Wheaton College & The CACTC

I will soon be teaching an intensive course at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. The course I teach is a graduate-level course titled Sexuality & Sex Therapy (I teach a similar course in my program.) It’s intensive because it is completed in just one week.

How is the course organized? We take the first couple of sessions to cover various perspectives on sexuality (i.e., theological, sociocultural, biological, and clinical). Then we discuss various presenting concerns, such as several of the sexual dysfunctions (e.g., dyspareunia, desire disorder), sexual addiction, the paraphilias, gender identity concerns, and so on.

While I am in the Chicago area, I will also provide a 2-hour training at the Chicago Area Christian Training Consortium (CACTC). The CACTC is an APA-approved pre-doctoral training program. That talk will be a 10-year review of the literature on various models of services for sexual minorities. I had completed a similar review that was published in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice in 2002. Hence the update on the past 10 years. In the context of that training, I will also provide a primer on Sexual Identity Therapy following the SIT Framework and develop more of how I provide SIT in my own practice.

Integration Capstone 2012

We begin the summer session in a couple of weeks. I teach a 5-week intensive called Integration Capstone. I am going to have the students read two books, the first of which is Coming to Peace with Psychology by Everett Worthington, Jr. This is how the publisher describes the book:

Worthington demonstrates how the tools of experimental psychology shed light on human nature and the nature of God. Because people bear the image of God, the findings of psychological science help us understand both people and God more clearly. Psychological science provides new perspectives on theology and can help us address theological controversies and hot topics. Worthington gives recent examples of illuminating psychological findings, examines the distortions of the image of God through the effects of sin and points to ways that psychology assists Christians in living more virtuously.

Here is an endorsement by David Myers:

Everett Worthington–accomplished psychological scientist, biblically rooted person of faith and professional writer–is the perfect person to assist Christians in coming to peace with today’s psychology. With his conversational voice and dry wit, he introduces us to startling findings, differing perspectives, and evidence-based insights on faith and faithful living. Highly recommended!

Here is a blurb from Warren Brown:

Everett Worthington is a significant scholar and researcher in the field of psychology who presents in this book a thoughtful and personal view of the relationship between psychology and Christian faith. In a winsome and irenic style, he argues for a relational partnership between theology and psychology that neither simplistically pits the fields in a struggle for authority, nor inappropriately intermingles their concepts and ideas. Most importantly, Worthington argues for the value of psychological research in this very important conversation about theological and psychological views of the nature of persons.

The second book we will read is Integrating Faith and Psychology: Twelve Psychologists Tell Their Stories, edited by Glen Moriarty. Here is what the publisher has to say about the book:

In this book we hear about the developmental issues, the sense of calling and the early career insights that shaped their paths. They recount the importance that significant relationships had on their understanding of Christian integration, especially noting the influence of mentors. Struggles and doubts are common human experiences, and the contributors openly share the stresses they encountered to encourage others with similar issues. On a day-to-day basis, we see how spiritual disciplines and the Christian community assist them in their work and in their understanding. Finally, each writer offers a personal note with lessons learned and hard-won wisdom gained.

This second book is helpful because it can foster the students’ sense of their training as part of a larger narrative that is being written about their work in the field. By reading about the lives and careers of other Christians in the field, they can learn about what these other folks have found to be most meaningful in their work and lives. Should lend itself to some good discussions.

Celebrating with the Blackhawks?

It has been reported that 2 million people crowded the streets of Chicago to celebrate the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup. I know I’m arriving late, but I head up this next week to join the celebration (and to teach a summer elective at Wheaton College). I can’t say a lot about the celebration; I’ll probably just join in during mid-flow (with whoever is left celebrating). Save me a slice of deep-dish pizza!

What about the class I’ll be teaching? I am teaching Sexuality and Sex Therapy, a graduate level course for students in the MA and PsyD programs in Clinical Psychology. The course begins with a review of several foundational perspectives on sexuality: theological, sociocultural, biological, and clinical. The last perspective, clinical, provides a transition to specific issues students will be dealing with in practice. We then cover various specific dysfunctions (e.g., dyspareunia), the paraphilias and paraphilic-related disorders (or “addictions”), gender identity issues, and sexual identity issues.

One goal of a course like this is to help future clinicians feel more comfortable talking about sexuality-related issues in clinical practice. Another, goal, of course, is to add to their understanding of specific issues that they may be working with in the future. It has also been important to learn to think rigorously about the various issues from a Christian worldview. In any case, it is an important area for the church today and for the broader culture, and I think students appreciate the opportunity to reflect on these issues.

Integration Capstone Course

The Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology offers an Integration Capstone course for students in the summer of their fourth year, as most students prepare to leave for a year-long internship. We discuss integration as students have experienced it throughout the program, as well as how to approach integration as an ongoing process throughout the career of the psychologist.

