Thursday, March 22, 2012

Godly Counseling

Somehow in the development of the Christian counseling field a spectrum formed, with counselors using only the Bible on one end and counselors using only principles of psychology on the other end. The primary focus seems to be on the content of what the counselor uses in the counseling session.  Some believe that if you use any “content” containing ideas or practices not found  in the Bible that it is not “Christian Counseling.”  Others believed that if you are a Christian, it is ok to use primarily psychological principles, and that ethically the counselor has a responsibility to not mix “religious” beliefs with the work of counseling. 

 My husband works in the field of worship leadership, and I have often heard him (and others in his field) refer to the “worship wars.”  In past years I think the Christian counseling spectrum could be referred to as the “Christian counseling wars.”  It was almost as if parties at each end of the spectrum considered those who thought and practiced differently than them as enemies. It is easy to begin to describe others who are different than we are, or who think differently than we do, as our enemies.  Yet, it is obvious in the Scriptures that God values “variation” or “difference.”  I do think it is only fair for me to identify that I see myself in the middle of this spectrum, seeking to use both biblical principles (always the ultimate authority), as well as psychological principles that are consistent with the biblical principles. 

When I look at creation, I am amazed at how God created such variety—whether in the incredible assortment  of the color green one sees in the grasses and trees, or in the curious differences in the length, circumference, design of the necks of all the animals of creation.  When I consider how each human God has created is uniquely formed and developed, it is beyond my capacity to comprehend how much God truly loves variety!  Yet, in our fallen nature, it seems that we tend to desire the opposite. We think everyone should be like us, have the same preferences we have, and think like us.  

I am thankful in recent years the “Counseling wars” seem to be dying out and there is more receptivity to understanding the value of counselors from all places on the spectrum of differences.  My purpose today is not to analyze the differences between Christian counselors of all stripes. There have been many books written already analyzing this topic, so other than a few comments, I will not write a lot about this topic.  
I do believe there are actually a variety of “spectrums” that could be identified in the field of Christian counseling.  It is not just all about “content.”  I would like to suggest at least three different “continuums” in the field of Christian counseling.  All three continuums are interrelated and have an impact on each other. These are not exhaustive, but three continuums that I have noted include: 

Content of Counseling:
Counselors using only Scripture     VS           Counselors using psychological principles
Area of Calling:
Discipleship Counseling                 VS           Clinical Work

Character of Counselor 
Not exhibiting the character of Christ  VS   Exhibiting the Character of Christ

Content of Counseling:
This is the area that has probably received the most attention in the “counseling wars.”  The differences in this continuum primarily center around whether the use of principles of psychology is biblical or not.  At one end of this continuum are those who believe only direct content from the Bible should be used in Christian counseling, with the belief that counseling rarely has anything to do with biological changes within a person, and more to do with the choices the person makes(sin).  At the other end of the continuum are those who primarily use principles of human behavior, whether developed as theoretical models of behavior coming from observed conduct, or behavior that is the result of brain activity inferred from neurological science.  Theoretical models would include a long list of theorists such as Freud, Beck, or deSchazer.  Neurological science has increasingly produced  more and more data about the brain and how it functions .  Current theorists in this area (Daniel Siegel, J. Schwartz, Cozolino, etc.) are weaving neurological data into theories concerning human responses, attitudes, and mental/ emotional health and diseases. 

There have been multitudes of books written about the “counseling wars,” often called the “integration of psychology and theology.”   It is not my intention to rehash all writers have written on this subject.  (A few examples would include Narramore, McMinn, Coe, Jones, and Johnson).   In recent years it seems there has been a reduction in the “war” part of integration, and the two extremes are attempting to understand each other a little more, and to accept that it is acceptable to have differences in opinion.  Acceptance of the need to respond to clients in a holistic manner appears to be increasing on the part of individuals from each end of the continuum.  God created humankind with both a body and a spirit, and a truly biblical approach will never separate the two. Learning all that can be learned about the brain and how it functions, and the impact of both the genetic inheritance and environmental influence on patterns of behavior and emotional response is important, just as learning how God and His Holy Spirit transforms the mind and spirit of a man is important.  (For more on this topic see the posts titled “Brain Research and Scripture” ,Parts 1, 2, and 3)

