Reviewing the Introduction of Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel”

As a sophomore studying theology in 1975, I read the textbook for my Pastoral Counseling class and was shocked. Though at that stage in my life I had taken no psychology courses–that would come several years later–I knew enough about the basic philosophy of psychology to suspect this textbook was not accurate.

Little did I know that book would sell millions of copies and affect the viewpoints on psychology for an entire generation. The book is called “Competent To Counsel” written by Jay Adams. The book, and Adams are the cornerstone of an entire counseling methodology called “Nouthetic” or “Biblical” Counseling.

Though the Nouthetic group (referred to now as the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors ) has many other resources they lay claim to, none is more influential than this book.

I do not like this book. I can state that up-front. I also do not agree with its premise: All psychology is humanism and must be rejected.

He teaches that all mental illness and every counseling situation is, at its heart, either a sin problem or a difficulty understanding or living out biblical truth. The answer is always the same: Bring the truth of the Bible to bear on a situation, help the counselee to see that truth, and encourage them to start living it.

The Nouthetic counselor believes if the counselee does this, the mental illness will be cured.

I completely disagree. Mental illness has dozens of causes, many of which we have not yet fully discovered. Here is my difficulty with the premise that the Bible can solve all mental illness: Even the Bible says it is not the answer book for all of life’s problems. According to 2 Timothy 3:16, its primary purpose is to train people in righteous living, theological knowledge, and the understanding of God. It never claimed to be an expert on all other subjects.

Christians have practiced using the Bible as the only authority on all subjects for a number of reasons. A primary reason is to control others through manipulative interpretations of the Bible, causing this Book to say things it doesn’t say about subjects it makes only passing reference to.

Therefore, for Nouthetic Counseling to state that the Bible can solve all mental illness is beyond what the Bible itself lays claim to.

During this next month, I am going to review the book “Competent to Counsel” chapter by chapter. Admittedly, this is a harshly critical review. I do not like anything about Nouthetic Counseling, and I have seen it hurt the lives of many people. I will share some of those testimonies. If the Nouthetic group does not like my analysis, they can do their own.

Here is my take on the Introduction of the Book.

It is important to establish Jay Adams’ credentials to speak on the issues of counseling, psychology and psychiatry. What are his bona fides?

He took a course in Pastoral Counseling in his first undergraduate degree. He took a few more in his Masters degree in Theology. In addition, he spent a summer internship helping out Hobart Mowrer, author of “The Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion”. Adams claims to have observed several group therapy sessions with Mowrer in state psychiatric hospitals in Illinois.

This 3-month internship was literally the complete extent of Jay Adam’s professional training in psychology at the time he wrote this book. And he spent it with a man whose work is especially critical of all things  related to psychotherapy. Dr. Mowrer is considered by most psychologists to be an outlier in the field of counseling, with little academic achievements to his credit to establish his theories.

To summarize, Adams has no background in Psychology, Psychiatry, or any related field. He did an internship for 3 months with a man whose work has never been proven by the scientific method.

Those are his credentials for claiming to be able to tell the world how all mental illness can be cured. To be fair, he is proud of not having any background in psychology. Here is how he puts it in the Introduction:

“My conclusions in this book are not based on scientific findings.”


“I do not wish to disregard science, but rather I welcome it as a useful adjunct for the purposes of illustrating, filling in generalizations with specifics, and challenging wrong human interpretations of Scripture, thereby forcing the student to restudy the Scriptures.”

In other words, Science is only good for stories, better naming of things, and as examples for stupid ideas that conflict with the Bible.

In the Introduction, Adams lays out his primary problem with psychiatry. (Note: He doesn’t understand psychology and lumps psychology and psychiatry together as if they speak with one voice). He contends that all psychiatry is Freudian or Rogerian (Sigmund Freud or Carl Rogers), and as such should be rejected because of their non-Christian belief system.

In the introduction, he rejects Mowrer as well because he is not a Christian and then, startlingly, William Glasser.

Glasser was a very strong Christian and espoused a biblical worldview. I have no idea why Adams would lump him in, except Glasser was not an Evangelical. Actually, that is probably why he felt he was not a Christian.

He took one course in psychology. He learned about Freud’s and Rogers’ theories and concluded:

“I found it ludicrous to nod and grunt acceptingly in detachment without offering biblical directives. I decided I was wasting valuable time.”

