Folks, most of you know I made a move from Directing the Graduate School of Counseling at Biblical Seminary to a new job at the American Bible Society. BTS is now advertising for my replacement: GSOC Director Ad 9-17 FINAL. Please share this and pray that they find the right person capable of leading the counseling programs into their next area of growth. The MA counseling program, if I can say so myself, is top-notch and a rare find for those seeking both licensure and biblical-theological depth.
Category Archives: christian psychology
I’m reading David Wood’s What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars (2016, Little, Brown and Company). David is a journalist and has experiences embedded in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. PTSD is well-known and discussed, especially in the context of war. If you have listened to the news, you know that many veterans struggle with it and struggle with return to civilian life. Suicide rates of current and former military members should grab your attention and tell you that we have a serious problem on our hands. If you have read further, you probably have heard about treatments such as Prolonged Exposure and Cognitive Processing Therapy being used by VA mental health practitioners.
This book, however, introduces readers to the concept of moral injury, a cousin to PTSD. While the features may look similar to PTSD, moral injury may better account for some of the experiences, especially where terror (the emotion, not behaviors) may not have been the main experience.
The book opens with a story of a Nik, a Marine whose position came under fire from a small boy with an assault rifle.
“According to the military’s exacting legal principles and rules, it was a justifiable kill, even laudable, an action taken against an enemy combatant in defense of Nik himself and his fellow marines. But now Nik is back home in civilian life, where killing a child violates the bedrock moral ideals we all hold. His action that day, righteous in combat, nonetheless is a bruise on his soul, a painful violation of the simple understanding of right and wrong that he and all of us carry subconsciously through life.
… At home strangers thank him for his service, and politicians celebrate him and other combat veterans as heroes. And Nik carries on his conscience a child’s death.” (8)
The author goes on to argue with illustration after illustration that to go to war is to suffer moral injury, to suffer the disconnect between deeply held values and the experiences during war. While it is easy to see moral injury in the forced choice to kill a child vs. save one’s own life, moral injury can also result from being sent on a fool’s errand–political reasons sent to war vs. need to protect or defend freedoms.
PTSD v. Moral Injury?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is biology. It is the body’s involuntary physical reaction as we relive the intense fear of a life-threatening event and the scalding emotional responses that follow: terror and a debilitating sense of helplessness. (15)
He goes on for paragraphs to depict the experience of PTSD and its cascade of symptoms–“fear-circuitry dysregulation.” But then listen to how he talks about Nik
…Nik doesn’t have PTSD. What Nik struggles with is not the involuntary recurrence of fear. He’s okay with the crowds at Walmart. He doesn’t startle at loud noises. In contrast with veterans who’ve experienced PTSD, Nik didn’t feel the pain of his moral injury at the moment of the incident…. [But] he is bothered by the memory of that Afghan boy and with questions about what he did that day. Like all of us, Nik had always thought of himself as a good person. But does a good person kill a child? …No, a good person doesn’t kill a child, therefore I must be a bad person. …The symptoms can be similar to those of PTSD: anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, anger. But sorrow, remorse, grief, shame, bitterness, and moral confusion–what is right?–signal moral injury while flashbacks, loss of memory, fear, and startle complex seem to characterize PTSD. (17)
PTSD has little to do with sin. It is a psychological wound caused by something done to you. Someone with PTSD is a victim. A moral injury is a self-accusation, prompted by something you did, something you failed to do, as well as something done to you. (18)
Guilt and shame are key characteristics. Not being able to save a buddy, making a quick decision that also included losses of civilian life, betrayal by leaders but being forced to carry out orders, or not being protected by buddies–all can create a moral injury. Add a mega dose of grief/loss from death and loss of companionship after the unit breaks up and you have a serious problem. (Don’t forget once home and safe, the loss of adrenaline, the loss of status, the replacement of dullness and the rebuilding of old relationships without your friends and without purpose will enhance all painful feelings including nagging guilt and shame.)
The lasting psychological, biological, spiritual, and social impact of perpetrating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations. (250)
Spiritual community interventions?
