Adventures in Psychology

February 8, 2010 — 2 Comments

[This is the first post in the Adventures in Psychology series]

While it may seem overly adventuresome to pursue two separate, and somewhat unrelated, “adventure” series simultaneously, this subject is of course something I’ve already written extensively on (see the Change series). It is also something I am obviously passionate about, given that I hold a degree in it, and have continued studying in the field of counseling alongside my required studies here at DTS.

Further, it is something that I intended to pursue vocationally in the future. Because of that, I want to make sure I am approaching counseling from the correct vantage point, that is, the vantage point that is appropriate for a Christian committed to the power of the Gospel to change lives. In light of that conviction, which was developed by the help of extensive reading, but most recently, Fitzpatrick and Johnson’s Counsel from the Cross, I’d like to recount something that happened on Saturday that set the stage for this series.

While not a direct citation, the essence of a point they were making was capsulized in a Facebook status update that looked something like this:

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Now, the post itself got a few comments, you see a couple of them there. But then a bit later on, it received this comment, of which you can see part of my response (pardon the spelling fail):

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What is interesting is that Doug here (I would leave him anonymous, but you can see his name in my initial response) is a graduate of the same school I go to, although he was in the M.A. in Biblical Counseling program (his dad is incidentally chair of the OT department). He has since graduated and now works at a counseling center, one that interestingly takes its name and some of its philosophy of ministry from a word out of one of the dead languages mentioned by him (there’s more irony, but wait for it).

What is further interesting is that someone who has a masters in Biblical counseling would respond so violently and “against the man” so to speak at my original post, which mind you, wasn’t actually spoken by a Th.Mer, but by a professional in the field of counseling (in other words someone more in touch with the real world than either Doug or I). This seems somewhat ironic, in that I am Th.M student who is best at “learning dead languages and non-applicable theologies,” which I guess precludes reading up on counseling.

Doug and I aren’t particularly friends, we did have a class together right before he graduated (ironically it was Sanctification), but that is about the extent of our interactions. But, the reason he is only listed as “Facebook User” in the comment is because shortly after my response, he not only de-friended me, but apparently blocked me as well. True, it’s not as though we were actually anything more than acquaintances, but really? There are numerous problems with responding in this way, but we will leave that alone.

Besides the fact that there was absolutely nothing constructive in the response, much less any amount of actual reasoning or argumentation, the a priori ignorance of my original post seems to be something Doug accepts whole-heartedly and doesn’t even feel the need to argue for. In other words, the initial post violated a presupposition that he has fully committed to, which judging from the response, must be something like “approaches to counseling from psychology and Christian theology can be fruitfully combined without consuming each other.”

I would be willing to say that “ideas from psychology” can be fruitfully combined into one’s counseling, but not that a methodology from a non-Christian psychological standpoint can be. My post was stating that you cannot combine methods fruitfully, when “fruitfully” is being defined Biblically. If you have already accepted a non-Christian paradigm of what counseling should both look like and what it is working towards, then my statement would seem both ignorant and even non-sensical.

That may be where Doug and I substantially differ. We both hold degrees in psychology, however, I accumulated close to 100 credits in Bible related college courses, prior to embarking on the study of psychology. So my in-depth training in the study of the Bible and Christian theology tempered my understanding of psychology (not vice versa). Doug seems to have gone exclusively to a very well respected state school and then entered DTS to study counseling further. At this point, we have about equal training in Bible and theology from DTS since I’ve almost completed the same core classes that students in Doug’s degree program are required to complete, but I have the prior background of having already studied that same core at the undergraduate level.

This all might not make a substantial difference, but it is at least a noticeable difference affecting both of our background assumptions. It is still though rather perplexing to me why someone would essentially abandon any semblance of Christian argumentation to refute not the statement in question but the man behind the question as being unable to even formulate a coherent thought on the topic having become so “unaware of how the world really works.”

I can’t completely make Doug out to be a villain though, I myself am guilty of lashing out in an overly harsh way to defend things that are important to me. I am not always graceful and loving when I try to correct either someone’s thoughts or behaviors. His response has served as a good warning to me to watch what I say. Maybe that’s part of his counseling technique, kind of a “do as I say, not as I do” sort of program (I say this in jest of course, but it is not all that uncommon). I would hope then from this point on I can refrain from “pulling a Doug,” although to be honest there is a little bit of Doug still in me, so I probably will not succeed in this particular goal.

This series is more or less a vindication of the original statement that I made. It is an attempt to show that the statement is true, and also that vehement denial of it demonstrates itself an unawareness of how the world works, as well as a poor understanding of how to counsel with the Gospel at the center. Hopefully it will be shown not that the theologies that a Th.M student like myself studies are non-applicable, but that the psychologies that some people study are in fact the systems that are non-applicable. Likewise, it will be shown that the tension that will ensue from integrating methods of counseling from psychology and theology (to the extent that they’re underlying assumptions are in conflict) cannot be sustained without in fact, one being submitted to the other.

It would be my hope too that this study can be presented in a way that lacks the elitism that Doug feels is indicative of students like myself and that it would also lack that arrogance that Doug himself evinces. Speaking the truth, even in love, can sometimes come across as elitist, and so, I would like to state at the outset my willingness to dialogue on this. I don’t have the final word, and much of what I do say is from other people’s minds. I am not that original of a thinker, but I do read a lot. We’ll see where this goes then, and hopefully too, any discussion can be marked by a desire to grow and learn, and not a desire to undermine or be-little one’s opponents. This may be unrealistic, but I would think we can work towards something of a fruitful dialogue on this.

[Update: Doug has since moved to a different counseling organization. Hopefully he has matured some in the intervening time, and I would hope he would handle this confrontation differently now.]

[Update to the update: Doug now has his own counseling practice.]

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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