On the Battle for Freedom

I was reminded today of the opening to Christian hip-hop artist Tedashii’s song, Make War. In the opening to this song you hear John Piper say: “I hear so many Christians murmuring about their imperfections, and their failures, and their addictions, and their shortcomings. And I see so little war! Murmur, murmur, murmur. Why am I this way? Make war!”

The student chapter of the American Association of Christian Counselors hosted a talk today an explicit integration protocol. The title of the presentation was “Faith-Based Interventions in Psychotherapy.” The first half of the presentation was by Dr. George Hurst, lead author of a peer-reviewed journal article which was an empirical study of the use of Steps to Freedom model prayers as a protocol for people suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. (The study was published in 2008 in Southern Medical Journal, vol. 101, no 4.) He walked through the details of the study itself in which his team used a 12-item questionnaire to measure outcomes from the use of Steps to Freedom by Neil Anderson. They reported on data pre- and post- intervention (6-7 hours of ministry) and 3-4 months later. He shared that some of the items on the quessionnaire had been correlated with some items from the SCL-90, a reputable and reliable measure of symptom distress. They reported significant changes over that time for the group (N = 33) receiving Steps to Freedom (and no significant changes in the control group).

The second speaker, Judith King, is a licensed mental health professional and she discussed the Steps to Freedom. According to Knig, the Steps to Freedom are seven lies that need to be renouced. They are counterfeit (replaced by what is real); deception (versus the truth); bitterness (versus forgiveness); rebellion (versus submission); pride (versus humility); bondage (versus freedom); and curses (versus blessings). So you see that all of what is a lie has to be renounced and replaced by what is true. Although she was unable to unpack the specifics in each of these areas, she was suggesting that these essentially make up one’s primary identity in Christ.

I sat in on the presentation because I teach a course on applied/clinical integration, and this kind of approach would be classified as an explicitly integrative model. I don’t know that I’ve thought about it this way because Steps to Freedom has to my understanding been a ministry model provided by lay persons in the church (rather than mental health professionals). King is a licensed mental health professional, however, and she spoke about its adaptation for licensed professionals.

The questions that came up for had to do with informed consent, which King says she provides, as well as how billing is handled, as some (many?) third party payors might not reimburse for an explicit protocol like this. It seems to me that having lay people provide Steps to Freedom in ministry keeps the roles clearer – that ministry is being provided rather than mental health services. So I think that is an area worth exploring further.

I think the other questions I had have to do with how a person distinguishes depression as “lie-based” from depression that is due to levels of neurotransmitters (e.g., dopamine, serotonin) or some other factor(s). Same thing with anxiety disorders and the other examples she provided, such as sexual addiction, characterological concerns, etc. In fact, she was sharing that one of the common myths about Steps to Freedom is that everything is demon-based. The other common myths were that meds are never needed and psychotherapy is never needed. She was saying that meds are beneficial, as is psychotherapy. But, again, this raises the question of how is that assessed? How does one make the distinction?

I also wondered if it lends itself to people who are open to the language used here. Words like “bondage” and “curse” and “lie” were not part of my Christian vocabulary growing up, so to hear about a model that regularly uses such language sounds quite foreign. I wonder if people who are drawn to it comes out of traditions that use similar vocabulary or ways of conceptualizing difficulties.

There was definitely an emphasis on spiritual battle and on identity in Christ. I think those in attendance have been given a lot to think about. For me, there was something about it that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It raised more questions than answers, but perhaps that is because of my own background and approach to conceptualizing concerns. I genuinely appreciated that they studied the approach empirically and took the time to get it published in a peer-reviewed journal. It sounded to me like they intend to do more of that, and that’s an important step for Christians interested in using explicit protocols in clinical practice.

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