Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Shedding Light on Theophostic Ministry 2: Ethical and Legal Issues

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Shedding Light on Theophostic Ministry 2: Ethical and Legal Issues

Article excerpt

Theophostic Ministry (TPM), developed by Ed Smith (1997, 2000), is reviewed and critiqued regarding ethical and legal issues. Since its introduction in 1995, interest in Theophostic Ministry has grown rapidly and the method has been applied to a wide range of mental health disorders. As currently employed, however, TPM may pose numerous ethical and legal issues. These issues include the adequacy of TPM training methods, debatable claims that it utilizes divine guidance, unsubstantiated claims of guaranteed healing and superiority of method, widespread use of Theophostic Ministry interventions without adequate empirical scrutiny or support, concerns regarding whether Theophostic Ministry should be considered a counseling intervention or a ministry, and concerns about the openness of TPM's founder to critique. Taken together, these issues constitute serious concerns regarding compliance with professional codes of ethics and legal guidelines.


Theophostic Ministry (TPM) takes as a starting point the concept that current symptoms are due to past events in which a "lie" entered the mind (such as the belief "I am unlovable") which originated in a historical situation (such as having been a victim of sexual abuse). TPM seeks to release current suffering by asking Christ to appear in the memory and counter the "lie" with the light of his truth, resulting in symptom relief. In his materials, Ed Smith, the founder of TPM, has variously referred to his approach as "TheoPhostic Counseling" (1997, p. 5), "the TheoPhostic process" (1997, p. 7), "TheoPhostic Procedure" (1997, p. 60), "Theophostic Ministry" (2000, p. 1), or sometimes simply as "TheoPhostic" (1997, p. 7) or "Theophostic" (2000, p. 3). Smith (2000) revised his terminology, asserting, "Theophostic is truly not counseling, but rather ministry" (p. 2). In deference to this change, the term "Theophostic Ministry" or "TPM" will be used in the present work except when quotations involve other terminology.

Smith (2000) clearly made changes in TPM based on some awareness of litigious vulnerability, notably the change in name from Theophostic Counseling to Theophostic Ministry. Furthermore, he and a collaborator recently published a book to help "prayer ministers" (a category in which Smith includes people practicing TPM) "to live thoughtfully and carefully in a litigious society" (Wilder & Smith, 2002, p. 6). The focus of the present article is on legal and ethical issues that may be posed by TPM theory, practice, and training. In developing an understanding of TPM, a good place to begin is with a summary of its history and its practitioners.

Ed Smith and his wife, Sharon, "own and operate Alathia Center for Biblical Counseling" which provides TPM to clients and training for those interested in his method (Smith, 1997, p. 2). (1) According to Wilder and Smith (2002), Smith received an MRE in Marriage and Family Counseling and completed coursework toward a Doctor of Education degree in Marriage and Family Counseling from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, possesses a Doctor of Ministry degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is "a licensed ordained minister" in the Southern Baptist denomination (p. 171).

Origins of TPM

Smith (1997) recounted that the insight that became TPM came to him in response to a prayer in which he asked God to show him a way to quicken the therapeutic process. In some of his writing, Smith's words easily lead to an impression that he claimed special revelation of his method. For instance, Smith (1997), expressing dissatisfaction with other therapeutic methods, "asked God for a better way. So as I came to the end of myself, He gave me Theophostic" (p. 7). Such statements give an appearance that Smith has asserted claims to special revelation: "As God was revealing this method to me ..." (Smith, 2000, p. 35, italics added). Later in the same book Smith declared, "God began to pour this information into my mind. …

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