Despite their attractiveness, short-term interventions like CISD aren’t effective (chapter 6 details this). In addition, straight up attempts to challenge distorted thoughts are likely to fail. So, what might work? The book details some listening and validating activities by chaplains, including the burning of cards listing their “sins” as they leave the battlefront symbolizing their remorse and reception of God’s forgiveness. Talking about guilt, confessing failures and shame seem central. Note that confessing and validating do not necessarily mean that others agree that sins have been committed or that perceptions of self are accurate. They merely acknowledge the burden the veteran carries. Even the secular therapy models validate feelings of guilt while finding acceptance and forgiveness. Saying, “don’t blame yourself, you couldn’t help it” to Nik aren’t helpful. Finding a path that doesn’t blame or excuse (237) allows for a different path between all or nothing shame responses.
It seems that what spiritual mentors and Christian practitioners have to offer in light of these themes are central to recovery from moral injury.
The reality, says the author, our current therapies are only marginally helpful and sometimes harmful. Near the end of the book he concludes with this conviction,
True healing of veterans with war-related moral injuries will only come from community, however we and they define community–peers, neighborhoods, faith congregations, service organizations, individuals. That means it is up to us. (260)
And thus, YOU have a job to do.
Listen. I highly recommend you read his last chapter (“Listen” begins on page 261). He will tell you how to engage a conversation in order to learn. No matter your personal beliefs about war, this is something you can do. Don’t look for the government to do the job, be the one to listen and learn yourself. Be the one to bear witness, as silently as you can. Your presence (more than your words) will convey compassion, understanding, and God’s presence.
I teach a course on psychopathology. Each week we consider a different family of problems. We explore anxiety disorders, mood disorders (depression, mania), and anger/explosive disorders in the first few weeks in the class. Later on, we look at eating disorders, addictions, trauma, and psychosis.
While each of the presentations of problems vary widely from each other, there is ONE symptom that almost every person with a mental health problem experiences–repetitive, negative thought patterns. Rumination.
The content of the repetitive thoughts may change depending on the type of problem (i.e., anxious fears, depressive negative thoughts, illicit urges, fears of weight gain, hypervigilance, irritability, etc.) but the heart of the problem in most mental health challenges are negative thought patterns leading to an experience of either impulsivity or paralysis. These patterns can look like obsessional worries about germs (triggering ruminative “why” questions as to the root causes of the obsessions). The pattern can look like repeated negative self-attributions for perceived mistakes. Whatever the pattern, the person finds it difficult to break out of the negative thoughts and attempts at distractions seem futile since the thought or feeling returns in seconds to minutes.
Is there anything that helps?
Yes, there are things that you can do to reduce the “noise” level of these repetitive thoughts. It is important, however, to remember two important factors
- patterns in place for years or decades are harder to change. Give yourself the grace to fail as you work to change them.
- As with pain management, the goal should not be the complete elimination of negative thoughts and feelings. Realistically, anxious people will have some anxiety. Depressed people will feel darker thoughts. Addicts will have greater temptations. But lest you give up before you start, this does not mean that you must always suffer as you do now.
Consider the following three steps as a plan of action to address the problem of rumination.
- Build a solid foundation of health. Every house needs a foundation if it is going to last. Your mental health foundation starts with your physical body: Exercise, diet, and sleep. Did you know that daily exercise, getting a good 8 hours of sleep each night, and eating a diet rich in protein supports good mental health and may even prevent re-occurrence of prior problems? Will this solve all your problems. No! But failing to get good sleep and eat a balanced diet of proteins will exacerbate your problems. Sleep is especially needed. The lack of it will multiply your problem. Of course, getting sleep is difficult when you are worrying or depressed. Thus, work to develop a different bed-time routine. Shut off your electronics, do mindless activities like Sudoku, develop rituals that help promote sleep. If you are having trouble with this or your diet or exercise, find a trusted person to review your situation. And avoid all/nothing thinking that often leaves us paralyzed when we can’t reach our goals. On this point, read the next step.
