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.

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.