Showing posts with label counseling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label counseling. Show all posts

Friday, October 24, 2008

9 Marks and CCEF on Counseling in the Church

I really am going to return to blogging on a regular basis but have to lay low for just a little while longer. The new November/December eJournal from 9 Marks was enough to make me poke my head above ground to point others to it. It's all about counseling in the church and it looks great! Here's an excerpt from the editor's note:
We know counseling ain't easy. Polls show that most pastors prefer the pulpit to the counselor's chair. Not only are the problems people bring intractably complex and heart-rending, they consume vast quantities of time.
Yet we hope this issue of the 9Marks eJournal will do two things for you, pastor: encourage you to look for ways to bring counseling into your local church, and introduce you to an incredible resource, the individuals and materials at the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF). Both parts of CCEF's vision statement nail it on the head: "Restoring Christ to counseling and counseling to the church." Is your counseling Christ-centered or moralistic? And how are you cultivating a culture of counseling and discipleship in your church?
Here are the articles (full PDF version here):
Five Advantages of Church-Based Counseling
Here are five reasons why churches shouldn't be so quick to "refer out" their counseling.
By Deepak Reju

Counseling and Discipleship
How are a church's ministry of counseling and discipleship related? By Deepak Reju 

Why Every Pastor-in-Training Should Read Ed's Book
Every Capitol Hill Baptist Church pastoral intern is required to read Ed Welch's book
When People Are Big and God is Small. 9Marks asks Michael Lawrence why.
Looking at the Past and Present of Counseling
Can biblical counseling draw from the Puritans? How are churches today doing at counseling? What is CCEF doing that's unique? An interview with David Powlison

Cultivating a Culture of Counseling and Discipleship
Tim Lane talks about counseling from the pulpit, the ideal church, recovery groups, promoting discipleship, and more. An interview with Tim Lane

Sorting Out the Spiritual and the Physical in Counseling
Former medical doctor and now CCEF instructor Michael Emlet discusses his own background and what pastors should make of the mind-body connection in their counseling. An interview with Michael Emlet
Premarital Counseling, Pornography, and Marriage
Today's buzzword for marriages is "compatibility." But counselors and couples need more wisdom than that, especially as pornography attacks marriage like never before. An interview with Winston Smith

What Should Pastors Do with Fear, Medication & Addiction
Welch considers questions like, Should pastors give more thought to fear? Are psychiatric medications unbiblical? Should pastors keep their hands off the psychiatric issues? An interview with Ed Welch

A new 9 Marks interview with David Powlison in which he discusses his conversion, counseling views, and assorted books is also available for listening online or downloading here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Idols of the Heart and "Vanity Fair"

At last, David Powlison's masterful article, Idols of the Heart and "Vanity Fair" (PDF), is online! This is one of his works to which I frequently return and which I've long wished was available on the net so others could readily access it. It's a profound, practical look at the relevance of the recurring biblical theme of idolatry for understanding motivation. Here's Powlison's introduction:
One of the great questions facing Christians in the social sciences and helping professions is this one: How do we legitimately and meaningfully connect the conceptual stock of the Bible and Christian tradition with the technical terminologies and observational riches of the behavioral sciences? Within this perennial question, two particular sub-questions have long intrigued and perplexed me.

One sort of question is a Bible relevancy question. Why is idolatry so important in the Bible? Idolatry is by far the most frequently discussed problem in the Scriptures. So what? Is the problem of idolatry even relevant today, except on certain mission fields where worshipers still bow to images?

The second kind of question is a counseling question, a “psychology” question. How do we make sense of the myriad significant factors that shape and determine human behavior? In particular, can we ever make satisfying sense of the fact that people are simultaneously inner-directed and socially-shaped?
Reading this article will help you understand why C. J. Mahaney credits Powlison with being the "living guy" from whom he's learned the most about sanctification and Elyse Fitzpatrick, in Idols of the Heart, thanks him for reconfiguring her thinking about idolatry. (HT:

Monday, August 13, 2007

Southern Baptist Scholars on Biblical Counseling

Here's an item related to the previous post: an interview (PDF) with Daniel Akin (president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) Russell Moore (dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's School of Theology), Paige Patterson (president of Southwestern Theological Seminary) and Sam Williams (professor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Theological Seminary) about Southern Baptists' move toward biblical counseling.

