Family Therapies 2nd Edition

Family Therapy 2ndHere is the cover design for the second edition of Family Therapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal. This was a fun book to revisit and update.

We looked at the various schools of family therapy and updated the research that has been conducted in support of the different approaches.

Our main focus was recognizing and reflecting the changing cultural landscape regarding family. The reader will pick this up throughout the book but especially in two new chapters. The first one is on cohabitation and how trends in living together before marriage (or just living together) affect relationship and family dynamics.

The other new chapter deals with LGBT+ couples and families and really expands how we interacted with sexual and gender identity experiences in the first edition of the book.

In any case, here is an overview of the book from the revised preface:

The book is divided into four parts. In part one (chaps. 1-2), we set the stage for the discussion of the first-generation models of family therapy. Chapter one is a discussion of a distinctively Christian perspective on the family. Chapter two is a discussion of the field of family therapy, how it developed and some key terms that will help the reader better understand the field.

Part two of the book (chaps. 3-12) devotes one chapter apiece to the major models of family therapy developed in what is sometimes referred to as the first generation of family therapists (e.g., structural family therapy). If each approach to family therapy is a “map” for getting families from a place of some kind of dysfunction to a place of better functioning, each chapter in this section contains an explanation of the map, followed by a discussion of the theoretical and philosophical assumptions and practical implications. We then focus on Christian critique and engagement of the theoretical and philosophical underpinnings and the practical issues involved in using specific techniques associated with that theory. We also provide brief reflections that tie back to the three foundational themes introduced in chapter one: family identity, family functioning and family relationships. In the closing chapter of this section of the book (chap. 12) we introduce a framework for integrative Christian family therapy.

Part three (chaps. 13-20) extends the discussion by taking topics that are commonly addressed in family therapy and inviting Christians to interact with the relevant materials. We introduce the reader to the issues (e.g., crisis and trauma, marital conflicts) and then review the literature in that area, followed by Christian engagement in light of what we see as particularly valuable from the first-generation models of family therapy and in light of what we propose for an integrative Christian family therapy. In the second edition we added a chapter on cohabitation and significantly revised the chapter on LGBT+ couples and families. We see cohabitation as an increasingly popular entryway into marriage as a a relationship status in and of itself. We want to help the reader grapple with that reality. An additional reality is the success of the marriage equality movement and the likelihood that Christian clinicians will work with LGBT+ couples and families in the years to come. We also want the reader to be familiar with those cultural shifts and to think deeply and well about some of the concerns that arise.  

Part four (chap. 21) reflects our desire to cast a vision for integrative Christian family therapy/counseling/ministry. In particular, we see the need for local family therapy to be influenced by a shrinking, global world in which family therapists will need to expand their understanding of family structure and relationships. Societal and cultural changes will have an impact on our work and the ways in which we think about and engage the families in ministry and service.

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).

The Long Journey Home

A new edited book is available on ministering to those who have experienced sexual abuse. The book is titled The Long Journey Home. It is edited by Andrew J. Schmutzer with contributions from Diane Langberg, Terri Watson, Phil Monroe, Gary Strauss, and many more. In fact, there are 23 chapters organized in three main sections: (1) Understanding Sexual Abuse Through the Social Sciences; (2) Engaging Sexual Abuse Through the Theological Disciplines; and (3) Addressing Sexual Abuse Through Pastoral Care.

Each chapter is quite accessible to the lay counselor or person who is looking for information to minister to others. The chapters also end with helpful discussion questions and suggestions for further reading.

I co-authored a chapter with my colleague and friend, Dr. Elisabeth Suarez. That chapter is titled, “The Impact of Sexual Abuse on Sexual Identity: Exploring the Relationship between Childhood Sexual Abuse and Adult Sexual Identity.” We address an area that is often a point of discussion (or at least assumption) in Christian circles by reviewing the relevant research and theories in this area.

I appreciate the editor’s commitment to bring together theologians, psychologists, and pastoral care providers to address a sensitive and important topic. I think many readers will find this resource to be a practical guide that will stretch their thinking. The book will fill definitely fill a void in the literature.

New Resource on Homosexuality and Sexual Identity

This week I received a copy of my new book, Homosexuality & the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors and Friends. I actually just did an interview on it with a Christian station in the Pittsburgh area. It was a nice way to introduce the book and reflect some on the intended audience, etc.

Back story: I was asked by Bethany House Publishers to write a Christian general audience book on homosexuality – something that would be accessible to the average Christian in the pew.  The book looks at various questions that have been asked by pastors, family members, and friends sorting out the complicated questions surrounding the topic of homosexuality, including a Christian perspective on it, what causes sexual orientation, and whether sexual orientation can change. 

