Monday, July 9, 2012

Clinical Christian Psychology: Theory, Technique, or More?

For more than forty years, Christian mental health professionals have been writing about Christian psychology. Though these writers share many values and view points, there are significant differences amongst leading thinkers. (Most readers of this newsletter are well aware of the sizeable differences. If you are new to Christian psychology, you might try reading recent publications such as Eric Johnson’s Foundations for Soul Care or the edited volume, Christianity and Psychology: Five Views). If some of the variations in our core writings are the result of different views on ultimate reality, most are due to divergent definitions regarding the nature of problems and the subsequent path to healing. What should we make of these differences? Are these differences a tempest in a teapot? Are they real differences that influence how one might assess and intervene with a particular counselee?

To this point, much of the work done by members of this Society has been at the intellectual or theoretical level of Christian psychology. And rightly so. Without constructing a frame of reference to evaluate constructs such as life, pathology, and health, therapists would blindly choose interventions without much understanding of what they hoped to accomplish. 

It is time, however, for Society members to begin developing Christian psychology from an intervention standpoint. Frankly, we will fail our mission, which reads in part “The Society exists to promote the development of a distinctly Christian psychology (including theory, research, and practice) that is based on a Christian understanding of human nature.” if our intellectual pursuits make no difference in the act of soul care. The following recommendations may help to jumpstart the Society’s clinical research agenda.

Just Do It
Society members with clinical backgrounds could submit text and multimedia examples of their current work. These might be in the format of single sessions, case studies, video vignettes, or samplings from a number of clients suffering from similar problems. Observing the clinical work of several “master” Society members might reveal common, but yet unexplored, patterns of practice and open up discussion regarding stated versus observed theories of human change. 

Illustrate the Center
Just as there is no single model of clinical psychology, we should not expect a single model of clinical Christian psychology. However, divergent models of counseling share many features such as collaborative relationship techniques, professional boundaries, and so forth. Counselors can provide case studies revealing how specific core doctrines (e.g., nature of persons, doctrine of sin and weakness, sanctification, role of the Holy Spirit in change) influence clinical work.

In addition, Christian psychology need not re-invent the wheel. Thus, Society members might provide commentary on classic case materials (e.g., Carl Roger’s work with “Gloria”, Allyn & Bacon’s Psychotherapy with the Experts series, etc.) for the express purpose of describing how Christian psychology work might parallel and/or diverge with goals and interventions presented in these classic psychotherapies.   

Explore the Edges
In recent years, clinical researchers have been exploring the use of mindfulness in the treatment of problems such as anxiety, depression, addictions, and more. Society members desiring to extend the edges of Christian psychology may wish to explore certain interventions, like mindfulness, that appear to originate from other religious or epistemic bases. How might these interventions critique current theory and/or be translated into a consistent Christian practice? 

Final Thought: Integrated Faith and Practice
If Christian psychology, as proposed by this Society, is best constructed as a combined and embodied theory and practice, then treatment modes must emanate from each of three domains (theory, technique, and personal character of the counselor). Teasing apart these domains is necessary and natural in the development of a new field, but let us remember that such work is artificial and ineffective as therapy. Consider these words as a reminder of what we seek,
Becoming a psychotherapist is not about assembling a bag of tricks and learning the formula for matching tricks (i.e., techniques) with problems. What you do as a therapist emerges from who you are in the therapy room. And, when an intervention comes from who you are, it is no longer a technique…. Who one is as a therapist in the therapy room arises from many aspects of our being, and certainly includes our theory of psychotherapy….  Although ‘theory,’ ‘technique,’ and ‘person’ by definition are distinct, in good psychotherapy they become so integrated that separating them feels arbitrary. (Leitner, 2007, p. 33, 36)

Johnson, E.L. (2007). Foundations for soul care: A Christian psychology proposal. Downers         Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Johnson, E.L. (Ed.) (2010). Psychology & Christianity: Five views (pp. 132-136). Downers           Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Leitner, L. M. (2007). Theory, technique, and person: Technical integration in experiential             constructivist psychotherapy. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 17(1), 33-49.

Phil Monroe PsyD
Biblical Seminary

No comments:

Post a Comment