- Prepare for change by accepting your struggle. What, I thought this was helping me out of my struggle? Acceptance is the beginning of change. Consider this examples. You struggle with intrusive negative thoughts about your belly. You don’t like how it looks. You’ve tried dieting and exercise, but still it is flabby. Every time you look at yourself, every time your hand rests on your belly, you hear (and feel) that negative narrative. The first step in change is to accept the body you have and to find ways to like it, even love it. Sounds impossible but it is necessary to accept all your parts. This does not mean that you won’t continue to exercise and eat well. Marsha Linehan suggests that one part of change is to accept the problem as it is. In her Dialectical Behavior Therapy model she speaks of choosing willingness over willfulness. Willingness opposes the response “I can’t stand this belly” by saying, “my belly is not as I would like but it is not all of who I am.” “I can’t stand it…” becomes a willful and yet paralyzing response. Whereas acceptance acknowledges the reality and chooses goals that are within one’s power to achieve (e.g., healthy eating choices). Acceptance is not giving up but preparing for realistic change.
- Start to move. Consider these action steps as the beginning movements you undertake in a long process towards the goal:
- “So what?” Our ruminations are often filled with interpretations and assumptions. There are times we can challenge them by attacking the veracity of the assumptions. But we can also ask, “so what?” So what if I have OCD? So what if have to fight every day to stay sober? So what if I have to manage my schedule so as to not trigger a bipolar episode? Challenge the worst thing that you are afraid of.
- Develop a counter narrative. Rumination is a narrative. Begin by writing and rehearsing a counter narrative. It won’t have much power at first compared to your internalized rumination but it will gain power over time. Work to refine it. Choose to repeat it as often as you see the trigger for the rumination. Make sure your counter narrative doesn’t include self-debasing or invalidating comments. If you have trouble writing one, use Scripture passages that speak of God’s narrative, through Christ, for you. Be encouraged that developing alternative storylines has shown capacity to alter chronic nightmares. If nightmares can be changed, then even more thoughts and feelings during the day.
- Practice being present. Much of our lives are run on auto-pilot. When we are in that mode, it is easy to fall into rumination. Work to stay present, to be mindful and attuned to your surroundings. Notice ruminations but let them slide on out of view and bring yourself back to the present. Use your senses that God gave you to enjoy the world he made. Smells, sounds, sights, taste, and touch all give you means to enjoy that world. Start practicing staying in tune with it, a few minutes at a time and build your capacity as you go.
Yesterday I presented with Marianne Millen at the 2016 Humanitarian Disaster Institute conference here in Wheaton, IL. We reviewed some of the lessons learned through our experiences partnering with Rwandan institutions like the Bible Society (BSR) and with local counselors and caregivers. Check out our presentation here if you want to see our slides.
In short, partnerships are the way forward. But partnerships are not merely so that “we” can help “them.” True partnerships share resources, knowledge, and skills. They enrich both parties. I can attest that I have learned much from my Rwandan friends as they from me. I am a better therapist (and maybe teacher) from what I have received.
Partnerships rarely form quickly. They take time, can be messy, are likely more expensive than other intervention strategies. But as the Rwandan proverb says, “If you want to fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” And yesterday during a conference plenary, Sheryl Haw (Micah Global) had this to say, “partnerships are the realization of being on God’s mission and not our own.”
Have you ever struggled to change a habit, attitude, or thought process and wondered, “Why can’t I just change this in my life?” Maybe you wish to think different thoughts or feel differently about a person. Maybe you want some cravings to go away. But it just seems you aren’t improving as you hoped.
Without excusing your flaws or ignoring bad patterns that need change, you may find that giving grace to the challenge of change actually helps you make the change more quickly.
Consider this silly example of change. The seminary where I work poured a new walkway between my small building and our main classroom building. Now, instead of a step up to get in the building, it is all level ground. I have used this walkway for fifteen years as I walk from my car into the building and for the past two as I have walked between the two buildings.
