WHY CHRISTIAN COUNSELING – PART 10 Consistency and Consequences – Family Contracts for older grade school and teenage children. By Joshua Ascherman

By Joshua Ascherman, MFT 98889  3 Governors Lane   Suite A  Chico, CA  (530) 413-0032

Family contracts provide an opportunity for families to discuss and agree on family expectations, privileges for successfully maintaining expectations, and consequences for not maintaining the appropriate behavior outlined in the contract. These contracts vary from family-to-family depending on the child’s age and behavior and family goals. Family contracts delineate clear expectations and can be useful tools to help improve breakdowns in communications between parents and older children.

Guidelines for Completing Family Contracts

All parties engage in contract negotiations. Everyone (parents and children) must agree on each point of the contract and each consequence for when the contract has been broken.

Family Contract Guidelines for Parents

Consistency, consistency, consistency. Remember, many parental over-reactions are the result of parents not taking action when they should have. Thus, you can help prevent yourself from over-reacting, and damaging your relationship with your children, by remaining consistent with the small issues. If it’s in the contract, try not to deviate from it even when enforcing it is inconvenient and/or costly. In families with blurred boundaries, maintaining consistency can help correct behavioral problems caused by well-meaning, but inconsistent, parenting. Deviating from the contract undermines what you’re trying to instill in your child as well as your overall position.

It’s wise to include children in defining consequences for broken contracts. Parents sometimes fear that children will be too easy on themselves. However, when discussing consequences beforehand, many children recognize and accept that breaking the contract naturally results in negative consequences. So, ask children for their input and then work together to come up with consequences that are appropriate, doable, and simple. Do not agree to consequences that can’t be followed-through with.

From time-to-time family contracts have to be renewed, just like contracts in real life. Build a re-evaluation period into your family contract (2 weeks, 2 months, 6 months, etc.). It may also be advantageous to have a clause stating contracts may

Please note: all situations are different and this is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling.

be reviewed when it’s not working (caution: too many of these and you’ll lose credibility – make it simple the first time).

Do not repeatedly remind children of their agreement and threaten them with consequences. Children need to experience the consequences of breaking the contract because consequences serve as better and more long-term reminders. Children won’t learn to be responsible for themselves and self-regulate their emotions and behaviors unless they’re expected to.

Children know what a consequence will be because it was discussed with them beforehand. They need to learn that agreements and appropriate behavior are important and that you’re willing to honor their choice to break their agreement. When they do, maintain an emotionally neutral position and calmly implement the consequence. Don’t react harshly or be surprised when your child acts immature. Just remember they’ve never been an adult before and helping them mature is your job. Parental consistency, and your demeanor as you implement the agreed upon consequences, will influence the type of character your child develops and the quality of relationship you have with them when they become adults.

What if Kids Don’t Listen

One of the worst things a parent can do is engage their child in a power struggle. By natural design parents are responsible for and have authority over their children. Engaging in power struggles is the first step to relinquishing that responsibility and authority. Using the “broken-record” technique can be useful when dealing with tantrums. You’ll have to think about this before using it otherwise you may unwittingly get sucked into a power struggle.

To use the “broken-record” technique simply repeat what the consequence is using as few words as possible. When children yell and scream in response (inviting a power struggle), maintain a calm composure and repeat the same message as many times as you need, just like a broken record. This may take time and you may feel frustrated. However, this experiential aspect is sometimes what it takes for kids to learn that you won’t give in to their demands.

Positive Family Time

Families encountering difficulties frequently lack fun family time. Unfortunately, this alone can bankrupt a child’s emotional bank account. Make sure to schedule fun family times and have a plan for doing this even more so when your contract is implemented.

Fun time and parental love/affection are not dependent upon a child’s adherence to the family contract, they are always given freely. Your child needs to be reminded that they are a loved and valued member of the family – even when they’ve been battling you all day. So, parents, make sure your own emotional bank account is filled because some children’s behavior can bankrupt (or overdraw) you quickly and it’s your responsibility to maintain your own emotional bank account.

What Just Happened?

Sometimes parents get used to children acting-out because that acting-out allows parents to avoid dealing with unresolved conflict in their personal/family lives. In other words, the acting-out serves a purpose. Don’t be surprised when your child starts obeying and you find there’s other conflict in your family (self, marriage, or other issues). When things begin to improve, other issues sometimes surface. This is now your opportunity to address some of the issues at the root of the problem. Remember, we are all a work in progress and acknowledging to your family what you need to adjust in yourself, and then taking steps to make those adjustments, can go a long way in establishing credibility and rapport with aging children. Don’t pretend you’re perfect, your children already know better.