The interview, originally published two years ago in the newsletter of
Crossroads Counseling, consists of responses to the following questions:

1. How do you define the difference between biblical counseling and other models of Christian counseling (a.k.a. integration)?

2. Which approach to counseling, biblical counseling or integration, do you prefer? What aspects of doctrine and personal experience are most influential in your decision?

3. What do you believe the role of the Bible, the gospel, and the church ought to have in a distinctively biblical counseling model? What role does secular psychology have?

4. How does your school teach that biblical counseling should interact with the ministries of the church?

5. What questions would you ask a counselor you were considering referring to in order to
assess whether their practice was distinctively biblical? What “red flags” are you screening for as you ask these questions?

6. Do you see any potential dangers with a church referring to integrationist counselors or
using discipleship materials in their church that are from an integrationist perspective?

7. What authors and organizations do you believe are doing the best work in presenting a
biblical model of counseling?

8. Why do you think secular psychology has become such an attractive alternative for many church leaders and members? Why are Southern Baptists embracing biblical counseling at this time in their history?

9. How would you envision an ideal relationship between local churches and a parachurch ministry devoted to a biblical model of counseling?

10. What final words of advice would you give to pastors as they consider matters of

Monday, November 27, 2006

What's Wrong with a Child? The Tragic Consequences of Biopsychiatry's Naturalistic Worldview

The second in a series of articles the NY Times is doing about the increasing number of American children whose difficulties are diagnosed as serious mental disorders is entitled "What's Wrong with a Child? Psychiatrists Often Disagree." The piece could have been more accurately called "What's Wrong with Psychiatry?" for it dramatically illustrates the highly subjective nature of psychiatric diagnoses.

The article opens with an introduction to Paul Williams, a 13-year-old who "has had almost as many psychiatric diagnoses as birthdays."
The first psychiatrist he saw, at age 7, decided after a 20-minute visit that the boy was suffering from depression.
A grave looking child, quiet and instinctively suspicious of others, he looked depressed, said his mother, Kasan Williams. Yet it soon became clear that the boy was too restless, too explosive, to be suffering from chronic depression.
Paul was a gifted reader, curious, independent. But in fourth grade, after a screaming match with a school counselor, he walked out of the building and disappeared, riding the F train for most of the night through Brooklyn, alone, while his family searched frantically.
It was the second time in two years that he had disappeared for the night, and his mother was determined to find some answers, some guidance. What followed was a string of office visits with psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists. Each had an idea about what was wrong, and a specific diagnosis: “Compulsive tendencies,” one said. “Oppositional defiant disorder,” another concluded. Others said “pervasive developmental disorder,” or some combination. Each diagnosis was accompanied by a different regimen of drug treatments. By the time the boy turned 11, Ms. Williams said, the medical record had taken still another turn — to bipolar disorder — and with it a whole new set of drug prescriptions.
“Basically, they keep throwing things at us,” she said, “and nothing is really sticking.”
A caption beneath a photograph of Williams reads "In his short life, Paul has taken antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, sleeping pills and so-called mood stabilizers." One can only wonder what such a combination of drugs is doing to this young man's developing central nervous system, not to mention other organs. Consider the fact that despite use of terms like "disorder," "diagnosis," and "illness" there are no medical tests for any of the conditions listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders and there is even further cause to question the wisdom of administering mind-altering drugs to children or, for that matter, adults to whom psychiatric diagnoses have been given.

According to Duke University professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, Dr. E. Jane Costello, psychiatry's system of diagnosis is "
still 200 to 300 years behind other branches of medicine." This assumes, of course, that psychiatry is a legitimate medical practice, lagging behind its elder siblings. But other than the fact that its practitioners are licensed physicians with the authority to prescribe medication, what is it that biological psychiatry has in common with other fields of medicine which do not rely solely on emotional and behavioral symptoms to determine the existence of disease? To what extent is biological psychiatry a medical science? These are questions that even those within the profession have asked. In his letter of resignation from the American Psychiatric Association, the late Dr. Loren Mosher wrote:
"Biologically based brain diseases" are certainly convenient for families and practitioners alike. It is no-fault insurance against personal responsibility. We are all just helplessly caught up in a swirl of brain pathology for which no one, except DNA, is responsible. Now, to begin with, anything that has an anatomically defined specific brain pathology becomes the province of neurology (syphilis is an excellent example). So, to be consistent with this "brain disease" view, all the major psychiatric disorders would become the territory of our neurologic colleagues. Without having surveyed them I believe they would eschew responsibility for these problematic individuals. However, consistency would demand our giving over "biologic brain diseases" to them. The fact that there is no evidence confirming the brain disease attribution is, at this point, irrelevant. What we are dealing with here is fashion, politics and money. This level of intellectual /scientific dishonesty is just too egregious for me to continue to support by my membership (emphasis in the original).
I realize that to many, the idea of questioning the validity of biopsychiatry is tantamount to rejecting heliocentricity but that is just a testimony to how successfully pharmaceutical companies have indoctrinated the public (and in many cases, general practitioners) with their reductionistic philosophy of human nature. In his book Let Them Eat Prozac: The Unhealthy Relationship Between the Pharmaceutical Industry and Depression (chapters from which can be read here), Dr. David Healy, notes that the class of antidepressants known as SSRI's (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) has "given rise to a new language in which we understand ourselves - a biobabble to replace the psychobabble of Freudian terms that so coloured our identities during the 20th century."