Here’s the problem. I am almost falling down every time because my brain wants to step down when leaving the building and to raise my leg up higher as I enter the building. Either I am tripping as I leave, stepping down only to find that there is no step or I am entering gingerly trying not to look foolish. My body and brain have one expectation and unless I concentrate, I keep doing what I have always been doing, which no longer works.
If this is true about a walkway change, it stands to reason that other more emotional and relational changes would be even harder to manage. Consider some of these
- the loss of a loved one: coming to terms with someone who is no longer there
- trusting someone who has shown themself in the past to be trustworthy
- trigger fears in public spaces after a trauma
- eating habits after years of over or under control of food
- having a positive thought after years of negative rumination upon waking
- avoiding porn when bored
- choosing a soft response when angry instead of yelling
So, change is hard. How does giving grace to myself help me?
Imagine for a minute that you make a mistake. Now, consider both of these self responses and how it would impact your capacity to keep working at change:
- Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why are you such a failure. You are a waste of space and energy in this world. Lots of people change, why can’t you? You say you are a Christian but I fail to see any maturity.
- [sigh]. Change is so hard. You’ve been thinking and responding to this situation like this for decades. So, it’s not surprising change comes slowly. Good thing God is gracious. Lord, I may not be able to stop the first thought but thank you for helping me catch myself just a bit sooner. Now, deep breath, try again, here is what I want to think/do/say…”
Which of the above two examples of self-talk will help you move forward and which one leaves you stuck in a perception of failure?
Notice the problem that keeps us stuck longer is shame (and our responses to it) more so than our particular changes that may be coming slower than we want. Sometimes pride is the barrier more than the behavior we want to change.
Today, watch your self-talk and instead of beating yourself up with shame talk, just acknowledge the flaw/failure/sin and remind yourself that right now, you can choose a different response. See how that influences your attitude and your energy for change.
After trauma, what does recovery look like? Is it possible to “move on?” How can you when you can never unsee or unremember what happened to you?
Is it possible to experience joy rather than emotional pain when remembering past or ongoing hurts? If so, just what does that look and feel like for the victim? What can be expected if I am “healed”? Can I be free from the typical experience of trauma (e.g., Hopelessness, despair, anxiety, confusion, shame, anger, loss of identity, feeling stuck but the demand to act as if the trauma did not take place, and spiritual angst over the goodness and love of God)?
As Diane Langberg has so aptly reminded us, “Trauma is the mission field of this century.” Around the world there is much openness to talk about the impact of trauma and to use spiritual practices as part of the recovery process. In Christian language, we talk about healing the wounds of the heart and one of the best programs out there is the Trauma Healing Institute’s, Healing the Wounds of Trauma. This program is based on the strong Christian belief that God, through the work of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, is in the business of healing wounded hearts. At the heart of this belief sits two important passages:
Isa 61:1-4 The Spirit of the Lord Yahweh is upon me, because Yahweh has anointed me, he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release to the captives and liberation to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of Yahweh’s favor, and our God’s day of vengeance, to comfort all those in mourning, to give for those in mourning in Zion, to give them a head wrap instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.
2 Cor 4: 16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart, but even if our outer person is being destroyed, yet our inner person is being renewed day after day. For our momentary light affliction is producing in us an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure and proportion, because we are not looking at what is seen, but what is not seen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is not seen is eternal.
These two beautiful passages present a picture of recovery. Good news, release, favor, comfort, joy and beauty in place of mourning and oppression. Renewal in the face of affliction. But what does this mean in real life? Does a “double portion” instead of shame feel like to a victim of sexual trauma? What does renewal and release feel like after a natural disaster?
Prognosis for Complete Recovery?
If you suffer a serious knee injury requiring surgery, you will need time for rehabilitation. But rehab does not necessarily mean you will recover the full range of motion you once had, or that your knee will be entirely pain free when you are finished with physical therapy. Your prognosis for recovery depends on many factors such as age, extent of injury, physical health prior to the accident, and availability of quality care. Even with the best care provided to top athletes, recovery may not lead to return to top form. For example, an Olympic skier may be able to ski again but not at a quality that allows for competitive skiing.
