For those interested in a new resource on dealing with abusive relationships, check out this post about Leslie Vernick’s new book on emotionally destructive marriages. I highly recommend it. Leslie gets the insanity of emotional abuse and is able to point out a good and godly response.
Tag Archives: Christian counseling Christian Psychology
My friends and colleagues here at Biblical Seminary–Jenn Zuck and Bonnie Steich–are teaching a class this weekend about the role of counseling in helping those with chronic conditions. Need CEUs anyone? Info here.
This is such an important issue given our increase in capacity to manage or maintain life with chronic conditions. Some cancers now are more like chronic conditions. HIV can be a chronic condition. And of course there are the more well-known problems such as MS, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, neuropathy, diabetes, liver dysfunction, etc.
How do you respond to those who seem to be struggling with a long-term condition? Especially when the condition is vague and not visible to the eye? Do you get worn out comforting that person?
I just read a study where they assessed whether major life events or daily hassles were more negatively impacting chronic pain conditions. It turns out that daily hassles increase chronic conditions symptoms far more than do major life stressors. It makes sense but also challenges us to consider how we might overlook the “normal” life of counselees and secretly want them to stop their whining and complaining about how hard it is to …
In the last post I reviewed some simple definitions of mindfulness, including some of the Buddhist ideas behind a version of mindfulness. In this post I want to consider how mindfulness, when reconsidered in the light of Christian thought, can be a valuable part of counseling practice.
A thought about mindfulness and the brain
Let me detour to one more thought about biology and mindfulness. What happens in the brain when a person is practicing mindfulness? Thought and feeling patterns result in neural activity in the brain (or is it the other way around?). Repeated neural activity creates stronger connections between neurons (increased synaptic activity and denser connections with neurons in the same neighborhood. Repeated activity leads to greater blood flow and activation in particular regions of the brain. Neuroscientists call this neuroplasticity.
Thus affective and cognitive patterns can indeed change your brain. Think about this. What patterns of thought do you engage in on a repetitive basis? Do you have a habit of fantasizing? Mulling over bitter or jealous thoughts? While some of these may come naturally to you, what you do with them may actually change or strengthen neural connections in the brain–for better or for worse.
Is mindfulness healthy or relativistic?
Mindfulness, no matter whether you take a religious, consciousness, or relational approach to it, includes the stepping back from shoulds, oughts, and other judgments. One might think that this would be dangerous for Christians. Within Christianity, there are rights and wrongs, truth and lie, righteousness and unrighteousness. The Bible is, among other things, the single guide for Christians to determine how to live for God. SO, it begs the question whether Christians should be wary of anything that seems to let go of shoulds and oughts?
Another view of shoulds and oughts
In my experience, those suffering from anxiety and depression suffer from a disorder of judgments. They are flooded by shoulds and oughts. Their self-talk does not seem to come from the Lord but are already laced with prejudice. “You should have been more vigilant against danger AND you weren’t. You’re a failure.” “You shouldn’t be rebellious BUT you are always a screw-up.” “I shouldn’t have to suffer this way AND God must not care for me.” Notice that most of these forms of judgment are careful consideration of the facts and experiences but well-formed opinions that may be based on only a smidgen of the actual events in their present circumstances. Notice that these forms of ruminative thinking come in disguise as careful, logical thinking. They are not. What they are narratives–well-practiced narratives–that have an already formed conclusion that we repeat regardless of the actual facts of our lives.
Mindfulness, then, is stepping back from these narratives. Mindfulness is a practiced discipline of just noticing and describing events so as to process them more carefully instead of automatically repeated a script or mantra. Mindfulness provides the opportunity to discover “what is” rather than compound suffering by focusing on what we just assume. Consider Dan Siegel (The Mindful Brain, p. 77)
When the mind grasps onto preconceived ideas it creates a tension within the mind between what is and what “should be.” This tension creates stress and leads to suffering.”
While I’m sure I would vigorously disagree with Siegel on what a preconceived idea is, on what can be healthy “should be’s”, and much more, he has a point worth considering. Have you ever engaged in a fantasy conflictual conversation with someone you are about to meet. You play out yourself winning, being mistreated, standing up for what is right, and so on. Notice how such conversations aren’t useful. They only increase your level of stress because your brain responds to the inner drama as if it were really happening, when it has yet to happen. In this way, Siegel is right. We create tension that leads to suffering.
Using mindfulness in Christian Counseling
I’m running out of room here and won’t be able to do justice, in this post, to the most practical part of mindfulness. [Isn’t that just like us academics. We spend all our time pointing out problems but we never solve anything!]. Mindful practice may include time practicing being present in one’s surroundings. The counselor may encourage clients to take in their surroundings. While many thoughts may race through the brain, the mindful person may choose to not follow them but “drink in” the creation beauty around them–things growing, art, or anything that is a delight to the senses. This form of discipline must be practiced in de-stressed times so that it will be available during a crisis–just like a basketball player practices free-throws over and over so as to make the shot when there is only 1 second left on the clock.
Such work is the work of taking every thought captive. and resting (a la Psalms 131) without grasping after things “too wonderful” for us.
Maybe it’s a stage of life, maybe I’m hallucinating, but it seems to me that the divisions withing Christian forms of counseling are exploding. And to that I can only say hurrah!!
Let me give you the clifnotes version of American Christian counseling history (minus many important details) starting with the 20th century:
- Fundamentalist/Modernist fallout after the turn of the century builds division between fundamentalist/evangelicals and academics, including psychology. Division over naturalism
- Christians authoring psychology related books (Boisen, Clinebell, Hiltner, Narramore) in 30s-50s
- Creation of Christian Association of Psychological Studies in 1956 by Dutch Reformed pastors but later broadened to include those wacky Californian evangelicals interested in psychology. Writings at this time were broadly evangelical but often contemporary psychology models with bible verses attached. Beginnings of the integrationof psychology and Christianity movement with creation of doctoral training programs by Fuller Seminary and others.
- Jay Adams counters in late 60s and early 1970 (Competent to Counsel) with nouthetic counseling model to return to the power of the Scripture to change people and to throw off the humanistic clutches of psychology. Numerous models of biblical counseling birthed. Most prominent: CCEF
- Divide between Biblical counseling models and professional Christian Psychology widens in the church. Much maligning of each other. To associate with one meant no possible association with the other. Biblical counseling avoids professional jargon; integrative psychology pushes for meeting state licensing standards
- Biblical Counseling moves in 1980s from predominantly deconstructive and critique oriented to more positive model building
- 1990s: some beginnings of dialogue between key thinkers/authors in biblical counseling and integration movement. Integrative clinicians see benefits of the biblical work done by biblical counselors, see problems with many superficial integrative models, and both sides seem to be less separatistic and more open to learning from each other
- Now in the 21st century: A new version of Christian Psychology willing to embrace biblical counselors, psychologists, theologians, etc. and desiring to build a robust, biblically founded understanding of people informed by psychological research.
Okay, that’s in broad brush strokes and I left out huge developments and individuals. But yesterday I received a survey about biblical counseling programs. It’s clear our old divisions and categories no longer work. Now, today I get an advertisement for a biblical counseling conference that includes a wide variety of speakers. We are truly crossing lines! I’m interested to see what comes of this in the next 5 years.
FYI, interested in a fuller history? Start with the 1st chapter in Eric Johnson and Stan Jones’ “Psychology and Christianity: 4 Views” book. Follow their reference list. Then check out David Powlison’s U Penn PhD dissertation on the history of Jay Adams. Neftali Serrano published his PsyD dissertation on the beginnings of CAPS. That will whet your appetite.