Tag Archives: CCEF

Does trusting God remove anxiety?


Over the years of doing therapy with Christians I have noticed how many feel guilty for their anxieties. “If only I could trust God more…I say I believe he is good but clearly I don’t trust him because I can’t stop being anxious.” Still others express distress that their faith in God does not change their feelings of hurt over past relational wounds and fears it will never get better.

It seems we believe this maxim: If I really trust in God, I will be at peace. I will not struggle with the brokenness around me or with the unknown future.

Is this true? Is it possible to trust God fully and experience chronic negative emotion?

Let me suggest a better maxim and then illustrate it with a couple of Psalms.

Because I trust God completely, I bring him my angst again and again.

At the recent #CCEF16 conference on emotions, David Powlison referred to Psalm 62:8a, Trust in him at all times, O people; He noted that this assertion is strong. But what does it look like in action? David pointed us to the next line (8b) Pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Trusting God looks a lot like venting, crying out in our confusion, sharing our fears and despairs.

Take a closer look at this Psalm. The writer is under assault by others. He likens himself to being a tottering fence, something easily knocked over. He is asking his enemies, “how long are you going to harm me?” He knows their intent. But their evil is the worst sort, one that pretends to be good but is really evil. They take delight in lies. With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse. It is likely the psalmist could say, “with friends like this, who needs enemies?”

So, how does he talk to himself? Look at the cyclical pattern: reminder-pain-reminder-warning-reminder

  1. He starts with some truth. My only rest (or silence/peace) is in you God. You alone are my fortress. I will never [ultimately] be shaken.
  2. He laments. But you enemies are trying your best to destroy me, a weak, tottering fence.
  3. He reminds himself. Remember, look for rest and peace in God alone, it is only there you can find it, even when the ground is shaking
  4. He warns self and others. Don’t trust in your position, don’t trust in ill-gotten gain. And if God blesses you, don’t trust in the blessing
  5. He cycles back to truth. Remember this one thing: God you are strong AND loving. You will remain righteous in your dealings with us.

While the Psalm ends, I suspect the writer could easily have kept the pattern going, as in starting again with the first verse or adding more to the pattern.

This pattern of truth, honest admission of pain, reminder of truth is a far better picture of the reality of life hidden in Christ than the false stoic (or Zen) image of being unperturbed by the chaos in and around us. God does not remove us from the storm. Instead, we express our trust (as much to remind ourselves as in bold assertion), we lament, we groan, we pour out our troubles and we circle back to the one truth we can hang our hope on.

You can see this pattern also in Psalm 42 and 43 with slight variations: Remember when I used to be out in front leading the worship but now my tears are my only food. Why am I like this? I hope in God. But I am downcast. Day and night God is loving…but it seems you have forgotten me in my oppression? Vindicate me. You are my stronghold so why is this not getting better? Free me so I can worship you…yet I am still in despair even as I hope in you.

If you feel guilty much of the time when thinking about your level of trusting God, consider this alternative narrative: it is the greatest act of trust to keep bringing God your troubles, even when things or your response to them do not get easier.

So, does trust in God remove our anxieties? Not as much as we might think. But, if you could no longer feel guilty about your angst, might you in fact feel more peace as you trust God through the storm?

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Filed under Anxiety, Biblical Reflection, CCEF, christian counseling, counseling, Uncategorized

Entering into the Emotions of Others: Thoughts by Winston Smith


Winston Smith delivered an extraordinary plenary about how we enter into the pain of others. He began by telling the story from Good Will Hunting, an exchange between the Matt Damon character and his therapist, Robin Williams. The exchange illustrated the difference between having loads of knowledge about love or hurt and a true experience of love (or hurt). Knowledge knows nothing in comparison to experience. Winston then talked about an early counselor experience he had where he listened to a person’s pain but only critiqued it rather than entering in. He acknowledged the danger of biblical counselors to whip out a 3 trees chart and assessing them, thereby invalidating their experiences of pain. 