What about the prognosis for spiritual and emotional recovery? Of course, just as in the knee injury example, the answer must be “it depends.” Still, considering the two passages above, words like liberation, joy, release, and renewal shape our imagination for recovery. Do we imagine complete recovery to top spiritual and emotional form, without pain and limitation? It appears to me that we sometimes imagine emotional and spiritual healing without taking consideration the reality of broken bodies and a fallen world. We are not guaranteed a pain free life or faith without distressing questions. In fact, Paul’s beautiful words in 2 Corinthians bear this out. afflicted in every way, persecuted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, always carrying around death, burdened, groaning and more. Yes, he also says not crushed, not despairing, not destroyed, but alive. But both must be considered together at the same time if we are indeed to imagine our prognosis. Recovery means comfort and lament, joy in mourning, perplexed while trusting, dying yet alive.
Sprouts of Justice and Recovery?
Isaiah describes sprouts of justice and righteousness beginning in the recovery of the oppressed (Isa 61:11). As a gardener, I see sprouts as the beginning of hope. After planting seeds, the tiny sprouts give me hope for a later harvest but that hope is still tempered with the knowledge of the challenge of getting sprouts to develop into fruited plants. I have to be vigilant about bugs, weeds, and drought. I need to cultivate and fertilize or my sprouts will not turn into much. And even if I do everything right, the seed may be weak or the weather may mean I only have spindly or stunted plants that cannot bear much fruit. Yet, the sight of sprouts brings the hope that empowers us to keep at the gardening work.
So, what are these sprouts of justice and recovery that victims of trauma may first see that encourage hope and further empowerment? Consider some of these:
- Capacity to Name Truth and Justice
Recovery begins when oppressed people find words to name injustices done to self and other. For example, a victim of domestic violence may become well aware of the subtle signs of verbal and emotional coercion, long before any physical violence. They become the canary in the mine, aware of poison that others may not yet sense.
As this capacity grows beyond a mere sprout, the person may be able to speak the truth aloud, even with courage to say it to leaders.
As naming capacity grows, it moves from awareness of personal risk to capacity to notice and care for the injustices others experience
- Accepting weaknesses without hopelessness
Part of recovery requires honest reflection of the damage done. Signs of recovery include the ability to recognize limitations and working within capacity without self-hatred (though there may be lament for losses of previously held abilities). When we truly accept the “new normal” we then can stop evaluating daily life from the perspective of who we used to be
As we accept our limits, we can then begin to see the opportunities we do have even within our limitations
- Identify resilience and new capacities in the midst of struggle
There may be new capacities we never observed before (e.g., the capacity to speak up to power, the ability to withstand rejection, increased empathy for the pain of others). We now notice these resiliences and growth as they stand on their own
Though we will not call the suffering good, we will be able to identify blessings that we have received in spite of and as a result of the trauma experienced
Be Careful Not to Damage the Sprouts
For those who are not attempting the impossible, to “move on” from trauma and abuse, it is good to remember that sprouts are tender and can be easily damaged with too much interference. You may need to leave a few weeds you see near the fledgling plants so as not to disturb their roots or bruise the green shoots. How do we do this to the sprouts of recovery? We may unintentional limit growth by questioning why the person learning to speak the truth isn’t doing it in a even-tempered manner. Sadly, too often those in domestically violent marriages are told to stop being so dramatic and to calm down when they begin to speak about the truth of the violence they have experienced. Or, we can point out the sins of the victim as if somehow their responsive sins eliminate their right to speak up about the trauma they experienced. Or, we can hear someone accepting brokenness and accuse them of not trusting God for complete healing.
Nurture recovery as you would a tender plant. It is a scandalous act of grace! By paying attention to safety needs, by bearing witness to trauma, by being willing to lament and to stay connected, we provide a greenhouse for such plants to grow into levels of recovery never before dreamed of.
