Recently we had a radio interview on San Diego KPRZ 1210 and a question was asked concerning why a Psychology Masters program with a biblical integration is important. For me, as a Christian counselor who feels it’s completely relevant, I realize it might not be so obvious to others, even other Christians. I would like to use this article to share what I see the main relevance is. Christians have the Word of God, which discusses much of what psychology encompasses. Psychology is not necessarily the first thing people think about when they read Scripture but I believe the Bible answers many of the questions psychology asks. Why are we here? How are we to conduct ourselves with others? What is meaningful? The Bible shows us God’s mode of operation for us as humans as we live out our days on earth in a fruitful or not so fruitful way. Because of this, Christians, as professionals, have the ability to be cutting-edge in the profession, helping individuals move from point A to point B in a very special way. Taking people from where they are, in a nonjudgmental way, to a place of peace and joy is a completely biblically compatible idea. Despite what may be presented in public opinion, many of the concepts in Scripture are not over-the-top “magical thinking” but rather very pragmatic in almost any worldview. Becoming a Christian professional that integrates faith into therapy goes beyond working with Christians. Giving individuals tools to manage their family issues, addictions, anxiety, depression, and more can be done for anyone and can significantly impact more than just the individual in therapy. These people are connected to their families and communities and the impact has a ripple effect. If people are impacted by Christian therapists, that’s exactly the kind of impact the Christian community should be making. At the same time, any Christian therapist serious about their profession should know all the theories and what impact they have on the people, what ethical and legal standards are appropriate, and what is beyond the scope of their practice. This is what makes a person a master at their craft. Again, I say a Biblical worldview is perfect for any helping profession and is a legacy Christians have. It’s true, modern psychology has ideas that are not compatible with Scripture, but these are mostly theoretical and not practical. Confronting problems and exploring solutions with a client does not fly in the face of Biblical teaching in any way. Like anything in life, there are skills a professional will apply that a novice will not and this is why I believe we need more Christian counselors that have a Biblical integration as part of their professional training.
When people come to a counselor, it may be for a number of reasons, but overall these individuals do not have peace in their life. Who knows more about this than the King of Peace? Often clients have cognitive distortions or lies they tell themselves about themselves. Who knows more about truth than truth personified? Christians have the truth and it is definitely compatible with the practice of Counseling Psychology.
As a Christian psychologist, I have worked with those struggling with addiction and mental illness for many years. As I hear people’s stories, we can often identify an important event in their life that seemed to change their direction forever. What is interesting is that it is not necessarily the event that has the impact, but rather how they interpreted the event. They believed a lie, such as, it was their fault, or they are worthless and inadequate. When I am able to help them counter this lie and bring in truth, the healing begins and they describe a peace that allows for further growth. So many people believe lies and these lies dictate their future. Therapists have many tools to help people replace lies with truth, but Christian therapists have an advantage. We have access to truth in both God’s Word and his Holy Spirit working through us. This is a powerful example of how Christianity can improve psychology and therapy as well as how psychology and therapy could be used by Christians in a relevant, life-altering manner.
Chrisitans’ worldview stems from a truth about the universe. It does not contradict science or any other way the world actually operates. It does differ in the way other philosophical worldviews approach human existence and interaction. Christianity has fluctuated in the way it engages the rest of the world, yet overall it is grounded in an understanding that the world is ordered from an almighty and wise creator who has given us an example of loving our neighbor, as well as our enemy. This translates in a powerful way to the helping professions, especially for those who choose to make a career out of serving others.
Technology is the defining aspect of this era. Because of technology, communities are no longer limited to those in our physical presence. This can be good or bad. Christians who know the ways to reach out to those hurting with tools to change their lives have a wider reach than at any other time previously. I ache when Christians are not at the forefront of this opportunity. Why are people seeking answers from empty resources? Now, more than ever, Christians can specialize in areas and be sought after from across the globe to interact in real-time, helping those in need of these services.
