The question of Christianity being integrated with psychology is a matter of degrees. Secular psychology and the other sciences would seek to over time remake Christian thought into their own image where Christianity and Christian scholarship is merely philosophical and not a true belief system or an opportunity to actually know God. We as believers need to stay involved so that the Christian population can remain relevant in social, political and educational circles. There are more self-professed Christians here in the United States than any other religion and still more people who believe in something greater than themselves. We must exert our authority and political power as one of the largest groups to ensure the proper counseling and training of Christian families and individuals everywhere to make sure that counseling and therapy meets the needs of our people. Christians should be able to take advantage of both science, psychology and Christian counseling techniques because all truth is God’s truth whether or not it is specified in scripture. My view is that psychology needs to be disseminated through the understanding of and the expressed intents of scripture and the needs of the individual whether or not they are a believer. If that meets the qualification for the integration test then so be it.
Is it Possible to Integrate Christianity and Psychology?
My initial response to the question is that your belief in God and faith should come first and that the scientific training should follow only if it lines up with scripture. There are basic presuppositions like personal responsibility and the effects of the fall of man that need to be considered against the overriding thought and teaching of secular psychological educators and institutions. First we have to decide what our basis for truth is, and exhaust that until it completely engulfs our way of viewing both the physical and spiritual worlds as well as the behavior of people. Just as we look to mathematics to measure and make judgments on our wealth and physical well-being, we can use scripture to guide us in our search to make good decisions and to honor the Creator. Science and belief in God are not antithetical but, many believe that they are. A good Christian would simply have the ability to go to Godly precepts and principles found in scripture and work from there as a starting point. The Bible does not to my knowledge force anyone to make any mental jump or incorrect way of thinking as to endanger themselves. Integration is possible and we as Christians need to be involved in both the secular and Christian worlds of science, psychology and therapy. Recent history has shown that the prevailing culture is moving and changing in ways that call out for God’s will and His justice.
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Hunter states that Pastoral care of believers has been a part of life since the beginnings of the Christian Church whereas psychology has only been around for less than two hundred years and that Christian counselors are increasingly being sought out by those looking for advice on spiritual and religious issues (Hunter, 2009). Furthermore, there has been some scholarly work done in the area of Christian and psychological integration but, it has not been well received and has had little impact on scientific psychology (Bishop, 2009). Most notable was the work of Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen who contributed for over fifteen years without much success.
Tarakeshwar argued that religion should be fully integrated into psychological research since religious belief holds a large role in people’s lives regardless of their culture. In addition, religion has been found to be a strong forecaster of important life areas and influences beliefs and religious practice. It also has cross-cultural influence (Tarakeshwar, 2003). In the same vein of thought, Oman’s article described the connections between religion, spirituality and social empowerment. Religion has been a primary driver of emerging social-movements and their success especially where the reality of good and evil forces are described in a culturally relevant way (Oman, 2003).
Tan reported in his article that the best way to teach Christian and psychological integration was to have, “authentic, open, caring and meaningful mentoring or personal relationship with a professor, a therapist, or some other significant person in the student’s life and training, is the most important and crucial factor in learning and developing integration skills.” He further stated that, “the clinical supervisor is also an example of a person who can be a significant mentor to students in such a way that they learn integration.” Christian clinical supervision facilitates learning and the developing of integration and clinical skills and fosters personal growth that is Christ-centered, Bible-based, and Spirit-filled with the end result being more compatible treatment for Christian clients (Tan, 2009).
The difficulty in meshing Christianity and Psychology is that there will always be a degree of fealty to one side or another. According to Strelan, many studies have demonstrated that spirituality and religion are closely associated with psychological well-being but, there are also levels of spiritual maturity and an individual’s ability to forgive others to contend with. Noted in particular were situations where persons had feelings of disappointment with God that caused more depression. In these instances a deeper understanding of forgiveness and its benefits to the individual were espoused (Strelan, 2009). What could a secular psychologist do to aid a believer in this situation? They would have to avoid the issue altogether or tear down the belief itself.
