Theophostic Ministry (TPM) is a counseling technique which was
developed by Dr. Ed. Smith of Campbellsville, KY. He holds a doctorate in pastoral
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has held various pastoral
positions in Southern Baptist Churches since 1985. He does not mention
having received any degrees
in psychiatry or psychology on his web site. He does not appear to have taken any advanced
courses which dealt with
the functioning of human memory. 1
Smith defines TPM as "...simply the process of renewing the
mind....Theophostic Ministry is about accessing memory, discerning the
[deceptive] belief system held in the memory and seeking to allow the Spirit of
Christ to replace the falsehood in...memory with His truth." 1
The basis of
TPM seems to differ little from the RMT therapy that was widely practiced (and
discredited) during the 1990's. Like RMT, TPM assumes that their clients have no
conscious awareness of the full nature of past abuse when they enter counseling.
They also believe that clients can recover this awareness through prayer. However, the version of RMT that Dr. Smith promotes involves:
Less interaction between counselor and client that within classical
The alleged direct intervention of
either Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit in the healing process.
Recognition that Satan plays a major role by building on past abuse
and convincing people to sin.
Smith believes that a deceptive thought -- a lie -- is behind all of a
person's sinful choices and actions. This lie "was implanted during a life
experience." For example, "When a child is abused and no one is available
to provide them with the truth, they will likely come to a false conclusion."
2 This is internalized in their memory as a lie.
As an example, he describes young people who are raised in an alcoholic
home. As children, they may have internalized two beliefs: that life is out of
control, and that they must take some action to normalize the chaos. In
adulthood, whenever they feel out of control, the childhood memory will kick in, causing
them to want to take some action to alleviate the stress. At this point, "the
enemy" (Satan) intervenes and convinces the
person to engage in a sinful behavior. Guilty feelings result from the
sin. Since the person is not aware of the full sequence of linkages between stress, the deceptive
thought/lie, the suggestion of Satan, the sinful behavior, and the guilt, they
are destined to repeat this same sequence continually.
To be cured the client must first age regresses to the time of the memory
that is the source of their pain. Then they uncover the lie that was/is associated
with the memory. Finally, they allow Jesus to over-write the lie with His truth.
"There is...only one way to freedom from the lies we believe and that is
an encounter with the risen Lord." The client is expected to "either
see an image of Jesus, hear his voice or sense his presence, and he would impart
his truth to her." 3
The therapist must confirm that the messages that the client receives
from Jesus. According to TPM theory, they might have been derived from the client's own thinking, or may
come from "a little demon offering its suggestions." 2
Only if message
is consistent with conservative Protestant interpretations of the Bible can they trust that it came from Jesus. If the
message conflicts with biblical teaching, then it is rejected and the client can
be expected to quickly receive
biblically "consistent truth from the Holy Spirit." 2
TPM promoters believe that memories of childhood sexual abuse and other trauma are not forgotten. They
are not erased. The mind files them away in a part of the brain where they
cannot readily be accessed. When a person is ready to handle the memories, they will
reappear. Dr. Smith writes that "Neuroscience has proven that the mind does
not actually forget anything." Every event "is carefully filed away
someplace in the mind." 2
This assertion appears to agree with the beliefs of some RMT therapists,
who often refer to memory as analogous to a video tape. One only has to,
in effect, select the correct tape, fast-forward to the time of the
incident and play back the memory.
researchers have reached a consensus that almost all memories are eventually
forgotten, and can never be restored, even by triggering. Researchers also have
reached a consensus that memory recall is a
reconstructive process. Memories are not like tape recordings that record the
entire picture and sound. Minds only store elements of selected events.
When the memories are recalled, the brain creates most of the memory's details,
using the few elements that were stored as cues.
We suspect that the memory researchers are correct. Consider the amount of
information that would be required to store video and audio for all of the
events in a person's life. If this amount of information were recorded on a video tape recorder,
require about 66,000 VHS cassettes for a person aged 65. It is difficult to imagine an
information storage mechanism in the human brain that is so efficient that it
can store this amount of data.
Smith teaches that when a client discovers "a repressed memory event" of abuse and
resolves their pain with the help of Jesus or the Holy Spirit, they can be expected to experience compassion and
forgiveness toward the perpetrator. If they do not, then there are probably
other currently inaccessible memories of other instances of abuse by the same perpetrator.
have to be uncovered before the healing is complete. More digging for traumatic
memories would be required.
One assumption inherent in TPM is that Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit
actually is present during counseling and is directly involved in the healing.