Later in the Introduction, he continues,

“I found myself asking, “Is much of what is called mental illness, illness at all?” This question arose primarily from noticing that while the Bible describes homosexuality and drunkenness as sin, most of the mental health literature calls them sicknesses or diseases…could the books be wrong in similarly misclassifying other problems like depression, or neurosis or psychosis as sickness?”

Adams is teaching right up front that there is no such thing as mental illness. All mental illness is really just sin. A person sinned and that is why they’re depressed. A person sins and that is why they hear voices in their head. A person sinned and that is why they stay up for 7 straight days with manic episodes.

Though in this introduction, and indeed in the entire book, Adams gives no real evidentiary proof that his methods work, he claims they are true by virtue of his ability to read the Bible and find counseling advice inside of it. He wonders in several places why everyone has not found this to be true. He attributes the church’s lack of bible use in counseling to its adherence to the demonic secularism attacking the church.

In this introduction, Adams creates an convenient Straw Dog and then tries to tear it down. The Straw Dog is the idea that the “Medical Model” of mental illness is accepted by all of psychology and has been proven by the Bible to be wrong.

First, even in 1970 when he wrote “Competent to Counsel” the majority of psychologists did not believe all mental illness was a disease. Though some certainly did, many more non-psychologists taught it. Take for instance the field of addiction. The idea that alcoholism was a disease comes from Alcoholics Anonymous, not psychology.

Since 1970, the majority of psychologists have a nuanced view of illness as it relates to mental difficulties. Therein lies the strength of the Scientific Method. Science is not always right. But at its core, Science is always re-examining its beliefs and principles, challenging them to see if they can stand up to scrutiny. The hypotheses that cannot stand are discarded for better ideas. Psychology is always doing that. Theology lacks that feature and thus remains relatively static.

But in seeking to tear this Straw Dog down, Adams says that the Bible is the proof that no problems exist apart from sin.  Adams is claiming that all problems can be reduced to just a simple formula–with attending simple solutions. He states it very clearly:

“From my protracted involvement [note: 3 months of internship…that is his protracted involvement] with the inmates of the mental institutions at Kankakee and Galesburg, I was convinced that most of them were there, as I said, not because they were sick, but because they were sinful. In counseling sessions, we discovered with astonishing consistency that the main problems people were having were of their own making.”

If he thinks he came up with that observation, I have to object strenuously. This is one of the biggest contentions of psychiatry and psychology since its inception: All people are responsible for what they believe. It is the cornerstone of all memory re-processing therapies, EMDR, Choice Theory and dozens of other therapies.

Adams shows his complete ignorance of the field of psychology right from the start.

It only gets worse as one goes through the book.

Conflating The Preacher with Expertise

experts 2

He stood in his pulpit and looked intently at the 500 people attending. Then he made his pronouncement:

“All mental illness at some level is the result of sin in a person’s life.”

He went on to explain how depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, mania, PTSD, eating disorders, OCD, and a host of other disorders were caused by combinations of unrepentant sin, lack of faith, demonic activity, curses, and lack of knowledge of the Bible.

At one point, he claimed that all schizophrenia is demonic possession and the only cure is exorcism.

At the time, he had not written any books or appeared on television. Now, he has books, television and social media outlets, invitations to speak around the globe. Though he has downplayed some of his previous views on mental illness, in several interviews he has reiterated his global stance.

From the pulpit, preachers take similar approaches to other areas of “expertise”:

  • City Planning
  • Medicine
  • Law
  • Immigration policy
  • Monetary policy
  • Drug and alcohol treatment
  • Business practices
  • Investment strategies
  • Reproduction
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Physical Exercise
  • Law Enforcement
  • Education (both grade school and college)

…on and on.

In our world, we rightfully acknowledge some people have attained levels of expertise in all these areas. Over the centuries, we have come to define the Experts by looking at their education, experience, what they teach, how accurate their assessments and proposed strategies have played out, how respected they are among their peers.

That is how we can identify an expert.

When members of the NRA spoke out against a doctor who criticized their position on gun ownership by telling him to “stay in his lane”, the medical profession hit back. What they said was extremely valid: those who are wounded by gunfire are treated by doctors and nurses. This is our lane!

Society would be foolish not to rely upon experts who are renowned and published in their fields. We would never want someone who has no expertise doing surgery, building a skyscraper, or flying an airplane.

Yet we allow preachers to make bold statements on subjects for which they have no expertise. Not only do they often disagree with the experts, but they demand congregations accept them as the Experts instead.

