As Christians have considered the best way to care for people with mental health concerns, there has been a divide between those who believe that Scripture is sufficient for the purposes of counseling those with these concerns and those who integrate a Christian worldview with the contemporary fields of psychology and counseling. These two positions (and many others along a continuum of sorts) have been discussed now for many, many years. Not too many people in my day to day world really debate this, so I was surprised to be invited into a discussion about all of this recently.
I was invited, I suppose, because I represent what some people would refer to as an “integration” or “integrationist” position because I pursue the integration of Christian theology and worldview with the field of psychology. As I shared in a recent colloquium of biblical counselors, this is not a position I have argued for or defended, as others have. I have written textbooks from that perspective, but I don’t really spend a great deal of time justifying the position itself to critics. I think our worlds are sufficiently different and our approaches are sufficiently different that I have not engaged in that debate. My sense is that we would likely speak past one another. In any case, I think others have done a good job explaining the rationale for an integration perspective on this and there are other things I have been led to focus on in my work.
In any case, I was recently interviewed by a leading figure in the biblical counseling movement about all of this. He asked me what biblical counselors get wrong about integrationists. What I said was that I think biblical counselors view someone like me as having a low view of Scripture. The contrast, as I see it, is that biblical counselors often see themselves as having a high view of Scripture because they assert that the sufficiency of Scripture entails deriving treatment protocols from Scripture for various mental health concerns. In contrast to that position, I would think they would assume I then have a low view of Scripture. The opposite is actually true from my perspective. That is, I would say I have high view of Scripture, and that it is precisely because I have a high view of Scripture that I do not derive treatment protocols from the Bible for panic disorder, eating disorders, sexual dysfunctions, and so on.
In that same venue I also discussed role integration, which is another distinction between the groups. In the work I’ve done with a colleague at Regent University, Bill Hathaway, we have discussed different types of integration (i.e., worldview, theoretical, applied, personal, and role integration). Role integration refers to times when a Christian serves in a role that entails serving the public good in some capacity. This might be simply being licensed to practice as a psychologist or counselor, as it involves being under the board of psychology or board of counseling in a given state. It could entail serving on a task force with the American Psychological Association or being a consultant to the National Institute of Corrections. That is, you are serving the public and not just providing services to the church or to a Christian.
It was interesting to me that many of the biblical counselors I was speaking to were pastors. I also serve the Body of Christ in a related capacity. I am an elder in my church. In that capacity, I have a different role in the lives of people who are members of our church, as they place themselves under the spiritual oversight of the pastoral staff and elders. But when I function as a licensed clinical psychologist, I enter into a role as I enter into the fiduciary space of public trust that is broader than what one might take on when providing spiritual direction to a congregant. I consult with the National Institute of Corrections, for instance, to serve all incarcerated people, not just Christians.
Are there tensions in role integration? Absolutely. There are potentially many tensions as a Christian psychologist considers his or her responsibilities in serving the public and in bringing honor to God. I won’t elaborate on those tensions here, but you see me write about them or speak about them often. But I think these tensions have been good for me in some ways. They have certainly kept me in prayer!
As I mentioned above, these exchanges with biblical counselors are not common experiences for me. I think our sense of calling and purpose are pretty far apart. I don’t see our worlds overlapping all that much. I suspect that all of us in that room (and in the broader movements represented by biblical counselors, integrationists, and others) may have good, honorable goals for the work we are doing, for the sense of calling we have, but we are likely to speak past one another because of where and how we serve.