There has been a lot of focus on telepsychology over the last decade. What started out being about counseling over the phone has morphed to counseling via the video chat, text chat, instant message, social media, and even in virtual settings with avatars.
At times it seems like the wild west, that anything goes without regulation.
But now, more counseling related associations have developed standards for telehealthcare delivery. And licensing boards are also beginning to restrict who can offer telecounseling. Did you know that Georgia only allows Georgia licensed mental health providers to provide telecounseling to its citizens?
Ken Pope has an excellent website listing many resources you will need as you consider what you might be allowed to do. He lists standards of care, recent professional articles, and links to state boards who are beginning to regulate telepsychology. I encourage anyone who currently practices “Skype” counseling (BTW, SKYPE is not HIPPA compliant), to become informed.
Last night in our Advanced Global Trauma Recovery Institute (GTRI) course web conference, we were discussing the weight of listening to trauma stories. This conversation spawned from our delving rather deeply into the systemic torture, trauma, and loss of identity occurring in post-WWII eastern Europe (specifically in Romania). We considered the question
What should we do when we are overwhelmed with the weight of trauma stories around the world? Especially, what are we to do when we can do little to nothing about the new stories we hear every day? How do we respond to temptations to despair?
Knowing or just information?
During the web conference, Diane Langberg pointed out the common phenomenon that sometimes we hear of atrocities but do not really know about them. We hear information on the news about various tragedies (e.g., ISIS, Boko Haram, shootings, suicides, etc.) and sometimes fail to process it. One of our students reminded us of a bit of dialogue in Hotel Rwanda between the hotel manager and an American journalist,
Paul Rusesabagina: I am glad that you have shot this footage and that the world will see it. It is the only way we have a chance that people might intervene.
Jack: Yeah and if no one intervenes, is it still a good thing to show?
Paul Rusesabagina: How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?
Jack: I think if people see this footage they’ll say, “oh my God that’s horrible,” and then go on eating their dinners.
Not far from the truth, right? However, when someone takes the time to really listen to trauma stories, something changes in that person; they are no longer able to go about their life as the did in the past. When we choose to sit with stories of pain, we gain knowledge that changes our view of the world. For example, when we take new individuals to Rwanda, we often hear, “I remember hearing about the genocide….but I didn’t know. I knew but I didn’t know what I know now.” The same thing happens when individuals are willing to learn about racism, domestic violence, gender based sexual violence and the like.
When you see something in detail, you can’t unsee it. You will be changed.
I know…now what?
Once you know, really know, the depth of suffering of a community, you are changed. That knowing often creates deep pain, especially when we can do nearly nothing about it. So, now what? What can we do? Here are a few things that may be overlooked as insignificant
- Listen. Wait, didn’t we already do that? What good is hearing more about the story if I can’t do anything about it? No, listening is part of the solution. Individuals and communities who are enabled to tell their trauma story benefit from repeated truth-telling. They benefit from “being seen and heard.” It matters that those from outside cared enough to come and hear of the pain. Do not underestimate how such listening may empower a trauma survivor to move towards healing.
- Lament. Laments are conversations with God about the brokenness before you. Whether done in private or in public, these laments help us to communicate to God what we find intolerable, to ask God to do what is impossible, and to look closely for his response. Laments hand the problem back to God. “Do something Lord!” Laments also tell victims that their pain is real and not merely an emotional weakness on their part.
- Look for seeds of healing. If you are hearing a story of tragedy, then you are also hearing a story of survival. While being careful not to dismiss losses and pain, we can also point out signs of life, of resistance, of resilience. These seeds do not deny the damage being experienced. Jeremiah’s plaintive sigh, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed…” does not undo his previous tears, “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.”
- Do one thing. If you are in direct contact with the person who is suffering, you can check in with them, find out what would be helpful. If you are not in direct contact, then do any number of “one things.” You can pray daily. Ask not only for restoration and justice but also for God to direct your response. You can tell one person about what you have learned. You can look for ways to identify how the seeds of the same tragedy might be in your own environment and not just “over there.” You can give an alternative points of view when you hear someone speaking naively about the situation. Start a conversation with friends.
