This is a guest post by a licensed social worker who analyzes and looks at the issues with a Biblical counseling program affiliated with Harvest Bible Chapel. Kristen Draughan examines Soul Care Counseling and Garrett Higbee. It a very professional look at a questionable and problematic Biblical counseling program which has major systemic issues.
“I am happy to say that everyone that I have met in my life, I have gained something from them; be it negative or positive, it has enforced and reinforced my life in some aspect.”
“People go down bad paths and they make bad decisions, but it’s always justified in their head.”
And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
Matthew 20:17-19 ESV
Garrett Higbee on how he embraced Biblical counseling and rejected psychology. Also this looks at the model of Biblical counseling for the local church. This is frightening.
Often I find myself having discussions with people behind the scenes on Twitter and by email. Recently I was talking with Kristen Draughan, known as Kiki (BTW I love that Twitter handle 🙂 who explained to me the issues with Garrett Higbee’s Soul Care counseling. Kristen looked at the program and what Garrett Higbee was doing in a very different light. As a social worker who understands clinical trauma she was deeply troubled by what Higbee and Soul Care were pushing. As a licensed professional Kristen can speak to this issue in a way that I can not. I do not have the medical or psychological training as she does. So I asked her if she would be able to analyze and looked at Garrett Higbee’s program through the lens of a professional. She agreed and wrote the following post below. This blog wants to thank her for her insight and presence on Twitter. She is a blessing and she makes Twitter much more pleasant. So with that I will turn it over to Kristen Draughan.
My name is Kristen Draughan. I have a Master’s degree in Social Work and I am a clinically licensed (LCSW) and I am a certified clinical trauma specialist. For the last three years I have worked in a forensic setting which has given me the opportunity to learn about abuse patterns and criminality; this has aided me as I’ve watched Harvest Bible Chapel engage in deceit, theft, and the abuse of its’ congregants. As I’ve watched the fallout of HBC, I have experienced a range of emotions; disbelief and righteous anger probably being the top two. These emotions simultaneously hit me when I read the following in Dean Butters’ statement to HBC elders, “James collects information from Soul Care (counseling), small groups, and conversations with other pastors to use against people.”
For someone who isn’t a therapist, breaking confidentiality may not seem like a big deal; however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Confidentiality is the foundation on which the therapeutic alliance is built and it creates a safe place for the client to reveal their vulnerabilities. Breaking confidentiality dishonors your client and models disdain towards those vulnerabilities with which you are entrusted; to weaponize these vulnerabilities against the person revealing them, is even more egregious. In the secular world, there are personal risks involved when a therapist breaks confidentiality; like losing their job and their license for instance, and the respect of their colleagues. Garrett Higbee was hired by Harvest Bible Chapel as the executive director of Biblical Soul Care in 2009; based on the statements he has released, it is my understanding he remained in that position until 2017. As the director, it was Higbee’s responsibility to protect the people of Soul Care, but given Butters’ report that James MacDonald weaponized information from Soul Care, one has to ask if Higbee knowingly assisted MacDonald in this process. In his statement to elders, it appears he denies this being the case as he states, “James accepted that he could not ask about soul care sessions with anyone.” How did MacDonald gain access to soul care information then? And if Higbee really didn’t know this was going on at the time, did he ever find out prior to leaving in 2017? Regardless if Higbee had a hand in leaking the information, the fact remains that clients of Soul Care were exploited under his watch, which makes him duly responsible and guilty. Since Higbee continues to be looked at as an expert in providing clinical guidance, I believe he is obligated to address these reports and subsequent questions and concerns by the larger community. According to his LinkedIn page, these are the ministries in which he has a leadership role: Director of Pastoral Care for the Great Commission Collective, President of Twelve Stones Ministry, and being on the Board of Directors for the Biblical Counseling Commission.
In doing more research about Garrett Higbee, this isn’t the only concern that has risen to the surface. For instance, as I read through his proposed therapy model for Biblical Soul Care, several things stood out to me.
- First, Higbee promotes the belief that, apart from organic or biological origins, “psychological problems are a result of personal sin” (pg. 6; italics mine for emphasis). While I agree that some of the issues people seek to resolve in treatment are due to sin, to make a blanket statement like this is simply untrue. For instance, research shows that symptoms of trauma (impulsivity, moodiness, aggression, etc.) are due to the body being in a state of Sympathetic Nervous System dominance; when we are in this state, our brain perceives danger when there really isn’t any present. In response to this, our brain releases a cocktail of chemicals to prepare for said danger. This negatively impacts the way our brain processes information, which leads to maladaptive coping responses, i.e. impulsivity, moodiness, aggression, etc. I can’t imagine telling one of my clients who was raped that their symptoms of PTSD are a result of their sin; not only because I believe this is a shame-based approach (critical of self), but because my client is reacting EXACTLY as they should, given the state of arousal their mind and body is in. However, rather than classify symptoms of trauma as rooted in organic or biological origin, Higbee’s therapy model classifies PTSD under the “heart condition of fear” (pg. 9), which he warns leads to an “unbelieving impotence.” I struggle to find how this offers hope in the midst of incredible pain. Higbee’s model also assigns ADHD under the “heart condition of foolishness;” for this he says, “Foolish thoughts turn to foolish actions, the “heart” of impulsive disorders” (pg. 11; italics mine for emphasis). Again, I wonder if Higbee is aware of research that shows an ADHD brain has impaired functioning in the areas that control executive functioning, emotion regulation, and attention. Given this information, it makes complete sense that someone with ADHD would struggle to find balance with their thoughts, rather than it being a sin issue. Overall, it’s my humble opinion that this model appears to be shame-based because it emphasizes what the person is doing wrong, rather than explore the external trigger for the issue(s) bringing them into treatment. It’s also my opinion that this model fails to recognize the physiology behind certain mental health diagnoses.