Instead, he suggest a better path

  1. Enter in. Really listen to them. Don’t imagine how you would feel in that situation as that will cause you to think and respond to yourself, not to the concerns and needs of the one who you want to help.
  2. Connect to their experience. Don’t go first to fixing or giving perspective. That can be helpful in the right time. When you are trying to connect, that is NOT the right time.
  3. Care. Let their grief become yours. Caring does not mean agreeing. And when you see strong responses or biases, we start to think that care means to correct. There is something true enough that you can start with their experience. 

(By the way, I find most first year counseling students really believe they are ready and willing to do these. But here’s where the challenge lies. You sit with someone and they begin telling you their pain. You convey a few connecting and caring responses and then after 5 minutes, you have nothing else to say. You are already wanting to comfort, give perspective, gently correct. We really do struggle with sitting with another’s pain. It makes us uncomfortable)

There is a cost to entering in. It will cost you your comfort. 

These 3 steps are quite hard even as they are simple. They are skills to be learned, but Winston reminds us that it is mostly hard because of something within. Why hard? You have to connect to something inside yourself that enables you to connect with them. You need to connect to fear, to grief, to despair, to rage. It will cost you something to do this well. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable. 

So why would we do this? Sincere love calls us to enter in. It isn’t just a motive; love is a person. We can do this because we know and are connected to Jesus. His nature is love, willing to leave his comfort zone and enter into the world of another. He becomes one of us. Want to give the same love to others? Experience God’s entering into your world. 

He ended with 1 John 4:12: No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. So enter in with boldness. 

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What to do with our emotions? #CCEF16 


Continuing a summary of the Emotions conference, CCEF faculty member Alisdair Groves presented two plenary talks having to do with our emotions. In the first he defined emotions as the expression of what we value, desire, even worship. Our emotions are ours and they are complex responses to our histories. However, they are windows into what is most important to us. 

In the second plenary he asked what we can do with our emotions. Before giving suggestions as to what to do with our emotions he suggested two unhelpful responses: deify them or deny them. The larger culture may over-value our emotions as our self, but Groves feels the church can do this as well by expecting spiritual highs (“amped”) all the time and that life in the valley is a sign of a problem. The flip side is a stoic response, stiff upper lip. He reminded the audience that both extremes do have a valid point but skew in the wrong direction. 

So, what to do? Engage our emotions. Note he did not suggest we change them, vent them, or embrace them. More specifically, he made a couple points:

  1. Engage your body. Take care of it. Eat and sleep well. You will be better able to engage your negative emotions when you are your physical best. He quoted someone who said, “eating is the most over-used anti-depressant while exercise is the most under-used anti-anxiety tool.” 
  2. Engage your emotions in the Lord. He gave several dos and don’ts. Don’t vent. Don’t stew. Do bring your pain to God. Do connect with others over your pain and ask for their help, do insert Scripture and other goods into your life (like turning on a faucet of good clean water). Do repent. Not so much repent of your negative emotions but bring them to God and recognize you need to repent of those things that are not of God (e.g., bitterness, unforgiveness).

_______

Question for you: Do our emotions only show what we love/worship/value? (Note, I do not believe this is what Alisdair was teaching the audience!)

If I am attacked and react in fear, does this show what I worship? Or does it show I value my life and my dominion is being stolen from me? I think Alisdair is right in that often our emotions do reveal our assumptions, perceptions, and yes, our values. But I believe and I think he would believe that emotions reveal our humanness AND our imaging of God’s emotions as well. They reveal the good and bad of relationships. I would argue that emotions are to be (a) listened to, (b) accepted, and (c) evaluated from the vantage point of life in Christ. Now, that last phrase, life in Christ, needs great unpacking. It would be easy to make that mean something like, “since Jesus has saved you, your negative emotions have no place here. In everything give thanks.” That would not be an accurate picture of what I mean by Life in Christ. Life in Christ with the hope of heaven does not deny what is broken in the life. It REQUIRES lament, confusion, anger, jealousy, even as it requires hope, joy, peace, and comfort. So, our emotions reveal something about ourselves and something about God and the world he has made. 

