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Tag Archives: Mark Yarhouse

“Creative Fidelity”

Here is an excerpt from my new book (co-authored with Dr. Erica S. N. Tan) titled Sexuality & Sex Therapy: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal.In thesextherapytext chapter on Sexual Interest and Arousal Disorders, we have a closing reflection on integration. It’s here that we introduce the concept of “creative fidelity” by Lewis Smedes. It’s a concept I have long appreciated and just wanted to highlight:

For those who marry, we appreciate the concept of “creative fidelity” introduced by Lewis Smedes (1994, p. 145). Smedes points out that a married person’s obligation to be faithful should not be reduced to avoiding sexual behavior that detracts from the marriage; rather, there is a positive expression of fidelity that warrants our attention. Smedes develops this idea of creative fidelity as faithfulness to calling (the state of marriage), service, one’s partner (and their well-being), our own personal growth, and so on. On the matter of desire,

“A man or woman can be just too busy, too tired, too timid, too prudent, or too hemmed in with fear to be seriously tempted by an adulterous affair. But this same person can be a bore home, callous to the delicate needs of his partner. He or she may be too prudish to be an adventuresome lover, but too cowardly to be in hones communication and too busy to put himself out for anything more than a routine ritual of personal commitment. He/she may be able to claim that he/she never cheated; but he/she may not be able to claim that he/she was ever really honest. He/she may never have slipped outside the marriage; but he/she may never have tried to grow along with his/her partner into a deep, personal relationship of respect and regard within marriage. His/her brand of negative fidelity may be an excuse of letting the marriage fall by neglect into dreary conformity to habit and, with that, into a dull routine of depersonalized sex…. anyone who thinks that morality in marriage is fulfilled by avoiding an affair with a third party has short-circuited the personal dynamics of fidelity.” (pp. 146-147)

So discussions of sexual desire/interest/arousal should not be limited to a negative discussion about what is absent; it should also reference a positive discussion about what is possible. It should include a proactive posture toward one’s partner (for those who are married) in terms of “creative fidelity” toward the whole person and redemptive structure of marriage itself.

 

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National Youth Workers Convention

Later this week I will be heading out to Nashville to speak at the National Youth Workers Convention. I had the opportunity to speak earlier this fall in San Diego with the same team and organization and to what we might think of as the west coast youth workers. They are an incredible group. Not only are they full of energy and a passion to serve Christ, but they love the kids they work with and have a heart for the church in this next generation.

When I was in San Diego, though, I participated in several activities outside of the convention (meetings at churches, meetings at universities), so I was away from the convention more than I was there. In Nashville, I plan to sit in on some of the sessions with folks who are showcasing their talents. It would be great to hear Amena Brown bring spoken word to the stage, as well as Rend Collective Experiment and Propaganda.

Before we go on, let’s take a moment to check out Amena Brown:

That’s pretty good spoken word.

The other treat for me is the opportunity to present with two former students who are now developing their own careers as psychologists. Experiences like this highlight one of the real blessings of being in academics for a little while; you get the opportunity to see students excel in the field and in their own sense of purpose and calling. There is not much that I enjoy more than looking over and seeing a former student making a presentation that truly enhances how people are going to work with youth in the weeks and months and years to come.

zondervanWe will be presenting 7-hours worth of material in two pre-conference workshops on sexual identity and youth ministry. These presentations will draw in part from my book, Understanding Sexual Identity and cover what we know and do not know about sexual orientation, particularly in the areas of etiology and change, as well as research on sexual identity development and synthesis, working with parents (and some of the unique challenges they face, including evangelical subculture shame), addressing co-occurring issues for youth (for example, depression), how to foster coping skills in teens, and so on.

We will also participate in a panel discussion the one evening. In San Diego, that was a good experience with several interesting questions for each of us, and that provided a more relaxed atmosphere for us to think through some things together and with those who were hungry for more. Then we will do a breakout session for those in attendance who did not do the pre-con. That session provides a kind of general overview of research on sexual identity, milestone events, and the challenges young people in the church face as they navigate various messages from the church they are raised in as well as from the mainstream gay community. In any case, it promises to be a great couple of days in Nashville.

 
 

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Youth Ministry, Sexual Identity & Shame

zondervanHere is an excerpt from my new book, Understanding Sexual Identity: A Resource for Youth Ministry. The book can be pre-ordered here and will be available from Zondervan in October.

