Thursday, September 9, 2010

September 9, 2010

September 9, 2010
In class today we talked about the experience of our class so far, related to beginning your in-class counseling experience. I don't know if you realized or not, but I was actually eliciting your cognitions about what your experience had been so far so I could evaluate how the class was helping you, and what we might do that would be more effective. This is typical for the cognitive approach. It is very collabrative.
I love how cognitive therapy is collaborative. And it reminds me how God (even though He has all the answers and all the power to do whatever He wants) is collaborative with us. He often reveals truth to us, then allows us to work to experience how that will look or to discover how we can apply His truth and begin to practice it. Of course He gives us some guidelines to help us, but He waits patiently for us to discover His ways. I can think of many of the Heroes of the Bible, alike Abraham...God revealed the promise of the coming son, but Abraham had to go through God's school of character development before God completed the promise. Joseph experienced the same thing...learning about God's vision for him related to the future, yet had to be prepared (humbled) before he was ready for his God-given task. I'm sure you could think of other biblical examples that show how God works collaboratively through us and even in spite of us!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cognitive by the "Book"

Aug 31, 2010
Cognitive therapy…someone asked in class today (Cognitive Behavioral Marriage and Family Therapy) how long it takes to do the assessments, and counseling. I responded that often what is presented in the “Book” isn’t always exactly how it works out, but the important thing is to accomplish the assessment that one needs to truly help the client.

Often therapy models don’t exactly work the way they are presented in the book. I think one of the reasons is because we are so complex, and there is never just one “thing” that needs to be worked on. In assessment, clients frequently start with one problem…perhaps the most pressing one, or it may be the one they feel the most comfortable telling you about, but eventually other problems begin to come out.

Another “not by the book” experience you will have is that you can’t always resolve the issues in 8-20 sessions. It would be nice, but the change in neural pathways that needs to take place is a gradual change, not one that happens in an “instant.” For me to begin to think differently, I have to repetitively choose to think differently than my past manner of thinking (“do not be conformed to the patterns of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” Rom 12:2). Little bit by little bit that new neural pathway is formed, and becomes stronger and stronger as that new thought pattern (neural pathway) is covered with the myelin sheath. Change rarely occurs in leaps and bounds…usually step by step…even baby steps, but that is the way God made us!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Thoughts About Brain Research and Scripture Part 3

So how does the need for our minds (our thought patterns and emotional response patterns) to be transformed impact counseling?

Nearly all counselors have had clients who echoed Paul's words about not doing what they know they should do and doing what they don't want to do. Even though we know what we should do--like love our neighbor, or not scream at our child, or not be jealous of our sister, or forgiving a spouse that has deeply wounded us--we find ourselves struggling with responding the way we know we should. As Christians we have been taught that we should love our neighbor, we should be patient with our child, that love is not jealous, and that w should forgive others as God has forgiven us. However, it is one thing to know what we should do and another thing to find a way to do it. Clients often say "I know (or believe) that truth in my mind, but not in my heart." It seems that the old patterns of thinking and responding overpower our knowledge.

Michael Merzenich, one of the developers of the design for the cochlear implant which allows congenitally deaf children to hear, discovered that competitive plasticity (the idea that brain areas, or maps, are governed by competition for the resources available in the brain, and that they utilize the principles of use it or lose it) explains why our bad habits are so difficult to break or "unlearn." Most of us think of the brain as a container and learning as putting something in it. When we try to break a bad habit, we think the soution is to put something new into the container. But when we learn a bad habit, it takes over a brain map, and each time we repeat it, it claims more control of that map and prevents the use of that space for 'good' habits. That is why 'unlearning' is often a lot harder than learning." (Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself, 1125, Kindle version). Those old patterns of thinking and responding (that are not consistent with God's truth) have claimed a huge amount of territory in our brains!