A Helpful Note

Children aren’t likely to show much understanding and appreciation for your sacrifice until they’re adults with children of their own. So, don’t look to your children for validation. Remember that you aren’t a robot and it’s important for parents to get away and recharge their batteries from time-to-time, even if it’s just a couple hours. Parenting is difficult but keep up the good work and seek help and support when you need it.

Joshua Ascherman, MFT 98889  3 Governors Lane, Suite A  Chico, CA 95926

(530) 413-0032  chicocounselor.com

Please note: all situations are different and this is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling.

 

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WHY CHRISTIAN COUNSELING – PART 10 Consistency and Consequences – Family Contracts for older grade school and teenage children. By Joshua Ascherman

Why Christian Counseling – Part 9 – Communicating in Marriage

by Joshua Ascherman, MFT 98889

3 Governors Lane, Suite A

Chico, CA 95926

(530) 413-0032

chicocounselor.com

 

Communicating in Marriage

According to Transactional Analysis, we communicate from three positions (roles):

• Parent;
• Child; and • Adult.

Parent (P) – communicates in nurturing or critical ways with their husband/wife, sometimes using this position as a power-and-control mechanism to guard against insecurities and advance their agenda (my way or the highway). Sometimes falls victim to all or nothing thinking and may eventually feel isolated and alone.

Child (C) – communicates obediently or rebelliously, treating their husband/wife like their parent in order to get their spouse to do for them what they can’t (or won’t) do for themselves. Sometimes communicates as a means of power-and-control to guard against insecurities and advance their own agenda (my way or the highway). Frequently falls victim to co-dependence and may eventually feel isolated and alone.

Adult (A) – takes into account personal communication and interpretation patterns so they can correct distorted assumptions and heal from unresolved emotional wounds (everyone has them). Able to calmly communicate through vulnerable issues without overreacting so they can better connect with their husband/wife and stop having the same argument over and over again.

How do You Come Across?

Thinking about how your communication looks to your husband/wife can help develop personal, emotional self-regulation so that you feel in control of your thoughts/emotions and aren’t dependent upon your husband/wife’s response to validate what you think and how you feel. People communicating with a constant need for validation will eventually fall into patterns of feeling and communicating like a rebellious child or a rejecting parent and will respond by:

Assuming to know exactly what the other person is going to say and not giving their husband/wife the option to investigate how, what, and why they think, feel, and say the things they do. When this happens, personal emotional development and marital intimacy is stunted.

According to John Gottman’s research (also in Emotionally Focused Therapy), harmful interactions eventually deteriorate the quality of a marriage. Couples who allow these “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” to become rooted in their marriage not only report higher levels of marital conflict, but are at increased risk of eventual divorce:

1. Criticism;
2. Contempt;
3. Defensiveness; and 4. Stonewalling.

Where to Begin?

Demonstrating mature (Adult) communication stems from becoming emotionally mature as an individual. Begin by recognizing personal instances of trying to parent- over or push-against your husband/wife and work to identify internal emotional undercurrents contributing to these harmful interactions. Contributing factors sometimes include:

  • Fear of failure (self-worth is wrapped up in outcomes);
  • Desire to control everything so that you don’t personally feel out of control;
  • Desire to be seen well by others, regardless of emotional toll to husband/wife;
  • Compensating for unresolved childhood rejection; or
  • Emotional injury from some other previous relationships.Developing Healthy Communication

    1. If you’re not in a good frame-of-mind, don’t bring it up.

    2. Use “I” statements. Speak for yourself, identify what you like and don’t like, and try to identify why you feel that way. Your husband/wife is much more likely to compassionately understand what you’re trying to say when you’re able to speak calmly and remain emotionally open. Focus on yourself and don’t criticize accusatorily. Even if you’re right in your accusation, your husband/wife isn’t likely to listen. Assassinating someone’s character doesn’t usually lead to a genuine apology but it will deteriorate trust in the relationship.

    3. Learn to complain without blaming. Learn to speak on your own behalf without being a bull-dozer that pushes everyone else aside. Clear a path toward greater understanding, not one that simply minimizes your role in problems.

    4. Describe problematic situations without evaluating or judging your husband/wife’s intentions. Believe it or not, our assumptions about other people’s assumptions aren’t always right. Recognize that just because something bothered you doesn’t mean your spouse meant to emotionally wound you.

    5. Be polite and appreciative. ‘Keep it about what it’s about.’ Drawing attention to your husband/wife’s positive qualities and mentioning your appreciation for their thoughtfulness (regardless of how it turned out) can go a long way in maintaining safety in conversation.

Please note: all situations are different and this is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling.

6. Don’t store it up. As individuals, we’re responsible for appropriately processing and communicating our own thoughts and emotions. Don’t look for situations where you can ambush your spouse and regurgitate past wrongs you’re holding onto (recall the rebellious child & rejecting parent). Remember the cliché, ‘when someone gets historical, someone’s going to become hysterical.’