When people experience guilt, they understand, “I should not have done that.” Shame, on the other hand, says to them “I should not be that.” Guilt is about what we do that we should not do; shame is feeling bad about who we are. It is “the emotion resulting from self-condemnation along with a fear of condemnation from others” (Johnson & Yarhouse, 2013).

When people feel shame, they tend to withdraw from and avoid others. They may experience anger or blame others. Unfortunately, the responses of hiding, deflecting, and blaming do not really help alleviate the shame they feel—they perpetuate it. According to Veronica Johnson, there is a three-step formula that describes how people develop shame:

Step 1: A person is raised in a culture in which various standards, rules, and goals are conveyed

Step 2: That person does not live up to these standards/rules/goals (perceived failure)

Step 3: The person then believes that not living up to these standards is the result of personal deficiencies or shortcomings (negative global attribution)

We can apply this formula to the young person in the church who is experiencing same-sex attraction.  He grows up in a faith community with specific standards, rules, and goals regarding sexuality. The standard communicated to him is that no one should ever experience same-sex attractions, that experiencing such attractions is sinful. If the church is not clear about how to understand these experiences, he will quickly surmise that it is wrong for him to experience these attractions, even if he did not make the choice, even if he does not want them.  He may try to follow the advice given, praying and asking God to remove his attractions or change his feelings. If he does not experience success here, this will likely confirm in his mind (and to others) that he has failed. Because he cannot live up to the standards, rules, and goals of the Christian community, he experiences shame.

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Adapted from Understanding Sexual Identity: A Resource for Youth Ministry. Pre-order your copy today!

 

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Convicted Civility

Here is an excerpt from my new book, Understanding Sexual Identity: A Resource for Youth Ministry. The book can be pre-ordered here and will be available from Zondervan in October.

Several years ago I came across a phrase that has helped me in my professional role as a psychologist who studies sexual identity issues from a Christian worldview. The phrase is “convicted civility.” It comes from Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary. I recently spoke at Fuller and had the opportunity to talk with Mouw at length. He credited Martin Marty for the phrase. Its origin was tied to the observation that we have far too many Christians who are strong on convictions but do not represent Christ in a way that is respectful of others. At the same time, we have Christians who are so concerned not to offend anyone that it is hard to know what they hold convictions about. So the phrase “convicted civility” reflects a balance between holding convictions as a Christian and communicating those convictions with civility.

zondervanGiven the controversial topic of sexual identity, I’ve adopted “convicted civility” as my professional brand.  This has helped me make decisions about speaking engagements, consultation opportunities, writing projects, bridge-building, working with others to meet superordinate goals, and so on.

For example, a few years ago I was presenting data from a seven-year longitudinal study that considered whether sexual orientation could change through involvement in a Christian ministry. This is not a question that is of interest to the mainstream field of psychology; and it is a question that is offensive to ask within the mainstream of the LGBT community. But for some conventionally religious people, such as conservative Christians, it is a relevant question. So I was co-principal investigator of a study that examined the question of change and also of harm. It was published in book form in 2007 and as a peer-reviewed journal article in 2011 (Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy).

When I was asked to present the findings at a colloquium at Regent several years ago, a local person who identified himself as an activist, put out a call for others in the LGBT community to join him in staring down this “son of a [gun]” in protest of the study. The stage was being set for a rather heated encounter.

What does someone who is committed to “convicted civility” as a brand do in these moments?

I called him.

We spoke by phone a couple of days before the event, and I invited him to be my guest. (He was coming anyway, so extending an invitation did not seem too risky.) We shook hands and met before the presentation, and I met several of the other protesters. The filled the first couple of rows and indeed did stare at us as my co-presenter and I went through the data and implications for those in attendance.

We spoke again immediately after the presentation and actually several times after that. I’ve also met with others who came that day. Those exchanges led to an invitation to speak in Norfolk to a gathering of LGBT individuals on the topic. In the intervening weeks, I remember having coffee with one of the other protesters. He said, “You are nothing like what I expected. From what I had heard about you, I expected to see horns growing out of your head, and I thought you might have steam coming out of your nostrils.” He smiled. No steam here.

This exchange, and many others like it, is the fruit of convicted civility. If we agreed on everything, we would have nothing to talk about. We would likely try to find another common enemy. But in disagreeing on some topics, we can still communicate about the nature of that disagreement. That is only achieved by treating one another with respect, by being civil in our exchanges.

