— by William Armentrout, MA, IMF Registered Intern #72447
Supervised by Donald W. Welch, Ph.D., LMFT, License #LMFT 50129
Despite what early psychologists, like Freud, and anti-psychology Christians believe, psychology and spirituality are complimentary, not antithetical. Currently, we are seeing a growing realization among therapists, both secular and spiritual, that human spirituality is a source of great strength. Spirituality imparts deeper metaphysical meaning to our lives. Faith shifts our vision from our own shortcomings and weakness and points us to a power much greater than anything we possess. The spiritual component of human experience is recognized as a viable source of inspiration and strength to produce change.
More specifically, more and more Christians recognize that psychological observations illuminate our understanding of human cognition, emotionality and experience. Whereas the Bible gives some very specific instructions on how one might become more emotionally and spiritually healthy, psychology gives us insight into the emotional and mental dynamic of our experience and provides us with tools to enact the Bible’s instructions. Let me illustrate with a few examples.
Paul instructs Christians to take every thought captive and make them obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). How, specifically, are we to accomplish this? Studies show that the average person has sixty thousand thoughts go through their mind each day. Cognitive Therapy provides the therapeutic tools to help us become aware of more of these thoughts and to identify our self-limiting beliefs and cognitive distortions so that we might replace them with whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8).
In the book of Romans, Paul instructs us to no longer conform to the patterns of this world (Rom 12:1). Psychoanalytic Therapy posits that the patterns that have the greatest impact over our emotions and behavior come from our family of origin. What happens to us in childhood contributes to how we function as adults. Utilizing psychoanalytic therapy can help us gain understanding how our experiences during childhood impact our emotional and relational health and help change these patterns that limit or control our behavior.
In another part of the book of Romans, Paul encourages us to think of ourselves in a different way, to consider ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:11). In other words, Paul is encouraging us to tell a different story about ourselves, which is one of the core interventions of Narrative Therapy. Narrative therapists encourage clients to see themselves, not as victims or flawed, but as separate from their problems. Paul did exactly the same thing in Romans 7, where he identified sin as something separate from himself (Rom. 7:14-20).
These are just a few examples I have discovered where psychology informs the biblical imperatives. I imagine other connections could be made to other therapeutic modalities. I offer these as clear examples of the complimentary relationship between biblical truth and psychological interventions. If “All truth is God’s truth,” then psychological observation of human emotional and mental processes, and the interventions developed from this observation, can only help us achieve the emotional and relational health we desire and will in no contradict God’s will for our lives.