Why do preachers do this? And why do we allow it? Continue reading “Conflating The Preacher with Expertise”

Why Pastors Make Poor Allies

It was 1992. The church I attended was heavily invested in the pro-life cause. Many of its members marched in front of the only abortion clinic in our town, shaming women who entered, and calling for strict change of law to make abortions almost impossible to get. There were prayer meetings in the church to defeat the “powers of darkness” surrounding the abortion industry.

One of the members was involved in a commission to help re-write some of the state’s laws on abortion. Another member had been thrown in jail twice for marching against abortion. We had our “pro-life credentials” well established.

No one knew the reservations I had about the pro-life movement. As a counselor, I knew that dozens of women in our church had abortions in the past. Some of them were the most vehement opponents of abortion. Some of them lived shamed lives, hoping no one ever found out about them.

I had doubts the movement was from God. I had researched the pro-life movement’s political roots, and knew I could not support any of the principal players. I searched in vain for any mention of abortion in the Bible. Even the few verses which spoke about God calling someone from their mother’s womb were found in poetic writings which are hardly substantial fodder for theological positions.

In short, I had my doubts about all the marching going on.

The worst part was the work of the Holy Spirit inside of me. The Spirit of God was convicting me of my hatred and judgment toward women who made the decision to terminate their pregnancies. God would not allow me just to ignore those hateful attitudes. In prayer one day, God directed me to publicly apologize for my attitudes and to make amends. I started to prepare a teaching but God showed me it wasn’t enough. Continue reading “Why Pastors Make Poor Allies”

Explaining my Exvangelical Status

He was my mentor. He was ordained in a conservative evangelical church. He had been meeting with me for several years as I sought to reconcile what I believed about God and the Bible with the huge discrepancies I saw in the church. It was good to bounce my frustrations off his mind. I think I would have left Evangelicalism for good if he had not helped me cope with the hypocritical practices of the church.

That’s when he dropped a bombshell. He had been attending some evening meetings at a local charismatic group. We both believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still given to people in the Church today. We also believe that there are proper and ridiculous ways those gifts can be practiced.

Here was his bomb. The night before, he claimed he saw gold dust appear on people’s hands during worship. Someone else said God gave them a gold filling during the prayer time which replaced their regular filling. My mentor was full of thanksgiving to God for these miracles. I asked him if he could confirm the gold dust or the gold tooth. Could he say with full assurance that it was really gold and not just some glitter or sweat from dancing in worship?

He was really angry with me for asking that question. He warned me not to criticize what might be the work of the Holy Spirit in case I was blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

At that moment, I decided I was mentally done with the Evangelical movement.

I wish I could give you the entire delineated journey of the previous 28 years up to that point. I have written about some elements of the journey in my books, articles, and blog entries. But with this essay, I want to explain to my friends and readers–and perhaps to those in my denomination looking for a reason to disqualify me–why I am not part of that tribe any more.

And I need to explain the parameters of what I left behind. Continue reading “Explaining my Exvangelical Status”

Cursing, Swearing, and Cussing Explained


Before, you start reading, I am going to warn you explicitly and nicely.

I will be using the “F” word several times. And not a bleeped out version of it. There is a reason for it. This is a very serious explanation of words and how we use them. I am concerned that people are making many mistakes with their speech. We get bent out of shape about the innocent words, and we overlook the really dangerous ones.

So, if seeing the “F” word in print bothers you to the point of distraction, please don’t read further. I post here a sanitized summary of what the Bible says about these things:

Cursing is all about sending verbal harm to others

Taking the Lord’s name in vain is about empty religion

Swearing has to do with taking oaths to guarantee you’re telling the truth.

Cussing is a verbal response to intense emotions inside.

More than any other point I am making, understand this. No word is bad in and of itself. No word. It is the context, purpose, and heart condition that makes a word wrong.

Again, read no further if your purpose is to be outraged that I am using the full version of the “F” word.

Heidi grew up in a bar–literally. Her parents were bar owners in a small town. She grew up hearing every profanity you can imagine. By age 15, she was an alcoholic and used language that would make a longshoreman blush. She married another alcoholic and for years they lived a raunchy life. At age 40, two days after his birthday, he died of a heart attack.

In her distress, Heidi talked to a member of our church who comforted her. During this season of comfort, Heidi asked questions about God. When she got answers which convinced her Jesus loved her and could help her change her life, Heidi wanted to be a part of that. She surrendered her life to Jesus the Messiah. And she did change.