I am not particularly invested in the question of whether sexual orientation can change through Christian ministries. In my own clinical practice, I do not provide reorientation therapy; rather, I help people explore their sexual identity so that they can live a life that is consistent with their beliefs and values. Also, most of my research is centered on how sexual identity develops and how people navigate the conflict they sometimes feel between their same-sex sexuality and their religious faith. By far, most of my research is on the experiences of sexual minorities who are navigating that terrain.

However, I am committed to identifying and researching topics of importance to the Christian community. We need psychologists who will ask the questions that are of concern to the Body of Christ. We cannot expect the broader, secular field of psychology to ask those same questions or have those same interests. Further, we need to ask those questions using the methods and procedures used by our peers in the mainstream of psychology. We have to allow good research to help us translate Christian considerations into meaningful points of dialogue with those in the mainstream of psychology and also the broader culture.

My point is this: How we discuss Christian considerations will be just as important as having those distinctively Christian questions and convictions. “Convicted civility” is one brand that might help us do just that.

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Adapted from Understanding Sexual Identity: A Resource for Youth Ministry. Pre-order your copy today!

 

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Sexual Identity & Youth Ministry

zondervanHere is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Understanding Sexual Identity: A Resource for Youth Ministry. The book can be pre-ordered here and will be available from Zondervan in October.

I share the following story in the opening chapter to set the tone. My argument is that compassion is an important starting point for youth ministers. The importance of compassion is underscored in later chapters as I will draw a contrast between various competing groups. For now, let me share the opening story:

Several years ago my wife and I attended a meet and greet luncheon for adoptive parents in one of the suburbs of Chicago. While I was parking the car, my wife went in to find us a spot at one of the tables. She sat down with a group of women and didn’t give that fact much thought. When I joined her and the other guests, we realized that I was the only guy at the table. Then it dawned on us that the women at our table were all same-sex couples, and we were the only heterosexual couple at the table. It was a little awkward at first; we felt we had crashed the party, or at least I had. However, as prospective adoptive parents, we sat with the women at our table and the many other couples in the room who shared a similar interest in learning more about the process.

After the luncheon was over, we went out to our car only to find that it wouldn’t start. It wouldn’t turn over. As a man I had been taught to lift up the hood and take a look, but I didn’t really have any knowledge of what to do after that. So after assessing both the situation and reflecting on my overall competence with automotive repair, I proceeded to give the universal sign for “help” by leaving the hood of the car up.

car batteryThe next several minutes were interesting. I looked under the hood occasionally—just because it was something I could do to retain the impression that I knew something about cars. I moved some things around, and I was beginning to suspect it was the car battery. Other luncheon attendees walked by us on their way to their cars. Let’s just say that there was a steady stream. For several minutes nobody stopped. Then a guy walked by with his wife, and I asked him for a hand giving the battery a jump. He actually said, “Oh, sorry, I have to get to a meeting at church.” Um, ok, what?

Then one of the lesbian couples from our table walked up to us—the one woman offered to take a look. She quickly confirmed that the problem was the battery. “I agree; I think you just need a jump,” she said. “Let me get our car, we’ll put up right here and take care of it.” And they did.

I couldn’t help but think of the story Jesus told of the Good Samaritan. It is recorded in Luke 10:25-37. My pastor recently put it this way: God puts in our lives people each of us has a hard time picturing God loving. We have a hard time seeing them in all of their complexity because of positions the church holds. For many in the church today, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are the “other”, the group of folks who are difficult for us to see with compassion.

Before anyone runs with the analogy between ethnicity and sexual identity, I am not saying that just as Jews of that day thought of Samaritans, Christians today think of gays. However, we have a cultural context today in which we have local communities of faith in which the climate is such that young people who are navigating this terrain cannot find any compassion. In fact, we may inadvertently push people toward the mainstream gay community precisely because we share the same tendency to reduce complexity to culture war. There are times we appear to prefer politics to pastoral care.

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Adapted from Understanding Sexual Identity: A Resource for Youth Ministry. Pre-order your copy today!

 

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Counseling Sexual Minorities

In a previous post, I mentioned that a second edition of the book, Christian Counseling Ethics, has just been published. This is a book edited by Randolph Sanders, former executive director of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS). I wanted to share a little from that book and the chapter I contributed on counseling sexual minorities. Before I do that, let me acknowledge how much I enjoyed writing this chapter, as I had a chance to work with one of my mentors, Stan Jones, and one of the grad students I had a chance to mentor, Jill Kays. Let me recommend collaboration whenever possible! It increases the chances someone will catch your blind spots, and there are always ways in which you can grow.