- Second, Higbee’s disdain for secular therapy came across as pretty arrogant to me. I am a Christian who also happens to be a therapist in the secular world; personally, I think it is foolish to disregard the skillset that secular therapists bring to the table, as well as the various coping skills that secular therapy models provide for people in treatment. For instance, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is statistically proven to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety; Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is statistically proven to increase one’s ability to regulate their emotions; and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is shown to have an 80% success rate in eradicating symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. So, while I agree with Higbee’s statement that secular approaches lack “heart changing answers” (pg. 6) (because I know the only true heart change comes with accepting Jesus as your Savior), I choose to take a more balanced approach and appreciate the areas where secular therapy can provide help to the hurting. One more thing, I find it hard to believe that Christian counselors don’t use the same skills that are taught and used in secular therapy.
- Third, in my opinion, the way Higbee describes secular therapy reminds me of what you see on a Dr. Phil episode; one example for instance: “Many counselees have been clinically diagnosed, self-diagnosed, and even have multiple diagnoses before you ever meet them. They marvel that a popular talk show host, or the latest psychological self-help best seller, has put their unique experience into words” (pg. 1; italics mine for emphasis). I think it’s important to stress that while secular therapy may differ from Higbee’s own approach to treatment, to depict the skills it offers as just the latest fad is unfair. What’s more, one has to understand that secular therapists usually have a specialty in something; for instance, I know a lot about abuse patterns and criminality from working in a forensic population and I’m also a certified clinical trauma professional. On the blog “To Love, Honor, and Vacuum,” Sheila Gregiore posted a quote from Rachel Denhollander (a victim of Larry Nassar; former US Olympic national team doctor who was convicted of sexual assault), which accurately sums up my own line of thinking related to therapy in a church setting: “Pastoral care, church care is vitally important. But you cannot do everything. You are not trained to do everything. You need to know what to look for in order to walk a couple through this trauma… Please know your limitations. Realize how deep the damage is, and how much specialty is required in helping heal that injury. Just like if you have a parishioner who was in a car accident with a spinal cord injury, you would not try to be their pastor and physiotherapist…In the same way, please don’t try to take on the role of both pastor and trauma specialist. Your role is vital but it’s not all-encompassing” (italics mine for emphasis).
Overall, my goal as a therapist is to empower each one of my clients; to do this, I have found the best approach is to externalize the issue(s), rather than making it about them. This gives the client space to decompress, and should I need to address internal issues, this approach promotes trust which allows me to have those tough conversations. I cannot stress enough how dangerous a shame-based approach to treatment, and to life for that matter, is for people. Shame is a focus on self; it is criticism and judgment which make you feel small and worthless. Shame tells you, you are unworthy of love and belonging because you are flawed. Shame breaks down the part of you that believes you can change; leaving you hollow and broken inside. I believe shame is the spiritual manifestation of the separation from God; it was introduced when Satan convinced Eve to eat from the fruit. I believe Satan continues to use shame as a means to destroy people, especially in the church. I believe the culture at HBC is a perfect example of what this looks like, and I believe Higbee was complicit in allowing it to continue.
After reading through Higbee’s various statements to the public, it appears the other responsibilities he had while working at HBC were to provide counseling for MacDonald and to gauge the spiritual/mental health of the elders. With this information in mind, one of the things that immediately stood out to me was that Higbee admits he almost didn’t take the position with Harvest because he’d been warned that MacDonald was “emotionally unstable” and that he was “less than honest with his word.” This tells me that, before going in, Higbee had an understanding that MacDonald was engaging in questionable behavior.
- Side note: Did you notice how Higbee didn’t say that MacDonald was prone to lie? Rather, he couched it by saying MacDonald was “less than honest with his word.” This tells me Higbee is still minimizing MacDonald’s actions; I wonder why that is? & Does he even know he’s doing it?
