PSYCHOLOGY AND PSYCHOTHERAPY
By Dr. Andrew Davies. BD MA PhD.
Counselling and psychotherapy were undoubtedly among the
major growth industries of the 1980s and 1990s. Practitioners of all kinds of
self-help therapies made their names with a plethora of TV shows and publishing
deals; and the phenomenon carried over into Christian circles as well.
Far from traditional pastoral counselling, which focusses on
applying general biblical truth to an individual's particular personal
difficulties, we have seen the rise of 'Christian psychology' which generally
amounts to little more than the application of secular psychological methods
within a Christian context.
While some Churches have successfully used counselling
centres as a major element of their evangelistic strategy, there are some
ethical issues which need to be considered.
1. Counselling can produce dependency. This is most obvious
in its excessive state, often parodied in American TV shows, where people are
incapable of making decisions or do anything without consulting their
therapist, but there are rather too many people in the British Church today who
feel that they could not survive without their regular visit from the pastoral
2. Persistent therapy could be seen as denying, even
undermining, the effectiveness of the work of the Holy Spirit. If at conversion
we truly become 'a new creation', then why should the
problems of the past need continual readdressing?
3. The core principles of psychotherapy - its understanding
of human nature, or its approach to issues such as guilt and sexuality, for
instance - are essentially non-Christian. Its founding fathers were solidly
atheistic. Sigmund Freud considered all religion to be a neurosis, a crutch for
the emotionally weak and frail to lean on, and Carl Jung saw his work as
'providing an alternate conceptualization of spirituality to Christianity's'. It is difficult to
see how Christian practitioners could base their methodology primarily on such
4. Pyschiatry is not a purely medical and scientific
discipline. Some therapies such as dream analysis and positive thinking might
be considered to have their roots in Eastern religions. Spirit channelling and
mediumship and other 'pyschic' approaches to counselling are clearly beyond the
bounds of acceptability for Christians, although these techniques are unlikely
to be used in mainstream medical psychiatry.
Hypnosis is probably in a slightly different category,
however, since it does seem to depend on solid scientific data, but still opens
the subject up to external manipulation and should be undergone only with care.
All this does not mean, in my opinion, that there is no such thing as Christian
psychology or therapy, or that it has no merit. Many people could testify to
the value of a wise, insightful counsellor. However, the techniques and
approaches used need to be thought through carefully and applied with as much
sensitivity to the teaching of the Word of God as to the needs of the person
seeking help, if the advice of the counsellor or therapist is really to make a
difference to them.
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