ChristiancounselingethicsWe first address the topic of competence by reviewing current research findings in four relevant areas. There are (1) prevalence estimates; (2) theories of etiology (causation); (3) mental health correlates (e.g., greater risk of substance use disorders); and (4) research on attempts to change orientation. We then discuss controversies and issues in treatment, including professional controversies surrounding efforts to change orientation.

The next major topic is understanding sexual minorities in the context of the multicultural movement. We discuss here recent attempts at developing counseling competency scales, as well as what we know in terms of milestone events in sexual identity development.

Next we discuss integrity and client well-being. There are a number of issues that can be discussed here, and we spend some time on the ongoing cultural and professional discussions about reorientation efforts in terms of how those efforts are seen by different stakeholders. This is also where we introduce the reader to the Sexual Identity Therapy Framework and to different ways in which Sexual Identity Therapy can be conducted to facilitate client well-being, recognizing significant differences in how people might prefer to achieve congruence between their identity/behavior and their beliefs/values.

We then turn our attention to client autonomy and self-determination. We suggest language that can be used in obtaining advanced informed consent to therapy that address sexual identity. The language provides examples for how a Christian counselor might discuss causes of sexual orientation, professional and paraprofessional options, and so on.

The last section of the chapter address value conflicts and referrals. This has become a major point of professional discussion and debate with the Julea Ward v. EMU case being recently settled out of court, as well as other major cases that have led to discussions of practice location, training, and so on. One regret is that I wish statement from The Board of Educational Affairs of the American Psychological Association (APA) had been available at the time we wrote the chapter. I had a post about that recently, and I think it would have enhanced the chapter even further.

So check out the chapter and the rest of the book. There are a number of great contributions from leading Christian psychologists and counselors on a number of important and interesting topics.

 

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Shame among Sexual Minorities

I co-authored an article on shame among sexual minorities that was just published in Counseling & Values. The lead author, Veronica Johnson, wrote her dissertation on the topic, and this article is a reflection of her literature review with a focus on implications for counseling. It was nice to see it published in a mainstream counseling journal. Here is the abstract:

Theorists, clinicians, and researchers have suggested that shame is a central concern in the lives of sexual minority individuals. Cognitive theorists believe that shame occurs when a person fails to achieve his or her standards, which are often based on social, cultural, and spiritual values. Although it is asserted that stigma causes shame among members of a sexual minority, the empirical evidence suggests that negative internal cognitions are partly responsible. By targeting negative beliefs, counselors can help sexual minorities reduce their sense of shame, particularly around issues related to sexual identity. The authors offer counseling strategies for reducing shame in sexual minority clients.

shame1What is shame? Shame refers to “an intensely painful affect resulting from an exposure of the self as flawed or inferior, and a concurrent deep belief that this deficiency will result in rejection, abandonment, or loss of esteem.” If your mom ever said, “You should be ashamed” or “Shame on you!” she was likely hoping you would feel something more like remorse. Shame is the emotion that comes “from self-condemnation along with a fear of condemnation from others.”

Shame is not guilt. People feel guilty for things they have done wrong–or when they have failed to do the good/right. Shame is feeling bad (self-condemnation, self-rejection) for who you are; it reflects the idea that you are fundamentally flawed, and that if others knew who you really are, they would reject you too.

Johnson offers a formula for shame that is based on a cognitive theory by Lewis. Here is the formula:

Step 1: A person is raised in a culture in which various standards, rules, and goals are conveyed;

Step 2: That person does not live up to these standards/rules/goals (perceived failure);

Step 3: The person then believes that not living up to these standards is the result of personal deficiencies or shortcomings (negative global attribution);

Step 4: The result is shame.

How does this connect to sexual minorities? For many years now it has been understood that sexual minorities experience shame. In response to this, I have heard conservative Christians respond, “Well, they should!” –perhaps wanting to see guilt or remorse (or a sense of personal conviction) but without much genuine empathy or appreciation for how debilitating shame really is.