Within months, she was no longer medicating her emotions with alcohol. On Sunday evenings, we had a sharing time when people could talk about what God was doing. Heidi came one week. I will never forget her testimony that Sunday night. No one who was there will forget the words she spoke:

“God has set me free from my shame and alcoholism. I feel fucking great these days. God took all the shitty junk out of me and replaced it with fucking great love. Man, I love God so much!”.

Then she sat down. I want you to imagine the look of horror on some of the faces in our conservative little church. I hadn’t a clue what to say. Then, one of our grandmothers started to laugh uproariously. And others began to applaud. What an amazing night. What these church people saw was pure, unaltered joy, wrapped in the humanity of deep emotion. She spoke a language of intensity, not of profanity.

Now for another perspective. Karla had grown up in church. There was a lady in their church who had hurt her verbally many times. Karla gathered two of her friends with her in a prayer group. They began to pray about this other lady. Months later, Karla told me what they prayed that day. It went something like this:

“God, bless our sister in a special way. She is causing other people a lot of pain. Would you bring pain to her life so she can know what we all feel and so she can somehow change her wicked heart. In Jesus’ name.”

The lady they were “praying” for started to get sick a few days after the prayer meeting. Not only did she get sick, but she kept getting one virus after another. After a couple of months of continuous illness, the doctors said they didn’t know what had happened, but her immune system was shot. That’s when the Prayer Group came and asked me if they had contributed to this. I explained to them that their words were curses. They had cursed this woman.

Yes, their words were a curse. Often, cursing is thought of as people dropping a “fuck” here and there. That is not necessarily cursing.

The Bible mentions curses over 200 times.  A curse is something out of our mouth which wishes harm on another person. And whether you believe this or not, curses do work. Balaam had the power to curse other people and his curses happened. Jesus cursed a fig tree and it withered and died. I don’t think most people realize how powerful their curses are. We sometimes make jokes about curses. We tell our children “I hope you have children as awful as you are.”

Really? Is that what you want for your children when they get married and have children?

Understand that it is out of the overflow of our inner soul that the mouth speaks. When we have bitterness and hatred, our words often flow with curses. And those curses have effect. Romans 12:14 has the antidote: “Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them.” Paul gives this instruction because people have always wished harm on others. It is the natural thing to do when you’re hurt. But God does not desire we curse others. We can call them on their shit, we can go to the police, we can exclude them from our lives. Those are all legitimate responses. But to curse another person wraps your life up in that curse. Who wants that?

People also don’t understand swearing. Swearing is not using profanity. Swearing in the Bible has to do with taking oaths. Here is what Jesus says about it in Matthew 5:33-37:

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city ofthe great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”

Swearing an oath was used as a manipulation technique to convince others you were telling the truth. We have trouble believing other people at times. In many cultures, people believe if you swear an oath based upon a strong spiritual force, that force would bind you to the oath.

Jesus makes it clear we do not and should not get involved in these kind of oaths. They are evil because they seek to manipulate others and they bind you up to promises you probably should  not make. I think of Jephthah and his daughter. In Judges 12, he swore a vow that if God gave his army victory over the Ammonites, whatever came out of his house first would be sacrificed to God. His daughter was the first one out of the house.

What did he think would come out of the house? And did he really kill her? We don’t know for sure, but that is certainly a possibility. Child sacrifice was practiced in the Ancient Near East during that time.

The problem with swearing oaths is diminishing. We don’t usually manipulate that way any more. You do find it in some cultures that are more superstitious.

In the Ten Commandments, in Exodus 20:7, we are told not to take the name of the Lord in vain. The phrasing in Hebrew means “to carry the name of Yahweh like an empty container.” The implication is to speak Yahweh’s name without any reverence or thought.

In their day, this would be another way of saying “empty, thoughtless religion.” Jesus makes this even more clear in Matthew 6 when he warns people,

“6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

I remember a guy named Earl Albert Simpson who would “take over” our prayer meeting every week. He prayed long eloquent prayers, full of scripture and theological words and concepts. I remember he would use the word “Lord” every sentence–he sometimes used it several times. His long drawn-out prayers exhausted the rest of us and discouraged anyone else from praying.

This is taking God’s name in vain. It is the empty repeating of the name of God because you think there is virtue in it.