- Remember. Look to find God’s view of the situation. How does He feel about injustice, whether minute forms in us or the massive ones we see on television? What reason might God have for waiting to bring all things under his control?
The Christian Scriptures teach followers of Jesus to forgive as we are forgiven, to love our enemies, and to turn the other cheek rather than seek revenge when mistreated. Does this mean that victims of domestic violence and abuse need to, sometimes quite literally, take it on the chin without seeking protection or justice?
There are a good many resources out there right now that help teach Christians how we should respond to domestic violence and abuse. If you want some in depth argumentation why victims do NOT need to just take it, you can consider my top 3
- Leslie Vernick (website and books)
- No Place for Abuse (Book, and when you follow the link, notice the many suggested books on the same topic; books by Brancroft, Roberts, Crippen, and more!)
- G.R.A.C.E (website with information about the moral requirement to report child abuse)
Rather than repeat the good advice in these resources–biblical foundations for protecting victims and calling out offenders–I want to point you to an older resource given to me in the past week. Older resource as in from 1840! Henry Burton, in chapter 22 (“The Ethics of the Gospel”) of his Expositor’s Bible: The Gospel of St. Luke discusses the application of Luke 6:27f to those inside the community of Christ as well as to “enemies.”
First he reminds readers to love enemies,
We must bear them neither hatred nor resentment; we must guard our hearts sacredly from all malevolent, vindictive feelings. We must not be our own avenger, taking vengeance upon our adversaries, as we let loose the barking Cerberus to track and run them down. All such feelings are contrary to the Law of Love, and so are contraband, entirely foreign to the heart that calls itself Christian. (p. 344-5)
I suppose his words capture most Christian teaching on what it means to love our enemies and to use the Golden Rule as our measure for how we respond. And yet, listen to his very next sentence:
But with all this we are not to meet all sorts of injuries and wrongs without protest or resistance. (p. 345)
Did you catch his point between the double negatives? We MAY and OUGHT to meet all injuries with resistance and protest. Burton goes on to answer why we should resist wrongs done to ourselves and to those around us,
We cannot condone a wrong without being accomplices in the wrong. (ibid)
There you have it. Complicity with evil, especially evil within the community of Jesus, is tantamount to approval and support of that evil act. Thus, telling a victim of abuse to “turn the other cheek” is essentially the same as abusing the victim yourself.
Burton extends his argument in the following way,
To defend our property and life is just as much our duty as it was the wisdom and the duty of those to whom Jesus spoke to offer an uncomplaining cheek to the Gentile [outsider] smiter. Not to do this is to encourage crime, and to put a premium upon evil. Nor is it inconsistent with a true love to seek to punish, by lawful means, the wrong-doer. Justice here is the highest type of mercy, and pains and penalties have a remedial virtue, taming the passions which had grown too wild, or straightening the conscience that had become warped. (ibid)
He completes his thoughts on this by reminding the reader that none of this justice seeking activity (to the point of excommunication if necessary) negates forgiving when the offender repents. We still love, we still forgive, we still treat others by the Golden Rule. But we do not avoid justice and protection seeking behavior, both for the sake of the one being harmed and for the one doing the harm. Both need rescue. The means of rescue differ for sure and may not be viewed as rescue when it comes in the form of sanctions and restrictions. But to look away from abuse and cover it up with “turn the other cheek” does not do right by the true meaning of love.
Katheryn Joyce has recently published a long post about the rise of Biblical counseling and the concerns some have about the movement [read it here].
Most people who have thoughts about counseling and Christianity tend to fall into one of to categories: Those who oppose biblical counseling as dangerous and those who oppose the various versions of Christian psychology as shallow and full of humanistic ideology. Very few people try to maintain identity in both worlds. If you have read my “about me” you will find I’m one of those who does accept the label of biblical counseling and Christian psychology (more on this below)
I encourage both proponents and opponents of Biblical Counseling to read her essay. Let me even take the liberty to suggest some starting questions to keep in mind as you read. While the essay may not answer the questions, having them in mind will keep you from solidifying stereotypes of either sides.§ If you are inclined to reject biblical counseling, consider these questions:
- Where might I find a more thorough history of biblical counseling and its various permutations?