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Filed under biblical counseling, CCEF, christian counseling, Desires

Emotions: Why do we demean them so?


This morning I am on my way to represent my school at CCEF’s annual conference. This year the topic is “Emotions: Engaging the Expressions of our Heart.” I’ll try to post some reflections of what I hear throughout the conference.

Truth be told, emotions have gotten little consideration in the biblical/Christian counseling world. When I was a Westminster student back in the late 80s/early 90s David Powlison wrote an essay called “Crucial Issues in Biblical Counseling.” I recall one of those crucial issues to be that of developing a more robust theology of emotions. Nearly 30 years later, we still need that work to be done in evangelical circles. I’m hoping to hear some of that this week.

We evangelicals have prized thinking over feeling, as if one is less biased or less “fallen” than the other. This is not new. Early Christians worked to clarify the personhood of Jesus and shut down false views. The protestant reformation was intended to correct errors in thinking and belief that had infiltrated the Church. Thus, belief and repetition of those beliefs have been prized over listening to emotions. Right thinking is even prized, sadly, over right behavior.

One of the negative results of this problem for Christian counselors is the temptation to invalidate the feelings and experience of clients. Most counselors assume their helpful, gently corrective responses will bring a level of comfort and reduction in emotional pain. Far too frequently, the client is left feeling more alone and upset–even when they know the counselor as spoken truth. Why? Consider this made up exchange and see how you would feel if you were the client.

Client: [who feels that many overlook her competencies] I can’t believe my sister did that to me. Why would she be so hurtful and cut me out of my mother’s birthday celebration planning? I feel so rejected.

Counselor: You know, some people are like that. Really, you shouldn’t be bothered by her. Hasn’t she done this before to others? Be thankful that you didn’t have to do all that planning.

Does thinking or emotions have to trump the other? We are designed to think and feel, to experience our world through emotions and thoughts; each informing the other.

Here’s how we would know we are making headway:

  1. We stop trying to talk people out of their feelings. We start listening to what our feelings can tell us about ourselves and our world
  2. We worry less that emotional experiences are biased. We know they are but still recognize them as real experiences of the world.
  3. We look more for corrective emotional experiences than assuming that thinking always changes feeling.
  4. We know that God cares about our painful feelings and so we bring them to God, knowing that He too has felt sadness, jealousy, anger, and angst. He has compassion on us and offers us opportunities to see him in the midst of the struggle.

Sure, our feelings are not always (ever?) accurate. They need correction. They need perspective that God, Scripture, and wise friends can give. But rather than starting out with pointing out emotional or logic errors in our counselees, how about we get down in the mud and share in the experience as we walk together.

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Criticism of Biblical Counseling: Are Joyce’s Concerns Valid?


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:

  1. Where might I find a more thorough history of biblical counseling and its various permutations?
  2. 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)]
  3. 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

  1. 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?
  2. How might you better communicate “sufficiency of Scripture” to outsiders?
  3. 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?
  4. 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.]

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GTRI featured in an online, free journal


Our Global Trauma Recovery Institute is featured in the most recent issue of the EMCAPP Journal for Christian Psychology Around the World. Pages 172-211 include an overview of GTRI, two essays by Diane Langberg (The Role of Christ in Psychology; Living to Trauma Memories) and one by me (Telling Trauma Stories: What Helps, What Hurts).

The journal also contains an essay by Edward Welch (www.ccef.org) where he muses his development as a biblical counselor, explores the matter of emotions and some of the stereotypes of biblical counseling. The journal also includes a large number of essays about Paul Vitz as well as a number about the Society of christian Psychology.

Take a look!