It is also claiming that God is found in something God has nothing to do with. I get incensed these days when people do this. People will see evil, corrupt, diseased, violent, and very perverse events, and then they will bring God into it. Here are a few statements some people make in those moments:

“God has a purpose for this.”

“God works all of this for his pleasure”

“God wanted another angel” (after the death of a child)

“God is judging our nation for sin” (after a disaster)

“God wanted all those children dead” (one well-know preacher said that God wanted all those children dead or they would be alive).

These statements are taking God’s name in vain. You are carrying God’s name into a situation in your own container, for your own purpose, to justify your own prejudices and biases.

A religious life that claims God does evil of any kind is perverse and taking God’s name in their own container.

Finally, let’s talk about cussing. Is cussing evil?

Normally, after I point out to people they are wrongly using verses related to swearing, taking God’s name in vain, and cursing, they fall back on the standard in Ephesians 5:4:

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

The Greek word here for “obscenity” is eischrotes which refers to shameful talk. But it probably means shaming talk. Shaming others or speaking of things which bring shame on yourself or others. The guy who talks about screwing 50 women in a year or the woman who talks brazenly about her drug use, or the teen who brags about beating up a child in the playground are entering into eischrotes. Also, shaming other people, putting them down, calling them names–are all examples of eischrotes.

Coarse joking is exactly what it sounds like. It is every variation of sex joke you have ever heard. On top of that, it is speaking about sexual things with a flippant, careless attitude, not recognizing the sacred elements of the sexual act. It is treating sexuality as a meaningless thing instead of a gift for showing love to our partner.

So, what about cussing? And what about the word “fuck”? Is it okay?

It depends. Fuck used as course joking would not be biblical. Fuck used to curse someone else (i.e. “fuck you”) is completely inexcusable. If you used it to refer flippantly to the act of love between partners, I don’t believe this honors God in any way.

However, there is another category. And that involves emotional release.

I know many conservative Christians who have told me that cussing helped them get through hard stress. When they were in great pain–emotional, physical, sexual, relational, spiritual pain–they found that cussing gave them relief. They were completely surprised to find that they were not immediately convicted by the Holy Spirit or even felt one bit bad about it.

One young lady, struggling with the after-effects of a brutal rape, told me that the ability to exclaim “fuck this shit” out loud began the process of healing for her. She never said it to anyone else, but saying it to herself was freeing.

Great emotion requires a release and a response. Saying “Oh poop” probably won’t accomplish it. Saying “crap on a stick” is not going to get the purge started.

I do think we need to be aware of our surroundings and our context. Even in writing this essay, I realize that I need to keep it away, potentially,  from people who are not willing to accept this yet. I also know that saying “fuck” in front of crowds is just showing off. I don’t need to be Sam Kinison to get my point across. And children are often not ready to handle any emotional outburst, let alone cussing.

But if you can cuss without cursing, cuss without swearing, cuss without putting God’s name in your own container, I think you will find it to be one legitimate form of emotional release.

The Dopamine Factor in Porn


In 2016, I published my book “Overcoming Porn”. At this time, it has sold over 20,000 copies even though I did little advertising and published it only in e-book format.

Over the next month, I will be excerpting selected portions for this blog. This second article reviews the role that dopamine plays when people use porn.

Porn does stimulate the production of dopamine, but in a much different way than opioids and chocolate. This difference changes the way we must approach kicking this habit.

To understand how porn causes unique brain reactions, we need to review a few things about how the brain works. At this juncture, it would be best to discard most of the metaphors you have ever heard about the brain. It is not a telephone switching system or a complex computer. There are no switches in the brain. You don’t remember things the way a computer does. There are no memory banks ready to spew out information like a laptop.

The brain is a complex chemical soup, able to differentiate between chemicals which some laboratory instruments could not detect. There are hundreds of different chemicals rolling around in the brain, and each of these can affect how you react to information and how you perceive the world. Every time your external senses detect something, the brain releases chemicals from the end of neurons to signal other neurons how to react. You do this a million times an hour, billions of times in a month.

I don’t want to get too technical, but this next part is crucial. Electricity is produced in the brain via biochemical reactions. These reactions take place in the tiny gaps between neurons called Synapses. The signal is carried across the gap by chemicals. When the chemical hits a receptor on the other side, it causes the message to be carried electrically down the next neuron to the next synapse. Think of Paul Revere passing word about the coming of the Redcoats. Your brain sends signals by chemical Paul Reveres.