The helping profession has moved through many phases in history. At one point in time, addictions and mental health struggles were seen as a strictly medical problem, even to the point where doctors would “bleed” patients thinking there was something in the blood that needed to be taken out (http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/283/the-history-of-mental-illness-from-skull-drills-to-happy-pills). Other times, life difficulties were seen as spiritual problems believing people were demon-possessed and a hole might even be made in the brain in an effort to “release the demon.” We have had times in our history when we locked people away in insane asylums (http://www.toddlertime.com/advocacy/hospitals/Asylum/history-asylum.htm) and other times when churches cared for and supported those struggling with what issues society deems unfit. The field of Psychology as we see it today, started roughly around the time of post-World War II when people questioned how so many could follow Hitler in an effort to annihilate an entire race. The question of “why do people do what they do?” spurred the study of people to learn more about our patterns, motivations, learning process, and more. Many of the forefathers of Psychology came from very individualistic perspectives. The individuals were studied and when interventions were given, it was to the individual. Freud, Skinner, Beck, Perls, Rogers and many others all came from their own perspective on what caused good and poor health and how to best help people change patterns to live healthy lifestyles. Freud sought to make the unconscious conscious; Skinner focused on environmental reinforcers and punishers creating patterns of behaviors; Beck targeted thoughts and their power to impact emotions and behaviors; Perls and Rogers sought to help people take off their masks and accept and integrate all parts of themselves: the good, the bad and the ugly. These and many more looked to understand why people do what they do in an effort to help people change unhealthy patterns of living to healthy ones.
Future advances in science moved us into understanding more of the biological side of the unhealthy. Imbalances in neurotransmitters could be seen directly impacting mood and behaviors of people, patterns in brain functioning tied biological reasons for addictions and mental health problems. The research demonstrated the direct physical changes in the brain resulting from childhood trauma lead to future life difficulties, such as addictions, violence, mental health problems, and relationship struggles.
At this point today, counselors stand back with a broad look and clearly see addictions and mental health struggles have many interconnected causes, so ways to help must be flexible, diverse, and consider all systems in a person’s life. Biology, genetics, attachment, family, culture, friends, life events, and many other aspects all work in a reciprocal nature to create a person and how they will be in their world.
We used to ask “Is it nature or nurture?” and now we know the answer is “all of the above.” There is never a time our biology is without our environment or our environment without our biology; they impact each other. It would be rare that a counselor today from any helping profession would disagree with how interconnected the above influences are on what makes a person arrive in therapy with the struggles they have. What you may find very difficult though, is to find a counselor that is comfortable integrating a person’s faith or religion in therapy. There are many reasons we could discuss as to why there is avoidance, but the end result is typically a discomfort with bringing and discussing one’s faith or religion as an integral part of therapy. From anyone coming with strong faith, it is easy to recognize the difficulty with this. Many cultures and people have their faith as a strong thread woven throughout all of who they are; to keep their faith separate from the rest of treatment or therapy, is to separate out a huge part of who they are. We would not separate their culture, their past experiences, their strengths, their family, or any other area of who they are, why would we separate out this? As much as we recognize the interplay of biology and environment, I also propose there is never a time our spiritual self is separated from our biology or environment. They are all interconnected. Just as we find great strengths for a person in their environment, family, culture, and past experiences to use in reaching health, we also have accessible strengths in a person’s religion, faith or spirituality. We, of course, recognize the harm in imposing a religion, culture, value, or experience on another person, but we also see just as much harm from withholding it as a valued part of therapy and treatment. We strive to provide a safe place to explore the deep questions of the spirit, such as, “What is my purpose on earth?” “Why is there evil in the world?” “How could God have allowed this to happen to me?” Though we may not have the perfect answer for people, we want them to have the freedom to ask these types of questions during treatment, by integrating them into their plan for health, rather than as an aside.
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