To borrow terminology from the sociology of knowledge, the drug companies, in concert with the psychiatric community, have been highly effective shapers of America's plausibility structure. Leslie Newbigin, in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society defines and describes plausibility structures as:

...patterns of belief and practice accepted within a given society, which determine which beliefs are plausible to its members and which are not. These plausibility structures are of course different at different times and places. Thus when, in any society, a belief is held to be "reasonable," this is a judgment made on the basis of the reigning plausibility structure.
Biological psychiatry, like counseling, is an inescapably hermeneutic exercise. The individual seeking to assist another in resolving intra-and/or interpersonal problems inevitably makes assessments and judgments about what is going on in the individual's life. These judgments assume a system of values and beliefs about human nature, motivation, and behavior.

Multiple interpretations can be offered to account for whatever emotional and behavioral symptoms an individual reports. Likewise, multiple conceptions of what is in need of being changed and how that is to be accomplished exist. Counseling and biopsychiatry, therefore, involve placing the counselee or patient in some larger contextual framework of meaning. In other words, all approaches to counseling and/or psychiatry seek to make sense of a person and his or her situations in terms of a broad interpretive framework or worldview. Given this fact, as well as the serious health risks associated with psychiatric medications, I'm dismayed by the relative absence of Christian leaders sounding cautions against psychiatric labeling and medicating.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Christians and the Psychiatric Culture

Last night I finished reading a book I mentioned here a few weeks ago, Will Medicine Stop the Pain?: Finding God’s Healing for Depression, Anxiety, and Other Troubling Emotions by Elyse Fitzpatrick and another biblical counselor, Laura Hendrickson, a physician who formerly practiced psychiatry. The book targets women since, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, twice as many women as men will experience depression in their lifetime.Hendrickson not only prescribed antidepressants to her patients but for a period took them herself to treat diagnosed depression and bipolar disorder. She candidly relates her experiences with childhood rejection, subsequent emotional instability, and drug-induced confusion including suicidal and homicidal thoughts. Other first person accounts from Christian women who have struggled with depression appear throughout the book.

The authors explain how modern psychiatry frequently operates on the premise that human beings are reducible to our biochemical components. Intense emotional pain is therefore concluded to be the result of physical disease. They contrast this materialistic perspective with a biblical view of the person as consisting of the uniting of the outer man (the physical body including the brain) and the inner man which is referred to biblically by terms like the heart, mind, spirit, and/or soul. Fitzpatrick and Hendrickson acknowledge that the body can affect and influence the heart and vice versa. They also concede that there are real, empirically verifiable diseases of the brain (as well as brain injuries) that can have negative effects on one’s perception, cognition, and moods. However, they point out that there are no tests for so-called imbalances in brain chemistry for which antidepressants are said to be correctives. They also claim that emotional pain is intended to inform us what is going on in our hearts so that we might avail ourselves of the resources that are ours in Christ to experience heart transformation.

Fitzpatrick and Hendrickson take great pains to caution readers currently on antidepressants against deciding to go off them without medical supervision.  One of the medical professionals frequently cited is Joseph Glenmullen, a psychiatrist who teaches at Harvard Medical School and is also in private practice. I had seen him on ABC's Prime Time Live two years ago and had thought at the time of picking up one of his books but never got around to it. (Dr. Glenmullen's responses to Prime Time viewers' questions about antidepressant side effects and withdrawal are available here.) Glenmullen authored Prozac Backlash and more recently, The Antidepressant Solution which I’m in the midst of reading.