When you remember something, your brain sends similar electrical signals down the same neural pathways as when you first experienced it. That allows you to see something again in your brain even though your eyes are not seeing it any more. You can remember a smell from the last time you smelled it. You can even have an itch in a place which isn’t there anymore.

Dr. Norman Doidge in his book “The Brain that Changes Itself” claims the brain is so powerful, it can re-create realities which no longer exist. He has written several chapters concerning people who have lost limbs. It is common knowledge people can have phantom pain in limbs which have already been removed. This is because pain is determined by the brain, not by the arm or leg. Pain is an electrical response from the brain to the area of the body which should be feeling pain. But what if that area of the body is no longer there?

It doesn’t matter. The brain still sends the signal for a while because it doesn’t know there aren’t nerve endings there. The shoulder still has the nerves even though they don’t extend all the way down the missing arm. In the brain, there is a neural group which remembers where the arm was through chemicals. Those chemicals keep being produced long after the arm is gone.

People who have lost limbs say the most annoying part, after the pain subsides, is the itchy feeling. The lost limb feels itchy but, of course, they have no way to scratch it. So, a San Diego engineer developed something called a “Mirror Box”. The person with the missing arm puts the intact arm in the box. The box shows the person two arms; one is real and one is a mirror image of it on the other side. Here is the amazing part. They can scratch the existing arm and because the person sees the mirror image being scratched, it appears as if their missing arm is being scratched. At that point, the brain stops sending the signal telling the arm it is itchy.

What this tells us is if we are going to solve a brain problem we must understand what the brain is doing and then figure out how to get it to stop.

Porn is certainly a brain problem as much as it is a mental health or addiction problem. Just as we can cure the itch on a missing limb, so too we can cure the itch which porn delivers, an itch from a phantom sexual partner.

Dopamine is the key to the problem and therefore key to the solution also. As we said before, dopamine is produced in the brain as a reinforcement when the brain wants to remember something. If your brain likes what you’re experiencing, dopamine transmitters put out lots of dopamine. This is what makes heroin so potentially dangerous.

But the brain handles psychological stimuli differently than chemicals like heroin. With porn, when a person begins to view it and gets sexually turned-on, the brain does produce a good amount of dopamine. That continues for a short while and then something unusual happens. The brain stops producing dopamine when you use porn. You can’t get the same reaction from your body after a while. The reason is quite simple: Your brain will only produce dopamine when something happens it doesn’t expect.

A now-famous study done in 1990 by Wolfram Schultz introduced this concept to the world. They fed high-sugar juice to rats and watched the dopamine receptors fire in their brains. But after a half dozen times, even though the rats still went after the juice, the dopamine receptors stopped firing. Why?

The brain had already created a pathway for it and no more dopamine was needed. In order for more dopamine to be produced, there had to be some unexpected results. When they added a small bit of meat to the juice, dopamine was fired again. The implications of this for porn use are huge.

The same thing happens in the brain of a porn user. At first, when they view porn and masturbate to orgasm, the brain produces all the chemicals associated with pleasure. Dopamine is then produced to help the brain crave that same experience again. But after several times of using porn, the brain is no longer surprised by what it sees. Therefore, there is no more dopamine produced. Because there is no more dopamine, the experience feels predictable and flat. What does the porn user do?

They view more explicit and unexpected porn. They gradually prefer more violent, more aggressive, more novel types of porn. This explains why almost all porn users eventually view porn which reaches far outside of their own experience. Bondage porn, animal porn, group sex, etc. all stimulate the dopamine production because they feature unexpected elements.

At some point, no matter how unexpected the porn, the brain stops producing dopamine. The other chemicals produced during orgasm (i.e. norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, nitric oxide, and the hormone prolactin) are still there, but in ever-diminishing amounts. Curiously, this is not true of person-to-person sexual encounters. Because dopamine plays such a small role in personal intimacy between people, the biochemical bonds are not nearly as addictive as they are with porn.

After a while, the brain does not produce dopamine as often to reinforce porn use. But then something even more bizarre happens. Because of the constant use of dopamine, the brain actually ‘turns off’ dopamine receptors the longer a person uses porn. This has a devastating effect. The more you use porn, the less you can get excited about other things in your life which used to produce pleasure. At some point, the only thing which excites you is porn.

We’ll talk more about dopamine when we explore solutions to these problems. The good news is recent studies in neuroplasticity demonstrate these effects in the brain can be reversed.