7. Start slow. When you begin speaking with your husband/wife, start at the beginning of what you’re trying to say (providing appropriate framework), speak slow so it makes sense, make sure you’re calm, and make sure your tone matches your calm emotional state. If your tone or language is too forceful (even on accident), acknowledge it and start over using something to the effect of, ‘that didn’t come out the way I intended’ or ‘that might have sounded too harsh and that’s now how I feel, can I start over?’

8. Be aware of non-verbal communication. Most responses are based on our interpretation of our husband/wife’s non-verbal communication. Grimacing facial gestures, eye rolling, looking shocked/surprised, using big hand motions, etc., speak “louder” than words. Work to maintain self-control so that your entire body is communicating calmly, not just your voice.

9. Turn toward your husband/wife. Marital arguments frequently erupt from the first few words that are spoken. When it starts bad it usually ends even worse. As your husband/wife begins talking, acknowledge them, turn toward them, affirm them, smile, or physically touch them (when appropriate). This helps the conversation remain calm and helps keep both husband’s and wife’s insecurities at bay, eventually helping develop greater trust and deeper relational intimacy.

10. Recognize shifting roles. Human beings are complex and are capable of thinking and feeling contradictory things simultaneously. If, during conversation, you sense yourself suddenly wanting to respond harshly to your husband/wife, then evaluate your role because you may have shifted from interpreting as an Adult and begun interpreting as a Parent or Child. When this happens, try to return to your emotionally mature starting point and later explore why the shift occurred (sometimes because a spouse unknowingly touched an insecurity). If needed, take a break from the discussion and work on this individually, but make sure you communicate this with your spouse so they don’t think you’re blaming them for your needed break in conversation.

Joshua Ascherman, MFT 98889

3 Governors Lane, Suite A

Chico, CA 95926

(530) 413-0032

chicocounselor.com

Please note: all situations are different and this is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling.

Why Christian Counseling – Part 9 – Communicating in Marriage

Why Christian Counseling – Part 8 – Humanism

Blog – Christian Counseling

Guy Ascherman, MA, LMFT, LPCC, Life Coach

Part 8 of 10

Humanism

Humanism is the Philosophical Foundation of Secular Psychology.  In psychology, the term “humanism” is widely accepted as an altruistic and noble approach to other human beings; the unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others.   Therapists, as a whole, feel called to improve the life experiences of their clients. Their unselfish devotion to the welfare of others is a great goal and purpose of therapist’s calling and of their profession.

Paradoxically, as therapists find meaning for their own lives in reaching outside of themselves to meet the needs of others, they then direct their clients to find answers for themselves by looking inward; how inconsistent and tragic.  This paradox identifies professional confusion and requires a greater understanding of humanism and its goals. Humanism itself is a contradiction within itself and will always lead to confusion.  Individual psychological health needs to resolve confusion.

Background

The post-modern view of psychology has deep roots in the philosophy of humanism (below). Humanistic psychology expanded upon the philosophy of humanism throughout the 1970s and the 1980s and continues expanding today. The humanistic philosophy’s impact upon psychology is understood in three major areas:

1) It offers a new set of values for approaching an understanding of human nature and the human condition.

2) It offers an expanded horizon of methods of inquiry in the study of human behavior.

3) It offers a broader range of more effective methods in the professional practice of psychotherapy.

A further assumption is then added – people are basically good, and have an innate need to make themselves and the world better.  The humanistic approach emphasizes the personal worth of the individual, the centrality of human values, and the creative, active nature of human beings… each person, in different ways, seeks to grow psychologically and continuously enhance themselves.

Two things come to mind as I read this (reference below). One, the focus is on self. In contrast, therapists find their meaning in helping others. Why direct clients to find meaning in self?

Two, there is no baseline to defining “good,” “better,” “worth,” or “nature” in these typical humanistic statements, leaving individuals to discover their “own truth.” Relativism, or the absence of absolutes, leaves society completely without direction.  The absence of absolutes leaves society, and individuals, without any understanding of what is good, better, worth, right or wrong.

According to Humanism, the goal for humans is:

“…self-actualization, which is about psychological growth, fulfillment and satisfaction in life… how self-actualization can be achieved. … The term self-actualization … is about psychological growth, fulfillment and satisfaction in life. … the enhancement of self.”

(http://www.simplypsychology.org/humanistic.html)

Again, as the therapist finds their own value in reaching out to others, they instruct others towards the “enhancement of self” by looking inward, against their own personal motivations.  Therapists should be directing clients towards a sense of belonging to something greater than self, a purpose and meaning to life, that turns outward and upward, not inward.  Therapists do not, for the most part, practice what they teach.