After taking the position in 2009, Higbee indicates that MacDonald “degraded him and others” and that there was a culture of fear at HBC. After only three years of working there, Higbee had enough concern about MacDonald that he actually wrote a letter to senior leadership, recommending MacDonald be placed on sabbatical until a therapist determined when he could come back. He indicates senior leadership told him to destroy the letter and any evidence related to it, and that he could only speak to them about the content of the letter. As he continued to work at HBC, Higbee notes that he witnessed MacDonald and the elder’s mock others during their board meetings and that it was “social suicide” to confront these issues. He indicates he had ongoing concerns about the “lack of consistent character in senior leadership” during his tenure there. These first-hand accounts tell me that Higbee was more than aware of MacDonald and the elder’s shame-based approach; they tell me that Higbee struggled (and perhaps still struggles) to balance the dissonance between knowing that what was occurring was wrong but choosing to stay for Soul Care; and they also tell me that Higbee had serious concerns about the state of MacDonald’s mental health.
While I can appreciate the difficulty this situation posed to Higbee, for someone who was responsible for being the “health thermometer” of the organization, how long does it take before you call the kettle black?!? He knowingly stayed on with an incredibly unhealthy system for seven years! And then, when he did leave, he did so quietly. Talk about disregarding his duty to warn, especially if he knew MacDonald was weaponizing information from Soul Care. What’s even more concerning to me is that Higbee continues to espouse his expertise in helping organizations stay healthy; yet his track record is subpar. For instance, in one of his statements, he apologizes for “not seeing the abuse soon enough” and for “being naïve.” This leaves me to wonder how well he is able to discern concerning patterns of behaviors, especially given that he was around a toxic environment for seven years. How does this model his ability to adequately correct a dysfunctional system? He also apologized for “being prideful;” this leaves me to wonder about his character. Is he really the best man to advise an organization on how to be healthy when he admits that he “overlooked a fear-based culture” in lieu of focusing on all the “great works” God was doing at Soul Care? I mean, there’s not much more of an oxymoron than when you put those two statements together… And let’s not forget all those first-hand accounts I just listed above; how can he say he was naïve to the abuse when he openly admits to observing it for seven years?
Finally, while I know Higbee has since apologized for his role in perpetuating the culture at HBC, I still see him doing and saying things to protect himself, MacDonald, and HBC. Examples:
- He says he stayed at HBC because “God was doing great things at Soul Care;” yet, by his own admission, he acknowledges leadership was abusive during his tenure there. As a therapist, how could he say God was doing great things when he knew leadership was abusing others? If we flip this on its’ head, the message is, “I knew people were getting abused and were suffering, but I didn’t say anything because it felt better to focus on the areas where people were thriving.”
- He says he was never a “blind follower” and “didn’t know all the details that are now coming out.” However, he later admits to overlooking “root issues of a fear-based culture” because of the “great works” God was doing at HBC.
- As stated above, he apologizes for not “seeing the abuse sooner” and contributing to the culture of pride, anger, and fear; yet on his LinkedIn page he states the following: “By God’s grace I was able to build a depth of discipleship in the culture at Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago that is now being replicated around the world.” Seriously, how is an individual or church able to trust a man whose own words contradict themselves? Which culture is it?!?
- He says MacDonald was “grieved” after he lashed out at people; but by his own admission, he observed MacDonald react in anger to people over a seven-year period. What is more, he heard MacDonald say “people were pieces of crap and deserved what they got.” How can Higbee seriously push that MacDonald was grieved, when his own therapy model says that anger is “acting in rebellion toward God, and is at the heart of disruptive disorders.” It’s comical that he even tries to justify that MacDonald was grieved because his own theory discredits this point!
- He openly acknowledges that MacDonald was abusive and that the culture at HBC was not healthy; he indicates this is why he left. However, Higbee was recently seen visiting Harvest Barrie, located in Canada. For those not aware, James MacDonald has a brother who is an elder there and the lead pastor has also shown support of HBC-Chicago, despite the incriminating evidence against them. I don’t want to assume, but you know how the saying goes: “Birds of a feather…”
- Garrett Higbee Model of Therapy: http://www.harvestbiblechapel.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Let-Me-Draw-You-a-Picture.pdf
- Garrett Higbee Resignation Letter: http://thewartburgwatch.com/2019/03/22/garrett-higbees-letter-of-resignation-and-his-statement-on-his-years-at-harvest-bible-chapel/
- Garrett Higbee 1st Public Statement: https://wonderingeagle.wordpress.com/2019/02/25/preserving-garrett-higbees-statement-on-harvest-bible-chapel-scandal/
- Garrett Higbee Statement to Elders: http://thewartburgwatch.com/tww2/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/HigbeeHBC.pdf
- Garrett Higbee LinkedIn Page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/garrett-higbee-94333625
- Soul Care Consulting: https://www.soulcareconsulting.com/
- Biblical Counseling Coalition: https://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/person/garrett-higbee/
- Twelve Stones: http://twelvestones.org/about-us/counseling-philosophy
- Dean Butter’s Statement to Elders: https://wonderingeagle.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/dbutters-hbc-story.pdf
- To Love, Honor, & Vacuum Blog: https://tolovehonorandvacuum.com/2019/03/onrachaeldenhollanderbiblicalcounsellingandhealing/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=sheilagregoire&utm_content=On%20Rachael%20Denhollander,%20Biblical%20Counselling,%20and%20Healing)