What I want to explore is how shame affects sexual minorities and how the church could respond to reduce shame. Let’s do a thought exercise: Think about a teenager in the church who experiences same-sex attraction. She grows up in a faith community with specific standards, rules, and goals specific to sexuality and sexual identity. If the church is not clear about how to understand these standards, she can quickly surmise that she is wrong for even experiencing same-sex attractions, even if she did not make this choice (in other words, she found herself experiencing same-sex attraction as she went through puberty). She is then unable to live up to the standards of her faith community, if those standards are that no one is to even experience same-sex attractions or that the experience of such attractions is sin. If another expectation is that she experience a dramatic change in her feelings through prayer or involvement in ministry, that becomes another source of shame. If she prays and ask God to remove her attractions or otherwise enter into ministry to change her feelings and does not have as much success as she had hoped for, she may confirm in her mind (and to others) that she cannot live up to the standards, rules and goals of the Christian community. The result? Shame.

shame2So this is not a simple matter of helping people become more sensitized to things they are doing wrong so that they can make necessary changes. Shame is a different kind of emotional experience, and one that is frequently associated with depression, anger, blame, and withdrawal from others. If you know a sexual minority who has struggled with shame, you know that it is a very painful emotional state that is not easily overcome.

In the article we offer several suggestions for reducing shame, so let me go over these briefly. First, we point out that a counselor can help a sexual minority identify and name their experience of shame by helping them become aware of related feelings (e.g., inferiority, inadequacy), thoughts (e.g., “God hates me”), and behaviors (e.g., Withdrawing from others).

A second recommendation is to learn to manage or regulate emotions. A person learns more helpful ways of releasing negative feelings, like shame. Here’s how we put it in the article: “regulating shame includes (a) withholding natural maladaptive reactions, (b) using self-soothing techniques to mollify the feelings of shame, (c) willfully refocusing attention outward, then (d) deciding how to act.”

The next recommendation is to address unhelpful thoughts. For the person who contends with shame, the thoughts they hold are self-condemning: “Shame is aroused when an individual holds self-condemning beliefs and fears of condemnation from others, particularly when the individual believes that he or she is failing to attain” standards, rules, and goals held by the community. At this point I am not thinking of what the local church teaches about sexual behavior, but what I am thinking about (as I mentioned above) are standards, rules and goals that may be associated with even having same-sex feelings (which the person did not choose to experience) and not experiencing as much change in their feelings as they may be expected (by their community) to experience. I’ve frequently said we need to find realistic biblical hope, which resides somewhere in between cynical pessimism that says, “No one has or ever will experience any experience of change whatsoever!” and arrogant optimism that says, “Anyone who tries hard enough or has enough faith can expect a 180-degree change from gay to straight!” I will have to return sometime to realistic biblical hope, but I will say that in most churches I visit, arrogant optimism is more often the norm and frequently to the detriment of sexual minorities who are unable to meet its standards.

The final recommendation we offered has to do with healthy and healing relationships, and in the context of mental health services, this usually begins with the relationship a person has with his or her counselor. (BTW: there are other recommendations not mentioned in this article that are better suited for a Christian setting, and I may do a future post on those.) It is frequently through that relationship that a person who struggles with shame can explore that emotional state and associated, unhelpful thoughts, as well as learn that a relationship can be sustained over time–they are not going to be rejected as they are known by another.

What is obviously more complicated in a conservative Christian context is how to address shame when the community (including the sexual minority) adheres to a traditional sexual ethic. How do you help a person feel better about themselves when they have feelings that draw them to engage in behavior about which they themselves feel ambivalent? They want to–they experience strong impulses, and they also don’t want to–they hold values that proscribe such behaviors.

You can understand why the mainstream gay community would ask, “Why are you working so hard? Why not change what you believe? Others have!” In other words, one response is to change what is taught in the church about sexual ethics. If a person feels cognitive dissonance between what they believe and how they live, one way to resolve that dissonance is to change what the person believes. Significantly, many sexual minorities do not believe it is there prerogative to make these kinds of doctrinal changes; their beliefs and convictions are that the Church (globally and historically) has been correct around general principles that inform sexual ethics. So they are looking at another way to respond to the dissonance they may feel. (As an aside, psychology cannot adjudicate the theological questions that surround sexual ethics. Psychology can inform our understanding of emotional experiences like shame, as well as help us recognize some of the complexities in attempting to reduce shame. The theological issues have to be resolved within the church and by the church.)

It is in this context (of retaining conservative or traditional religious beliefs and values) that pastoral care and counseling around shame is especially difficult. All the more reason for those in church leadership to understand ways in which they may inadvertently contribute to shame by how they talk about the topics of homosexuality, sexual identity, and gay and lesbian issues. I will try to come back to this in another post, as I know that many pastors have asked for guidance here. But I wanted to at least let you know about this article and to make the recommendations available for those who find them helpful.

