In the past, most people took mental health for granted or ignored it altogether. In fact, the stigma behind it was that if you suffered with mental health issues, something was wrong with you – you were weak, unstable and almost contagious! People were pitied, ridiculed, shamed and misunderstood. Yet, COVID has brought mental health to the forefront.
Mental health, the next spiritual battle?
Many issues have arisen from the consequences of this virus. It changed our way of life, it changed our thinking, and it changed us. In my practice I see many more people struggling with anxiety, grief and depression – none of us has experienced anything like this before. Prayerfully we would not again. However, we need to look at mental health with fresh, opened eyes and minds, with a view toward how faith and counseling can be partners, not enemies. If Christ is a Wonderful Counselor, then counseling cannot be a bad thing. However, good counseling needs to be done with a foundation of faith.
Psychology or psychobabble?
Jay Adams famously coined the phrase “psychobabble” to describe the field of psychology. He felt there was no way that Christianity, or the gospel for that matter, should have anything to do with this field. But was he right? Is it just some jargon and babble that confuses people and does more harm than good? There is much confusion and debate. And there are varying views as to what, if any, one field should have to do with the other.
Views on psychology and theology
One of my favorite courses to teach is the Integration of Psychology and the Christian Faith. Why? It is mainly because so many have never thought about issues such as integration, if it is possible, or what it looks like. I love helping students explore and discover their personal views. Truth be told, I integrate in all my classes, which is a benefit of teaching and attending a Christian university. In order to determine our own views though, we must first look at other views.
Many, like Adams, believe Biblical Counseling (or Scripture) is enough. They believe all problems result from personal sin and therefore sin is the core issue. In a story about Jesus healing a blind man, Scripture states, “Jesus disciples asked, ‘Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him” (John 9:2-3, CEB). From this healing, we can see that it cannot always be personal sin.
Some believe psychology and faith should have a very thick wall between them as one has nothing to do with the other. Those who believe this say these boundaries should not be crossed. Let psychology do its thing and faith do its thing. But what about Romans 12:2 which tells us to be “transformed by the renewing of your minds” or loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? Doesn’t that mean they are connected?
The third view believes psychology is Christian and so were many of the church leaders who they “psychologized.” They believe we can reshape psychology from the very beginning according to Christian character, beliefs and goals. This sounds very good, yet something is missing. Not all psychology can be Christianized. Some theories are so out there that there is no way to redeem them. But what is the answer, what is missing? The last view, the integration of Psychology and the Christian Faith answers that.
Integrating psychology and the Christian faith
What makes counseling Christian? Does it mean we start and end every session with prayer? Or that we spout Scripture verses? There is a place for both in some sessions. However, that is not what makes counseling Christian. The Integration View, that I hold to, incorporates the thought that we integrate by having a solid foundation, rooted in the gospel (creating a Christian worldview) and that we bring this into every session. Everything is taken back to our foundation, Christ.
A Christian worldview is the foundation
A Christian worldview is the foundation of all my counseling. In order to be a good counselor, I must know what I believe about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Salvation, sin, human nature, guilt, forgiveness, spirituality, morality and, without a doubt, the Bible. How can I help someone with their true identity in Christ if I do not know that God says we are fearfully and wonderfully made? Can I help someone overcome temptations or addictions if I do not know that Paul himself struggled with staying on the straight and narrow (Romans 7)? I guess I could, but would I be as effective or compassionate? How can I know if someone is sinning if I do not know what sin is, as Paul says? Or love them unconditionally if I do not understand how Christ loves me? Jesus is the perfect example of a Wonderful Counselor. His methods were tailored to the person he was healing. I teach this to my students – He loved them to healing. Good Christian counselors do the same.
To have understanding, you must know the Holy God (Proverbs 9:10)
All truth is God’s truth. I believe that profoundly. Therefore, I can read a psychological theory or look at a new fad of counseling and take it back to what I know about God and his Word and determine if it is truth. I can look at his people and believe that it does not matter what their struggles are, they are made in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect. That is what makes counseling Christian – integrating theology and faith into practice. It is healing of the mind, body, and spirit to find wholeness!
Kate A. Johnson, D.Min., LMHC, CTP is Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Mental Health at Trinity International University.
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