The Broader Goals of the Philosophy of Humanism

Humanistic psychology must be interpreted within the broader understanding of humanistic philosophy, as philosophy and psychology are undeniably connected. Humanists approach individual psychological health within the broader framework of societal values, whatever they are.

The dictionary defines Humanism as:

  1. the denial of any power or moral value superior to that of humanity; the rejection of religion in favor of a belief in the advancement of humanity by its own efforts
  2. a philosophical position that stresses the autonomy of human reason in contradistinction to the authority of the Church [Lord]

(http://www.thefreedictionary.com/humanism)

In a nutshell, humanism is about the advancement of the human race with a distorted view of who human beings are apart from their Creator, what their problems are (see previous blog on the human condition), and how people improve their psychological health.

I want to “cut to the chase.” What does humanism officially teach and advocate?

Here are some excerpts from the Humanist Manifesto II that highlight, not just a disregard for traditional values, but a goal of eliminating them.

As in Humanist Manifesto I, Humanists still believe…

“… that traditional theism, especially faith in the prayer-hearing God, assumed to live and care for persons, to hear and understand their prayers, and to be able to do something about them, is an unproved and outmoded faith. Salvationism, based on mere affirmation, still appears as harmful, diverting people with false hopes of heaven hereafter. Reasonable minds look to other means for survival.

“The next century can be and should be the humanistic century.

” … we can control our environment, conquer poverty, markedly reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life.

[By whose definition of a “meaningful life?”]

“Traditional moral codes and newer irrational cults both fail to meet the pressing needs of today and tomorrow. False “theologies of hope” and messianic ideologies, substituting new dogmas for old, cannot cope with existing world realities.

“We need to … build constructive social and moral values.

[Who decides what is moral?]

“Humanism can provide the purpose and inspiration that so many seek; it can give personal meaning and significance to human life.

[How is this different from and superior to religion?]

“…naturalistic humanism includes “scientific,” “ethical,” “democratic,” “religious,” and “Marxist” humanism. Free thought, atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, deism, rationalism, ethical culture, and liberal religion all claim to be heir to the humanist tradition.

“Humanism is an ethical process [whose ethics?] through which we all can move, above and beyond the divisive particulars, heroic personalities, dogmatic creeds, and ritual customs of past religions or their mere negation.

“We believe, however, that traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species.   Any account of nature should pass the tests of scientific evidence [materialistic evolution]; in our judgment, the dogmas and myths of traditional religions do not do so. … We find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural; it is either meaningless or irrelevant to the question of survival and fulfillment of the human race. As non theists, we begin with humans not God, nature not deity.”

“Some humanists believe we should reinterpret traditional religions and reinvest them with meanings appropriate to the current situation. … We need, instead, radically new human purposes and goals.

“… we reject those features of traditional religious morality that deny humans a full appreciation of their own potentialities and responsibilities. Traditional religions often offer solace to humans, but, as often, they inhibit humans from helping themselves or experiencing their full potentialities.

“… we can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species. While there is much that we do not know, humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.

“Promises of immortal salvation or fear of eternal damnation are both illusory and harmful. They distract humans from present concerns, from self-actualization, and from rectifying social injustices.

“… There is no credible evidence that life survives the death of the body. We continue to exist in our progeny and in the way that our lives have influenced others in our culture.

“Traditional religions are surely not the only obstacles to human progress.  Other ideologies also impede human advance.”

Concluding thoughts – Humanists (liberal thinkers) who promote ideas of tolerance are the least of the tolerant, evidenced by the above quotes.  Humanists feel superior to others and see a need to silence those who disagree. Humanists feel a sense of superior morals, intellect, purpose, and tolerance, while showing they despise those who disagree with them, and offer nothing but their own self-centered view of right and wrong.   Theirs is a religion too.  Their lack of understanding the human condition and a need for a moral baseline leaves humanity in a vast wasteland without any direction out, for both society and the individual.

People seeking therapy (as well as societies) need foundations, purpose, and meaning to their lives.  They need an authority outside of themselves.  They have already experimented with being an authority unto themselves and it didn’t work.

Why Christian Counseling – Part 8 – Humanism

Why Christian Counseling – Part 7

Blog – Christian Counseling

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

Why Christian Counseling – Part 7 of 10

Family Structure

So many people are suffering from family pain, past and present. Without a different perspective, that pain may continue into the future. Without direction and change, we normally continue doing what we have always done, but expect different results – what someone has defined as insanity. Our society seems intent on doing more and more of what has contributed to our family problems in an attempt to heal our homes – the opposite of what we need. If we want healthy results, we need to rethink our family structure.