This belief leads directly to the certainty that God would not allow any false
memories to emerge as a result of the counseling. The vast majority of
investigators who have studied Recovered Memory Therapy
believe otherwise: that prayer before a therapy session, the leadership of a
committed Christian counselor, and the belief that God is involved in the
healing are no guarantee that false memories will not be recovered during
therapy -- images of abuse that are unrelated to real historical events.
Reactions of other conservative Protestants to TPM:
Dr. Smith says that he has trained either thousands or tens of
thousands of conservative Christians in TPM. They are allegedly using the
therapeutic technique effectively in their counseling. Four web sites by
individuals who practice TPM are listed at the end of this essay. However, other conservative
Christians feel that TPM is unbiblical and heretical. Four of their web sites
are also listed below.
Some comments by investigators and clients of TheoPhostic counseling:
Kim Clough, of Sun Prairie, WI is a client of a TPM counselor. Central
Kentucky News-Journal records Cough's description of "Theophostic
sessions as private meetings where the facilitator prays and asks Jesus to
take the person back to 'another memory when you feel the same feeling,'
that is considered part of the current distress." Clough said: "You talk
about it, get stirred up and go back to three or four memories. The
facilitator helps you discover the lie. When Jesus brings the truth, the
pain is gone. It's like a miracle. It's usually pretty intense. There's
horrible pain in these memories. Some of the memories are some things I
remember, some are things I haven't remembered before." Before a session,
she says that sometimes I feel like I'm walking to the guillotine. Then I
walk out really a different person." Referring to a male relative that she
believes abused her as a child, she said: "Forgiving him is kind of a
process. It's hard to forgive something you don't know about." 13
A book sold on the PsychoHeresy Awareness Ministries' web site defines TPM to be
"...a recovered memory therapy comprised of many existent psychological
therapies and techniques, demon deliverance teachings, and elements from the
inner healing movement, which include guided imagery, visualization, and
hypnosis." 4("Demon deliverance teachings" is a term that has
largely replaced "exorcism" among conservative Protestants.
They refer to methods
of driving indwelling demonic spirits from a person's body).
PsychoHeresy Awareness Ministries' suggestion that TPM is a form of recovered memory therapy appears
to be valid. Their Dr. Almy quotes Dr. Smith as referring to
"echoes of long suppressed (possibly repressed) memories" that are "buried
deeply in the inner recesses of the mind." Smith allegedly emphasizes "revictimizing
the person with their trauma." 5 However, the book's suggestion that TPM
involves guided imagery, visualization and hypnosis may or may not be correct.
Dr Smith "unequivocally denounces all forms of guided imagery,
minister/counselor directed visualization and hypnosis." 6
Gary Almy states that "Dr. Ed Smith has
elaborated a system of psychotherapy that he believes is a direct revelation
from God." 5 Dr Smith rejects this, stating: "For the
record, I do not believe that I have received any revelatory information from
God nor have I ever made such a claim." 6 However,
Smith once allegedly wrote that God "... gave me TheoPhostic so I would have no room to
criticizes Smith's versions of conservative Protestant beliefs, such as
sanctification, sin, salvation, mind, heart, soul and spirit. He criticizes TPM
as being simply another "version of the same old serpentine lie that the
insight-oriented psychotherapy industry has been pandering for the last century."
5 TPM's "...theories and methods are Freudian, except that
they are decorated with scriptural vocabulary." 5
Martin Bobgan, of Santa Barbara, Calif., a co-author with his wife Deidre, of "TheoPhostic
Counseling: Divine Revelation? Or PsychoHeresy?" 14
indicated that he is most concerned TPM's use of regression therapy. He said: "You're
dealing with memories that are so fragile. The weight of scientific evidence
would be in opposition to what he is doing. People are naively pursuing this
based on testimonies."
Dr. Paul Simpson, of Tucson, Ariz., is an accredited Christian family counselor,
and author of "Second Thoughts: Understanding the False Memory Crisis and How
It Could Affect You" 15 He describes TPM as "pretty
dangerous stuff....While recovered memory therapy has been completely
debunked in the professional community, you've got this springing up from Ed
Smith. And that's what it is: a dressed up version of recovered memory therapy."