Another area discussed by Carson is the unconverted subconscious which is described as an un-surrendered part of the soul or psyche that often gets left behind during and after becoming a Christian. The unconverted subconscious can play a major role in the spiritual walk of believers. Carson’s article states, “examples of this can be seen in those who live incongruent and defeated lives, struggle with impulse control and addictive behaviors, experience serious psychological dysfunction and relationship difficulties, fail to heal from experiences of the past, and suffer great emotional pain.” This is another place where psychology alone has no answer (Carson, 2009)
The Intent of Biblical Counseling
Encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:11 New International Version)
Biblical counseling has been described in my studies as the work and action of discipleship. When Jesus assembled his disciples he directed them to follow him so that they could have a relationship with Him. Discipleship is the give and take between individuals as they grow in the knowledge and understanding of God. This could occur between as little as two believers or many as in the typical church or seminary. We are all somewhere in the process of teaching and training others and being taught ourselves. We are all charged with the ability and the necessity to be of assistance to those who are less mature in Christ. Our ultimate goal is to become Christ-like and to show those less mature what Godliness looks like, so that they can see the Creators plan played out in their midst.
We are to walk in faith as we communicate to others the truth that God is the answer to every problem. He created us to glorify Himself through our life’s walk but we cannot accomplish this without the Gospel message. It is Christ that allows us to be reconciled back unto God. The godly and holy person is able to be in total command of their behavior unlike the unsaved might expect. The saved person is able to even look beyond his or her own needs when important decisions need to be made. Because of this, godly men and women make brilliant leaders, parents, teachers, and of course helpers. This desire to share our love for Christ allows and even pushes the cycle of discipleship to persist which is the great commission all Christians have been given.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20 New International Version)
God’s Role in the Process
God is the reason we are here. In the Christian view of life and this world in which we live the problem is sin. Because of sin we are not able to navigate life in a way that truly meets every need. In God we can search out places in our lives where our behaviors and our choices have not lined up with the scriptures. The Holy Bible clearly enough states how we are to conduct ourselves in nearly every facet of life that truly matters. Unlike the vague and transitory nature of medical and psychological theories, God has given us clearly stated standards from which to assess our lives and our behaviors in the scriptures. He has given us the Bible to study, the Holy Spirit to teach and guide us, and of course His Son to save our souls so that we can be redeemed back unto Him.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 New International Version)
Secular or worldly counselors and psychology do not have any kind of stable or consistent measure by which to gage behavior or morality. This leads to issues like moral relativism and flexible standards in societal behaviors. That does not mean that Christian counselors cannot utilize medicine or psychology in helping though. The information just needs to be viewed through the eyes of scripture first. I truly believe that medicine and science are godly pursuits and that God has inspired many of these endeavors for our betterment.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32 New International Version)
Responsibility of the Therapist
Counselors are responsible to their clients and need to do what is expected and what is suitable in their manner of treatment. It is not enough that we only discuss personal facts and feelings. Counseling is real work and we need to make our clients understand this and commit to the assignments and sessions. Furthermore, Cavanagh states that, “The counselor agrees to provide care, knowledge, skills, energy, honesty, strength and hope.” We cannot take on the responsibility for clients behavior outside of counseling session. (Cavanagh & Levitov, 1982/â€‹2002) And according to Jay E. Adams, counselors must also “be directive,” which means that the counselor must be acquainted with the scriptures and should develop skills in dealing with clients based upon the Word of God. This allows the counselor to deal with clients in a way that shows “deep concern” and yet guides them in a way that addresses the power and authority of scripture. The helper ideally needs to be immersed in the understanding of the scriptures to the point where their personality and the biblical presuppositions they have learned and lived become one in the same. It is an indistinguishable expectation from what we desire of our pastors and ministers that they understand their place in God’s plan for humanity and their place as sons and daughters of God. If we are successful in this endeavor we will be leading people to Jesus and a new way of life. Never should we place our personal issues or desires before the authority of scripture because scripture leads to sanctification in Christ which is the foundation of our work. (Adams. J, 1973/â€‹1986) Adams also points out that there are no problems that are not answered in scripture. He further states, “there is a biblical solution to every problem,” and “Jesus was tested in every way that the rest of us are,” yet He remained without sin. God has given us the Word so that we can take part in every good endeavor because we have been prepared for every possibility. (Adams, 1973/â€‹1986)
We are responsible for our behavior regardless of our race, socioeconomic background, or any other affiliation that is often brought up as a justification and excuse for poor conduct. Mulholland’s “Shaped By the Word” discusses at length the nature of spiritual formation. He states that it is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others. Spiritual formation is a process that takes time and is a progression from simple initial belief and faith to a more complex maturity. This book states stridently that modern people will likely have a problem with undergoing extensive and time consuming sustained efforts in order to change. The author also asserts that spiritual formation is not just for church leadership, but it is to be the “primal reality of our existence.” By that the author is saying that we are being shaped by our decisions and our experiences either into the image of Christ or into something else. Whether we realize it or not we are undergoing constant spiritual transformation. Either we are becoming worldly, or we are becoming more and more like Christ.