 

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Filed under "phil monroe", biblical counseling, Biblical Seminary, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling skills, Diane Langberg, Ed Welch, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, trauma

The Journal of Biblical Counseling is Back!


Those of you familiar with the wider field of Biblical Counseling and of the leading role played by the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation may be interested to know that they have re-launched their popular journal after being on hiatus since 2007. the Journal of Biblical Counseling (v. 26) is available for FREE here on their website. You can download individuals articles or the entire issue for free, OR…you can order a print version for a fee if you would rather touch the pages.

I would especially point readers to Mike Emlet’s helpful essay on psychoactive medications, Julie Lowe’s essay on counseling children, or any of the book reviews. All well worth your time!

It may not be free for long so take advantage of this resource.

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Competing Models of Christian Counseling? Who is Right?


A couple of recent pieces have me thinking about (a) models of Christian counseling and, (b) the intramural conversation amongst Christians on which model is most Christian. One piece is David Powlison’s article in the Summer 2011 issue of the Westminster Today magazine (this link is to the magazine site but the current issue is not yet up). The second is by Ed Welch–a blog on Biblical Counseling Coalition website.

This is not a new topic for me. From my “About Me” page you can see that I have training in biblical counseling and also in clinical psychology. I respect the folks at CCEF who had a huge impact on my life and thought–especially that lovely editor they employ ;). While getting my PsyD I published on the historic divide between biblical counselors and Christian psychologists and the need to build bridges. I’m an associate editor for Edification, a Christian Psychology peer-reviewed journal.

All that to say, I have some thoughts on some ways we might move beyond right/wrong while still being concerned about building a clear, cogent, God-honoring model of Christian counseling.

Drop the labels

Yes, we should drop our labels. What is the difference between a Christian counselor, Christian psychologist, integrationist, or biblical counselor? These differences are as varied as the numbers of people who use them. Yes, there are probably some benefits to communicating a personal stance with one of these terms. But, for every benefit, there are probably any number of negatives, including the use of the label as a curse. “Are you that kind of biblical counselor” (whatever kind you find offensive)? “Are you a Christian who happens to be a psychologist or a Christian psychologist?”

In addition to dropping labels, we should also drop broad brush judgments. Calling Christian psychologists “syncretistic” is offensive and ill-fitting. Calling biblical counselors “psychology bashers” does not accurately portray their nuanced approach. Saying that psychology and biblical counseling is “fundamentally incompatible” (from either side of the debate) ignores the benefits that both sides gather from each other.

No labels? What then?

Facets. I’m sure there going to be problems with this idea too but let us choose to focus on facets of counseling models. For example:

  • How does Scripture shape counseling foundations and goals?
  • How do we learn from, utilize, and critique psychological constructs, data, etc?
  • How does typical human development trajectories influence our understanding of the change process?
  • How do we learn from those who do not share our epistemic foundations?
  • How do we articulate diverse counseling goals (suffering well? symptom reduction? discipleship? skill acquisition? insight?) as all working toward the common goal of glorying God and enjoying him forever.

Listen first, repent first

In Ed’s blog post (linked above on the BCC site), he captures the most essential characteristic needed if we are going to learn from each other. We ought to,

listen and enter into the world of the other person (or in this case the other counseling perspective) in such a way that the person representing the perspective says, “Yes, that’s me. You understand.”

It is a sad thing that we counselor types start with diagnosing other model builders without listening first to both the content of that model and the person behind it. We treat our fellow counselors in ways we would never treat a client. How should we listen to others? Can we see what they see? Can we see what they see that we tend to ignore? Can we see the benefits of what they do and the potential liabilities they see in our model?

Be willing to repent where you have unfairly labeled, categorized, and marginalized one who was working for Christ’s kingdom–even if you think you have been hurt more.

List own weaknesses first

Most debates, whether between thinkers or spouses, rarely succeed in winning over the other person. Why? Because we are too busy defending, explaining away, pointing out the weaknesses of the opponent to actually deal with reality.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear a counseling model builder express his/her models weaknesses or needed growth points first before exploring the deficits of the another? “My model doesn’t yet have a good understanding of ____. Your model does so much better with that and I want to learn from you.”