Attempts to resurrect some of the successful family traditions that worked for previous generations gets shouted down and demonized by a more progressive view that continues to produce undesirable results. Our concern is not about winning a philosophical, psychological, or political argument. We are concerned about avoiding the pain that broken families can experience because of a progressive approach that isn’t very effective.

Any attempt to define the traditional family is resisted by many who insist that nothing can be defined! It reflects our postmodern era of no boundaries, no absolutes. Absolute truth is rejected. A Christian family will typically enter family therapy exhibiting conflict with a Biblical understanding contrasted with modern cultural influences. Christian families find themselves battling with a cultural war that leaves the family unit in confusion. They are often shamed by our progressive society for holding traditional views. But not all change is good change. Change can be detrimental.

Salvador Minuchin and Jay Haley are known for developing Structural Family Therapy prior to post-modern thinking. They attempted to examine roles and rules in the home before roles and rules became politically incorrect. Minuchin and Haley practiced joining or entering a given family system to understand the unspoken or invisible “rules” which disrupt relationships within the family, and stabilize and develop healthier patterns. They believed that “pathology” rests, not with the individual, but within the family system. It is unfortunate that their system of family therapy is not utilized more today. A family operates best with a given and accepted system. Every organizational system requires structure. Certainly the family is no exception. Cultural pressures that oppose familial structure are leaving the modern family in confusion and without direction.

God created the family with a structure that helps it operate. Rejecting God’s plan is proving to be a disaster. God’s plan is not hard to understand but it requires selfless family participants to be mutually yielded to the Lord and roles He has assigned to the family members. The therapy room is often a yelling and screaming match, fighting over structure and control! That doesn’t work anywhere in the known universe in any kind of system, workplace, or social order. Why would people think it would hold a family together? The Christian therapist and client want to follow God’s plan for their home, while fighting the influences of the world and their own selfish desires.

Christian counselors are to observe the structure of a family system, point out areas of confusion and power struggles, and work toward problem solving and realigning of unhealthy alliances and subsets in the home.   The parental dyad and the parent-child dyad need to be defined, reinforce, and respected. Then the entire family unit has the responsibility of holding to the given structure of the family, and to also support the other family members in their God given roles. Power struggles must be resolved! God is the authority.

Ephesians 5:18-6:4 teaches mutual submission to the will of God, in the Spirit of God, by all family members. This is God’s plan. It is not difficult to understand. But it does require humility.

 

Why Christian Counseling – Part 7

Why Christian Counseling – Part 6

Guy Ascherman
Blog – Christian Counseling

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

Why Christian Therapy? Part 6 of 10 – Forgiveness

Blog 6 of 10 – Forgiveness

(For a more thorough treatment of this subject, I recommend the book, “Forgive and Forget” by Smedes.)

Everyone has been hurt by the words or actions of another. The closer we are to the offender, the deeper it cuts. These wounds can leave us with lasting feelings of anger, bitterness, and even vengeance, believing incorrectly that these feelings help us to heal. Are these feelings justified? Maybe. Healthy? No. Let’s explore a bit.

The Lord teaches that justice and vengeance belong to Him and His appointed servants in the courts, the legislative writing of laws, and the enforcement of those laws. Justice is not wrong. Jesus dying for sinners was to satisfy the justice of God. If someone wrongs another, they should suffer the consequences of their actions.  That is a good definition for merited justice. We have all felt the sting of injustice. But we are not the instruments of justice, of righting wrongs against us. Additionally, most of the hurts we feel are not the direct result of breaking laws.

Before you misunderstand me, I am not speaking of enabling those who are perpetual offenders. We have every right to lovingly confront others to resolve our wounds, and to draw appropriate boundaries. It is not okay for others to treat us poorly. Whether or not we can reconcile with another does not mean the feelings of bitterness and anger are gone. Sometimes the offender is not known. We can be victims of a non-personal nature, such as bureaucratic agencies, a hurricane, or a hit and run accident. In these cases reconciliation is not possible. These feelings are very difficult to release. They can be a cancer that eats away at our soul.

In contrast to our understanding of merited justice that God alone can measure out, Grace is described as being the unmerited favor of one person to another, in spite of wrong doings between them. Clearly God is our model. We do not deserve the favor of God on our lives and person. God is offering to the world the opportunity to experience His Grace, which is completely unmerited. That is a hard act to follow!