The natural or sinful person is going to try and control, or to manipulate everything and everyone around them to better meet their desires and needs. It takes a great deal to get someone to allow themselves to be conformed and that is why the Gospel is so important. The author describes this as, “a reversal of the negative spiritual formation of our culture.” “It reverses our role from being the controller of worldly objects to being the object of the loving purposes of God who seeks to guide us into wholeness.” We change from a “being,” of sorts into God’s creation. Scripture is very important in this process of conforming to the image of Christ. Scripture is what shows us and teaches us what the possibilities are in living a Christ-like reality and existence. The Author remarks that one of the more difficult truths in spiritual formation is that it is inseparable from our relationships with others. Our relationship with God cannot be of a personal matter. It should be a major force in our day to day lives. (Mulholland, 1985/2000)
Cavanagh, in “The Counseling Experience” clearly states that an integrated approach to counseling and treatment is more advantageous than just a secularized therapeutic option. The components of our behavior are many and they are multifaceted. There are biological, sociological, cultural and several other drivers of our individual conduct and behavior. He states that whereas in the past clinicians chose a single basis for treatment and assessment that there is so much available to us now that carries merit that it is in the client’s best interest to use these more inclusive opportunities to treat them. All options are considered from medical and physical testing, to psychological assessments that could show a need for the administration of medications or further medical treatments. Once this is all attempted it is easier to decide whether counseling could be beneficial to the individual. Cavanagh further states that even helpers that do not treat clients with serious emotional or mental disorders could benefit from learning about the medical model of treatment and multiaxial diagnosis. The counselor is expected to cultivate working professional relationships with physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists and religious leaders among others. Again, this is considered to be a responsible and acceptable way to decide who is going to be referred, or treated, and it allows the counselor to choose a competent professional to send referrals to who is likely a specialist in their field who could assure a positive outcome for the client. (Cavanagh & Levitov,1982/2002) It is important to point out for clarifications sake that all treatments need to be such that they correspond with biblical presuppositions and acceptable methods of treatment and the plausibility of a positive outcome and safety for the client involved. That being said, it is difficult to argue with such a comprehensive treatment plan. I know that I would feel very comfortable with this level of collaboration for myself or even a family member.