Last year we read an edited book published by the Christian Association for Psychological Studies on seminal works on integration. This year we are reading two books. The first book is Psychology in the Spirit by John Coe and Todd Hall. It is a new proposal for a Christian psychology that has been an interesting read and topic for discussion for students. Here’s what the publisher, InterVarsity Press, says about it:

  • Can real change happen in the human soul?
  • Is it possible to have truly healthy relationships?
  • Is psychology something that can help us see reality as God sees it?
  • John H. Coe and Todd W. Hall tackle these and other provocative questions in this next volume of the Christian Worldview Integration Series which offers an introduction to a new approach to psychology that seeks to integrate psychology and spiritual formation. This model “represents a spiritual formation and relational approach to psychology for the sake of servicing the spiritual needs of the church.” Their goal is to provide a unique model of doing psychology and science in the Spirit.

The second book we are reading is Signature Sins by Michael Mangis. I’ve known Michael for years. He was one of my professors at Wheaton College, and he has for a long time now been teaching on spiritual formation. He has brought years of research and personal reflection together into a very helpful and thoughtful resource. Here’s information from InterVarsity Press:

In these pages, the author empathetically and honestly reflects on the ways we manage our behavior to hide our sin and ignore the true poverty of our hearts. But until we deal with the root of our sin, we will be ruled and fooled by it, and miss the freedom Christ died to bring. Exploring common forms of sin and then discovering how our own temperament, culture, family and gender affect the way those sins manifest themselves in our lives will lead us to a place of real honesty with ourselves, God and others. But the book doesn’t stop there; it also shows ways to combat our sin so that we can change our hearts, not just our behavior.

Sexual Identity

homosexualityWe discussed sexual identity in Human Sexuality today. We reviewed and updated research in key content areas covered in the book Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate. This meant updating research on the prevalence of sexual minorities, causes of same-sex attraction and homosexual orientation, mental health correlates, and whether sexual orientation can change. On this last point, change, we discussed the Ex-Gays? longitudinal study among others. 

In addition to this background information, we discussed sexual identity as another way to approach the topic of homosexuality. This included a review of research and theories related to sexual identity development and synthesis, as well as milestone events in identity formation. 

What is particularly interesting is the study of Christians who experience same-sex attraction and are sorting out identity issues in light of their faith. We discussed the decision to integration same-sex attractions into a gay identity as well as the decision to dis-identify with a gay identity and the persons and organizations that support that identity. 

In this context we discussed Sexual Identity Therapy among other approaches to providing clinical services to sexual minorities. We discussed common clinical concerns, including public and private identity labeling, conflicts between religious and sexual identities, issues related to stigma and bullying, and so on.

Gender Identity

                                     principles                           This last class focused on gender identity issues. We discussed causes of gender identity concerns, the clinical presentation, and treatment options. Concerning treatment options, although the procedure has been practiced for about 10 years in the Netherlands (and about 4 years in the U.S.), we discussed the practice of “blocking puberty” at about age 10-12 so that a several years later (around age 16) a young person can decide whether to transition to their preferred gender identity. According to the NPR report on this topic, young people who have done this appear to be satisfied with the transition (100% in a study of young people in the Netherlands). This is not the only option, of course. Others accept their biological sex and gender identity. In the study (from the Portland Clinic) mentioned in the NPR report, most young people (80%) who had been part of programs to assist them in living in conformity to their biological sex were apparently satisfied with that decision as adults.

In any case, it is a very challenging issue for everyone involved. Parents of children or teens struggle with what to do. The child or teen is often confused by how others react (not to mention the experience of dysphoria itself). Clinicians, too, may struggle with the various options that are available. Treatment options raise a number of questions about theological anthropology and ethics, among other concerns. 

We watched a couple of video clips from the Barbara Walters special on gender identity in childhood and adolescence, as well as a brief clip from Sy Rogers’ testimony (as someone who was scheduled for sex reassignment surgery before the procedure was abandoned at Johns Hopkins). As you might imagine, it was a good discussion of the challenges Christians may face in understanding the experience of transgender persons and providing services to gender dysphoric youth.

The Sexual Dysfunctions

principlesIn our last class we finished our discussion of recent research on assessment and treatment of common sexual dysfunctions, including desire disorders, arousal disorders, orgasmic disorders, dyspareunia, vaginismus, premature ejaculation, and erectile dysfunction. Although much emphasis is placed on biological insights and the ‘medicalization’ of many sexual concerns, we framed the issues in the context of a broader biopsychosocial model. This model helps students see the role of a competent mental health professional in working with sexual concerns in a multidisciplinary treatment team. 

Next class we shift our focus toward the atypical sexual behaviors – the paraphilias and sexual addiction. Although the sexual dysfunctions are quite common, most students tend to be particularly interested in understanding how clinicians conceptualize and intervene to address atypical sexual concerns, so it should be an interesting discussion.

