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.
My question to you: How do you think about integration of psychology and Christianity? Is there an approach that resonates with you? When did integration really come alive to you?
6 thoughts on “Integration”
I’m a licensed therapist in the atlanta area. Thank you for all that’s been put into this site. Where can I find more on this site about integration? Are there links you recommend?
Glad you like the site. I have a few links to integration journals (Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Journal of Psychology and Theology, Christian Scholar’s Review – although CRS does not tend to have as many articles from the behavioral sciences).
Some of the other links are also integrative in nature, but in specific areas, such as the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity, the MMATE Center (marriage research), and the Missionary Outreach Support Services (kind of a user-generated ‘2.0’ missionary site).
But maybe it would help to add a list of favorite integration readings in psychology…
Update: I created a page with integration readings that either are fairly well known or I have used in classes or were meaningful to me. I will add to this list as we go.
“How do you think about integration of psychology and Christianity? Is there an approach that resonates with you? When did integration really come alive to you?”
When I think about the integraton of psychology and Christianity, I think about identity formation. I consider developmental points of view. Adolescence to adulthood stands out in particular. Specifically, the transition of a person with ideas of childhood dependence to an individual that integrates new experiences creating a new identity of a competent and effective adult. Rogerian approaches which involve the concepts of an idealized self really seem to capture the ongoing movement of individuals through all their moods of life towards a fully integrated, self actualized individual.
Integration has not, as of yet, come explicitly “alive” for me. I’m still learning about it and so much of what I am exposed to does not yet make complete sense. As a student, I became aware of integration as a central theme in the development of individuals within the Christian community struggling with same-sex attractions and desires. The Mantra of “integration” screamed to me from the fall of 2007 through today. As I poured over a lot of the historical literature on the development of a homosexual identity it continually occured to me that the conflicts that many individuals (both secular and religious!) feel over same sex attraction are related to the process of integrating their same-sex identified selves with their deeper socialization which includes cultural taboos (secular and sacred in origin) against homosexuality.
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?
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.