 

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Christian Counseling Ethics, 2nd Ed.

The book, Christian Counseling Ethics, has just been published in its second edition. This is a book edited by Randolph Sanders, former executive director of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS). The opening chapters (by folks like Alan Tjeltveit, Richard Butman, and Horace Lukens) orient the reader to a Christian worldview and engagement with counseling and mental health. This is a greater challenge than it sounds like, as the book is for a broad audience and so takes up psychology, counseling, marriage and family therapy, pastoral care, and lay counseling.

ChristiancounselingethicsThe book then turns to specific populations and issues, such as couples therapy, children, those with chronic conditions, navigating multiple relationships, and working with sexual minorities. I worked with Stan Jones and Jill Kays on the chapter on sexual minorities. Other contributors here included Jennifer Ripley, Ev Worthington, Steve Sandage, Jeff Berryhill, Angela Sabates, James Jennison, and Randy Sanders.

Other chapters address some unique considerations for Christians, lay counselors, and ministry settings. These include chapters on the abuse of power (John Shackelford & Randy Sanders), business ethics (Randy Sanders), pastors and lay counseling (Bill Blackburn, Siang-Yang Tan), the military (Brad Johnson), and member care (Kelly O’Donnell).

Most of the chapters are revised, expanded versions from topics addressed in the first edition. Some are new chapters. However, given the changes in the field, even those chapters that are revised or expanded are often substantive updates. I know that material on working with sexual minorities has grown significantly since the first edition came out in 1997.

Sanders also did a nice job asking everyone to be practical. The most obvious signs of this are the appendices. Various ethical codes are reproduced in the appendix, as are sample forms for release of information, demographics, and so on. But even in the various chapters, authors made a concerted effort to make the resource more practical. In our chapter on working with sexual minorities, we added a lot of suggested language that could be used when obtaining informed consent, for instance.

This book is meaningful to me personally. The chapter I coauthored for the first edition was my first publication. When I contributed to that edition, I was a grad student working for Stan Jones at Wheaton College. It was nice to be able to return to that chapter and to update it for Christians in training today.

Having taught a course in Ethical, Legal and Professional Issues in Psychology for more than a decade, I can say that I have not found another comparable book that delves into the professional ethical issues that arise for Christians and that is written from a Christian worldview. Given that 16 years had passed since the publication of the first edition, it was definitely time for a second edition, and I think the reader will not be disappointed.

 

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What is Integration?

A reader of the blog asked me the following question:

I don’t understand why we need an integration of psychology and Christianity. Can’t a Christian psychologist help non-Christians? Can’t a non-Christian psychologist help Christians? Are you talking about the necessity of a psychologist to be Christian to understand Christians? Then are you advocating that psychologist should only work with patients that match his/her religious background? What about other background characteristics, like wealth, race, gender, etc?

Here was my reply:

I agree with you that a Christian psychologist can help a nonChristian. I hope I’ve done that several times over the years. And, yes, nonChristian psychologists can help Christians. In fact, I recommend competence (in providing mental health services) over religious identification every time. But I do think that Christians in the field of psychology (beyond clinical psychology, but also including clinical/applied) ask different questions than do nonChristians. In other words, they have concerns that come out of being a part of the Christian community that might not be the same concerns that nonChristians have. So a benefit to having Christians in the field of psychology is that they might conduct research on topics that are important to that community. A good example might be research on forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of those key Christian concepts. It is central to Christianity, although nonChristians can certainly appreciate it, research it, and benefit from it in their own lives. But even if no one else was interested in forgiveness (or grace or humility or patience), the Christian psychologist might be interested in it anyway, by virtue of how central it is to Christianity, and how potentially helpful it could be in clinical practice.

Let me elaborate on the question about integration. Part of my reply was to clarify why we benefit from having Christians in psychology. I reached this conclusion over many years but was personally deeply influenced by the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantiga, who had written about Christian philosophy in the following manner:

Christian philosophers … are the philosophers of the Christian community; and it is part of their task as Christian philosophers to serve the Christian community. But the Christian community has its own questions, its own concerns, its own topics for investigation, its own agenda and its own research programs. (p. 6)

What I did in my page on integration is substitute “psychologist” for “philosopher” and we have the following:

Christian [psychologists] … are the [psychologists] of the Christian community; and it is part of their task as Christian [psychologists] to serve the Christian community. But the Christian community has its own questions, its own concerns, its own topics for investigation, its own agenda and its own research programs. (p. 6)

By substituting psychologist for philosopher, I want to make the point that Christians in the field of psychology often have our own research interests that may not be shared by the broader field, just as other groups may have their own research agendas. You can think about this by nearly any other demographic characteristic: age, gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, and so on.

