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Fri Jun 05, 2009

How do you view the incompatibility between psychology and Christianity?

It's a great question. To be honest, I don't see as much incompatibility with psychology and Christianity as others do. It is true that most of the prominent psychologists were atheists or non-Christians, so I certainly take their philosophies with a grain of salt. But if you look at existentialism, which is rife with atheists, you also have Kierkegaard who was Christian and who put forth that the person is not a "blank slate" at birth and that it is the person's life task to understand the inner blueprint and live according to it. If you look at humanism, you have Maslow who did research on the characteristics of fully functioning ("self actualized") individuals, and he concludes that they all tend to have a sense of spirituality and deep duty to serve others. These tenets to me are right in line with Christianity, though they don't go as far as we do as Christians by saying that the self-actualized human being looks like Jesus.

As far as the other schools of thought, I again feel that for the most part their theories are not incompatible with Christianity, but they just don't widen their lens enough to incorporate the spiritual aspects of things. Freud taught that people are basically unaware of the things that motivate them and that they tend to recreate their childhood hang-ups in adult life. The behaviorists emphasize how learning, punishment, and reward shape the personality. Cognitive psychologists look at how our lenses of logic are filled with distortion. Multiculturalism looks at how we need to consider cultural framework in understanding the psyche. All of these tenets to me are difficult to argue with and are all able to be assimilated into an overarching Christian framework. (I even think you find examples of all of these in Scripture, if you're looking for them.)

To me the most important thing to watch out for is the conflict between Christianity and empiricism. Empiricism by definition says that anything that cannot be materially measured is irrelevant. So as Christians, we understand that this philosophy can never fully capture the human being, because the human being is a spiritual being and there is a spiritual realm that affects us that is fundamentally non material. Now, I don't think that this means that empiricism has nothing to teach us. Quite the opposite, I think that it is critical to be able to demonstrate that psychological interventions are effective, and in practice everything I do as a psychologist is rooted in empiricism. But again, we need to understand that empiricism as a philosophy is able to catch only a limited slice of the truth.

posted at: 08:35 | path: /students | link

How do you deal with the stigma of Christian counseling?

In my experience, I think the word "stigma" is too strong. Now, because I identify as a Christian psychologist, I tend to interact with a biased sample - the majority of people that seek me out are Christians and are supportive of my perspective; and people that would be more likely to stigmatize may be less likely to seek me out (though I certainly welcome the opportunity to work with non-Chrisitians). Really, the only criticism I get is from fellow professionals who are trying to look out for me and who feel that I am significantly limiting my practice by targeting too narrow a population. I appreciate this input, but I have not found it to be the case. I think there is an increasing demand for faith-based work, and the field of psychology as part of the multicultural movement is increasingly supporting and embracing it. And even health insurance companies are recognizing it as a specialty, which to me says a lot.

posted at: 08:13 | path: /students | link

Do you know of any clinical programs that explicitly combine psychology and Christianity?

There are a couple of programs that I know about that explicitly incorporate the Christianity into the curriculum, and my sense is that there are increasingly more. The 2 I know of are at Franciscan University in Stubenville, OH and I believe Liberty University in VA. You might check those out and perhaps contact them for info on other similar programs. Also, the Association of Christian Counselors might be a good resource for you - www.aacc.net.

posted at: 08:13 | path: /students | link