Tag Archives: christian psychology

The power and perversity of labels

English: Photo of Paulo Freire

[Previous version published  in 2006]

That was great!

You are a liar!

We humans have powerful tendencies to label and categorize. It may be something that Adam passed on to us. Notice that Adam got to name the animals as he saw fit. I suspect that being made in the image of God provides us an innate drive to name things as they are?

But what happens when things don’t fit our categories? We either have to expand our definitions or shove square pegs into round holes.

  • The color line comes to mind. Those who are biracial face the repeated question, “What are you?” And the “one drop” rule still is holds power: one drop of African heritage blood in your recent ancestry makes you “Black” in this country.
  • How about those who don’t fit gender stereotypes. I’ve heard the pain of many who were accused of being gay because they didn’t fit someone’s image of a man or a woman. These labels were so powerful that they caused confusion. “If being a man means…(fill in the blank), then I must not be one. Maybe I’m gay.”

The Counselor’s Power to Label

Counselors hold tremendous power when as they label, especially those who represent both the counseling and the Christian worlds. We label right and wrong, righteous and unrighteous. We label idols of the heart. We want our counselees to see themselves and God in proper form. We see how distortions in labels (e.g., God doesn’t love me; I’m incapable of changing) harm and we want to provide healthier labels.

But, HOW and WHEN we label may be more important than whether our labels are actually correct. The temptation for counselors is to label too quickly, before the counselee is ready. If that happens, the counselee is passive and the counselor’s label is just one more among a chorus of opinionated acquaintances.  

Take a look at how Jesus interacts with sinners and self-proclaimed holy men. Who is he more likely to label? Who does he engage with deep questions? What are his means for helping others see themselves? Notice how the Pharisees were quick to label what was authentically Jewish and what was not. Notice that the Lord seems less interested in that and more interested connecting to others. He was not neutral about sin. However, he engages others in novel ways to show them the righteous path and their need for a savior.

Who Does the Labeling Matters

I’ve been enamored with the late Paulo Freire, a liberation theologian from Brazil. He describes how unthinking, impoverished, people become empowered when they are given the power to name things (problems, solutions). They do not, he says (in Cultural Action for Freedom), learn by being filled up with words and labels by dominant culture individuals. If this were the case, then counseling would only be a matter of memorizing the right words and phrases. No, counseling is a dialogue where the counselee is an active, creative subject in the process of change. In Learning to Question: A Pedagogy of Liberation, (by Freire and Faundez), they say,

I have the impression…that today teaching, knowledge, consists in giving answers and not asking questions.

The same could be said about counseling. It is the asking of questions that encourages us to search for answers. Without questions, we may never redefine the problem. When we counselors label (whether we are talking about DSM labels or right/wrong labels) without engaging  the client in the process, we rob them of their words.

What Can We Do?

Freire suggests a three-step dialogical model that may work also in building an effective counseling relationship: Investigate (ask exploratory questions, examine beliefs, myths, etc.), Name (code and decode, a process of un-naming and naming what is going on), and Problematize (identify problem and solutions).

Avoid the Temptation to Give the Gift of Your Knowledge

Freire says that gifts given by oppressors only perpetuate injustice. If the “gift” of your knowledge perpetuates the divide between the counselor (the healthy/wise one) and the counselee (the sick/naive one), then your gift may only serve to perpetuate their illness. This does not mean you should never speak or offer advice. But ask yourself, “does the way I speak to clients encourage and energize (all the better if in the form of a pushback) or cause passivity?

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Filed under biblical counseling, counseling, counseling science, counseling skills, Psychology

Christian Cancer?

Biblical Seminary’s faculty blog has posted an older blog of mine on the “top form of Christian cancer”. Click here to go see what it is.

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Filed under "phil monroe", Biblical Seminary, Christianity, Relationships

Dr. Langberg on Dissociation (part II): DID, Principles and Cautions

Over at my other site, www.globaltraumarecovery.org, we now have part II of Dr. Langberg’s talk (March 2013) on dissociation. This video covers the concepts of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and complex trauma. She ends with 10 principles and cautions for therapists working with clients who dissociate and/or who present with alternate personalities and identities.

Check out the video here. If you missed the first video or want to find other free resources, click around on that website.

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Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling science, counseling skills, Psychology

Repost at www.biblical.edu: What is Christian Psychology?

For many of you this is the season of buying Christmas presents. For me, it is the season of paper grading time. I have 46 term papers due tonight. Thankfully, I do have a TA helping with grading for the first time in a VERY long time. So, that is my excuse for no new posting today. However, our faculty blog is reposting a version of my recent blog on Dr. Diane Langberg’s definition of Christian Psychology. Alone, her definition isn’t intended to be comprehensive (as she does not choose to define psychology). Probably would be better to title this a definition of Christian psychotherapeutic intervention. The focus in this definition is on the character of the therapist and the submission to the Spirit’s working in the life of the counselee. The point of the definition is to remind us that we can define the boundaries of psychology from a Christian perspective and yet fail to see the relational aspects of the work that we do.

If you missed it, this link will show you the original post here on November 26 and some helpful questions and comments.

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One Definition of Christian Psychology

At a recent conference, Diane Langberg submitted the following definition of Christian Psychology. I present it below, verbatim, for your consideration. In some ways she doesn’t say anything new. However, it is quite different from our usual definitions.

Let me explain my seeming contradiction by first giving you C. Stephen Evans definition of Christian psychology,

 [It is] psychology which is done to further the kingdom of God, carried out by citizens of that kingdom whose character and convictions reflect their citizenship in that kingdom… (p. 132)

As you would expect, Dr. Evans offers a philosophically astute definition.