Those who are disabled, for instance, will think about research questions (and design, methods, interpretation of data, etc.) in ways that are not identical to the way those who are not disabled will think about these things. We benefit from having psychologists with disabilities insofar as they help the field think about ability/disability in ways we would not if we did not glean from their experience. I think the same is true for race, age, gender, sexual orientation, and so on.

So… I am a Christian. What I read in the quote from Plantinga is that Christians will have their own questions to ask. Of course, most Christians in the field of psychology are interested in a lot of the same issues nonChristians are interested in. They research cognitive science, motivation, affect, parenting, and so on. But there will be other areas that might be of particular interest to the Christian but not that interesting to nonChristians. I gave the example of the construct of forgiveness. That might be of interest to both Christians and nonChristians, sure, but it is especially relevant to the Christian community as it is a central construct within the Christian religion. Other key constructs included grace, love, joy, peace, faithfulness, humility, and so on.

Of course, a psychologist can have more than one relevant demographic variable as a central part of their identity. An African-American Christian psychologist, for example, or a gay Jewish psychologist. A biblical feminist psychologist; an older adult psychologist with a disability. The multiple aspects of diversity are sometimes referred to as intersectionality, a concept that might be interesting to blog about at some point in the future.

For now, let me write more about being a Christian in psychology. Not only are their key constructs, such as forgiveness or grace to consider. But there are also key topics. For example, my primary research area has been sexual identity. I tend to study how sexual identity develops and synthesizes over time, particularly in the lives of Christians who experience same-sex attractions. In a cultural setting in which the primary script for making meaning out of same-sex sexuality is to form an identity around attractions (e.g., “I am gay”), I am interested in studying the process by which some people form a gay identity while others do not.

I don’t think many of my peers in the mainstream LGBT community of psychologists are particularly interested in studying those who do not form a gay identity. I could be wrong about that, but that is my impression so far. Most are interested in protecting and advancing the interests of the LGBT community.

I can understand that. I feel similarly when I think about the Christian community. But in the overlap between the LGBT community and the religious community, we see the potential for misunderstanding and miscommunication, particularly if you study something of interest to the religious community, such as whether a person can ever experience change in his or her sexual orientation, that might be experienced as threatening to the LGBT community. This, too, is a good topic for a future blog post. Remind me to get back to it.

In the meantime, I hope this elaboration on the question about integration provides some insight into what integration means and has meant to me as a Christian (in general), and as a Christian who conducts research on sexual identity (in particular).

 

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Gender Identity Issues

Here is an interesting video we are viewing in preparation for a training on Gender Identity issues at the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity:

If you are curious about how we approach training, let me begin by saying we follow many of the leading mainstream LGBT researchers and theorists; they are the one’s doing the majority (by far) of the research. There are few Christians doing serious scholarship in this area, and to limit our understanding of gender identity, for instance, to just what is produced by Christian psychologists (or Christians from other disciplines), would put us at a severe disadvantage.

Some of the strengths of this video include exposing the viewer to the ways in which the word “transgender” functions as an umbrella term. We may say this all the time, but it can be helpful to “meet” various people who prefer different ways of describing themselves and their experiences, such as transman or female-to-male transsexual. There is also some interesting perspective offered on key terms, such as biological sex, gender role, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Just the discussion of the common ways people think of differences and the ways in which the folks in the video think of differences is informative. There are also some helpful suggestions on how to approach a person – how to talk with them in a way that would be respectful given how they experience themselves.

It would have been helpful to have additional information on developmental perspectives on gender identity, as well as information on some of the issues that lead people to seek counseling/therapy services. But that was not the purpose of the video; the video was meant to be introductory and essentially a primer.

You can imagine that there are many issues that arise for those interested in integration of a Christian worldview with the study of gender identity. I won’t be able to do them justice here, but there are important questions about the relationship between biological sex and gender identity, the nature of the Fall, and how best to respond to such concerns from either a mental health or pastoral care perspective.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2012 in Sexuality & Gender, Trainings

 

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