Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

Spiritual Competencies for Clinicians


I will be presenting a 2 hour seminar at Penn Foundation today on Spiritually Informed Practitioners: Exploring Challenges and Opportunities. Over the last year or so I have been part of a multi-faith working group, Standing on Sacred Ground, that has been thinking about how to educate mental health practitioners to recognize, value, and work with the faith of clients (rather than see it as something automatically pathological or insignificant). Given the historic divide between mental health and faith communities (there have been haters on both sides) few clinicians have much training in understanding faith, religion, and spirituality beyond “be respectful.” Thus, religiously committed individuals often have had their faith marginalized or pathologized.

This presentation will look at roots of the historic divide, explore the complex relationship between faith and recovery, provide opportunities for MHPs to examine their own biases, and examine several key spiritual competencies needed for adequate provision of care.

Interested in the slides, check them out: Spiritually Informed Care.

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Filed under counseling, mental health

The Sin of Categorizing Failures: Why Our Explanations Often Fail


We all do it. We categorize sins and failures to explain why they happened. This habit is not new. Our first parents did it. Adam and Eve knew of their choices and yet laid the blame at another’s feet.

We do it too, whether for ourselves or for others. We hear of the sins of others and provide a ready explanation.

He’s a jerk…she comes from a dysfunctional family…he has a chemical imbalance…a disease…low self-esteem…narcissism……

When we think about our own failings, we also provide simple explanations to categorize the problem:

I was tired…You made me…I forgot the Gospel…I just loved you too much…I didn’t love myself enough

Usually these explanations and categorizations fail. (Who was it who said that every complex problem has a simple, neat but wrong answer? Mencken?)

 Why do we categorize in simple but incomplete fashion? 

In short, it serves a purpose. It enables us to communicate something we find important. Yes, we may lay blame on others or remove blame from self, I don’t think that is our first or only goal. What we really want to do is point out a factor we fear is going to be missed by others.  Consider these two examples:

  1. A christian leader is revealed to have an affair. How will we categorize it? Some might focus on the impossible pressures of ministry. Others might focus on a pattern of arrogance and narcissism. Still others might focus on childhood trauma.
  2. You falsely accuse someone of wrongdoing. How will you categorize it? Talk about your history of being mistreated? Talk about misunderstanding the facts? Talk about having a demonic influence? Talk about a psychological illness?

These explanations may well carry some weight. They may be, in part, true. I would suggest that our motivations for emphasizing one reason over another has much to do with comfort. It settles matters. It avoids blame. It separates things we love from things we hate.

What to do?

When listening to our own explanations or those of others, I think it might be best to use this blog entry by Ted Haggard penned after the recent suicide of a well-known preacher and preacher’s son. You’ll recall that some years ago, Ted went through his own public hell after evidence of misconduct including same-sex activity and meth purchase was released to the public. The purpose of Haggard’s writing now is to identify false theology behind the reasons why we Christians jump to conclusions about the reason for moral failings,

In the past we would try to argue that Evangelical leaders who fall were not sincere believers, or were unrepentant, or that they did not really believe their Bibles, or were not adequately submitted. And in the midst of these arguments, we KNOW those ideas are, in some cases, rationalizations.

It is much more convenient to believe that every thought, word, and action is a reflection of our character, our spirituality, and our core. They think the Earth is flat. Everyone is either completely good or bad, everything is either white or black, and if people are sincere Christians, then they are good and their behavior should conform.

Not so. There are more grays in life than many of our modern theological positions allow. It would be easy if I were a hypocrite, Bakker was a thief, and Swaggart was a pervert. None of that is true.

Haggard then explains that the problem is that we buy too much of the legalistic view of sin/holiness (A pharasaical view) and do not apply the Gospel of repentance and faith in a fallen-in process life. Actually, he doesn’t quite spell it out what it should be but points to the fact that we too often just label our failing leaders as sinners without seeing our own sin.

True, but maybe we can do better than this. What if we

  • Listen first and validate. What does the explanation given  reveal about what you or others think or feel?

Notice this from Ted about his own scandal (all emphases are mine)

The therapeutic team that dug in on me insisted that I did not have a spiritual problem or a problem with cognitive ability, and that I tested in normal ranges on all of my mental health tests (MMPI, etc.). Instead, I had a physiological problem rooted in a childhood trauma, and as a result, needed trauma resolution therapy. I had been traumatized when I was 7 years old, but when Bill Bright led me to the Lord when I was 16, I learned that I had become a new creature, a new person, and that I did not need to be concerned about anything in my past, that it was all covered by the blood. I did become a new creation spiritually, but I have since learned that I needed some simple care that would have spared my family and I a great deal of loss and pain.

Contrary to popular reports, my core issue was not sexual orientation, but trauma. I went through EMDR, a trauma resolution therapy, and received some immediate relief and, as promised, that relief was progressive. When I explain that to most Evangelical leaders, their eyes glaze over. They just don’t have a grid for the complexity of it all. It is much more convenient to believe that every thought, word, and action is a reflection of our character, our spirituality, and our core.

Seems Ted is trying to tell us that sexual orientation doesn’t tell the whole story; sin doesn’t do the story justice. But note he calls it only a physical problem, a trauma problem. He actively rejects it as a spiritual problem. Why? His entire being had a problem. He can’t really compartmentalize himself in this way. But by emphasizing the physiological, he communicates that we Christians far too quickly just stop at the problem of the will. Ted’s problem was more than just not believing the Gospel. There were far more complex factors in his heart and life, apparently far more than Ted knew or let on to himself.

Point taken.

  •   Consider additional factors. What am I ignoring or minimizing?

Since Adam and Eve, we minimize our own failings and maximize those of others. So, if we are going to find more accurate explanations for failures, we had better acknowledge some of the (not so) little gods we have served all these years. They may not show up on a psychological exam, but we all have them.

  • We want power, prestige, control, accolades
  • We want protection, love, purpose
  • We want our weaknesses to be hidden and our strengths to be cherished by others

The problem isn’t that we want these things. Rather, it is that we fail to acknowledge that we use them to excuse, dismiss, or cover our actions from examination–from self, from God, from others.

  • Look at all the partsBe honest to self and God but look to Him for the right response.

Too often we look at self or other in all-or-nothing lenses. Either we are all victim or all perpetrator. The truth is everyone is full of parts. Part of us want holiness. Part of us want to look holy but practice sin. Part of us does a good thing to serve another and another part does the same thing to get praise. This is what the Apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 7.  Thankfully, Paul doesn’t stop with the split. He continues in chapter 8 to point us to the fact that the power of sin is broken giving us the freedom to do good and the Holy Spirit’s help.

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Filed under Christianity, Uncategorized

New book of meditations for counselors by Diane Langberg


In our Lives FirstI want to point out and recommend a new collection of meditations designed for counselors and written by Dr. Diane Langberg. This ebook In Our Lives First: Meditations for Counselors (Kindle version first, Nook version to follow) consists of 40 meditations, each with quotes from some of Dr. Langberg’s favorite authors and with questions for you to ponder.

Dr. Diane Langberg (pictured above in the banner of this blog) is a practicing as a psychologist for the past 4 decades. Regular readers of this blog will know her as one of the leading experts in all things related to PTSD, trauma recovery, and christian counseling. For years she has been writing books and articles as well as speaking around the world on matters near and dear to her heart. For those of you familiar with Dr. Langberg, you may recognize some of the stories and ideas in the meditations. Many of these have appeared in some form in her Christian Counseling Today column or in her lectures.

If you are a people helper (professional or lay; clinical or ministerial) and have ever felt burned out by the work you do, I highly recommend these meditations. As Dr. Langberg tells us, the work must be in us first.

*******

Bias alert: I helped edit this volume. I do not gain any monetary benefit from sales. 

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Filed under biblical counseling, Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Meditations

Pastors as chaplains to child victims of abuse


Over at the Seminary’s  blog site, I have a post on the role of pastors with victims of abuse. It is designed to correct the all-too-common failure of church leaders to support (publicly) victims as they go through the legal system.

You can read it here: http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/faculty-blog/96-regular-content/716-pastors-as-chaplains-to-victims-of-abuse

 

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Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, pastors and pastoring

Abuse in the Church: Pastoral Responsibilities, Ministry Opportunities


This afternoon I will be speaking to pastors, ministers, elders, and key ministry leaders of the Bible Fellowship Church denomination at their annual conference. Their website states they have over 65 churches and over 10,000 in worship on a given Sunday.

It is a wonderful opportunity to talk about a difficult subject: abuse in the church.

We would like to believe that it happens elsewhere. But the church is not free from those who would harm children. The church has never been free from matters of abuse. The Apostle Paul takes a church to task for putting up with what sounds like abuse and incest. Thankfully, the evangelical church is waking up to the need to educate leaders about sexual abuse and how to care for both victims and perpetrators.

If you are interested in seeing what I will be talking about, here’s the slide show: Abuse In the Church

NEED MORE RESOURCES?

If you are new to this blog, use the search engine to find many other posts about preventing and responding abuse in the church. Or, click the image to the right for a 5 plus hour DVD on this very topic. Or check out www.netgrace.org for excellent resources and help on dealing with abuse in Christian settings.

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Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, trauma

Important series on abuse this week at www.rachelheldevans.com


This week, Rachel Held Evans will be blogging about the topic of abuse in Christian settings. Each day she will be making AM and PM postings by giving voice to victims and professionals, respectively. For example, this morning’s post is a guest post by Mary Demuth (see link below). This afternoon, she will post and interview with my friend, Boz Tchividjian, executive director of GRACE (and this year’s graduation speaker at Biblical Seminary).

Check the blog each day. I believe she will post a blog by me tomorrow afternoon!

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity

When all you see is brokenness…what then? A thought from Jeremiah 29


As a counselor and a Christian it is easy to see that the world is breaking. Suicides. Shootings. Affairs. Cancer. Addiction. Corporate Greed. Abuse. In addition, we hear about

  • Christian leaders who either perpetrate abuse or fail to protect when they hear of it
  • rampant immorality
  • political corruption

When we face these kinds of things, it is easy to fall into one of two unhelpful patterns. For some of us, we fight. We try harder. We attack others with sarcasm. We lay blame at the feet of others. While fighting harder to correct injustice is a good thing; while pointing out blame where it should lie is not a bad thing, the pattern of fighting may reveal a dangerous value system: if I can control my little corner of the world, things will get better. Sometimes this is true but most of the time, the “getting better” motif is an illusion. The wrong kind of fighting usually leads to embitterment.

Others of us choose a pattern of giving up.We stop trying to make a difference because it won’t. We turn down the volume on suffering. We avoid others who are obviously suffering. We move towards embittered discontentment. Now, it is not wrong to turn off the 24/7 “news” and to not read up on every tragedy. It is good not to fill our brains only with brokenness. But, giving up can sometimes lead to lamenting that the “good ole days” were better.

Enter the Prophet Jeremiah

In chapter 29, he writes to those who are experiencing brokenness. Israel is no more. A mass of Jews have been carried off into captivity. They live in a land that is not theirs as foreigners and likely without rights, privilege or land. They have lost connection with the promised land, with family, with language, with custom. Around them would be idol worshippers and a society not built on the Torah. There are some individuals who have been prophesying that in 3 years they will return home to Israel in triumph.

Jeremiah says, “Not so fast. No, you guys will die in captivity.” Well, no, he doesn’t exactly say that. He says it will be 70 years and then you (meaning your children and/or grandchildren) will get to return to the Land.

Nice. Jeremiah responds to their suffering and says, “Yup, it’s bad. And it is going to stay that way.”

But read on because he tells them God has a message for them to hear: (in Phil’s loose translation)

Obey me [the Lord, not Jeremiah]. Because I love you dearly, I will protect your soul. I will be blessing you even though there are dire consequences happening to you. Here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Look for the blessings I am sending you NOW. Don’t overlook them. They are really there for you to find.
  2. Live holy lives, not out of fear, but in confidence that I am keeping my promises to raise of a kingdom for my people.
  3. Live. Don’t put your life on hold. Build houses. Plant gardens. Harvest. Marry. Have kids. Help your kids get married. Enjoy your grandchildren. Be present and rooted where you are at. Live. Enjoy it.

Notice that to live, you have to move, act, have impact, even as you are accepting that you cannot avoid the consequences of living in a fallen world. I think this can be helpful for us in a season of much brokenness. Without denying the suffering that is everywhere, we can also choose to notice the little and the big blessings. We can simplify our lives to, “What do you want me to do today?” We can be mindful of the small activities of life. The grocery store is drudgery. Laundry is never-ending. And yet, we have the opportunity to act in our world and to pray for the peace of the city (as Jeremiah gives encouragement to do).

Maybe your joy is pretty tiny these days. That is okay. Just find it and savor it as a gift from God for the few minutes you have. Not all is broken. In a few days, hours, years, God will indeed put all to rights. Every heartache will become untrue. Still, even now, hang on to the signs of life and growth.

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, Christianity, Depression, Despair, Meditations, suffering

5 Top Abuse Prevention Actions for Churches


Over at Biblical’s faculty blog I have a new post discussing top abuse prevention and response strategies. These are the most common strategies found in my students’ papers. There are certainly many more strategies and more detail to be had for each item, but for any church looking to review its preparation for an allegation, these five make a great place to start.

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Filed under "phil monroe", Abuse, Biblical Seminary, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, counseling

What is an apology? Guest post at www.biblical.edu


I am a contributor to my seminary’s faculty blog and today one of my posts on apologies is up at www.biblical.edu. You can read it here.

Apologies are pretty simple things: ownership of responsibility without defense and willingness to make things right. Sadly, we have a hard time carrying out such a simple transaction because we invest in self-protection more than loving others.

For you, what do you most look for in an apology?

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Filed under christian counseling, Christianity, conflicts

Desiring fame: When does it lose lustre?


When I was a kid I would sometimes fantasize about being famous or a hero. Maybe everyone does. As I became an adult, that desire shifted from being a crime fighter or sports star to being a famous intellectual, a professor somewhere. I distinctly remember a conversation with my friend Geoff. We mused that it would be cool if we could succeed the two more famous professors at our bible college. While we were thinking about future possibilities, I’m sure we were also driven by the desire to be somebody.

Fast forward to this past week. My colleague Bryan and I were sitting on his Opryland Hotel balcony and musing about the years we had been coming to the AACC World Conference, our years of presenting there and at other conferences, and how our feelings about presenting had changed. We both began presenting at conferences while at Wheaton College in the PsyD program. We both had aspirations to teach grad students. We both had looked up to a few we thought we would like to emulate. And, we both thought about books we might write one day. Some of the “highs” we experienced were,

  • Getting our paper presentation proposals accepted at CAPS and AACC
  • Getting fairly large crowds to come to these paper presentations
  • Getting published in a peer-reviewed journal
  • Getting academic jobs…moving up the ranks
  • Publishing a book (Bryan, not me)

In the early days when we first presented (as grad students) we found the cheapest ways to get to conferences and stayed in a pretty seedy motel a long walk away from the conference location. But on the balcony of a very nice hotel room, we both felt a bit melancholy and completely unimpressed with ourselves and our former aspirations. These things did not matter and were of little value. Bryan would undoubtedly trade all prior aspirations to have his wife back (she died a little over a year ago).

In many ways, we received some of the recognition we once desired: both had our ways paid to the conference and hotels comped because of our higher level work (pre-conference speakers, track leader). I even got 2 minutes to speak to the entire conference attendees.

Big deal…in light of far more important matters. 1 John 2:15-17 reminds us,

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (NIV)

Fame is elusive, transitory, and dangerous to pursue. The desire for limelight will lead to decisions that will not honor God or benefit anyone but self. May those of us who want to be a somebody be reminded daily that the Kingdom of God is for the meek and lowly of this world. Fame here translates to nothing in heaven. Rather, our hunger must be for righteousness not fame.

So, when does fame lose lustre? When we are able to see greater things of value.

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Filed under christian counseling, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, counseling, Evangelicals, Uncategorized