- What main biblical counseling author voices are missing in this piece? [Note that the mentioned ACBC was, until recently, known as NANC (National Association of Nouthetic Counselors)]
- What failures in Christian psychology movement(s) led to the need for a biblical counseling movement?
If you are inclined to defend biblical counseling, consider these questions
- Even if some of the bad examples of biblical counseling do not represent you or the heart of the movement, what aspects of the movement may support or encourage some of these distortions?
- How might you better communicate “sufficiency of Scripture” to outsiders?
- Does biblical counseling seek to eliminate symptoms or improve spiritual responses to symptoms? How might it better acknowledge the body when talking about the causes of mental health problems?
- Where does fear of “integration” hinder the maturation of biblical counseling as a movement?
Indeed, these questions have already been asked and answers given in a variety of locations. Readers unfamiliar with biblical counseling should start with websites such as this one, CCEF, ACBC, BCC, and the Society of Christian Psychology to find further and deeper readings on related topics.
Where the Concerns are Valid
Not acknowledging benefits from psychological research. Joyce notes that a good biblical counseling session looks a lot like a good professional counseling session. Why? Well, it is obvious that change happens best in the context of kind, compassionate relationships. Why the similarity? While it is true that psychotherapists didn’t discover empathy, it is true that psychotherapy research has expanded our understanding of the best way to encourage trust relationships in therapy. In addition, some of the cognitive, affective, and dynamic interventions developed from these models are used within biblical counseling. I have absolutely no problem from biblical counseling deriving benefit from interventions developed in other models of therapy. I only desire biblical counselors or acknowledge that benefit. It is clear Jay Adams benefited from Mowrer (and said so to boot). We can do the same. We can admit that Marsha Linehan has revolutionized our understanding of how we work with people exhibiting symptoms of borderline personality disorder.
Emphasizing false dichotomies. Joyce quotes Heath Lambert in this piece (near the end),
“I’m concerned [that] if we say, ‘Oh my goodness, people with hard problems need physicians and need a drug,’ we’re going to lose much of what the Bible has to say about hard problems.”
The quote above is in the context of dealing with difficult or serious mental illness. He worries that if the church creates two categories of problems (normal and special), those with serious problems will no believe that the bible has things to say about those suffering with suicidal ideation or schizophrenia. It seems that some biblical counselors take a negative stance on psychiatry and medical intervention because they fear doing so will hinder the work of the Spirit through the bible. I would argue that this dichotomy does not need to exist. I agree that the bible speaks to everyone, whether they are having difficulty or easy problems. I don’t think that use of medications or medical practitioners has to hinder pastoral care. The message that others get when we suggest that medical intervention need to be avoided is that somehow it is less spiritual to seek a medical intervention. This is patently false. Now, not every medicine is worth taking. Some may create more problems then they solve. But that fact should not cause us to lump all professional/medical care into the same category.
Where the Concerns are Overplayed
Heath Lambert gets it right when he claims that all counseling models will fail, due primarily to the quality of the practitioner. Biblical Counselors do much work that is commendable and successful. Joyce’s piece may suggest that most biblical counselors are ineffective and incompetent. This is not true. Matthew Stanford suggest he has never seen a biblical counselor do well with difficult cases. That may be the experience of my friend, but I can attest to seeing biblical counselors working well with people with serious personality disorders, delusions and other difficult mental illnesses. Now, the truth is, these counselors have succeeded because they did not follow the stereotype and reject learning from professional psychology. Further, these same counselors did not take “sufficiency” to mean that they could only use the bible in considering how to respond to their clients.
Take a moment and read her piece. Review the questions above and keep an open mind to both sides of this story.
[§ I have written on the relationship between Christian psychology and biblical counseling in the Journal of Psychology and Theology, volume 25, 1997. You can buy that essay here.]