While he prescribes antidepressants on a limited basis, Glenmullen has been a very outspoken critic of the pharmaceutical companies' campaign to market them to physicians and the general public. He believes that the majority of Americans currently taking them are doing so unnecessarily. He is also very concerned that many physicians, who are often reliant upon the drug companies for their information about the drugs and their effects, are ignorant about antidepressant dependence, withdrawal, and how to safely taper patients off them. It’s frightening to learn how misleading pharmaceutical companies have been in their pushing of various medications, many times suppressing evidence of ineffectiveness and/or harmful side effects. According to Glenmullen, ample evidence exists indicating that in some people, antidepressants can create the very symptoms they were prescribed to treat. And in some cases, such a dependence is built that serious symptoms can result from forgetting to take the pills at their proper time. When this happens, patients often think that they are having a relapse when, in actuality, the drug is responsible for their problems.
I can't recommend the above books highly enough to those taking antidepressants (whether male or female) and those who care about someone who is. Readers may also be interested in acquiring a Mars Hill Audio Journal interview with David Healy, a British psychiatrist and author of The Antidpressant Era and more recently Let Them Eat Prozac: The Unhealthy Relationship Between the Pharmaceutical Industry and Depression on antidepressants and the concept of disease.

When one takes into consideration that the disorders the psychiatric community labels people with, are not scientifically validated, there is much cause for both alarm and caution. I’m especially concerned because I know numerous Christians who have bought the well-publicized line that taking antidepressants is analogous to taking insulin or other medication designed to treat biologically detectable illnesses. In a chapter on biological psychiatry in his book Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture, David Powlison makes what I believe is an accurate observation:
The church typically lags a bit behind the culture's way of thinking. But the ethos and practice of biopsychiatry are deeply affecting the church already. If it's broken, or even just not working optimally, it can be fixed from the outside by a drug: better living through chemistry. In your ministry and in your church you are probably already facing the ethos and the practices. Many people in both pew and pulpit are on mind-, mood-, and behavior-altering drugs. We all increasingly face the ideas and knowledge claims, too. The cover story in Time magazine informs the everyday queries and choices of Christian people. Eventually such ideas make it into the educational system as the received wisdom of the culture with which to disciple the next generation (p. 243)
The more believers uncritically accept the therapeutic ethos that so permeates our culture, the less relevant and precious the gospel will seem.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Teens Teaching Teens to Cut, Starve, and Choke Themselves

The February 2006 issue of Reader's Digest has an article that youth workers and parents should read. It's about the rising number of American teens who practice various forms of self-injurious behavior such as cutting, anorexia, and nearly asphyxiating themselves to induce a drug-like high by cutting off oxygen to the brain. Though the article does not frame things theologically, it vividly illustrates the role that socialization plays in sin's outworking. According to one pediatrician quoted in the article, "These practices are spreading like wildfire because of the Internet."
Psychologists, pediatricians and youth counselors contend that under the radar, hundreds of websites and chat rooms are fueling an explosion of self-destructive practices considered in vogue by a surprising number of kids. They swap techniques about how to injure themselves -- and, like Joel and Caitlin, keep it all hidden from their parents.

"Clearly, the Internet is a major tool for good," says Ken Mueller, co-director of, an informational website about youth culture. "But as we're seeing now, it can also lead to great harm. Kids become addicted to these sites, and suddenly behaviors that used to be considered taboo are no longer hidden, which makes them seem more acceptable -- even cool."
If the statistics offered in this piece are credible, this is an issue that the church will be facing with greater frequency. One resource I'd recommend as an introduction to the subject from a theological perspective is a booklet authored by Ed Welch called Self-Injury: When Pain Feels Good. Welch explores the various things self-injurious behavior can be saying (e.g., "I am guilty. I must be punished," "I am angry," "I can't feel this way any longer; hurting myself is the only way to stop my feelings") and shows how all of them point to God and how the gospel offers real hope to those enslaved to these self-destructive patterns of living. Addressing the objection some might raise to the suggestion that self-abuse is at root a spiritual issue, Welch writes:
This seems like a harsh way to explain the possible inner workings of self-injury, but if we really believe that self-injurers share a bond with those who don't purposely injure themselves, we would expect self-injurers to have a lot of "self" motivating their behavior. We all do! Scripture consistently reminds us that our greatest problem, even more than Satan himself, is our selfish desires (James 4:1-3). Pride and self-interest tend to rule our hearts. Contrary to what we may think, self-love is never a biblical command. The command is that we love others to the degree that we love ourselves (Matt. 19:18).
I touched on the topic of self-love in a recent post which, if you missed, you can find here.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Third Great Commandment?