Excerpted from my book “Overcoming Porn” (2016, Mike Phillips Publishing). Available on Barnes and Noble and Amazon in e-book format.

The Five Lies that Victims Believe


In 1987, I wrote an article telling the story of four sisters who had been molested by their father. Each of them had been molested the same way. Each experienced this at the same age–he moved on from one to the next with maniacal precision. Of course, each of them had been emotionally damaged by the abuse.

I wrote the article for a psychological journal more to point out the differing outcomes of each one. Though they were all affected negatively by the abuse, they all compensated differently to it as adults. They each gave me permission to share their story since I had counseled every one through to health.

But I was intrigued by what they wouldn’t allow. Their father was still alive and still married to their mother. I had talked about the possibility of all four of them confronting him on what he had done. Though they could not have him charged because of a Statute of Limitations, they could have the satisfaction of letting him know how his crime had changed their lives. There is a healing aspect to confrontation.

But all four refused to do it. Curiously, each of them had a different reason:

  • One was afraid it would kill their sick mother
  • One felt she had somehow participated in the abuse and had no moral grounds to confront him.
  • One was sure confronting him would destroy her inside
  • The final one felt she would never be able to get the words out of her mouth.

Their unique responses to confrontation underscores how each victim experiences abuse and assault differently. But it also shows that every victim wrestles with different beliefs emerging out of the abusive situation.

Over the years, I have seen these beliefs fall into a number of predictable categories. And several of these beliefs are patently false. Here are five false beliefs that are often found with victims of abuse or assault, whether they experienced this as children or adults.

This is my fault/I am to blame

Amy was invited to go on a sleepover with her friends, so she wore a new outfit she loved. She admired how she looked in it. Her dad was supposed to drive her to the event, but he was late coming home from work. Her grandparents lived with them, and grandpa volunteered to drive Amy to her friend’s house. Along the way, he told Amy they had to make a stop. He took her by the levy road and stopped at a secluded curve. Over the next half hour, he molested her.

After the assault, he told her that she looked especially sexy in that outfit she was wearing. He let her know he couldn’t help himself when she looked like that.

Amy admitted to me in counseling that the one thing she believed coming out of that weekend is she bore the brunt of the blame because of what she wore. It was all her fault. Even when her brain told her it is ridiculous to think that any victim is at fault, she still believed it.

There is a reason for this. Victims find it impossible to reconcile how a friend or relative could hurt them. They ask the question “how could they do this?” Even though illogical, the mind gravitates to taking responsibility instead of laying the blame on the attacker.

Amy spent much of her teen and adult life living in shame. She also rarely stood up for herself in confrontations. She came to see me after a suicide attempt. Her boyfriend of two years had broken up with her and she assumed it was all her fault. Her world came crashing down. The crash, however, had started when she first accepted even the tiniest bit of responsibility for the abuse.

Something is Wrong With Me

This false belief seems like a variation of the first one, but it is much different. This belief supposes that there is something broken about us, at our core, which causes other people to do bad things.

Donald was the oldest son. His dad was an abusive alcoholic. Many times, Donald went to school with bruises and even a broken arm. He never told anyone what had happened to him, not even his mother.

When his dad started to beat on his younger brother one time, Donald stood in between and began to hit his dad. This enraged the father who beat his son unconscious. They had to take him to the Emergency Room. But even there, he told the doctors that he had been in a fight with neighborhood bullies.

From that day, Donald believed that was all he was good for–to be someone’s punching bag. Whatever he did in life, he kept being treated badly by others. As an adult, he was the scapegoat at work many times. Narcissistic bosses always picked on him.

In counseling, I asked him what he believed about himself. Here was his response: “Everyone must see this. Everyone knows there is something wrong with me. That’s why everyone treats me so badly”.

I will never be clean

Her story is like almost every girl involved in the porn industry or in stripping. She had been abused by her brother as a young girl. She remembers all the details of the many times he used her as his sex object. She played all the abuse events over and over in her mind.

She had performed as a stripper in San Francisco clubs for over two years. The club owner had insisted she get breast implants which he paid for. She did it willingly. She reasoned “I will never be clean from what my brother did to me. No matter how well I live, I am only good for one thing. Stripping was the obvious profession, and therefore implants were simply equipment for her job.