But what happens when we hold onto our anger and bitterness? How does forgiveness help to make us healthier and happier people? The Mayo Clinic states, “What are the effects of holding a grudge? If you’re unforgiving, you might:

  1.  Bring anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience.
  2. Become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present.
  3. Become depressed or anxious.
  4. Feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you’re at odds with your spiritual beliefs.
  5. Lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others

Generally, forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The            act that hurt or offended you might always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, more positive parts of your life. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life. Forgiveness can lead to:

  1. Healthier relationships.
  2. Greater spiritual and psychological well-being.
  3. Less anxiety, stress and hostility.
  4. Lower blood pressure.
  5. Fewer symptoms of depression.
  6. Stronger immune system.
  7. Improved heart health.
  8. Higher self-esteem. (See previous blogs regarding self-esteem.)

(http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692)

Forgiveness is essential to emotional health. Bitterness, anger, and blame shifting keep one from reaching a place of peace and accepting responsibility for their own emotions. Forgiveness is a process that requires time and deep processing. But it is something far more than just “getting over it.” And it is the responsibility of the one offended, not the offender.

At the center of forgiveness one must answer this question; Who will be responsible for the pain created by injustices we experience?” This is the emotional side of forgiveness.  Jesus Christ modeled forgiveness both legally and emotionally. The Lord experiences emotional pain when we fail to acknowledge Him. When we sin against Him, He suffers. How He handled pain is how we should.  His pain and love for us drove Him to a place where reconciliation could be realized.  God and man can live in love and unity.  But only because God chose to accept the pain we inflicted upon Him, and die for us. Concerning our sin and His pain, Jesus is essentially saying to the human race, as He cries out from the cross, “This one is on Me.” “I’ve got you covered.” “I will not make you pay for my pain.  I will pay.”   “It is finished.”  And His death on the cross is His payment for our sin, and His resurrection is the proof that the penalty was satisfied.

Jesus is the only perfect human being who has ever lived. Having to die for other people’s sins is completely unjust. Likewise, having to pay for the offenses of others against us is unfair.  But Jesus’ sacrifice teaches us the meaning of Grace, the unmerited favor of God, by accepting the penalty of others. Forgiveness is found when a victim follows the pattern of Jesus when experiencing pain at the hand of another, and bears it without revenge, hate, bitterness, or recourse.  Jesus did this for us. With His help, we can do it for others. When we recognize our own sinfulness, we see people with empathy.

Colossians 3:13–15 – 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.  Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

No secular psychological orientation has as complete a provision for healing emotional pain as Christianity.  When people experience emotional pain, forgiveness begins to be realized as one accepts the injustice of the offender, and bears the pain as Jesus did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Christian Counseling – Part 6

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.

 

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

WHY CHRISTIAN COUNSELING – PART 3

Blog Christian Counseling

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

Why Christian Therapy?  Part 3 of 10 Self Esteem

Trying to promote or improve our “self-esteem” has become a major objective in finding a feeling of psychological well-being, and warding off shame, depression and anxiety.   Concepts of self-esteem were first introduced in the very late 1890’s. The search for self-esteem became popularized in the 1960’s and reflected, in my opinion, a rejection of outside objective evaluations of self by the Judeo-Christian ethic that historically defined our worth and culture. With the introductions of divergent lifestyles that began in the 60’s, that met with much criticism from the dominant culture of that time, people began seeking for acceptance and worth from peers and within themselves to counter parental and society pressures to conform to traditional values. Prior to this psychological obsession with helping people feel healthy by their own subjective reasoning, healthy well-being was largely a product of one living in harmony with external values, with parents, and with God. Now that Judeo-Christian values no longer define the dominant culture, people are lacking a reference point, a foundation, and an authority by which to measure their worth.

So where does a Christian today find worth, especially since it is now their value system that represents a rejection of the current dominant post-modern culture? I want to briefly address this topic, understanding it takes a great deal of hard work and time for individuals to resolve possible internal conflict and rejection of their worth, when society assigns values and worth that are contrary to the Christian faith, and the Christian faith is held in low regard.

First, some definitions from secular academia:

“According to the Mayo Clinic, self-esteem is your overall opinion of yourself — how you feel about your abilities and limitations. When you have healthy self-esteem, you feel good about yourself and see yourself as deserving the respect of others. When you have low self-esteem, you put little value on your opinions and ideas. You might constantly worry that you aren’t good enough.”

(http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/self-esteem/art-20047976)

(Low “self-esteem” is very painful and impairs lives. The question is finding how to resolve it, especially when the one suffering has exhausted their internal resources.)