Two seminary professors, Philip Monroe and Bryan Maier challenged the
theological foundation of TPM at the 2003 world conference of the
American Association of Christian Counselors in Nashville TN. They
conducted a workshop titled: "Trauma and Embedded Lies: A Theological
Appraisal of Theophostic Ministry." The workshop drew a mixed response
from the audience. Maier commented that TPM founder Ed Smith: "...said
in his presentation 'Theophostic is not a theology.' Yet, his conversation
and teachings focus on who God is and what he does. We have a problem with
what appears to be his theological position that undergirds his
Theophostic principles...His response is that his personal theological
views should be separated from Theophostic...The point we're making is we
have a right to look at Theophostic views. We're not looking at outcome
studies. As founder and creator of Theophostic Ministry, we think his
theology does matter. He criticizes the church, but doesn't identify where
he lands." Commenting on the workshop, Smith stated: "That was
their opinion of how they interpreted our training materials...The fact
is, we have fruit, they have opinions. Jesus said you'll know them by
their fruit. I have no other comments." Smith delivered a workshop
promoting TPM at the same conference. It was titled: "Integrating
Theophostic Ministry with Your Present Counseling Approach and Method."
Study of Theophostic Counseling by Christian Research Institute:
The Christian Research Institute (CRI) is a Fundamentalist para-church
organization which commits much of its energy to combating what it regards
as cults. They examined the Theophostic Prayer
Ministry (TPM) in 2005 and found:
None of the core theory and practice is unbiblical.
Positive comments about its effectiveness justify further study.
TPM's cure claims cannot be validated at this time.
"CRI does have several peripheral concerns about TPM, but we have
been favorably impressed by founder Ed Smithís openness to constructive
criticism and change."
CRI expressed concern about:
TPM's inadequate explanation for sin in believers.
Their view of sanctification.
Excessive and unsubstantiated claims.
Acceptance and furtherance of Satanic Ritual Abuse claims.
Unbiblical teachings and practices on demon possession.
CRI notes that Smith was working on revisions of the TPM training manual
in 2005 that will address the problems of false memories
surfacing during counseling, including memories of Satanic
Ritual Abuse. They also note that Smith has made a major reversal in his
beliefs concerning spiritual warfare. According to a 2001 article in
"Smith teaches that demons, sometimes
numbering in the hundreds, may inhabit and influence a Christianís mind.
These demons often work to keep people enslaved to what Smith calls the
'lie‐based thinking' causing their pain. He teaches that these demons
have to be expelled for a client to see full relief." 18
CRI found in 2005 that Smith had undergone a major reversal of belief:
"...now believes that when the Bible says
Satan was rendered powerless at the cross of Christ (Heb. 2:14) it
means this in the most literal and unqualified sense: Satan was stripped
of all of his power as god of this world and the only influence he is
still able to exert is the influence we give him through believing his
lies. Deliverance of demons and other sensational spiritual warfare
antics are now considered distractions to the TPM process."
CRI's complete report is online. It makes for fascinating reading. 19
Study of Theophostic Counseling by a conservative Christian: journalist
Jan Fletcher is a journalist, conservative Christian, and former Atheist
from Campbellsville, KY. She is a faith correspondent for the Central
Kentucky News Journal. She noted that Theophostic Ministries,
which is located in her city, had generated a great deal of controversy in
conservative Christian circles. Some credit the therapy with miracle
cures; others criticize it as being "from the pit of Hell."
She investigated the group and wrote a series of articles for the News
Journal. She also reported on TP from conferences. 13,16 Later, she
compiled these articles with other material into a book that she has
published on the Internet. She concluded that Theophostic Ministries
represents a danger "to Christians and to the general public. The
recovered memory debate is a part of the story of Theophostic Ministry, but
not the only part of this report. This report also includes information
about the danger of spiritual deception, and dangers to the cohesion of
Christian congregations that may be split over divergent opinions regarding
the spiritual validity of Theophostic Ministry. For a Christian, these are
very important issues."
She concludes that the number of false memories resulting in false
accusations will steadily rise in the future. Eventually, she foresees
people petitioning "civil authorities for redress. In the end, the
negative will far outstrip the positive. One of the reasons this hasnít yet
occurred in large numbers is because:
The accused are often Christians, who 'turn the other cheek,' and
suffer in silence in the hope that their wayward daughter, son or
grandchild will come to his or her senses and retract the slander;
The accusations are so humiliating to endure that most people are
ashamed to even speak of such 'unspeakable' things outside of the
Experiences with TPM within two congregations:
Faith Baptist Church, North Yarmouth, ME: Pastor Wesley Harris is pastor of
this church. During 1998, he attended a training seminar at the Theophostic Ministries
in Kentucky. The Associated Press
reported that "According to former members, the climate at the church changed"
after he returned from the seminar. 9 Almost all of the women in the
congregation have since undergone TPM counseling. According to former member
Betty Bendixon, nearly every woman recovered repressed "memories"
of sexual abuse during the therapy. (This is consistent with conventional RMT
therapy, where about 80% of clients can be expected to recover such "memories".) Many of the women would stand, weeping, beside pastor Harris at the pulpit as he
described in detail the sexual abuse incidents that they allegedly suffered,
often at the hands of their husbands or fathers. Former church members said that
two families have broken up and other family relationships have been severed as
a result of these "memories."
