Blog – Christian Counseling
By Guy Ascherman, MA, LMFT, LPCC, Life Coach
Why Christian Therapy? Part 5 of 10 – Body, Soul, Spirit
Christian therapy attempts to minister to the body, soul, and spirit. These three concepts, depending upon how they are defined, may overlap significantly and should be considered collectively to treat the whole person. Most therapists agree that therapy possesses a “spiritual” element, but definitions of spiritual are diverse. The secular perspective to “spiritual” may fit better in the Christian definition of the soul – the emotions, will, and intellect. Ministering only to the emotions, will and intellect (mind, thinking) of the client implies that a “spiritual” perspective is found only to the “deity” within the client, and not directed to the Lord external to the individual, the loving and healing God of the Bible.
It is my experience that Christian clients do not always understand if the difficulties they are facing are spiritual in nature (relationship with God), emotional in nature (relationship with others or conflict within), or possibly even connected to their physical health. A struggle within one’s emotions, will, and thinking is often then projected onto the Lord, developing into an unnecessary spiritual problem, causing people to ask, “Where is God? He has abandoned me.” Many times a spiritual problem is developed from unresolved emotional problems.
Let’s begin with a very brief psychological framework of the spirit, soul, and body.
The Christian perspective believes that man, in his fallen state, has a distorted view of God, others, and self, thus impacting every area of life. Only when one’s views of God, based on His instruction, can the soul and body then find spiritual leadership in finding health. Our soul needs love, belonging, achievement, recognition, and security, which are lacking because we are not connected spiritually with the One Who provides these needs. Our thoughts and worth have been negatively impacted by sin and guilt, and our unhealthy relationships that create pain and emotional suffering. Because people feel guilt and shame, they often run from it by running from God instead of running to Him in hours of great need. Some may even deny God in times of great conflict. Contrary to the false worldly stereotypes of Churches and Christians, Christianity heals guilt and shame. It does not create it. Shame is part of the human condition because of our fallen nature. Jesus is the solution, which leads to health in spirit, soul, and body.
Stated simply, the human spirit is the internal part of us that is “conscious of God.” Spiritual life is experienced when we confess our sins, flaws, and incompleteness and accept the gift of life from Jesus, resulting in a renewing of the spirit and soul, a transformation of the way we see and experience God, others, and self. It is the therapist’s goal to help the client past their self-condemning thoughts, and experience love and grace in the Lord, which comes from renewed spiritual life. Ministering to the soul (emotions, will, mind) is hindered if it is not also connected to the spiritual grace and love of God. Psychological suffering is found in the soul and not the spirit. But when people are in pain, they have a tendency to blame God for not answering their prayers for relief.
Our soul is the part of us that is “conscious of ourselves” and relationships with others. This is where most therapists, including Christian therapists, do most of their work. Just as sin has distorted our view of God, the soul has a distorted view of self. The believer in Jesus must learn to reject the false sense of self, and replace it with one’s worth as defined by Jesus, the authority in all things spiritual, emotional, and cognitive. Jesus is the authority, the foundation outside of self, which does not require secular dependence on self-talk, which has no foundation or baseline.
Our body is “conscious of our environment” through the use of our senses. We often struggle with health issues, and biochemical issues. Our physical health is often a reflection of both the spirit and soul. These must be treated together.
Our souls (emotions, will and mind) need to be renewed, which fits very well with cognitive/emotional/behavioral therapies when coupled with the Lord’s spiritual instruction. If a believer fails to understand their own worth in the eyes of God, they may project feelings of worthlessness onto others, onto God, believing that God rejects them.
These passages draw attention to the Lord’s instruction for a healthy spirit and soul:
Romans 8:1–9 (NLT)
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Holy Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. … God sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. … We no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Holy Spirit. 5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. … 9 But you (Christian) are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Holy Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.
GETTING PAST A MISUNDERSTOOD CONCEPT
It seems that many do not understand that “sin” and “worth” are two very different Christian concepts. Confessing that we are sinners is not to confess that we are worthless. Worth is not determined by perfection or the lack of it. Worth is determined by our Creator and the price Jesus has paid to heal us. Everyone has been purchased by the willing sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Every soul is worth the shed blood of Jesus. Jesus’ sacrifice proves our worth. In spite of our sins, flaws, and imperfections, God’s Love and Grace give His children infinite and eternal worth.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
When ALL of us, as individuals and mankind collectively, fell out of favor with God through selfish sinful choices, man was born with and left with feelings of brokenness, inadequacy, and incompleteness. Troubling relationships and circumstances certainly exacerbate our broken condition. Our Creator is our healer and completer. Until our relationship with God is restored and our redemption is complete, we may struggle with feeling unworthy. Understanding (mind) and experiencing (emotions) our worth is essential for emotionally healthy living and relationships.
God’s love is unconditional. The sacrifice of Jesus has provided our righteousness, and we are no longer judged for our sin. Jesus took our judgment upon Him and gave to us His perfection. By faith we know the Lord looks upon us as possessing perfection and infinite worth.