Writing this book also afforded me the opportunity to share why I believe sexual identity is a more helpful approach in couseling and pastoral care than focusing on sexual orientation. I discuss this early in the book (Chapter 2), and my answer to that sets up Parts 2 and 3 of the book that deal with questions facing families (“What if my child or teen announces a gay identity?”; “My adult child announced a gay identity: What now?”; and “What if my spouse announces a gay identity?”). These are really difficult issues, and the emphasis on identity provides a couple of ways to respond that are overlooked when we place too great an emphasis on orientation.

In Part 3 of the book I look at questions for the church today. The first of the two key questions dealt with here are: “Whose people are we talking about?” I think it is imoprtant that when we think of Christians sorting out sexual identity matters we think about them as “our people”; this frame changes how we think about ministry and support. The second key questions is: “What is the church’s response to enduring conditions?” I suggest that an approach that reflects realistic biblical hope will have to find a way to respond to enduring conditions, which is what most people will need.

The book has a couple of nice endorsements on the back cover:

“This is a must-read book for anyone who wants sound guidance and trustworthy information about homosexuality, including its relevance to Christians and the church.”
–Gary R. Collins, Distinguished Professor of Coaching and Leadership, Richmont Graduate University
Homosexuality and the Christian is the best book I have seen for evangelicals who want an accessible book that provides accurate, research-based information.”
–Warren Throckmorton, Associate Professor of Psychology, Grove City College, and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at the Center for Vision and Values

Stories of Integration

When I came home from vacation I had a nice surprise awaiting me. My friend and colleague at Regent, Glen Moriarty, has just had his new edited book come out, and there it was on my front stoop. The book is titled Integrating Faith and Psychology: Twelve Psychologists Tell Their Stories.

Gary Collins provides the forward, and Glen has brought together an interesting group of Christian psychologists, including Al Dueck, Mark McMinn, Rebecca Propst, Siang-Yang Tan, and Ev Worthington. (Glen also asked me to contribute a chapter, so I wrote about “Practicing Convicted Civility” as my theme.) Some really well known folks are here – people you might expect in this kind of book – as well as others who are really worth getting to know.

Each chapter includes the following components: development (or background psychological and spiritual events from the person’s life), mentoring (the impact of key relationships), struggles (the personal and professional challenges that have shaped them), spiritual disciplines (both impactful experiences and daily disciplines/behaviors), therapy (more of a sharing of insights from providing therapy), and a letter (each section closes with a letter to future students in training).

Glen’s done a nice job of organizing and editing the book into a warm and accessible account of the personal and professional aspects of what it has meant to be a Christian in the field of psychology. I think the reader is in for a unique journey, and I hope the reader will begin to reflect on his or her own integration journey.

Group Therapy on Reducing Shame

A couple of weeks ago we finished a ten-week therapy group focused on reducing shame. The group was for Christians who experience same-sex attraction, struggle with shame, and were looking for practical resources to help them in this area. I was co-leading it with a doctoral student who had developed a curriculum on reducing shame among Christian sexual minorities (she did this for her dissertation), and we used that curriculum and collected pre- and post-group data to see the impact of the group therapy experience on participants’ experience of shame.

What I like about co-leading groups is that the very act of coming together with people who share similar struggles has a way of reducing shame. I’ve run several other groups over the years that were not focused specifically on reducing shame, and my sense what that the group experience itself helped reduce shame.

As I learned from my student’s background research on the concept of shame, shame is very isolating. Shame wants to keep a person from others and from the truth about themselves. Group therapy, by definition, takes a person outside of themselves and places them in relationships with others, and it normalizes their experience and their struggle. On the idea of how shame keeps people from the truth about themselves, I think a Christian perspective says that people are valuable because they are made in the image of God. However, shame tells a person that if others really knew them, they would reject them. This often leads people to put on a mask and to relate to people out of an appearance that they believe others will like or approve of. Shame can also lead people to make choices that end up isolating them further (and confirming in their minds that others would not really like them or care to be in a relationship with them). This only increases the pressure on the person who struggles with shame to keep others from knowing them.  Talk about pressure – that is a difficult way to live and relate to others. It doesn’t meet basic needs for connection and relationship, in part because there is no sense of affirmation or acceptance for who a person is.

Christianity actually offers a helpful starting point that affirms that all people are made in the image of God and are to be valued for that apart from any acts or behavior as such. With this as a starting point (a more stable and accurate sense of identity as valued by God), a person can eventually reflect on how they wish to live, on habits that they might wish to cultivate, and they can benefit from a healthy sense of guilt about things that they do (or do not do), but that is a very different experience than shame, which centers again on who a person is (rather than what a person does).

In any case, the group therapy experience was a very positive way to explore the topic of shame, its impact on a group of people who shared many commonalities, and how to respond in practical ways to reduce the impact of shame on Christians who experience same-sex attraction.

