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.