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.

 

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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