Build the center

Rather than start with the differences (which do indeed exist), what if we cataloged the similarities and areas of agreement among Christian models of counseling? In addition, what if we recognized those things we might not have noticed with out the help of those outside our own community. For example, Scripture may speak a great deal about loving neighbors but a particular model of psychology may flesh out what loving a very unique population of client ought to look like. Even if Scripture is sufficient, we do not diminish it when we acknowledge we hadn’t made a particular application without our neighbor’s help.

Acknowledge differences

We will not see eye to eye. We will disagree. Let us acknowledge these where they arise. Let us make sure the differences are real and categorize them into those that are peripheral and those that are substantial. For example, David Powlison speaks about the need for a counseling/care for the soul model back in the 1950s. Despite quality practical theology and discipleship programs, he asked,

But what was the quality [in the 50s] of corporate wisdom in comprehending the dynamics of the human heart? What sustains sufferers and converts sinners? Westminster Today, 4:1 (2011), p7

Right away I ask myself, are these the only two options (sustaining, converting) for Christian counselors? Is it possible also to have the role of treating symptoms? Teaching skills? Reducing suffering? I’m fairly sure that this initial difference is not really there. I suspect David does not reject mercy ministry to reducing suffering. But in dialog, he and I might end up agreeing that some biblical counseling models fail to focus on skill intervention in their quest to address the human heart. And we would likely agree that some christian psychology models fail to address the spiritual discipline of suffering well and the need for conversion. Might we end up agreeing that we want a full-orbed model that neither diminishes nor over-promises symptom care or sanctification?

Promote each other

Finally, we do well to promote each other at our conferences and learning communities. We encourage wide-ranging reading, critical interactions (note, not criticizing), and sharpening of each other. And we commit to lovingly correcting those of our “friends” who speak ill about our neighbors. We reject the fear of defending an outsider for fear of being rejected ourselves. 

 

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Filed under AACC, biblical counseling, CCEF, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling, counseling science, Psychology, Uncategorized

Considering Marriage at Virginia Beach


In a couple of days I’ll be going to Virginia Beach to attend the CCEF conference on marriage. If you are in the area or going to the conference yourself do stop by the Biblical Seminary booth and say hello. We have info to show you on

  • new on-line courses next summer and fall
  • a summer class on forgiveness
  • an exciting (FREE) conference next March 17-19 dealing with sex trafficking and abuse and showcasing Diane Langberg and Bethany Hoang (IJM) that can be taken for credit (not free) or CEU.
  • information and even a discount for moving your completed CCEF DE courses into graduate accredited credits.

At the conference I’m especially interested in seeing what will be said on the topic of damaged relationships. Often we Christians paint the beautiful image of sacrificial, Christ-centered marriage. And we should–because too often we lose sight of the vision of what marriage is intended to be. But we ought also to address the issue of brokenness and how to live in the now when marriage does not seem to be working. We of all people ought to be the best at describing marital life when change isn’t forthcoming.

So, here’s a couple of conference session titles I’m most interested in

Thriving in a failure-t0-thrive marriage (Julie Lowe)

Adultery: Can there be a day after the worst day ever (Tim Lane)

Too broken to fix (Mike Emlet)

When will the new day dawn? Loving a spouse who was victimized in the past (Julie Lowe & David Powlison)

Also looking forward to the view of the ocean. Missed seeing much of it this summer. Anyone up for a quick dip?

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Filed under biblical counseling, Biblical Seminary, christian counseling, marriage

Check out a counseling office designed just for kids


Check out this video of Julie Lowe showing off (in a good way!) her counseling office designed for counseling kids. Julie is at CCEF and an adjunct at Biblical Seminary. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and trained in play therapy. Here’s the link. [Link was broken, now fixed]

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