IRBC’s Philosophy of Counseling: The Spiritual and Mental Domains™

Now that we have touched upon some of the key foundational principles underlying IRBC’s philosophical model of counseling, we are ready to take a closer look at its superstructure: The 7 Dominant Domains of Origin for Human Problems. Earlier we looked at the Environmental and Production Domains which fall into the category of the Secondary Dominant Domains. Now we will look at the Primary Dominant Domains which consist of the Spiritual, Mental, Emotional, Social, and Bodily Domains.

The Spiritual Domain™

The Spiritual Domain is concerned with the human soul. Problems arising within this domain often cause or contribute to depression. This is especially true of those who labor under the guilt of unconfessed sin or are continuing in a way of unrepentant sinning. Such was certainly the situation with King David in the case of Bathsheba, if we are to judge from Psalm 32. Those who are suffering with spiritual or sin-based depression may be either regenerate or unregenerate. The primary objectives in counseling believers who are experiencing sin-based depression or other counseling problems are twofold. First, the counselor must help the counselee identify the sin and encourage him or her to confess it. Second, the counselor must provide practical advice on how to put off the bad habits that have been formed around the sin (de-habituation) and replace them with (put on) new wholesome, God-glorifying habits. Unbelievers must be counseled by way of evangelism.

Although it is of utmost importance that biblical counselors do not assume that all types of depression are sin-based, it is also important to realize that a great deal of depression and other cases are directly related to sinful attitudes (i.e., pride), as well as sinful thought, behavior, and word patterns. The following Classification Table for Sins Underlying Personal and Interpersonal Problems was developed with this in mind. As you use it in connection with your practice of counseling, I hope it will help you identify different varieties of common types of sin you might not otherwise recognize.

As you glance at the table you will notice it has seven categories of sin that are listed in bold print in the left margin of the table. The first three categories are Ignorance, Neglect, and Improper Response. There are then three categories of Idolatry which follow. The reason there are three separate listings in this category has to do with the many ways that sin is manifested via idolatry in the lives of God’s people. John Calvin was on the mark when he said, “Every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols.” So under the first category you have listed various ways sin is manifested under the heading of “Idolatry-Self.” This category is followed by Idolatry- Things and Idolatry-Others. The final category listed on the chart (opposite page) is Defiance.1

The Mental Domain™

When evaluating counselees for problems originating in the Mental Domain, one needs to take into account factors that could be affecting the function of the counselee’s brain. Matters such as brain development, variables that have an effect on normal brain function, and brain injury need to be considered. Let’s think about each of these broad categories for just a moment.

Brain Development

Scripture clearly makes a distinction between the way children and adults think and reason (1 Cor. 13:11). Some well-meaning parents cause undue stress in the lives of their younger children when they expect them to think and reason beyond their developmental capacities. When prayerfully and properly evaluated through the lens of Scripture, the stages of cognitive development discovered by Jean Piaget in association with his (biological/ sociological) studies on infants, children, and teens can provide helpful insights for parents, teachers, and counselors who regularly work with children.


Some people’s brains do not function properly due to the improper development of the brain or the central nervous system. Such disorders can affect one’s memory and/or ability to process information. They can also affect a person’s ability to appropriately express emotion, a function that is more fully considered and evaluated under the heading of the Emotional Domain.

As was mentioned when the Internal Dominant Domains were introduced, each of the domains representing the various key capacities of the human entity is closely interconnected and interdependent. Please pray that the Lord will grant IRBC the wisdom and discernment necessary to properly divide and define each domain for further curriculum development and effective research leadership.

Variables That Have an Effect on Normal Brain Function

Earlier we discussed the fact that people can experience depression-like symptoms as a result of seasonal changes or dwelling in places where sunlight is limited. It was said that Vitamin D deficiency can be at the root of such symptoms. The deficiency of other vitamins, an improper diet (e.g.,

too much sugar intake), or a lack of exercise can have significant effects on the brain and its ability to function effectively as a mediator between one’s soul and body.

Brain Injury and Disease

Brain injuries can result from accidents, personal or parental substance abuse, and “head-intensive” contact sports (e.g., football and boxing). Regular exposure to chemicals (e.g., fuels, solvents, pesticides, and high levels of carbon monoxide) can also damage the brain causing it to malfunction or function inefficiently. These and other factors need to be taken into consideration as we counsel those whom God brings to us.

Neuro-degenerative diseases such as Huntington’s disease (which can produce mood swings and depression) and Pick’s disease (frontotemporal dementia), which can negatively affect one’s overall personality as well as significantly impair the function of one’s memory and overall intellectual ability, are examples of diseases which can produce counseling-related problems in counselees’ lives. These and other diseases not only remind us of the pervasiveness of the Fall but also the importance of properly determining what is the primary cause(s) behind the issues with which our counselees are struggling. May God give us the grace and insight necessary to properly identify the causes as well as apply the appropriate cures to his suffering children.

1. The nomenclature included in the chart was drafted with an eye toward incorporating some standardized terms and forms within the field of biblical counseling. If the field is ever going to reach its maximum potential, there needs to be the implementation of consistent technical terms to help maximize cooperation among counselors and to aid in research. I am not suggesting the categories, terms, and symbols used here should be those adopted by the field. I am simply communicating the need for such standardization.

Dr. Jeff L. Doll is director at The Institute for Reformed Biblical Counseling, director at The Shepherd’s Way Biblical Counseling Center in Holland, MI, and pastor of biblical counseling at Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI.