Psychotherapy for Believers.
It was not all that long ago that one’s counselor was probably also one’s priest, pastor, rabbi, medicine man or shaman. Healing took into account every aspect of a person and science was not yet divorced from spirit. Not even Newton, the man around whom the world of modern science has revolved for over two hundred years, could have imagined a purely humanistic end to his work. His intention was solely to understand the mind of God through mathematics and observation.
In the last century it has changed and science has become a weapon against faith instead of a means to understand and be closer to the Creator. In modern psychology man has become distinct from his spirit and woman has been separated from her soul.
Where most schools of psychotherapy see the person as an amalgam of drives, needs, acculturated influences, and evolution, holistic psychotherapy sees faith, spirit, and God Himself as an integral part of the process of healing.
Everyone experiences stress—believers and non-believers alike. Believers can suffer with anxiety, sorrow, irritability, and confusion as much as anyone else and deserve the support that’s available. It’s important to deal with that stress in as straightforward and comprehensive a manner as possible.
Principles of Faith-based Counseling
Despite what you’ve been told about counseling, there is no perfectly impartial counselor. Everything we believe—about ourselves, others, life and death—has an impact on how we behave, how we listen, and what we say in therapy. There is no way to eliminate that impact. The best we can hope for is to mitigate it by becoming aware of our beliefs and utilizing them in a way that is honest, helpful, and loving.
Faith-based counseling is decidedly not proselytizing. It is not ministry in the commonly-understood sense of the word. (For most people, that means there is usually a philosophical or theological expectation or debate, e.g., “this is what I believe and this is why you ought to believe it too.”) It is ministry in the sense that is borne of charity, service, and love.
What are these beliefs?
While it looks and feels like ordinary counseling on the outside (two people sitting and talking privately), the principles on which it is based are decidedly different than secular counseling.
In Faith-based counseling, the source of goodness is not you.
The Self is only capable of loving and tending to the Self. God is the source of all goodness. Knowing this hopefully leads to a proper humility…and maybe, just maybe getting out of the way so that more goodness can come through.
Health is defined in a unique way.
First of all and most importantly…Faith-based counseling is not always about achieving what modern culture calls mental health, which is usually manifest by outward success, is self-driven and self-promoting. Mental health to a Christian counselor is manifest by a person’s compassion, service, and humility. It is about surrender and sacrifice. It is about redemption, about choosing goodness, about being healed at the spiritual level so that everything else becomes more manageable. It is not about making more money, getting ahead, or feeling desirable.
Its foundations are in the Bible.
The moral precepts in the Bible are a guide for both what happens in session and the therapist’s ideas about happiness.
It is very important that we clarify our beliefs on this.
This is not the same thing as bible-thumping. And that is not the mission of a counselor at all. That is the mission of priests, rabbis, and evangelists. As it should be. But our belief is a critical component of our ministry as therapists because people will see what they believe, not the other way around.
Now, it is my observation that our beliefs matter because those beliefs direct our own mental traffic and eventually form the filters for what we do and say. Even more importantly, beliefs form the foundation for what we allow ourselves to expect or aim for.
Faith-based counselors believe that miracles are real …and that so is evil.
In a book entitled “The Last Days,” one of the characters says, “The problem with you Americans is that you don’t believe in evil…you don’t properly anticipate horrible, catastrophic events because you don’t really believe in the presence of evil, the presence of a dark and wicked and nefarious spiritual dimension that drives some men to do the unthinkable.”
To not believe in evil is to be blindsided by it and ultimately destroyed by it.
This understanding has profound implications for therapy and the role that we play with our patients, which is not to artificially inflate or “empower” them by and for themselves, but to strengthen them by facilitating their dependence on a sovereign Creator who loves them. Very different. Our strength is never self-derived and by ourselves we are incapable of dealing with the simplest of tasks, no less than with the spiritual dimension.
We are fallen and we can’t get up…
In humanistic or secular psychology, we are all perfectible. In modern culture, we can “have it all.” This is flat nonsense in Judeo-Christian thinking. The truth is we are all sinners and this is a fallen world. Neither medicine nor social work has any cure for this. No one does.
What this means is that suffering is inevitable. This is not a statement of personal preference by any means. I loathe suffering. I despise death. But, anyone with two eyes to see and two ears to hear has to reckon with the pain and hurt in the world. It is broken. We can never have everything in this world. And if we think we can, it is at the expense of much greater things.
Since it is happening and since, often, we cannot fix it all, having a philosophical or theological framework within which we can hold the suffering can actually mitigate it. So, for instance, those persecuted for religious affiliation, seem to be able to endure and overcome a great deal of suffering without it destroying their minds.
We can’t. But God can.
We never “make it.” We can never find perfection (or total success) here, but we can change. Not our circumstances, necessarily, but our souls and our spiritual trajectory. Faith alters the way we receive life. It is a truism that in any given situation we either teach or learn. Even in therapy. The patients I have failed to “fix” have surely taught me the most.
Brass rings are the booby prizes.
Material success is not terribly important and may in fact be a dangerous distraction from what is truly important. The things modern psychology uses as the standards for determining a person’s failure or success are very different than what faith-based principles value. Modern life values acquisition. Faith-based values giving. Modern life values speed and adventure. Faith-based values intimacy and settin’ a spell. Modern life values self and the pursuit of the personal. Faith-based values the relationship. Modern life values more and new and bigger. Faith based couldn’t care less. It is a philosophical world where the least is the greatest.
Recovery is the joy of service … It is not Self-driven, but Other-driven.
The 12th step of AA sums this up perfectly. Giving to others is the culmination of a healthy and a purposeful life.
Joy can never be found in a celebration of the Self. Joy can only be found in relationship and service—receiving and giving love. It isn’t about Us, the caregivers. It isn’t even about the patients, in a sense. It is about serving them as God would have us serve them, being as He would have us be.
A healthy outcome of modern psychotherapy would be choosing self over other, it would be all about establishing boundaries and celebrating personal freedom.
A healthy faith-based outcome always includes service that is born of love and gratitude.
For more on this, see: The Kingpin68: Philosophical Theology