Integration Across the Curriculum

The phrase we use in Regent’s PsyD Program to convey how we approach integration is Integration Across the Curriculum. From our philosophy and goals statement on our web site:

Our unique approach to training from a Christian worldview is “integration across the curriculum”. What this means is that rather than giving you separate learning experiences in psychology and theology that students must integrate on their own, our faculty members will both model and join you in the integration journey. Integration is central to the Regent identity and part of every core course and elective.

One approach to integration is to provide students with courses in psychology and theology and encourage them to bring the two fields together into a meaningful dialogue. With this approach, students are expected to figure it out on their own or with minimal input from faculty. But this is a particularly challenging task, and my experience is that many students turn to faculty members for guidance and modeling, which is appropriate. Students want to begin to sort out the issues in integration, and it is in everyone’s best interest to meet them where they are.Another approach to integration is to offer a course on theories of integration. What I like about this is that it helps students learn about various approaches to integration, which can help them discern an approach that resonates with them. The risk, however, is that integration may begin and end with just that particular course, because it becomes the class where integration is addressed.

My perspective is that integration cannot fit into one class, even though I think it is valuable to learn theories of integration and their practical applications. I believe integration has to be a part of each class that is taught. This continues to be an area for growth for me, but let me share an example. When I teach Family Therapy, integration entails critically engaging the existing models of family therapy. What are the theoretical and philosophical assumptions of Bowenian theory? What about structural family therapy? Or narrative approaches? In what ways do these approaches share some assumptions about human beings and families, and how are they different? In addition to engaging and critiquing these models, to me integration also entails laying a foundation for a truly integrative Christian family therapy. What are the theoretical and philosophical foundations for such a family therapy? How might one rely upon a Christian worldview to inform such an approach? To what extent will it draw upon existing models of family therapy? These are some of the questions for integration; they are best addressed in this particular class, just as similar questions will be addressed in other courses – as each subject is considered from a Christian perspective.

What are the benefits and drawbacks to the various approaches that exist? How do you prefer to see integration addressed?

The Spiritual Gift of “Hanging Out”

In the pub club recently we were chatting about the value of informal gatherings with faculty members and students in which various topics, including integration, are discussed. This brought up the observation first made by Randy Sorenson, the late and beloved professor of psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology, that integration is “caught not taught.” What I have understood this to mean is that integration is lived and modeled in real relationships in which we share our experiences in sorting out various topics and circumstances in psychology. It is this lived experienced, modeling, and transparency in relationship that best conveys integration to students, in contrast to lectures on the topic of integration, which is often the focus of faculty members.As I mentioned, this discussion took place in just such a context in which some faculty, a doctoral student, and our distinguished visiting professor, Gary Collins, met informally just to talk about integration and in doing so shared with each other our experiences and opinions on a range of topics. Gary often says he has the “spiritual gift of hanging out,” and I can see why he would say that. Much of what he says he enjoys doing today – “hanging out” – may be just what is needed for “catching” integration.

What does catching integration mean to you? How have you seen it in practice? How have you benefited from informal times with faculty or other mentors?

Winter Retreat 2008

Our winter retreat in the School of Psychology and Counseling was led by Dr. Gary Collins. Gary is sometimes referred to as the “father of Christian counseling.” He is a licensed clinical psychologist and author of over 40 book (including the weighty Christian Counseling) and 170 articles. He was invited to talk to the faculty and staff about emerging themes and changes in the fields of psychology and counseling. The title of the talk was Change or Die, which was drawn from Alan Deutschman’s book by the same title. In the book Deutschman asks whether people would change if it was a matter of life and death, and he provides research suggesting that most people will not make changes, even in life and death situations.  In any case, Gary discussed the potential value of knowing where the fields of psychology and counseling are moving and making intentional decisions about our own work and training of students in these areas. He discussed (a) the impact of technology, (b) neurobiology and psychology, (c) spirituality and religion, (d) global issues, and (e) professional trends and issues. The rest of the time was spent discussing in small groups ways in which we were (or could be) interacting with these themes. Retreats are great opportunities to visit with colleagues you might not get to interact with as much on a day-to-day basis. It was encouraging to know that several colleagues are doing innovative work in several of these areas, and that several are poised to do so given their interests.

Spring 2008: Ethics

First year students in the doctoral program in clinical psychology take a course titled Ethics, Professional Orientation, and Legal Issues. The Ethics course is an overview of professional ethics for psychologists; students learn the American Psychological Association’s Ethics Code, read Celia Fisher’s Decoding the Ethics Code, and discuss relevant legal and professional issues.The integration focus in this course takes two primary forms. The first is reading Alan Tjeltveit’s book, Ethics and Values in Psychotherapy. This is not an explicit integration resource, but Alan has done a great job exploring a number of the underlying value assumptions in psychotherapy that are important for students to identify and discuss.The other integration emphasis takes the form of class presentations students make on an area that may be of particular interest to Christians studying clinical psychology. These can vary from year to year, but this year they include topics such as psychologists in the military (terrorism, interrogation), deprogramming, working with clients from other religious backgrounds, use of religious interventions in clinical practice, lay counseling in the church, and so on.

Spring 2008: Family Therapy

We are into the Spring semester, which means for me the opportunity to teach Family Therapy and Ethics. Family Therapy introduces various family assessment and interventions and provides students with an overview of the major models of family therapy, such as Bowenian, Experiential, Structural, Strategic, Narrative and so on. Students also complete a family genogram where they map their own family back three generations and learn to interpret the genogram and identify salient themes.This semester we will also read chapters from a book I am completing with a colleague of mine, Dr. James Sells. The book is titled Family Therapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal. This material will form the basis for much of our integration discussion this semester. Each chapter provides an overview of a model of family therapy (e.g., Psychodynamic) followed by a section on Christian critique and engagement. Towards the end of the semester we will read a few chapters on specific issues often addressed in family therapy, such as divorce, remarriage, and blended families.Students will also make a group presentation based upon readings from Ethnicity and Family Therapy by Monica McGoldrick and her colleagues. I have found this to be one of the best resources on culture/ethnicity and family therapy. Preparing for this presentation provides students the opportunity to learn how to take cultural issues into consideration in family therapy case conceptualization and treatment planning.

On Integration

Integration began to come alive for me during my first year of doctoral studies at Wheaton College. I had completed my MA and was returning for additional graduate work. One of the first articles we read was by Alvin Plantinga. He helped me begin to make sense of what integration might entail. Alvin Plantinga is a Christian philosopher – one of the leading epistemologists in the field – and the paper was the address he delivered when he was inaugurated as the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.  It was titled “Advice to Christian Philosophers.” What stood out to me at the time was that Plantinga was saying that Christians in the field of psychology (if we make the shift here from philosophy to psychology) have their own questions to ask, their own topics to address:

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)

What impressed me was this: Can Christian psychologists expect non-Christian psychologists to ask about or care about the questions, topics, and research agendas that Christians care about? It seems to me that Plantinga is suggesting that one of the reasons we need Christians in psychology is to explore the issues, answer the questions, research the topics of importance to the church. Of course, there are many issues for Christians to study – so many topics that touch the lives of Christians. But we cannot expect others to do it for us. We have to be in the field doing the work. That is part of the integration task.