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.

Visiting Asbury College

On Sunday I head out to Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, for a three-day visit. I’m really looking forward to it. I was at Asbury about five years ago to give a series of talks, and it was a great campus with a real heart for ministry, service, and worship.

The schedule this time includes chapel on Monday morning and a panel discussion that evening. The panel is a discussion of “What Scripture says about…” then they fill in the topic.

Tuesday morning includes time with Student Development staff, which I view as the critical proximal agent on any campus. They are in the “front lines” with the students, so that should be a good discussion. Tuesday afternoon and evening includes a presentation at Asbury Theological Seminary on pastoral care and sexual identity concerns. I will base this on the three-tier distinction between same-sex attractions, a homosexual orientation, and a gay identity, and then discuss how that distinction can be helpful for pastoral care and navigating sexual identity conflicts among Christians. Later that evening I will be part of a Coffee House, which is an informal Q&A discussion time with students back at Asbury College.

Wednesday morning is a second chapel address. I’ll be developing the theme from the first address on Monday that deals with creating a campus climate of care. This second address will bring us back to our fundamental identity and orientation, which involves creating a campus climate of praise.

PsyD Colloquium on Counseling Middle Easterners and Arab Americans

The Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology is hosting Naji Abi-Hashem, Ph.D., this Friday, February 5th from 2-4pm in the Moot Courtroom. Dr. Abi-Hashem is speaking on “Counseling Middle Easterners and Arab Americans.” He is a highly-respected scholar on multicultural psychology, having written several chapters on the topic and been featured in an American Psychological Association (APA) video titled Working with Arab Americans.

I have known Naji for several years now. He often speaks at the Christian Association for Psychological Studies national conference, and I either run into him there or at APA. He is a tremendously active professional; he is a kind and generous person, and he has a unique platform as someone with expertise on the Middle East. It will be a delight to have Naji at Regent to speak to our students and to provide training for all of us interested in enhancing our cultural competence.

Note: We’ve been notified today of a location change for the colloquium. It is now scheduled for the Library Auditorium.

Discussing Tolerance

We held our book discussion today at lunch. We discussed two chapters from Psychology’s War on Religion, edited by Nicholas Cummings, William O’Donohue, and Janet Cummings. We’ve previously read and discussed some of the other chapters, including those that touch on the culture war, the relationship between psychology and religion, and the chapter on Islam. Today we discussed chapters 3 (“Intolerance in Psychology: The Problem of Religious Gays”) and 4 (“The Battle Regarding Sexuality”).

We all agreed that we prefer a different metaphor to “war.” I know I felt that way when I was drafting my chapter for the book (“The Battle Regarding Sexuality”). In fact, I opened the chapter explaining that very point but acknowledged that some conventionally religious people in psychology may feel embattled, and I pointed out some examples to illustrate why they might feel that way.

And I would say that many people do feel embattled. Unfortunately, people who feel embattled are not as inclined to engage. It is a challenge I suppose all Christians face, especially Christians involved in a broader field in which their worldview is not respected or tolerated and is often subjected to ridicule, bias, prejudice, and the like. But engaging others is important, too. Finding ways to enter into dialogue about what we hold in common, whether it is psychology itself, the role of science in informing our discussion of a specific topic, specific research findings, or some other thing, it is important to identify what we hold in common as well as those with whom we can discuss and share our common experiences.

I was struck, too, by a comment from one colleague who said that psychology could function more at the level of description as a science – it could describe experiences and human behavior – but that it is often functioning as though it had a vision for how people ought to live. In that way, some people may approach psychology in the way Don Browning wrote about clinical psychology in Religious Thought and the Modern Psychologies. That is, that the models of therapy actually function as moral philosophies. They suggest a way that people ought to live and provide a map for how to get from where they are to where they should go.

It is a real challenge for the so-called culture wars. One group of people will feel less embattled if they do not feel that the other group is advancing a vision for how people ought to live that runs contrary to the beliefs that the one people hold as true. This brings up the question of whether and how to live in a diverse society. This is the true test of diversity and of tolerance. Can we co-exist while we actually disagree? The ability to co-exist based on conformity to a single vision for how people ought to live says nothing about a person’s capacity to show tolerance.

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.

Playing with Anger

The Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at Regent hosts a monthly colloquia series. This month we welcomed Howard Stevenson, Ph.D., who spoke on racial negotiation in schools. He is associate professor and chair of Applied Psychology and Human Development at the University of Pennsylvania. The title of his talk was “Playing with Anger: Reaching Out and Teaching Angry and Aggressive Youth.”

Dr. Stevenson opened by recognizing the importance of talking about differences in race and culture. Among the many things he does, he teaches young African American males how to respond to being questioned by police – as black youth are more likely to be stopped (in their car or walking) in neighborhoods, regardless of whether they are the majority or minority in that neighborhood. He wants that exchange to end well. But the context here is a “Catch 33” by which he means damned if you do, damned if you don’t – just damned. It’s more than just a no-win situation, it is a no-win situation across the lifespan; it doesn’t get better. Racial bias can occur at age 5, 15, and 55. That is the context for teaching kids not to curse out police.

As Dr. Stevenson observed, we have a tremendous capacity to avoid racial discussion. We have skills to avoid it; we need skills to enhance it. We need racial literacy and negotiation skills. He’s about counter-socialization to manage Catch 33: for protection (manage stress), affirmation (develop talent), reappraisal (reframing “stress” as “challenge”), competence (to counteract microaggressions), and faith (the transcendent/divine).

In what ways is Dr. Stevenson’s work integrative? I’m sure that there are countless ways, and you’d likely have to sit down with him for awhile to get more of a full picture. I will say this: Dr. Stevenson is a person of faith, and from what he says he is drawn in part by his faith to this area of study. He has a heart for young people and a heart for racial literacy. It reminded me again that community psychology is particularly important for impacting a large number of people for the good; in ways that are different than individual counseling, community psychology can identify and find positive ways to respond to what might best be understood as systemic evil.

Wired for Intimacy

Wired for Intimacy is a new Christian psychology integration resource written by William M Struthers. Struthers is Associate Professor of Psychology at Wheaton College. He is an expert on behavioral neuroscience and biological bases of behavior, which are among the courses he teaches at Wheaton. The subtitle of  his new book is How pornography hijacks the male brain. This is what IVP says about the book:

Pornography is powerful. Our contemporary culture as been pornified, and it shapes our assumptions about identity, sexuality, the value of women and the nature of relationships. Countless Christian men struggle with the addictive power of porn. But common spiritual approaches of more prayer and accountability groups are often of limited help.

In this book neuroscientist and researcher William Struthers explains how pornography affects the male brain and what we can do about it. Because we are embodied beings, viewing pornography changes how the brain works, how we form memories and make attachments. By better understanding the biological realities of our sexual development, we can cultivate healthier sexual perspectives and interpersonal relationships. Struthers exposes false assumptions and casts a vision for a redeemed masculinity, showing how our sexual longings can actually propel us toward sanctification and holiness in our bodies.

With insights for both married and single men alike, this book offers hope for freedom from pornography.

The money chapter is chapter 4, Your Brain on Porn. This is the chapter that might be the most difficult for readers to wade through, as it gets into the details of neurobiology, but Struthers does a great job making complex information accessible.

The book does not focus on recovery from pornography addiction. There is an appendix with recommended resources for recovery. However, Struthers ends the book with chapter 8, Rewiring and Sanctification, which offers a vision for changes that could me made if people understood the brain better and took strides to tap into the ways in which neural pathways and related aspects of our embodied personhood can be formed for good (sanctification) or for ill (pornography).