”

Positive Biblical Counseling
As I survey biblical counseling literature, the ratio seems to be at least 17-1, negative-to-positive (and I’ve contributed to that imbalance.) If you asked most people what words comes to mind when they think of a biblical counselor, I don’t think “smile,” “laugh,” and “enthusiasm for life” would trip off the tongue (although there are some wonderfully cheery exceptions).

Isn’t it beyond time for biblical counseling to become a more positive movement? Yes, of course we must continue to get involved in the mess and rubble of people’s lives. But what about forging an additional positive path? Building another brighter dimension to the movement? Adding the banjo to the violin? Getting on to the front foot and leading people proactively rather than waiting for disasters and then reacting?

I’d like to see Biblical Counseling change the ratio by:

  • Getting Christians through the dark valleys AND leading them beside green pastures and still waters.
  • Wiping away their tears AND teaching them how to rejoice.
  • Fixing spiritual problems AND  promoting spiritual flourishing.
  • Targeting sins for demolition AND graces and gifts for strengthening and exercising.
  • Pulling the backslider out of the filthy ditch AND showing the godly new vistas of spiritual beauty.
  • Puncturing the pride of the arrogant AND building up the faith of the meek.
  • Removing despair AND instilling hope.
  • Quenching hate AND inflaming love.

Such pre-emptive, pro-active, and positive biblical counseling would not only enhance and strengthen an already strong and useful movement, it would also hugely bless God’s people, many of whom are tired with “average,” and who long to flourish, excel, and soar.

It might cheer us all up a bit as well.

  • http://www.stjameslou.net Jeff

    Agreed. So much of “Biblical Counseling” takes a decidedly negative angle, not just because of the sins of the counselee, but sometimes because of the self-righteousness of the counselor. If we all had a healthy dose of our own need for the grace of God and our own need to be fulfilled only in Him, we might be a little more gracious AND positive in our approach. The ” joy of The Lord is my strength,” and oh, how I need to remember that as a counselor of people seeking joy!

  • Rick

    Well said, brother. It really is easier to focus only on causes of personal struggle and forget about teaching people how to delight in the Lord, rejoice always, and make melody from the heart.

  • Rob

    Dear Dr./Pastor Murray,
    I find your post interesting … in the various emphases of Reformed conservative evangelical circles they seem to have an image to keep up … always obedient, always faithful, always self-disinterested, but the truth be told is most likely more realistic than this. Any resources, books, articles, sites, blogs, etc … that you would suggest in this regard?

  • Sonia

    We definitely need more “banjo with the violon”!!! I like that. Thank you for this blog.

  • Brian

    It seems to me that you are overlooking the obvious and that is ‘Why would anyone go for counselling if they didn’t have a problem to start with’? Yes of course every counsellor including the biblical counsellor wants to see people restored and healed. This means that the end result ought to be positive but surely it is always going to start out as a negative and that is where our focus will be initially. While there will often be tears in my office in most cases ‘Joy does come in the morning’ and that has always been the mission of the biblical counsellor.

  • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

    Brian: I think that reveals the default mindset I was talking about. I don’t think the Apostle Paul thought like that when he was writing Philippians. He counseled, exhorted, and guided people into joy and more joy. It will take a lot of work, but perhaps over time counselors could get more involved in multiplying people’s joy, peace, hope, love. I don’t think the Bible divides the pastoral task between counselors (sad & negative stuff) and others (happy & positive stuff). That’s not good for the counselors nor the counseled.

  • Brian

    David: What you suggest re Paul and the Philippians is something that I do as a leader of a home-group, in my preaching of sermons, in visiting those who have expressed a need of a pastoral visit but not necessarily in an intensive discipleship session except as a part of my counselling. What Paul wrote was addressed to the corporate body of believers, yet would be pertinent to individuals. Context would determine how he would preach and teach surely. Having said this I appreciate your point and concern.

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  • Matt

    I think what you’re asking for is a theological system and the application of that system in preaching, in particular, that is where the necessary reformation must take place.

    If one is convinced (against Scripture, I think) that things are “getting worse and worse,” then I think more positive biblical counsel is not likely, perhaps impossible.

    If, by contrast, one is inclined to think that the Gospel is actually thriving/growing in the world (irrespective of N. America) – which it CLEARLY is – then one finds ample reason for rejoicing.

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