The Prevalence of Anxiety and its Part in Psychological Disorders
Anxiety is a symptom of fearfulness and the antithesis of fear is love. That means that the answer to anxious behavior is often God because He is love. Sometimes fear is based in the discomfort that arises as a result of poor behavior or bad decision making which can be directly related to our Christian walk and worldview. Our actions all have consequences and sometimes the punishments that result from them. The first step in treatment is to decide whether the object of fear is appropriate or not. I enjoy hunting so I always have the thought that I might someday encounter a bear. That is a justifiable fear where I hunt whereas the fear of mice or a typical spider is not legitimate. A large bear could easily overtake a person where the other creatures could not. People with specific phobias experience powerful fear responses to a particular object or situation like spiders, excessive heights, or cramped spaces. The intensity of panic is typically inappropriate to the actual level of danger and is acknowledged by the client being unreasonable or irrational. This anxiety and fear leads to an inability to manage regular daily living and activities. Excessive levels of fear can lead to the avoidance of common, everyday situations. Simply put, we can live in a state of love towards God and man or, we can live in fear of them because we believe that we are in danger. (Adams, 1973/â€‹1986)
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26″So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:26-30 New International Version)
Biblical Understanding and Treatment of Mental Illness and Related Issues
Gary R. Collins in “Christian Counseling” explains that the Bible does not explain mental disorders per say but, it does give us a greater understanding about the human condition and man’s situation as a created being. In the Bible we can learn about virtue, behavior, and man’s sinful nature. What the Bible shows us about sin is readily seen in our society today. We see materialism, power, and the persistent criminal and amoral state of man-made institutions. We also can see that God has made a way for us to avoid the ultimate punishment for sin through the Gospel message and that believers in the Church are to care for those with all manner of illness or need. Scripture does however refer to many emotions that are directly connected to mental and behavioral disorders. Collins lists many emotions and states like, “anger, lust, jealousy, envy, ambition, impatience, a lack of self-control, orgies, marital infidelity, gluttony, drunkenness, lying, violence, suicide and several other pertinent examples.” Collins goes on to explain that not all mental disorders are the result of sin or poor behavior. He contrasts the plight of Nebuchadnezzar who became ill because of his uncalled-for refusal to obey God’s commands and Job who was an upright man who was seemingly afflicted for reasons outside of his influence. But it is understood that all mental and physical disorders are the symptoms of this sinful world regardless of one’s personal responsibility. (Collins, 2007)
The Place of Spiritual Growth in the Healing Process
According to Shults and Sandage in, “Transforming Spirituality” spirituality has two main effects on the person. They are a distinct motivation towards action or, a calming of fear, anxiety, and other emotions. Both the arousal and the soothing as the authors describe are necessary depending on the needs of the client. It is similarly noted that the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer is to teach, guide, convict and comfort depending on the situation. What we are trying to do is teach our clients who God is and who they are in relation to Him. We are in essence engaging in the action of discipleship. We want our patients to understand that in Jesus Christ their sins are forgiven and that the reason that they have not lived fulfilling lives is that they just did not have the correct direction or motivation. Being forgiven is one of the most powerful events we can experience. For a person who has been stuck in a spiral of negative consequences it is of the utmost importance that they know that they can become something different than they have ever been. A thief that no longer steals is not a thief anymore. Neither is the adulterer or the liar who has been forgiven and has been changed through sound teaching and the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
What we want is for people to only seek their worth from their personal relationship to God because He does not change like society does. The two effects of spiritual growth mentioned before are so very needed. The hurting individual needs to be made to feel safe and understood before they can really engage in serious work with a counselor or helper. Then as they begin to see and comprehend their own growth they are driven to work out their faith and their understanding in new ways. Truly there is a time to be still but, there is also a time to act on our new insights and the new personality we have acquired. (Shults & Sandage, 2006/â€‹2007)
Scripture Based Counseling Goals, Strategies and Techniques of Change
The goal of the Christian counselor is to help clients grow in their ability to love God and those who surround them. We want to enable personal changes in holiness and spiritual depth. This I believe is the way that we can help enable clients to meet the challenges of this life in a way that glorifies God. The Gospel is the answer to the sin problem of mankind and scripture is what we will teach with. Prayer and meditation upon God cements our relationship with Him. We believe that the Bible is able to address every place and problem in life and that the development of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the ultimate answer. Using the scriptures we can learn to understand our problems. We can find answers and solutions to the most sinful and difficult situations in our lives. The Bible teaches us to hope which allows us to be changed by our newly formed faith and the workings of the Holt Spirit. Even Christ taught by using scripture in His ministry so we should also use it as our main tool. We also need to keep in mind that there might be a medical issue involved in our client’s problems. Because of this we need to work with physicians and other specialists when necessary. Peter the apostle said, “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him Who called us” (2 Peter 1 :3 New International Version)
Our goal is the Biblical change to our minds which need to be aligned with the Word. These changes in turn can transform the heart of a person which is more beneficial than just altering ones behavior or personal situation. Because of this counseling should give the client a scriptural understanding of their problem. It should create clarity of the scriptures in regards to the problem at hand and it’s resolution. It should also put forth a godly plan or solution to the problem, and it should end with a plan and goal to better live your life as a Christian. The end result is that we become more like Jesus. He is the goal.