We will also finish our discussion of one of our primary integration resources. As I mentioned in a previous post, we have been discussing Lisa McMinn’s book, Sexuality & Holy Longing.  We are on the last chapter that addresses sexuality and culture. I think the students have genuinely appreciated Lisa’s writing on sexuality from a Christian perspective.

Human Sexuality Course

sexualityandholylongingLast week I began the Human Sexuality course. It is a cross-listed course in our graduate school for both doctoral-level psychology students and masters-level counseling students. We are going over various perspectives on human sexuality, beginning last week with theological perspectives and sociocultural perspectives. Tomorrow and Wednesday we’ll be discussing biological perspectives and clinical perspectives. 

Once we’ve taken this overview of the various perspectives on human sexuality, we will focus on the clinical dimensions of our work. We begin with the sexual dysfunctions, such as desire disorders, arousal disorders, and so on, then turn our attention to the paraphilias and sexual addiction. We wrap up the course with discussions of gender identity and sexual identity. It is a fast five weeks!

The picture I’ve got here is of Lisa McMinn’s book, Sexuality & Holy Longing. I like it as the integration resource for the course. We read other standard texts, such as Principles & Practice of Sex Therapy, but McMinn’s book is one of the best resources from a Christian perspective. For example, we just read and discussed her first chapter on rites of passage. She deals with the different rites of passages that males and females experience in our culture today. She argues that for males those rites of passage often deal with competencies, while for females the rites of passage center more on physical changes. It was a good discussion, as students often have their own experiences with rites of passage and may agree with or take issues with some of the points raised in the book.

In any case, I appreciated the observation that young people today will have rites of passage, whether or not parents or others are intentional about them. We may not think of our culture as one that has rites of passage, but we do. It is important, then, to consider ways to foster intentional rites of passage. These would be intentional benchmarks or experiences that carry the meaning that a Christian, for example, wishes to communicate in the area of human sexuality and sexual behavior, as well as broader issues of personal growth and maturity.

The local church already participates in this to some extent when it provides baptisms, marriage ceremonies, and so on. But the church may want to think more about what it means to grow into manhood or womanhood, and which rites of passages are appropriate in communicating a ‘coming of age’ if you will. Again, the argument is that these will occur in the life of the young person, so the church may want to be intentional about it.

Avoiding Cynicism

anthologyToday was the first day of the Integration Capstone course. We read the first eight chapters of the book Psychology & Christianity Integration. It is a collection of the most influential articles that have had an impact on the Christian integration movement. I was thinking of it in these terms: Which articles would I want to make sure students read before they left the program? There are some real gems here. But I’ll write about some of those at another time.

One thing that I found important was the concept of simplicity. Most people I know who go to a Christian integration program have a fairly straightforward faith. There’s a simplicity to it. Then they study psychology for five years, and what seemed simple becomes increasingly complex. In some ways, it should become more complex. We all continue to learn and grow. But there is also a simplicity on the other side of complexity. (Someone said this, and I don’t know who it was to give them proper credit, but I should be clear that it isn’t original with me.) I think it is important to recognize this and not to leave people to just sit with the complexity, particularly if that leads to cynicism. One of my favorite professors in my program once told me that cynicism is the death of spiritual maturity. I didn’t understand what she meant at the time, but I have a much better sense for it today. 

There is a risk of becoming cynical in the study of psychology. Cynicism includes the idea that we do not trust the motives of others, that we can become jaded. This can affect how we think about and experience a host of our most important relationships, including our relationships with clients, colleagues, students, family members, neighbors, fellow believers in the church, and God. 

So we do well to train students to become psychologists while retaining the truth of their Christian convictions and what originally inspired them to want to study psychology from a Christian perspective. We can recognize and model elements of faith that is vibrant on the other side of the complexity seen in the study of psychology. We can also show them what it means to take rists, to trust others, to study the character of God, and take other steps that can offset the tendency toward cynicism.

This is actually an element of what has been referred to as personal integration. It involves attending to the spiritual life of the psychologist (or the student in training to become a psychologist). In many respects, it lays the foundation for the other kinds of integration, including worldview, theoretical, applied, and role integration.

Psychology & Christianity Integration

anthology This summer I will be teaching the Integration Capstone course. This is a final course for fourth-year students in our program. Historically, the instructor has selected maybe two current integration books for the class to read and discuss over the length of the course (5 weeks). I was thinking that it would be unfortunate if students left without having read some of the key articles that have been written on integration over the years. So I got to thinking about the recent edited book titled, Psychology & Christianity Integration: Seminal Works that Shaped the Movement. The articles were suggested by a core group of people involved in integration – key readings that they found particularly helpful in their own understanding of integration. Authors of the seminal works include Nicholas Wolterstorff, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, Stanton L. Jones, Peter C. Hill, C. Stephen Evans, and a host of others. It covers the relationship between science and religion, types of integration, models of integration, integration in research, and applied or clinical integration. So there should be something for everyone.