On Sources of Spiritual Authority

Our church had a guest speaker this week who shared on 1 Cor. 4:14-21, an interesting passage for Christians to consider. What is particularly relevant today is the idea that we live in a culture in which there are so many voices speaking to us each day, we can get the message we want to receive. We can listen to “what works” for us. Although there is obviously more to the context, the guest speaker was developing some of what this can mean in the life of the believer.

Paul offers a warning – not to shame or scold the church in Corinth – but to speak to them as their spiritual father. What he is saying essentially is that these other, competing voices were not their spiritual fathers; they were not legitimate, not apostolic. Paul urges the church in Corinth to imitate him, to replicate how he lives. (Which is a rather remarkable thing to be able to say to a group of people if you think about it.) Paul’s lifestyle, the lifestyle of the Christian, is both taught and modeled, and he is saying they should essentially replicate the ways he followed Jesus. A Christian leader, then, draws people not to him/herself but to Christ.

In the area I study – the intersection of sexual identity and religious identity – this idea of listening to spiritual fathers and mothers is increasingly important as we as a church are going to have more people teaching more diverse things about topics where there has been greater consensus. It is in this context that I have been thinking about Jennifer Knapp’s recent interview on Larry King in which she told a pastor that he was not her pastor and that she had spiritual authorities who spoke into her life and apparently essentially blessed her decision to be in a same-sex relationship. Knapp said that the pastor could share his opinions about what Scripture teaches to his congregation but not to her.

There is a lot that can be said about this exchange, and I am unable to unpack all of it or even most of it. (For a thoughtful discussion of this, see Karen K’s blog here and here.) Certainly it is a very difficult thing to navigate sexual and religious identity, particularly for Christians who take their faith to be a central, guiding, and organizing aspect of who they are. We’ve had the chance to document some of those challenges in a series of studies over the years. I have no idea what that process has been like for Knapp or really anybody who is navigating that terrain, except for the people I have known personally or professionally (through research or clinical practice).

Is direction about how to live something that will be different for different people? Well…yes and no. Certainly people may be guided to different paths when they face similar circumstances. I think of the options facing couples struggling with infertility. Some may choose to go far along in their efforts to have biological children, and there are many medical interventions that can be taken to increase the possibilities there. Others will pursue adoption. Still others will decide not to pursue either of those directions. Each couple prayerfully considers what it best in light of a number of factors.

In the area of sexual identity, people also face a range of options. Some integrate their experiences of same-sex attraction into a gay identity and pursue same-sex relationships, while others neither integrate their attractions into a gay identity nor do they pursue same-sex relationships. Still others transform the meaning of the word gay; they may choose to live in keeping with the traditional Christian sexual ethic but the do not reject the word gay as a way of acknowledging their experiences of same-sex attraction. There are many, many ways in which Christians sort this out actually. (A student I’ve worked with just defended her dissertation and identified some nine different identity outcomes among Christians who experience same-sex attraction.) As people prayerfully consider the options that are before them, is it like decisions about family life, adoption, infertility treatment, and so on?

As difficult as it may be, it seems that Christians are given greater clarity about God’s revealed will for sexual behavior and expression, which is one reason why it is so important that Christians reflect on the sources of authority they listen to (this also points to the idea that sexual identity/behavior is a topic in which theological reflection rather than scientific evidence is going to be particularly crucial). I think this also points to a need for careful reflection on pastoral responses to enduring struggles in the life of the believer.

At the same time, it is going to be hard to speak into the life of someone who is sorting these issues out if a person doesn’t have a relationship with them. Simply relying on disputation or quoting Scripture will rarely (if ever) work; it tends to polarize and create a defensiveness in the other in an area in which the Christian wants to foster a climate for deeper and more careful reflection and consideration. It is in this context that it is important to note that Paul appeals to his prior relationship with the people in the church in Corinth.

It reminds me of when my kids are playing soccer: they hear a lot of parents yelling from the sidelines, but they can almost always hear their coach yell instructions and words of encouragement to them. They can pick out their coach’s voice because of the relationship the coach has established with them. And I think a good coach works hard  to have a relationship with each of player on the team so that they can trust what they have to say to them, so that they will be attuned to them.

This issue of listening to sources of spiritual authority is not new, and it is not limited solely to the topic of sexual identity/behavior. We are dealing with the issue of authority in all areas of our lives, and the church will continue to deal with this issue of authority in the future. (Protestant or Reformed churches face challenges here in terms of the vast number of denominations that exist, and Catholic churches face their own unique challenges.) In any case, thankfully, Paul was dealing with the issue of spiritual authority in his day, and he offered suggestions for how to respond when facing a cacophony of voices.