Understanding, Responding to and Managing Client Resistance to Biblical Strategies
Whether or not a client completely buys into Biblical counseling as an answer to their personal issues is almost immaterial in my view. We can broach the subject with them and if it is rejected we will still counsel from our worldview as Christians. It is not as if the Bible does not contain truth that can be used indirectly. God’s Word is found in many of our founding documents and even in the legal writings of this country. So, the Biblical presuppositions that we work with are still valid whether or not they are wholly accepted by any person or personality.
We have to be able to show that we understand the difficulties inherent in a client’s asking for help and that we appreciate their individual situations. The client has to work from their own frame of reference and with the mental and emotional abilities that they currently have. Our job is to create an atmosphere where they feel safe and secure in the midst of sometimes overpowering personal feelings, emotions and new realities. All types of resistance are a likely possibility but, once we get to the point where a true therapeutic relationship has been built we can be of more influence and are more likely to incorporate the reading of scripture and discussions about biblical themes more readily. There simply has to come a point where as counselors we are trusted by the clients enough that they allow us to take them where they need to go, which is to the Gospel. (Cavanagh & Levitov, 1982/â€‹2002)
The Intent of Psychology
Psychology taken on its own merits is a pseudo-science at best and cannot stand alone on its own virtues as other sciences do. Science is founded on theories and laws, with laws being foundational to ongoing work. Psychology does not have any particular laws to check or balance theorists in their work. What does seem to happen is that political and social forces seem to use psychology for their own ends and betterment. The Church and our society are in danger of being overtaken by various societal activist groups that see Christianity and, Judeo-Christian morality as a threat to their future accomplishments. I believe that this work started in our colleges and universities early in the last century. American schools like Harvard and Yale and, England’s Oxford and Cambridge all began as Christian institutions that now teach evolution and atheistic thought specifically. These are leftist leaning political groups that are anti-capitalist, anti-American, and Anti-God. In my own seminary coursework, I have encountered text book reading involving concepts like social justice which in my opinion have no place in a Christian worldview. Social justice would seek to take by force that which has been earned so that it could be arbitrarily given to someone else. Nowhere in scripture is mentioned any type of forced giving or anything but an individual’s redemption through Christ whereas social justice calls for group or wholesale redemption through the redistribution of wealth and opportunity. Why should my family suffer for the deeds of both black and white slave traders and owners and what they did hundreds of years ago? My ancestors did not live here, nor do we currently benefit from our ethnicity so in essence we are being stolen from through supposedly “legal” means. In my mind that makes us slaves to this new regime.
There are other areas of concern like the DSM. It appears that the American Psychiatric Association can with little fanfare change deviant activities into mainstream and acceptable behaviors. This too is an attack on the Church and a society founded on Biblical principles.
We do not want or need to completely integrate Christian faith with Psychology but, we dare not stay uninvolved in this area of study or it will be used against us and society will continue to be corrupted. I believe that I have outlined the manner in which positive integration on our own terms could be established which is through Tan’s description of purposeful mentoring and personal relationships with professors and therapists with significant understanding and spiritual maturity. The extensive and intentional use of Christian clinical supervisors throughout training enables counselors to develop integration and clinical skills that are Christ-centered, Biblical and well-matched to both Christian and non-believing clients.
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