By Dr. Mark E. Shaw

Summary: In this blog post, Dr. Mark Shaw discusses the implications of an article published about 5 years ago, entitled “Concept Creep: Psychology’s Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology” published in Psychological Inquiry online on 12 Feb 2016. He informs biblical counselors that what psychology is attempting to do is encompass an ever-broadening scope of behaviors and give them labels and diagnoses. This encroachment is not to be feared, though, because we have the rock-solid truth of the Word of God whose descriptions of the heart of mankind never change, and whose solution for mankind’s behavior that is sinful is given at the cross of Jesus Christ. Atonement, salvation, and the power to grow in Christ and resist sinful desires all come to believers who embrace God’s answers for their sin problem. With eternal life at stake, biblical counselors offer the only real, lasting, transforming, eternal hope of the Gospel for the heart of addiction… and all the other problems of living in sin cursed bodies in a sin cursed world with other sin cursed people we interact with and sin against.

Proverbs 26:4 “Answer not a fool according to his folly lest you be like him yourself.” [1]

What is Concept Creep?

Concept creep is the phrase chosen by secular psychologists to describe how their terminology continues broadening out in scope to include more behaviors than originally intended.

An article I recently read entitled, “Concept Creep: Psychology’s Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology” published in Psychological Inquiry online on 12 Feb 2016, focuses on just a few examples of terms in which this is occurring but it definitely goes further than these. Abuse, bullying, trauma, mental disorder, addiction, and prejudice are talked about sequentially in this article by Haslam, where the concept is broadening in its meaning and encompassing more behavior and ultimately requiring very little to arrive at the “diagnosis.”

Descriptions and Prescriptions

Psychology describes and categorizes behavior well sometimes, but they are always shifting and changing in their terminology, almost with the wind it seems sometimes because it happens so quickly. They view the updates in their language as a good and positive occurrence, proud to claim that they are advancing in their way of thinking about life and man.

However, when you don’t start with and maintain a proper understanding of who the One True God is, and who mankind is as revealed in the Bible, you won’t come to the knowledge of the truth about either. 

Our goal as believers is to glorify Him and live for Him.

2 Corinthians 5:9 “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” And 2 Timothy 2:4 instructs us, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”

We must do that as we describe human behavior and as we give guidance as to how to help people change the way they live.

Making Normal Human Experience “Abnormal” and “Treatable”

While most psychologists and psychiatrists would say their concepts are expanding and growing in a positive way, Haslam acknowledges “the risk of pathologizing everyday experience and encouraging a sense of virtuous but impotent victimhood.” [2] As biblical counselors, we agree and would go further to say that the expansion of these terms is not positive, but tends to lead to labeling normal (and sometimes good!) human experience as abnormal and disordered. 

For example creeping is occurring when common sadness becomes a diagnosis. After the loss of a loved one, great sadness is expected, normal, common. We’d think something were wrong if someone were not sad at all. Psychology defines a length of time and a depth of occurrence for where and when this sadness should occur. An arbitrary and erroneous description leads to an erroneous “prescription” as a solution.

What about Behavioral vs. Substance Addiction?

One great point that Haslam makes is regarding the debate on things being addictive, or the source of addiction being an internal one.

He writes:

“If the addictive process is internal, it makes little sense to restrict the concept of addiction to dependence on substances.” [Haslam, page 9] [3]

We agree. And so do many others who are not even Christians. Most if not all “treatment” for addictions, now known as “substance use disorders” or “alcohol use disorders” or “opioid use disorders” would agree that a requirement for counseling of some sort is best case scenario. With a goal of just merely ceasing the use of the substance, all the other treatments fall short.

Addressing the Heart of the Matter: Our Hearts

Biblical counselors address the heart of addiction. We call these behaviors habitual, because people have learned to think, talk, and act in chosen ways as solutions to certain stimuli. We help people put off bad habits and put on new godly habits. (Eph 4:20-24, 2 Tim 3:16-17) There is great hope in helping people to do that. But psychologists use the concept of compulsion and thereby leave the addicted person in a constant state of victimhood and hopelessness.

One good observation brought out by this article is that behavioral addictions and substance addictions both involve “recurrent failure to resist urges to engage in a particular activity that is harmful to the person, generally with a subjective experience of compulsion and powerlessness.” [Haslam, page 8] [4] I’m so glad Haslam used the word “subjective” because there is nothing objective to prove that the urge is irresistible!

Habits That Can Be Replaced

In The Heart of Addiction: A Biblical Perspective, I address this distinction. Irrational yes maybe, but not irresistible. Habitual to the point that it looks automatic, yes, but not irresistible. Chapter 3 (pages 23-29) addresses with sections titled, “Is it really Compulsive Behavior?” and “A Word About Breaking Habits.” Right now, you can purchase directly from my publisher and receive some terrific discounts by calling 1-800-913-6287. At the time of this writing there is also a free gift at Focus Publishing with any purchase. Go to 

Use God’s Words and Proclaim the True Solution

Biblical counselors should never use psychological terms but use terms straight from the Bible.

Avoid the use of secular psychological constructs and terms like bipolar, ADHD, Generalized anxiety disorder, clinical depression, addiction issues or substance use disorder, etc.

Use biblical terms like fear, worry, sadness, drunkenness, idolatry, idolatrous heart desires, and those things that are explicitly in the Bible. These are our words that we need to talk about as biblical counselors.

Embrace biblical truth and deal with the heart motivation. Transformation is possible.

Biblical counselors are well qualified to address hurt – not trauma – an ever-changing descriptor that only decades ago was used to describe those involved in automobile accidents or physical blunt force injuries. 

A Reminder and Caution to Biblical Counselors

Remember the warning of our opening scripture from Proverbs 26:4 which states: “Answer not a fool according to his folly lest you be like him yourself.” So we definitely do not want to be foolish; we want to be wise as we encounter those who use, embrace, or have even been deceived by these ever increasingly creeping terms of psychology.

Psychological research like this article describe what is going on; this concept creep does not need to be feared. The Gospel is first and foremost in our minds. We can help our counselees have the Gospel be first and foremost in their minds as well. Jesus still offers the Hope of the Gospel for the Heart of Addiction, and all kinds of other sinful issues as well!


[1] Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

[2] Nick Haslam (2016) Concept Creep: Psychology’s Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology, Psychological Inquiry, 27:1, 1-17.

[3] Ibid. p.9.

[4] Ibid. p.8.

Read the full article online at’s_Expanding_Concepts_of_Harm_and_Pathology

Dr. Mark E. Shaw is an ordained minister, author, and Founder of The Addiction Connection. As an author, speaker, teacher of the Word, and certified biblical counselor, Mark has been involved in helping people who struggle with addictions since 1991. He and his wife Mary have 4 children.

About The Addiction Connection

The Addiction Connection is a network of ministries who offer hope and healing for those struggling with addiction of any kind. Our network of biblical programs that stretch across America and the world exist to point people to Jesus Christ for answers. Our goal is to connect the hope of the Gospel with the heart of addiction.

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