Psychology Today states –“Possessing little self-regard can lead people to become depressed, to fall short of their potential, or to tolerate abusive situations and relationships. Too much self-love, on the other hand, results in an off-putting sense of entitlement and an inability to learn from failures. (It can also be a sign of clinical narcissism.) Perhaps no other self-help topic has spawned so much advice and so many (often conflicting) theories.” (Emphasis is mine)

This article from Psychology Today (referenced above and below) offers its readers several additional resource articles from differing, and even opposing, views including:

  • How to Boost It (self-esteem).
  • Forget Self-Esteem.
  • You Need Self-Compassion to Succeed.
  • Get In Touch With Your Hidden Narcissist.
  • How to make your implicit self-esteem work for you.
  • Should We Re-Think Positive Thinking?
  • Achieving small goals floods your brain with refreshing dopamine spritzes.
  • Never Good Enough.
  • How to be happy with yourself.
  • Should We Rethink Positive Thinking?
  • Giving ourselves pep talks may backfire.
  • The Path to Unconditional Self-Acceptance.
  • How do you fully accept yourself when you don’t know how?
  • At Last—a Rejection Detector!

(https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/self-esteem)

One can readily see, simply from the titles of these article, that one can spend hours searching for answers for their esteem issues, and walk away with Boost It, Forget It, Become a Narcissist, Dopamine Spritzers, Rethink Thinking, and develop your own Rejection Detector!

What I want to do here, is certainly NOT to introduce a new theory of building self-esteem, but simply to return to how our more traditional values assign worth, when our worth comes from an outside objective Source, from the Lord Jesus.

Self-Esteem or Identity in Christ

Elevating one’s view of self, to compensate for feelings of shame and inadequacy, is inconsistent with a Christian’s understanding of a Scriptural view of self. Encouraging a Christian to elevate their view of self may actually increase internal conflict rather than alleviate it, as Christians believe it is the Lord who exalts, not we ourselves. A secular approach

Positive self-esteem is undermined by feelings of guilt, shame, inadequacy, and failure that may be a proper self-evaluation of the client. But it may also be a healthy sense of shame. People sometimes do shameful things! In these cases, the therapist must avoid being an enabler, and should attempt to lead the client to a place of confession, repentance, and forgiveness. We are all truly guilty and shameful to some degree, which the Christian understands as a roadblock to a healthy relationship with God, family, and community. The Christian understands that all people are naturally selfish, or sinful. The objective of the counselor is not to talk a client out of their unhealthy feelings, but to use their understanding of where health is generated.

But unhealthy or false guilt and shame can sometimes be the product of false self-accusations, projections from others, or failing to accept forgiveness when it is genuinely offered.  A secular approach to building self-esteem may include moral relativism, unhealthy comparison to others, lowering standards of behavior, or falsely elevating our view of ourselves through self-deception. Secular approaches to self-esteem lack a base-line. Who says we are good? Are we good because we declare ourselves to be good? Are we an authority unto ourselves? If this is our approach to achieving self-health, it leaves us woefully inadequate to be humble and have a selfless capacity required for healthy relationships with others, who are also attempting to build themselves up. Additionally, people often understand a positive self-esteem mind game is no foundation for long-term health. People want a baseline or standard. A therapist may in fact believe a Christian client is being too hard on themselves, or have perfectionist tendencies, but denying their values would be a mistake. A Christian may struggle with denying their standing before God through mind games. A therapist should not attempt to talk a Christian client into feeling better about themselves, except through the Grace and Love of God. The therapist must work in cooperation with the Holy Spirit to determine what the Lord is teaching the client. Shame can be a great tool of the Lord to help people find better choices and ultimate forgiveness. Healthy shame should be embraced.

It is my experience, people lack the ability to completely convince themselves of their own goodness, and often relapse into an unhealthy view of their worth. People who fail to regulate a healthy sense of self, look for resolution by unwisely comparing themselves with others who are “worse,” or developing a dependency upon the opinions of others. A Christian client may want to be seeking health from the Lord, and the therapist’s job is to help them find it through a theological understanding of justification and imputation, allowing that theology penetrate and heal the emotions, and making healthy behavioral choices. A foundational declaration of goodness and worth comes from an authoritative outside source – God. The client’s failures have been imputed (or placed) on Jesus, and the perfection of Jesus has been imputed or placed upon the client, the most wonderful free gift that people can experience.

The Christian can do more than play a game of ceaseless self-talk to exalt self in their own eyes. The Christian humbly acknowledges his sin, shame, guilt, and inadequacy. There is no need to run from feelings of condemnation. We are all sinners in need of Grace. Because of our worth and His infinite love for us, the Lord Jesus invites us to confess our sins, acknowledge that He died in our place to pay the penalty for our sin, and He rose from the dead to prove there is victory over sin. The believer’s worth issues have been atoned for. In exchange to our confession of sin, Jesus gives us the gift of forgiveness and perfection. The believer’s identity is not found in self-exaltation, but in humble confession and acceptance of God’s grace. The infinite love of God gives people worth! We are valued because Jesus Christ laid down His life as a perfect act of love, to reclaim us as His own.

If we lead our Christian client away from a true confession of their conscience, if we seek to help them avoid the “dark night of the soul,” we do them an injustice. Many are looking to get off the treadmill of self-sufficiency, acknowledge their personal failures, and find the Grace of God embracing them in their confession. In exchange for their confession, and accepting the Great Substitute, a believer is declared to possess the righteousness and worth of Jesus Himself. A person plagued with guilt and shame (“poor self-esteem”) may not be able to fight their way out of self-condemnation, and need an Authority to fight for them. No other orientation in psychotherapy can offer forgiveness through the completed work of Christ, and His gift of self-worth.

 

WHY CHRISTIAN COUNSELING – PART 3

Why Christian Counseling – Part 2

The Problem with the Human Condition – Man is Conflicted with Himself.

It is hard to speak in generalities because the field of psychology is very diverse, even within Christian circles. The brevity of this paper requires generalities, and I do not pretend to speak for all orientations. I do not want to be accused of building a straw man and pretend I represent all secular or religious counselors. I am painting with very broad strokes, and I ask for your grace as you read.

At the center of a discussion of secular and Christian views of psychology has to be a clarification of the human condition and where pathology originates. Our views of the source of man’s condition will greatly influence the treatment of his condition. Secular and Christian psychology are built on very different foundations, and a consideration will go a long way in helping one understand the differing views between them.

The age-old debate between “nurture” and “nature” continues and will always be with us – are people a product of their environment, or their genetic nature? From both a secular and a Christian perspective, therapists seem to be comfortable in recognizing both nurture (relational environment) and nature (genes) as contributing factors to the “human condition,” that man lives in conflict with himself and with others. We are products of our environment, and our genetic make-up predisposes us to susceptibility to certain “pathologies.” When our unhealthy relational environments interact with our genetic predispositions, our emotional, spiritual, and mental health suffers. I think most therapists are in agreement here.

Secular philosophy and psychology are, thankfully, abandoning previous notions that man is born “good” and the environment is the only contributing factor to emotional and mental pathology. Many theories have been long discarded, such as the influence of the “schizophrenogenic mother” supposedly creating schizophrenia in her children through the use of double-binds. It is encouraging that psychology has been moving away from the notion that people are unhealthy because of parental influence exclusively. Parents are no longer being solely blamed for all of the choices their children make. There are other factors in play along with parenting styles. And the vast differences among siblings raised in the same environment cannot be ignored.

A secular and Christian approach to therapy might both include educating the client to gain understanding of both nurture and nature. The therapist might educate the client as to their natural predisposition toward any given pathology, and how their choices and unhealthy relationships are making their life experiences more troublesome. Secular therapy can aid the client in making better choices, and building healthier relationships, but has no answers to the nature or the genetics of the client.

A Christian understanding of “nature” goes beyond one’s genetic make-up. Our genes cannot be changed, but the Christian therapist understands that there is more than genes that influence nature. There is a spiritual element in our make-up that also predisposes us to “pathology.”

When mankind sinned against God, our pathology began. People have a “sin nature.” But unlike our genetic make-up, this spiritual natural element can be changed. A supernatural “divine nature” is promised to the believer. A secular counselor may not have an insight to the internal transformation that a client can experience.

The Bible teaches clearly that man has fallen away from the good graces of God. Man has rejected the leadership of the Lord, and this choice changes the “nature” of man. Man is not born good, but rather with an inclination or predisposition to self-destruct, live rebelliously, selfishly, and self-centered, which is the Biblical definition of sin. Christian clients seeking psychotherapy understand their spiritual condition before God, and need a therapist who also understands. (Romans 3:10–12; Psalm 14:1–3; Jeremiah 17:9-10)

The resolution to this fallen or sinful condition is found in a newborn relationship and reconciliation with our Creator. This results in a regeneration or conversion of one’s heart. This new life is found in accepting Christ’s death on the cross as the atonement for our sins, our selfishness. His resurrection brings new life to the believer. (II Corinthians 5:17, 21; Titus 3:5)

A client who is a believer in the Lord Jesus understands he is indwelled and sealed by the Holy Spirit (not a mystical deity of our own making). The Spirit within assists the believer in experiencing newness of life which grants victory over a life of selfishness and failure. When one wins victory over selfishness, relationships become healthier. The Spirit of God changes nurture and nature. This supernatural experience is not available in secular counseling. (John 14:16–17)

When a client is walking in harmony with their spiritual values, internal conflict subsides. Many Christians are not living in harmony with the Lord. Understanding the client’s spiritual convictions are essential to their treatment, to bring them to a place of peace.

 

 

Why Christian Counseling – Part 2

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

_________________________________________________________________

  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

 

_________________________________________________________________

  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?

 

 

Why Christian Therapy? Part 1 of 10