There is so much to study and learn both in the Bible and in the sciences if I want to truly glorify God and have my “tools” sharpened to allow God to work through me in helping hurting people.  For this reason,  I have come to the conclusion I don’t really have time to focus on the differences in what I do and practice and what someone else does and practices who resides at a different place on this continuum.  I do not say this to disparage or diminish in any way those who have written about this topic. There have been some thorough and very thoughtful works written about these differences, and I am thankful for the time and effort various authors have expended. But I believe it is time we broaden our understanding of our differences, and the validity of those differences. It is not just “content” that is important in what we do as godly counselors. 

In the next post we will think more about how the content of Christian counseling is related to godly counseling.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Nurturing relationships with others

Nurturing relationships with others        March 4, 2012

Luke 2:52 "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."

You might ask, what does “growing in favor with men” really mean? Other passages in the scriptures encourage us to not be worried about what others think about us and their opinions of us. A close look at the life of Jesus reveals that he lived in relation to others with healthy boundaries, loving them, but not looking for his sense of value and worth from them. This is a great model for us to follow.

Most Christians, when first asked where their value and worth come from, will immediately answer “God.” We all know the “right” answer. But our inner most thoughts and emotions often indicate that we have a deeper belief that we need the approval of men. If you doubt this, just watch how your respond internally when someone criticizes you or responds negatively to you. Do you feel that little “sting” of rejection, or resentment that they don’t like you, or that you can’t quite “please” them? You might have the thought “They really don’t like me, and I don’t know why.” Another typical thought is “What did I do wrong for you to be so upset with me?”  The internal dialogue begins and there is a rehearsing of “I said,” “ or ” he/she said,” followed by trying to rationalize what has happened and why they responded that way. Depending on  personality and life experiences, a person usually either gets angry or irritated (at least internally, and sometimes externally), then feels hurt. That results in either avoiding the offending person (if possible) or expressing your anger to them. 

When I entered my 30s, I discovered in my own life that I looked to people for approval and value.  Up until that time, I had been fairly successful at gaining the approval of others–at least those who matter the most to me. But I began to encounter people that I could not “win over.” It was stressful as I struggled with being hurt by their responses, forgiving them, and then being hurt all over again.  Across time God began to reveal to me that it was impossible to please all people, and not even really necessary, because my real worth and value come from Him. Many times people respond negatively to us simply because of issues they are struggling with. They are not able to respond positively because they had a fight with their spouse that morning, or their teen is in trouble, or they just don’t feel good.  If my value and worth is dependent on someone else giving me approval – which usually is dependent on how their day is going– I am going to have many days that I don’t have much value or worth.

God tells us He values us so much that He sacrificed His only Son so we could have a relationship with Him. He wants a relationship with us. The greatest measure of value and worth for us is that someone wants to know us–know our thoughts, desires, hurts and pains, and understand what is going on with us–good or bad. God is like that. He wants to know what we think and how we feel and what we desire. And, of course, He wants that to be mutual. He wants us to want to know what He thinks, and what His desires are. He is so interested in us that He even knows things about us that we don’t know–like how many hairs are on our head. He knows when we get up, when we lie down, and where we are going. He knows what we are going to say before we do. He knows what is in my heart that even I am blind to at times. Even though He knows us better than any one else that ever lived, He still loves us perfectly. Wow! He values us!

So, when I feel that little “sting” because a person seems to be upset with me (and I haven’t done the wrong thing or responded the wrong way and need to confess and ask forgiveness), the first truth I need to focus on is “It is ok if he/she is upset with me. My true value and worth comes from God.”

Why would this make your relationships with others healthier? If I don’t have to have the approval of others, it frees me to love them no matter how they respond to me. I think this is why Jesus was able to love others so completely–even his enemies. He was very secure in His Father’s love. Twice in the New Testament God spoke out loud about Jesus, and each time He affirmed that “This is my Son with Whom I am very pleased.”  Jesus knew the only One he had to please was God, His Father.

Learn to be content with the Father’s pleasure, and you will be set free! Even if someone treats you in an unkind or unloving way, you will be set free to respond in love because you don’t have to have their approval.