The notion that learning to love ourselves is a prerequisite to loving others is such a fixture in American Christian minds that questioning it might cause some to react as though one is calling into question a tenet of historic Christian orthodoxy. Nevertheless, I think it needs to be challenged. The idea was definitely more prominent during the reign of humanistic theories of counseling that emphasized self-actualization. Believers scurried to find biblical prooftexts to demonstrate to the world that secular psychologists were only now discovering what God had revealed millennia before. Foremost among these was what Jesus identified as the commandment secondary but related to the great commandment to love God with our whole selves. After citing Deuteronomy 6:5 as the answer to a lawyer's query as to which was the greatest of the Law's commandments, Matthew (22:39) and Mark (12:31) tell us that Jesus cited Leviticus 19:18 as the second most important imperative: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Regardless of the fact that Jesus said he was referring to only two commandments, some have sought to find within the second imperative an implicit third - love thyself. Disobeying this one will make loving others difficult if not impossible.

This raises questions in my mind. Can you think of anywhere that the Bible attributes the mistreating of others to the lack of love for oneself? If not, what answers do the Scriptures offer to explain inhumanity, indifference, and cruelty? We need to frequently ask questions like these to insure that we are faithfully reflecting the themes, emphases, and categories of Scripture rather than those of the therapeutic spirit of the age.

Jesus was not insinuating that unless one loves himself he is incapable of loving others. Rather, he knew that self-love is already present and potent within every human heart. But how can that be? I think a great deal of the confusion about this issue stems from the fact that each of us can identify things we don't like about ourselves; things we wish were other than they are. I have in mind things like character flaws, sinful patterns of life, physical imperfections, and deficits in various skills and abilities. We may think or even say at times, "I hate myself because I....." But does it necessarily follow from the fact that there are things about myself that I don't like, that mine is a problem of not loving myself enough? No.

To think through this, we have to first consider what it means to love another biblically. There are many places we could turn in search of an answer but for the sake of time and space I'm going to focus on Jesus' teaching about loving our enemies in Luke 6:27-36. From this passage we can conclude that love involves pursuing and promoting another's well-being; acting in such a manner as to secure what is good for him or her. If that definition of love is granted, it becomes much more evident that none of us is deficient in the area of self love. Even the fact that there are things that I don't like about myself is a manifestation of my love for myself. Those things bother me because I want better for....myself! Likewise, craving the love of others is not an indication that I do not love myself but a sign that I do. I am intent on pursuing whatever I think will enhance my pleasure. The universality of self love is what leads the apostle Paul to call husbands to love their wives as themselves (Ephesians 5:28). He reasons that since a man and woman have become one flesh, then a husband should love his spouse in the same way that he already loves himself. "For no one hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church" (Ephesians 5:29).

"But," someone says, "that may be the general rule but there are many exceptions. What of the countless individuals engaged in self-destructive habits? What are we to make of the unfortunate reports of those who practice various forms of self-mutilating behavior or others who starve themselves to the brink of death on account of a distorted perception of their own bodies? These people obviously hate their own flesh and they are certainly not caring for themselves. I may reluctantly grant that most of us are objects of our own love but these folks certainly aren't." Admittedly this line of thinking is initially compelling and has a great deal of emotional force behind it. Nonetheless, I think that if self-love is understood in the manner that I have described, we must conclude that even such grossly self-destructive behavior is not a manifestation of the lack of self-love but rather evidence of why we stand in need of being liberated from its power.

Paul's use of the words "flesh" in Eph. 5:29 and "bodies" in v. 28 are examples of synecdoche, a figure of speech where the part is used to refer to the whole. This is evident from v. 33: "However, let each one of you love his wife as himself..." Saying that a man loves his own body or that no one hated his own flesh is another way of saying that we are intent on pursuing what we believe will make for our happiness, contentment, security, etc. As Pascal noted in his Pensees, even the decision to end one's own life is motivated by this inclination:

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
By denying that we stand in need of learning how to love ourselves, I am not suggesting that what I have called self-love is inherently wrong in all its manifestations. My point is not to advocate self-contempt. Perhaps no contemporary Christian author has done more to illustrate that the motivation to maximize our enjoyment is a good part of creation. Therefore, it is not to be rejected. However, as it did the rest of creation, humanity's revolt against our Creator perverted that self-love such that we are its slaves. God the Father sent forth God the Son to liberate us from that captivity and by the sanctifying work of His Spirit that liberty is being progressively worked out such that we are freer to be what we were made to be - lovers of God and each other.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Integrating Faith and Learning?

