Why Christian Therapy? Part 1 of 10

Blog Christian Counseling

By Guy Ascherman, MA, LMFT, LPCC, Life Coach

I want to use this series of blogs to address the validity of Christian Psychotherapy and Family Therapy, and the bias against a Christian orientation of psychology in academic circles, and thus the influence upon the profession and practice of individual and family therapy.

I live and practice individual and family counseling in Shasta County, California. In this county, the 10 largest faith groups include Roman Catholic, Mormon, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Independent Evangelical, Independent Baptist, Southern Baptist, Assembly of God, Seventh Day Adventist, Nazarene, and United Methodist. Twenty-Seven percent of the population in Shasta County claims to have a religious affiliation. Of this 27%, 18.9% fall in the category of these top 10 groups, and 25.9% fall in the category of Christian. Non-Christian religious traditions include Baha’I, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, and Buddhist. Combined, these non-Christian religious affiliates represent 1.1% of Shasta County’s population.1

Outside of California, the percentage of the population aligning with the Christian faith is much larger. Forty-nine percent of the population in the United States has a religious affiliation, again with an overwhelming number of them being Christian. Chances that a family counselor or psychotherapist will have a Christian client are substantial, even inevitable. Having a thorough understanding of the various aspects the Christian faith is essential for a credible therapist, but most graduate programs in Counseling Psychology say little or nothing about the Christian faith. Many testify that their own personal experience in grad school was void of any meaningful discussion of Christian therapy, and this does not appear to be an isolated instance. For example, my textbook for family therapy states:

“Throughout most of the twentieth century psychotherapists have scrupulously avoided bringing spirituality and religion into the counseling room. We’ve wanted to be viewed as respectable clinicians…”2

“A survey of over three thousand articles in family therapy journals found less than one percent that mentioned religion in a positive light.”3

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  1. Center for Religion and Civic Culture.
  2. Nichols and Swartz. 2001. Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods. pp.328-329.
  3. Kelly, E. 1992. Religion in family therapy journals: A review of Marital and Family Therapy, ed. New York: Hawthorne Press.

 

The false stereotype that one cannot be a Christian therapist and also a respectable practitioner has unfortunately caused the academic community to steer clear of Christian Therapy among the many other orientations typically taught. One can only hope that this bias can be reversed in the years to come, so that the vast numbers of Christians in the US can be treated effectively. As to spirituality in the therapy room, it is interesting that Christianity seems to be getting left out but non-Christian spiritual views are not. This might be understood as a typical post-modern response to the Christian view that truth does exist and the law of non-contradiction isolates it from any other claims to truth, whatever the source. Truth is a quality of completeness that cannot be exceeded. It stands in contrast to relative or subjective truth, which finds a comfortable audience in university settings. Rightfully, both Christian and secular psychology understand the subjective nature of the emotional experiences of our clients, but a Christian frames the emotional world as needing parameters based upon the existence of unvarying and permanent life foundations.

The bias against absolute Truth and against Christian therapy is undeniable. It is also an observation and personal experience that even Christian Universities do not always teach Christian Therapy as a viable orientation. Christian universities often focus on a secular medical model without introducing graduate students to the valid place the Christian worldview holds, or warn of the inappropriateness of using secular or alternate spiritual interventions with a Christian population. Additionally, many therapists who themselves are personally aligned with the Christian faith are intimidated by the professional psychotherapy culture and have incorrectly been led to believe that Christianity should not be brought into the therapy room. Operating from the standpoint of the client’s world view, whatever it may be, is ethically required, or the therapist should refer the client to a therapist who is comfortable with Christianity.

“But is it possible to explore a family’s spiritual world without proselytizing or losing sight of the problem solving mission of therapy? Hawaiian therapist Paul Pearsall says it’s not only possible, it’s critical. He believes that people’s answers to those larger questions and the degree to which they live in harmony with their answers are intimately related to their emotional and physical health. He thinks that people need to feel connected – not only to their spouses and children, but also to something greater – to their ancestors, to a higher power, to an explanatory system that gives meaning to their lives and makes them feel loved.”1

It is encouraging to get this small acknowledgement from Nichols and Swartz, however their own textbook commits only 1 page to this subject, and concludes with:

“It will be interesting to see how this new spiritual emphasis affects family therapy… Yet the reluctance to impose, or the fear of being put on the spot about one’s own belief’s, will likely keep spirituality from being a central theme for some time to come.1

 

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  1. Nichols and Swartz. 2001. Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods. pp.328-329.

 

It has been my observation in Shasta County that spirituality in the therapy room is increasing, but not in the Christian worldview. Some in our community feel very comfortable utilizing New Age and Eastern Philosophy in their therapy. Certainly this is ethical if this is what the client is seeking. If Christian philosophy represents the single largest category of citizens, it is equally ethical to use, and equally ethical to teach in graduate programs. I hear reports and have read articles that the bias against Christian counseling in the academic circles is pervasive across the United States.

On November 30, 2014, Psychology Today published an article on their web page on the subject of mindfulness and its association with Buddhism. The proponents of mindfulness view their approach to psychotherapy as being a gateway into the Buddhist philosophy. In their own words:

“Right mindfulness is the seventh aspect of the eightfold path of Buddhist awakening…

Promoters of “secular” mindfulness avoid using the loaded words “Buddhism” or “religion,” and may even steer clear of mentioning “spirituality” or “meditation.” But

the practice is essentially similar to that taught in many Buddhist basics classes. And the hope, expressed by certain key leaders in the secular mindfulness movement, is that introductory classes … (provide) at least some of them with a doorway into deeper, explicitly Buddhist meditation.”

Coming from a publication that largely represents secular psychology today, this statement reinforces the prejudice that favors eastern mysticism and philosophy but holds Christianity at arms length to say the least.

Prior to the middle of the 19th century, most counseling in the western world was based upon a Christian philosophy. With the advancement of rationalism, secularism, modernism, and post-modernism over the past 150 years, Christian philosophy and counseling continues to fall more and more out of favor because in academic circles the idea that absolute truth even exists is deemed as prejudice against subjective truth. But we must ask: Is society improving? Is emotional health improving? Are families doing better? Granted, there has never been a perfect world, but are we moving closer or further away from a healthier and more stable life?

Prior to the 19th century, the Bible held a prominent place in understanding psychological health. The word “psyche” appears 105 times in the Greek New Testament. It is translated mostly as “soul,” “life,” and “heart.”   The Bible is a psychology book, teaching us about love, life and emotions, and has been used for thousands of years. Is secular or eastern philosophy making improvements over centuries old approaches to understanding life? If not, isn’t it time to reconsider the unnecessary biases against Christian counseling, and at the very least use a Christian worldview for the 25-49% of our population that desire it? And shouldn’t it at least be incorporated into our graduate programs as an orientation that is as effective as any other secular or eastern view?

 

 

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Why Christian Therapy? Part 1 of 10