Or, consider Eric Johnson’s tome, Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal. In this book of 700 plus pages, he explicates a Christian psychology framework as doxological, semiodiscursive, dialogical, canonical, and psychological approach to soul repair. If you are looking for a theologically and epistemologically rich entry point to Christian psychology, I can’t point you to a better place than this book.

Like these two examples, many of our current definitions focus on matters of epistemology, theology, and psychology. Many definitions also emphasize the work of critical evaluation of existing psychological theory and research.

Now turn to Dr. Langberg’s definition. Notice how she emphasizes the character, the preparation, and actions of the counselor. Notice further that the focus on outcomes is bidirectional–on counselee and counselor.

Christian psychology as practiced in the counseling relationship is a servant of God, steeped in the Word of God, loving and obeying God in public and in private, sitting across from a suffering sinner at a vulnerable crossroad in his/her life and bringing all of the knowledge and wisdom and truth and love available to that person while remaining dependent on the Spirit of God hour by hour. That work, no matter what you call it, will be used by God to change us into His likeness; that work will result in His redemptive work in the life sitting before us; that work will bring glory to His great Name.

What I take from Dr. Langberg’s definition is an emphasis on action, the Spirit’s work and the counselor’s work (in self and other). While the epistemological definitions are necessary if we are going to think critically about our work, so to is this action-oriented definition. It reminds us that for all our thinking and theorizing, it is God’s work in our private and public lives that is used to bring healing and hope to others.

Your thoughts?


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling skills, Diane Langberg

PTSDland – By Anna Badkhen | Foreign Policy

Anna Badkhen asks, “How do you heal an entire country suffering from shell shock. She describes conditions in Afghanistan. You can see she asks a great question but labors, as we all do, to come up with an answer that makes sense in a place that is still unstable (and therefore still traumatizing) and that fits the cultural and economic realities of the region.

Check out this short essay,

PTSDland – By Anna Badkhen | Foreign Policy.


Filed under Abuse, counseling skills, Psychology, ptsd

Guest post over at Christianpost.com

The website, www.christianpost.com has picked up one of my recent blog posts about whether our bodies can cause us to sin. Never heard of the site before but nice to be noticed. You can see the post here if you missed it on my site: http://blogs.christianpost.com/guest-views/can-your-body-cause-you-to-sin-11696/

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Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, Doctrine/Theology

Can your body make you sin? Post on www.biblical.edu

Over at the faculty blog at www.biblical.edu I have this first post of two on the topic of how our bodies influence our behavior. I raise two questions:

1. Can our bodies cause us to sin?

2. If so, are we responsible or culpable?

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Filed under biblical counseling, Biblical Seminary, counseling, Psychology

Validating your client’s distrust of you

Ever had a person tell you they can’t trust you when you know they can? What was your response? if you are like most people, you notice the tendency to want to defend yourself. No, really, you can trust me. Why don’t you give me a chance? Or maybe your response isn’t one to beg but to back away and treat the person with a cool demeanor.

What should counselors do when a client doesn’t or won’t trust their intentions or motivations?Janina Fisher (see previous post) reminds us that the right responses is…acceptance validation. Especially with clients who experienced invalidation in violence and abuse. Notice that the effort to press a client to trust you or distancing from them sends the exact same message: your feelings and experiences are wrong and something to be rejected. Not surprisingly, clients feel invalidated once again.

What does validation look like?

You are right. You don’t know if you can trust me. Trusting important people meant that you got hurt in the past. So, not trusting me is understandable. So…what should we do? Validation doesn’t mean that we agree with whatever our clients say but that we find the truth and we underline it. Further, it means that we give the power back to our clients since many of them experienced being controlled.

Too often we think we know what is best for our clients and we try to indoctrinate them to our wisdom. Even when we are right, our efforts may unwittingly re-enact the stealing of power to set proper boundaries. Even when our clients want us to convince them that we are okay and worthy of trust, we ought to be careful. In everyday life we have to trust others, live with the possibility that our trust may be violated…and that we will need to respond to such violations with grace and truth. Promises to always be trustworthy perpetuate the myth that protection from all pain is possible in this life.


Filed under christian counseling, counseling science, counseling skills, Psychology, Uncategorized

In Counseling, Who is the Teacher?

Most counselors and therapists get into the field of counseling because they want to help people. This is a good thing! Imagine if they only wanted to make money or to be the center of attention. But, underneath the goal of wanting to help people lurks an insidious goal:

being seen as wise.

Being seen as wise (notice the difference between being wise and being seen as wise) tempts us to become the teacher, the teller, the obnoxious sage.  Teaching, telling, training are all activities that may happen in counseling, but only when necessary. Truth be told, we counselors resort to teaching and telling because it gives us a job to do and makes us feel good. This is especially true when we work with the most severely traumatized people. Here someone is hurting in front of us. We can see that they are stuck. Who wouldn’t want to pull them out of the mud? Now, there may well be important teaching moments–gently instructing someone on the symptoms of trauma and/or the physiology of trauma. This might be important for the client who believes that the symptoms are really signs they are sinning and that they can just choose to stop being triggered.

In Counseling, Who is the Teacher?

“The patient is the ultimate teacher about trauma, and a good therapist is a good listener.” (Boskailo, p. 81)

While the counselor has much to offer in regard to teaching, training, and goal setting, we must remember that the client is the one teaching us about their trauma experiences and how much they can deal with at a given time. For example, Boskailo reminds us (see above link for book) that while telling the trauma story is an important part of the healing process, the “how” of telling (and the “how much”) is something each client will need to teach us. One client may need to tell and re-tell the same story each week. Another may be better helped by drawing. Still another may tell once and never again.

We counselors are the student in these kinds of matters. It is our job to listen well and learn well!


Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling science, counseling skills, Psychology