In his article "Fifty Years Later," philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff takes issue with the commonly touted idea that the task of Christian scholarship is to "integrate" faith and learning and offers what he thinks is a more appropriate metaphor (HT: Prosthesis):
We in the colleges of the Reformed tradition have often used the language of "integration" to describe the project - not as often as people in the other Christian colleges, but nonetheless often. The project, we have said, is to integrate faith and learning. I have come to think that the metaphor of integration is a poor choice of metaphor. It suggests that the scholar is presented with two things, faith and learning; and that these two must some-how be tied together. The two-story metaphor has been discarded; no longer do we think in terms of placing faith on top of learning. Still, the assumption of duality remains. The idea now is that we tie them together somehow - find the right baling twine and the right place to attach it.
I submit that the project of Christian learning, rightly understood, rejects the assumption of duality that underlies the metaphor of integration. Here is an example of the point: the dominant ideology behind philosophy of art of the past two centuries is that art is an exception to the fallenness of our society; art has redemptive significance. How am I to integrate that ideology with my Christian faith? It can't be done. I have to reject it, not integrate it; and having rejected it, I have to rethink philosophy of art and aesthetics so that it becomes faithful to my Christian conviction. What emerges, if I am successful, is not an integration of two separate things but just one thing: a philosophy of art faithful to Christian conviction. I have never found what seemed to me the absolutely right metaphor. However, better than the integration metaphor is the metaphor of seeing through the eyes of faith. When you look at something, you look at it with your eyes; you don't look at it and then also at your eyes.
I think Wolterstorff is right and am particularly interested in the application of his thinking to the realm of counseling psychology though he doesn't address it in the article. The model of counseling most prevalent in evangelical circles assumes the integration metaphor while biblical counseling, on the other hand, seems to be governed more by the metaphor Wolterstorff suggests. An example of this is the title of David Powlison's book, Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Survey on Integrating Religious Faith and Counseling

I received an email yesterday from Gregory K. Popcak, founder and director of Pastoral Solutions Institute, a counseling ministry devoted to helping Catholics with personal, marital, and family problems through the integration of their faith and "cutting-edge psychology." Mr. Popcak wrote:

....your site was recommended to me by a reader. The organization I direct is conducting a major study examining Christian (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox) attitudes toward the integration of religious faith and counseling. The study does not assume that respondents have ever been or ever will be in counseling. We are just interested in readers' opinions. These opinions would help church leaders make decisions about meeting the needs of souls in their care.
He proceeded to ask if I would be willing to post a link to the survey with the following announcement:
You are invited to participate in an online study examining Christian attitudes toward integrating religious faith and counseling. The study is completely anonymous. The study does not assume that you have been or ever will be in counseling. The study is only interested in your opinions. It is hoped that this study will help Church leaders make decisions about the best way to provide assistance to the souls in their care. Your participation would make a valuable contribution to this goal.

To qualify for this study, you must be 18 years or older. All information will be kept completely confidential and anonymous. To learn more about the survey, or to participate, please click this link.
Obviously, I agreed to Mr. Popcak's request but that should not be interpreted as an endorsement of his theology or methods. If you've been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know that the relationship between counseling psychology and the Christian faith is of great interest to me. I'm of the opinion that at least within American evangelicalism, psychotherapeutic concepts and categories have so captivated believers' minds that in many respects we are incapable of thinking biblically and theologically about ourselves and our problems. The acceptance of psychotherapeutic and pop-psychological diagnoses leads to the conclusion that the Bible is largely irrelevant to what ails us. Instead of such uncritical acceptance, what's needed is serious thinking about how biblical themes and concepts might offer alternative interpretations of and explanations for the same symptoms secular counseling theories have diagnosed according to their philosophies of life.

Yesterday I also read an article Robert C. Roberts contributed to the Winter 2003 volume of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology called "Psychotherapy and Christian Ministry" in which he writes:
Whether or not people are actually in therapy, they do learn from therapies to construe themselves as needing higher self-esteem before they can move on to more functional behavior, or as being the seat of certain defense mechanisms, or as having been put out of touch with their perfectly reliable internal valuing process by too much social pressure to conform, or as being victims of inadequate parenting in early life. If we prefer to spread the spiritual influence of Christian reflection rather than an alien framework like the psychology of the inner child or the ideology of codependency, then we have a positive reason for sticking with the psychology of the Christian tradition. As Christian ministers, we want to couch our psychological help as much as possible in the edifying language of the Christian message.
I agree. That said, I took the Pastoral Solutions Institute survey this morning and ask you to consider assisting Mr. Popcak in his research. It will be interesting to see the results.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Sowing Abraham's Seed

Humanist psychologist, Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) was very optimistic about human nature, writing in his Toward a Psychology of Being: "This inner nature, as much as we know of it so far, seems not to be intrinsically or primarily evil." On the contrary, human nature is "good or neutral rather than bad." In the introduction to the same volume, Maslow wrote: Destructiveness, sadism, cruelty, malice, etc., seem so far to be not intrinsic but rather they seem to be violent reactions against frustration of our intrinsic needs, emotions, and capacities." In response to the question of the origin of neuroses, Maslow wrote:

My answer...was, in brief, that neurosis seemed at its core, and in its beginning, to be a deficiency disease: that it was born out of being deprived of certain satisfactions which I called needs in the same sense that water and amino acids and calcium are needs, namely that their absence produces illness. Most neuroses involved, along with other complex determinants, ungratified wishes for safety, for belongingness and identification, for close love relationships and for respect and prestige.
Basic needs, said Maslow, possess the following characteristics:
  1. The deprived person yearns for their gratification persistently.
  2. Their deprivation makes the person sicken and wither.
  3. Gratifying them is therapeutic, curing the deficiency-illness.
  4. Steady supplies forestall these illnesses.
  5. Healthy (gratified) people do not demonstrate these deficiencies
Maslow described these "deficits" or "deficiency needs" as: "...empty holes, so to speak, which must be filled up for health's sake, and furthermore, must be filled from without by human beings other than the subject." Elsewhere he says that these psychological needs "may be considered as deficiencies which must be optimally fulfilled by the environment in order to avoid sickness and subjective ill-being." It is as important that psychological needs be met as it is that physiological needs (e.g., the need for salt, calcium, or vitamin D) be satisfied.

Maslow grouped needs into five levels that stood in a hierarchical and developmental relationship to each other. Beginning with the foundational level they are: physiological needs (e.g., food, drink, air, etc.), safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs (respect from others and for oneself), and the need for self-actualization (the ability to make the most of one's potential). Maslow proposed that we are most immediately aware of lower level needs but once they are satisfied, upper level needs become more apparent and have greater motivational force.

In that Maslow was seeking to construct a humanistic model of personality and motivation, it's no surprise that the concept of "sin" is absent from his system. Sommers and Satel write in One Nation Under Therapy:

From the beginning, Maslow's aim was to displace moral philosophy and religion with a science of man. Traditional religion, in his judgment, had proved inadequate. He proposed a "religion-surrogate." He said, "Throughout history [humanity] has looked for guiding values, for principles of right and wrong outside of [itself], to a God, to some sort of sacred book, perhaps, or to a ruling class." Maslow believed that he had found the basis for ethics and personal fulfillment in human nature itself.
Behavior and attitudes that are, from a biblical perspective, sinful, are not, according to Maslow, evidence of a morally corrupt nature but of frustrated needs. Assuming Maslow's diagnosis, the appropriate cure is not a new heart with redirected desires but satisfaction of the natural heart's yearnings. Neither the objects nor the intensity of our desires are the cause of the conflicts among us. Nancy Pearcey notes in Total Truth that "Every worldview...offers a counterpart to the Fall, an explanation of the source of evil and suffering. What has gone wrong with the world? Why is there warfare and conflict?" For Maslow, unfulfilled psychological needs are what bar us from Paradise.
This assumption about human motivation is deeply entrenched in the American psyche even among those unfamiliar with Maslow's work. What I find so astonishing (not to mention disturbing) is how influential and pervasive this perspective on human nature and behavior is among Bible-believing Christians. You don't have to search hard for it. It's propagated in sermons and popular Christian books, particularly those having to do with marriage. It's the lens through which we view life and even the grid through which we interpret Scripture.
Maslow was well aware that his motivational model was part of a larger worldview. In the preface to the second edition of Toward a Psychology of Being he described Humanist Psychology as "one facet of a general Weltanschauung, a new philosophy of life, a new conception of man...." Why, then, do Christians so readily accept and even defend this way of thinking about the human condition? Why does so much Christian teaching about why we do the things we do sound more like Abraham Maslow than Jesus, the seed of Abraham, the patriarch? I share the curiosity David Powlison expresses in his essay in Care for the Soul: Exploring the Intersection of Psychology and Theology:

Why does one or another secular theory of human motivation almost inevitably control the Christian counseling theory at the punch line, where counseling engages the details of life as it is lived? In particular, why have "need" theories that define significance, love and self-esteem as the standard needs been so prominent when they are so alien to the gaze of God and the psychological experience of Jesus? Why has the most typical, and apparently the most vital, external contribution of psychology been secular motivation theory, the very thing that wrenches human life out of its true context and drains psychological experience of its essential characteristics? Why do integrationist theories fail to take seriously the specific, omnipresent nature of sin as the chief and most immediate problem in the hearts of those we counsel?
I'll devote future posts to further exploration of the influence of Abraham Maslow on the children of Abraham, including examples of this influence in Christian literature. Go to Part 2

Monday, May 09, 2005

Southern Seminary & the Care of Souls

In September of 1996 Christianity Today ran a sidebar titled "Schools Grapple with Sharp Rise in Psychology Students." The story reported the rapidly growing number of Christian graduate schools and seminaries offering psychology or counseling programs and raised the question of what effects this trend might have on the schools themselves. James Guy, then dean of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, noted that in light of this phenomenon seminaries had to ask themselves what profession they were emphasizing: "Are we training mental-health professionals who are Christians, or are we training ministers with knowledge of mental health?"

I am glad to learn that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has opted to emphasize the latter. Beginning in the fall, the school's approach to training in counseling will be founded on the conviction that the Bible is sufficient for conceptualizing about and treating the issues of the heart with which people struggle. According to the Baptist Press News:

The new vision was approved overwhelmingly by the faculty on Feb. 2, distinguishing the seminary’s counseling philosophy from its former “pastoral care” model that seeks to prepare therapists for state
licensure by “integrating” secular psychology and biblical training. According to Russell D. Moore, dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration, the seminary’s vision for counseling embraces a Gospel-centered and church-focused approach.

The new direction is not a new degree program. Rather, it is a wholesale change of emphasis built upon the view that Scripture is sufficient to answer comprehensively the deepest needs of the human heart, Moore said. Its aim is to equip pastors and counselors to work in local churches, he said.
Moore says the church needs:

....pastors and leaders who understand depravity and the Fall to the degree that they are able to see the ways in which fallen human self-interest often masquerades as objective ‘science’ -- especially when this ‘science’ seeks to explain and prescribe a cure for the fallen condition of humanity.
Southern's president, Al Mohler states:

In this psycho-therapeutic age it is really important that we think as Christians -- that we employ authentically Christian thinking, biblical thinking to human life, and that we do this in a way that, without apology, confronts and critiques the wisdom of the age and seeks the wisdom that can come only from God and from God’s Word.

To say I admire Southern Seminary's decision is a gross understatement. I applaud it wholeheartedly and pray that their decision will lead other evangelical institutions of higher theological education to rethink their training. It takes integrity to resist the enticement of offering programs for which there's a sure market. It takes boldness to be willing to lose respectability in the eyes of the psychological establishment by saying "We'll no longer play by your rules." It takes humility for a reputable institution to reflect upon its curriculum, conclude that it is incompatible with its theological convictions, and thoroughly revise it so as to bring it into greater conformity to its profession. Humility is also required to face the ridicule bound to come from both Christian and secular quarters. The latter is reflected in headlines like this one from the Louisville Courier-Journal: "Baptist seminary shifts counselor study to Bible over science."

It puzzles me that in the midst of all the (necessary) clamor about the importance of understanding the Christian worldview and its distinctiveness from competing explanatory stories, the evangelical church is relatively silent when it comes to the hegemony of secular psychotherapeutic theories of human nature. Perhaps this muteness is the result of our having become intoxicated on the strong drink of the spirit of the age. It profits us little if we strain out Darwin yet swallow Maslow, Rogers, Beattie, Bradshaw, or any others all too eager to provide answers other than that offered by the Bible to the question, "What is man?"