Why Christian Counseling – Part 5

Guy Ascherman
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.

SPIRIT

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.

SOUL

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.

BODY

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.

THERAPY

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 8:19 (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 sins 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.

Romans 5:8

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.

 

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Why Christian Counseling – Part 5

Why Christian Counseling – Part 4

Blog – Christian Counseling

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

Why Christian Therapy? Part 4 of 10 – Values in Therapy

Values and Judgment in Psychotherapy

Like all disciplines, the academic field of psychology is a reflection of the academic culture. As ideas fall in and out of favor in the academic culture, so goes the profession. But often academia does not hold itself accountable to those outside their circles. In an effort to restrict alternating views that are inconsistent with academia, it has invented the standard that values and morals do not belong in the counseling room.

I have come to understand this “standard” to be one used by some to keep values and morals that they do not agree with from entering the counseling office. For example, all of us agree that murder, rape, abuse, etc. is repugnant. These are values. Everyone has values. Therapists make judgments on these values every day. But where do we draw the line between what is acceptable as a value in the counseling office and what is not? And who gets to decide? Academia is ruling out traditional and conservative values by declaring them off limits, but academia is holding to their own values with tenacity. The argument is inconsistent.

It seems that our culture has come to accept the false premise that secular culture is neutral. But is this true? To declare oneself to be values neutral is in itself a value. It is like the argument that there are absolutely no absolutes. Everyone has values, including therapists and clients.

The therapist and client enter therapy with values and judgments of their own. Granted, it is not the therapist’s job to impose their values on others, and I understand the need for caution and discernment. In general, the therapist is to operate within the framework of the client’s values. But more needs to be said. Are Christian clients awarded that benefit? Are the agendas of academia being promoted in contrast to Christian values? In many cases, yes. There is not a level playing field.

People seek out therapy because they may already feel a sense of judgment and condemnation. But maybe they should! Is it a therapist’s job to alleviate feelings of judgment and condemnation when the task of guilt and shame has not yet been completed? In some cases, the secular therapist may attempt to talk the client out of their values in an attempt to deliver them from feelings of condemnation. My previous post highlights that poor self-esteem is alleviated through secular therapy by either exalting the client, or lowering the standard for “goodness.” Secular psychology often blames the conscience for being too sensitive, that man’s problem is found in his attempt to try and be “too good.”

Dr. William Glasser (Reality Therapy) argues that much of man’s problem is not that he is trying to be too good, but that he is not good enough! It is certainly true that perfectionism can be an awful curse, but does lowering values cure it? For some clients, especially Christians, the best way to alleviate guilt and shame is not to live below the standard, but to make a true confession, not by trying to fool their conscience. In that true heartfelt confession, the love, acceptance, and forgiveness of the therapist and of God are freely given for flawed people. This love, acceptance and forgiveness are often experienced as the therapist models God’s character. These are the values that many Christians bring to the counseling room. A therapist should ethically work within that moral framework. Academia disdains it.

We all know that guilt and shame can be unhealthy. But it can also be healthy, motivating people to make better choices. If God is doing a work in someone’s heart to bring them to a healthier place, using guilt and shame to get them there, why would a therapist want to discourage this process by telling the client he is just being too hard on himself?  We don’t know what God is doing in someone’s heart and one should not distract an individual from listening to the Lord by lowering God’s standards.

People become psychologically healthier when they live right and do right. No one lives void of moral awareness, and we should not be attempting to create a moral void in the therapy room or in the client’s life. It is a false environment. When people make right choices, and live selflessly, they are rewarded with a positive sense of self because of God’s approval, which is the ultimate approval, the True Authority.

To be fair, the Christian therapist recognizes that one’s conscience can be overly sensitive. Perfectionism and an over sensitive conscience leave people with a chronic sense of failure.  There is a long list of people suffering from a legalistic approach to relationship with God.  When such a condition exists, a client needs to be led in the direction of grace. Grace granted from a therapist alone may not be a sufficient foundation for permanent health. If a client can be talked into being good, he can also talk himself out of it. God’s grace is free, sufficient, permanent, and heals guilt and shame. It is healthy to strive for a productive and a good moral life, but when we come up short, forgiveness from the Lord is more than abundant. Our worth begins to shift from a need to be perfect, to finding value in the eyes of God, by virtue of our confession and His love, forgiveness and sacrifice on our behalf. Grace closes the gap and sets the client free.

Values DO belong in the therapy room. We are attempting to help people become better people. Sometimes the therapist helps their client to lay solid foundations for life. Without a value system to provide a baseline for choices, there is no limit to the depravity of man, and no baseline for the client. Personally, I feel that secular psychology has done much damage to our society, promoting moral relativism.

Unconditional positive regard and empathy are necessary in every orientation. Clients are to feel emotionally safe. They are not to feel condemned by their therapist. But we cannot ignore that many of our clients are in therapy because of their poor choice of values. The Christian client seeks harmony with those values, not a denial of their values. Moral relativism is what gets many people into trouble in the first place, and a Christian therapist is on ethical ground to challenge values, provided it is done with love, respect, and empathy.

 

 

 

 

Why Christian Counseling – Part 4