In 2002-APR, a former adult male church member was arrested and charged with
the sexual abuse of a boy, aged 7 at the time. Three women from the congregation
subsequently reported recovered memories of having been abused by this same man.
Pastor Harris allegedly refused to be interviewed about this by the newspaper --
first because God told him not to speak, and later because the sheriff's
deputies asked him to remain silent.
Kate Wright is one of the women who underwent counseling. Harris allegedly
told her that whenever she spoke during therapy, her voice was
either God's or Satan's. She recovered a "memory" of sexual abuse by a
relative during her childhood. She now believes that the memory is false, and
that she felt pressured to create a "memory" because the other
women had successfully recovered theirs."
Pastor Harris appears to have considerable support from his congregation.
Nobody appears to be questioning why memories of sexual abuse are emerging in
almost all of the women in the congregation. Investigators typically
estimate that only a few percentage of girls are the victim-survivors of
childhood incest. About 1% are sexually abused by their father, 1% by their
step-father, and a similar percentage are molested by other family members or
strangers. Either there is a phenomenal concentration of incest and child sexual
abuse in this one congregation, or the memories recovered through TPM are false. We
suspect the latter.
On 2002-JUN-26, Stephanie Anderson, District Attorney of Cumberland
dismissed the sexual-abuse charges against a Thomas Wright, and verbally
accused Wes Harris, his former pastor, of "spiritual abuse."
She defines spiritual abuse as the "manipulation and control over the
hearts and minds of your flock. It instills fear in people." 11 Tom Bell of the Portland Press Herald wrote: "Pastors
from several other churches criticized Harris' ministry and said they are
worried about the estimated 60 people who still follow him. They accuse
Harris of breaking up several families and of leveraging his influence
over people to gain large financial donations." 11
Unidentified Vineyard Church: Pastor Rev. Fr. Kevin L. Baker is a minister in the Association of Vineyard
Churches. He reported that Theophostic Counseling had a number of
negative effects on the members of his congregation:
Most of the female counselors were spiritual heads of their households.
Some of the men were being "feminized" in their spirituality.
Some of the core beliefs of the church were being redefined in
The female counselors asked for parity with the male counselors, and
asked that the lead female counselor be ordained.
Their request was turned down, and the conflict caused a split in the
In a liberal Christian church, the first four developments might have been
interpreted as positive signs of a lessening of sexism and an increase of
spiritual maturity in the congregation. However, the Vineyard movement teaches that
spiritual leadership in the family is supposed to be supplied by the husbands.
Spiritual leadership in the church is supposed to be all male.
Baker hopes that his essay will "prevent others from going through the
difficulties and losses we experienced on our journey out of heresy into
orthodox Christianity." 10
A conflict within TPM:
On 2002-NOV-11, Bill Renn of Theophostic Ministry circulated "A
Special Announcement from Ed Smith." It expressed concern that the outcome
of TPM has not been consistently favorable. Some clients are reporting bad
experiences during counseling sessions. Smith reported that "Every negative
report has been due to people who have not adhered to the principles taught."
In order to distance themselves from instances of bad therapy -- perhaps to
avoid legal liability -- TPM has
Discontinued a service in which they had placed persons seeking counseling
in contact with a pastor who has been trained in TPM and who has an active
Asked their trainees to:
Provide a disclaimer in their advertising and on their web pages that
they are not affiliated with nor endorsed by TPM.
Adhere closely to their Ministry Sessions Guidelines.
Not exceed their qualifications.
Seek a professional to supervise them, unless they are themselves a
Report any trainee that claims to be affiliated in any way with TPM.
Their Ministry Sessions Guidelines require their facilitators to
Avoid all types of guided imagery.
Avoid all forms of directed visualization.
Avoid making suggestions on what a client's "memory content might
Avoid interpreting dreams, visions and similar things that may
Facilitators are required to avoid judging whether the recovered memories are
true or false. However, they are also required to be "careful to discern and
to call attention anything that surfaces that does not appear to be authentic
and/or biblically consistent." it would appear difficult to differentiate
between these two requirements.
"An evaluation of Theophostic Prayer Ministry," Position
paper PST001, Christian Research Institute, (2005), at:
http://www.equip.org/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: