Jesus in the Therapy Office
Lately, I’ve been getting so many phone calls from people specifically looking for a “Christian therapist.” I typically respond by telling them, “well yes, I am a Christian,” and most are fine with that answer. However, as I’ve recently pondered that response, I do feel the need to clarify what that even means! I also desire to point out that there is actually a wide spectrum on how Christianity and Psychology can be integrated (or not integrated) into one another! As such, I thought I would write this article to explain where I fall on that spectrum, and what I mean when I say I am “a Christian therapist.”
On one end of the spectrum, there is the belief that Psychology and Christianity are mutually exclusive and that while the two can co-exist, they each have their own place. The danger in this view is potentially exalting psychology to a position of scientific superiority and reducing faith to a simple Sunday tradition or nice coping skill.
On the other end of the spectrum, Psychology is completely rejected as “evil and worldly,” with counselors viewing pain and struggle strictly from a “sin” point of view, requiring repentance, prayer and Bible study as the only method of treatment. The danger in reducing depression and mental health down to “selfishness” that needs “repentance,” is flippantly dismissing real-life contributions to their depression, potentially discounting trauma, abuse victimization, toxic family upbringing, and other external factors that can lead a person to struggle in their mental health (not to mention grappling with understanding a God who would “allow” such trauma).
So I fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum of integration, and I will explain what that looks like.
Integrating Psychology INTO Christianity
First of all, psychology can be defined as the science of human behavior and mental processes. Through years and years of ground-breaking research, this avenue of science has uncovered a multitude of reasons for why people do what they do and why they think the way they think. It explains everything from how we learn, interpret, and remember, to what shapes our personal assumptions, beliefs and perceptions. There are so many amazing, profound, and life-changing insights that can be gleaned from psychology. However, while it offers incredible understanding of behavioral origin, it does not always offer the best method of treatment (the “you do you” and “live your truth” kind of pop psychology). So this is where the Bible needs to take precedence. I captioned this section “integrating Psychology INTO Christianity” because I personally begin with the Bible. I use THE BIBLE as my “scientific superiority,” my source of truth and wisdom; and I filter psychological science through it (accepting and rejecting what aligns or does not align). And actually believe it or not, psychological science IS ALREADY IN THE BIBLE! And much of science IS, in its slow effort to CATCH UP to the Bible! (*Sidenote, the Bible describes both the first and second laws of Thermodynamics in Hebrews, the hydrologic cycle in Job, and has advanced medical knowledge indicative of an early understanding of microscopic germs and the need for sanitization and quarantine in the Levitical laws. Oh, and Isaiah said the earth is round, circa 500bc😜).
Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology, currently among the most prevalent and well researched schools of thought within psychological science, says that the way we think influences every single aspect of our lives. It dictates our beliefs, governs our perceptions, influences our emotions, and ultimately determines our actions and behaviors. Thus, to change our behavior and/or heal from the hurtful actions of others committed against us, we must essentially…change the way we think. As profound as this may seem, we’ve already been told this!
“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” -Proverbs 23:7
“Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” -Ephesians 4:23
“And be not conformed to the pattern of this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” -Romans 12:2a
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” -2 Corinthians 10:5
Where psychology complements the Bible, is in the tools it offers in practice. For instance, this last verse says to “take every thought captive…” Well interestingly, I teach a skill out of cognitive-behavioral psychology called “disputing negative self-talk.” This skill actually gives a step-by-step process that begins with grabbing onto a negative thought (taking it captive), and “stopping” with it before it manifests into an action. Then the next step involves putting that thought “on trial,” and disputing it via evidence for and against its validity, and then evaluating whether to accept or reject the thought. To me, this is integration at its finest! An effective, proven strategy to walk out a general concept already given in the Bible!
What about Jesus
Lastly, and most importantly, I have to say that a relationship with Jesus is still the most essential need of every single person that enters my office. Psychology gives great insight and great methods for thinking and behavioral change; but it DOES NOT answer questions on worth, identity, meaning and purpose. It does not answer the deepest question on everyone’s heart… Am I loved? Only Jesus can answer that question. And only Jesus can offer TRUE and LASTING peace, joy, and hope (coping skills are a band aid). But it is also important to know and understand that many people are broken and angry at God. So a trite “you need to pray more” will only serve to further embitter them. What they need in that moment is a tangible encounter with God’s love. They need to meet the True God who loves them, not the God of their own assumption, perception and understanding. It is my hope and prayer to be the bridge for some… back to God. I do not force the conversation, but all of my clients know where I stand and I leave the door open FOR that conversation. And for those who are comfortable with it, prayer becomes a vital part of every session.
So. To answer the question…”am I a Christian therapist,” the answer is YES. And hopefully this clarifies what I mean when I say that!