Because we all grow up watching models of people who are imperfect (we are all "tainted" by sin) we develop neural pathways of thinking--beliefs about ourselves, others, and God--which are often untrue. Identifying those thought and emotional response patterns which are not consistent with God's truth is one of the keys to transforming our lives.

If we, as Christian counselors, are to help others discover thought patterns and emotional responses that are not consistent with God's truth, we must know God's truth ourselves. It is of utmost importance that we learn God's Word and how it applies to our lives. But knowing that we can change, that we can find solutions to life's problems in applying God's truth, and that He has created us with a brain that can be transformed, should give us great hope!

Thoughts about Brain Research and Scripture Part 2

For me, one of the exciting discoveries about the brain is what neuroscientists call the plasticity of the brain...that our brains can be "transformed." This has been seen in stroke victims as their brain reroutes around the damaged part of the brain to rebuild neural pathways for some specific function (such as moving the arm), to the brain learning how to direct the muscles to shoot a better free throw in the basketball game after the player repeatedly focuses on the correct form to shoot the free throw by watching a video and/or rehearsing the correct form in his mind. This same plasticity of the brain is also seen in how we can change our thinking patterns and emotional response patterns.

Perhaps this is what Paul was talking about in Romans 7:15-25 ”I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

Learning to think God’s thoughts and God’s truth becomes the transformational process of how the old man changes to the new man. That “sin living within us” may be those old patterns of thinking and responding that were based off the “untruthful” patterns of the world—patterns that are not consistent with God’s truth.

Roman 7:21 “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23. But I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25. Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

Paul gives us an example of this in I Corinthians 1:10 ff. 10. “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

This is not the only passage Paul speaks about unity in thought, so obviously it is important. How can we come to have that unity? Perhaps it is through the transformation of our thoughts so that we begin to think God’s thoughts. Some might think that is impossible, but Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 2:16: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” Another passage that reflects this same idea with a little different wording is in Ephesians 3:19, “and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” I have desired to be filled to the fullness of God since my college days, but what exactly does that mean? I think it might mean coming to think God’s thoughts, which will in turn produce behavior that is Christ-like, "having the mind of Christ."

All of those old distorted thinking patterns “of the world” that are not consistent with “truth” need to be transformed in our thinking and response patterns. If the concept of the plasticity of the brain is correct, that means that we can be transformed at any age!

What does that mean for Christian counseling? It has a huge impact! Next week I will write about how these ideas can impact counseling.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Thoughts About Brain Research and Scripture Part 1

For me, one of the most exciting areas in integration is linking ongoing discoveries in brain research and what God's Word teaches us. As I've read and learned about the new information that our neural pathways are formed by repetition, it has reminded me of various passages in the Bible that seem to tie into that principle. For example, Romans 12:2 "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Paul definitely seems to be talking about patterns of thinking (since he refers to renewing our mind), although previously most people seem to think of the "patterns of the world" to be refering to certain behaviors. I believe we develop patterns of thinking as we grow up (via the repetition of seeing behavior and hearing statements repetitively), and many of these patterns of thinking are based on what the world believes is true, rather than what God's word teaches us. For example, many children learn early in life that mom and dad's loving response to them is conditional, based on the child's behavior. So, they soon learn that "if I am able to perform as mom and dad want, I am loveable--i.e., "I have worth." If they can't perform up to standard, then "I am not loveable." If they don't get that indirect message at home, they will get it when they go to school, both from their teachers and their peers. But God's truth is that our worth, our being "loveable" is not based on our performance, but on God's choice to give us value and worth, no matter what our performance is!

These types of distorted thinking patterns have to be transformed to God's truth, through the renewing of our mind. The thinking that matches the "pattern of the world" becomes a very strong neural pathway in our brain. However, as research has shown us, when we begin to think differently, those old pathways begin to disintegrate some, and the new pathways of thinking (God's truth) become stronger. That is a rather simplistic explanation, but I think it captures the concept well.

Next week I will continue with some more thoughts about these issues.