But when her boss insisted she get involved in their porn production company in order to keep her job, she came for counseling. During the first session, as she was processing her first time being abused, she admitted that was when she began to believe she would never be clean again. At age 22, she still believed it, and she lived it out every day she took off her clothes for men.

I have no control over my life

Brenda had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. She washed her hands 50-100 times a day, but they never felt clean. It is commonly believed that OCD sufferers have a deep inner belief that their life is out of control. They seek to control it by repetitive activities of their own choosing.

At age 16, Brenda was date-raped. Her date, the pastor’s son, had taken her into his basement to watch television. She left dazed and confused half an hour later. He told her not to tell anyone or he would personally make her life a living hell. She never told a soul.

Her OCD started a year later.

As we processed the memory of the rape, the one belief she clung to in that moment was this: “I am not in control of my life. Other people can do whatever they want to me.” Her chosen reaction to this was to orient her life so that she planned every moment of every day. She became obsessive about her date planner and her daily duties. She never did something unless he had planned it out the day before. Eventually, most of her friends abandoned her because her day planner ruined their friendships with her.

When she got sick her second year of college, she determined never to let it happen again. She started to wash her hands after touching anything that might have germs. It didn’t help that she was a biology major and knew that almost every surface had germs.

She believed she was out of control, and she compensated by OCD. Other people may use compensating behaviors like cutting, anorexia, drug use, BDSM, lying, or abusing others. The root of it all is the idea “my life is out of control.”

No one will believe me

Janny was 10. Her uncle was one of the local sheriffs. For months, her uncle casually mentioned to her how little girls had been molested by someone and how the people who did this were not charged. One time, he told her how police officers often did this to children and no one ever believed the kids.

All of this was grooming her to accept what he did next. When he molested her the first time, he concluded by saying “no one will ever believe you if you tell them.”

She never told anyone.

At age 27, she told someone for the first time. In counseling, she revealed all he had done to her on three separate occasions. When we processed it, I asked what she believed about it all. “I could not help coming to the conclusion that if I told someone, I would be a laughing stock. No one would think a police officer would do that to a child.”

This prevented her from ever telling anyone about this abuse. It prevented her from telling people about any problem she had in life. She struggled with opioid addiction because she could not admit her problems to anyone. She came to me to counsel for the addiction, but her real problem was isolation. She assumed she was all alone with her painful memories and her lonely life.

There is a Solution to False Beliefs

I have permission to use the stories shared above. Each of these survivors came to counseling to deal with their immediate problems. They were all compensating for years of pain caused not only by the abuse but also by the false ideas they had decided to believe. Each of these ideas was embedded in the memory of the abuse and pain. This made the idea hard to dislodge, since the details of the abuse were so hard to fathom.

In therapy, we re-processed the memory with the idea that we would bring light into the dark place. As we walked through it, I would ask what was happening, what they were feeling, and what they were believing. Some of the beliefs were contextual (eg. “what they are doing is bad”, or “I am hurting”). Some of the beliefs were conclusions. Some of those conclusions were accurate. One of the survivors said he believed that his dad was an evil man. This is probably an accurate assessment.

But some of the beliefs were not accurate. Let’s take the most common one: “I must have done something to cause this.” For example, as we re-processed Amy’s memory of her grandfather’s assault, I asked her what she would say to that little girl about this belief. At first, she called the little girl a “slut” for wearing that outfit.  Then, I asked her if she would be willing to listen to what her Creator God said about the little girl.

Into her mind came a different idea. She saw that her grandfather was a man who despised everyone but himself. He hurt her. He used her for his sexual pleasure. God showed her that she had done nothing wrong. As she saw this, she stopped victim-shaming herself.

Each of the survivors mentioned in this article re-processed their memories this way. Two of them did not believe in God, but it didn’t matter. They were able to let go of the false beliefs and accept a more adult version of the events. This helped all of them to let go of their problems and start living a more healthy life.

You do not necessarily need a therapist to start doing this. Here are a few guidelines I use.

  1. If you can, have a friend with you who can monitor your progress and ask you what’s happening.
  2. If you find you get re-traumatized, then immediately stop and seek out a therapist who does some form of memory processing and/or EMDR.
  3. Go slowly so you don’t miss any of the beliefs
  4. Keep searching the memory until all of it feels settled and cared for. The only thing left may be emotions like anger, grief, and sadness. These are normal and will often dissipate once the false belief is gone.
  5. Return to the memory again some time later to see if there is any other beliefs that were subtly left over from the last time.