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How Do We Integrate Faith With Psychology?

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “Christian” counseling? We hear so many people say they want Christian counseling, but what exactly do they mean? The quick answer is that it depends on your theology.

If we look at counseling on a continuum, on one end is secular psychology, which uses science and humanistic theory to approach mental illness, some taking a dim view of religion. On the other end of the spectrum is “nouthetic” counseling, also called Biblical counseling. Biblical counselors take a dim view of modern-day science and psychology, believing that all that is needed for change is a closer conformity with Scripture. There are many other variations in between and all can be useful in certain contexts. 

A centrist approach on the continuum is integrated Christian counseling, which incorporates the foundations of Biblical truth and theology into modern counseling theories and techniques. Most of the practitioners at BCC’s Counseling Center earned their master’s degrees at institutions that integrate faith and psychology. In addition, they have or are pursuing full licensure by state counseling boards.  

In the counseling room, the degree to which we explore a client’s faith is up to the client. If they so desire, we can incorporate prayer, Scripture and spiritual disciplines. But we also use tools of modern-day psychology. 

How Integration Works

For instance, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a very common approach many practitioners use with a wide variety of clients. CBT involves identifying core beliefs, usually formed in childhood, and how those beliefs inform the way we think and behave. If we have negative thought and behavioral patterns, it’s usually because of a negative core belief. Those might be, “I am unloved, unwanted or not important.” They may stem from how we were raised or trauma we experienced. Therapists using CBT explore with clients how to replace the negative core belief with a truth. As integrated Christian counselors, we can ask our clients to explore what God says about us and replace negative core beliefs with positive beliefs and behaviors based on Biblical truth. 

In marriage counseling, integrated Christian counselors can lead couples who are struggling to look at how God intended marriage and how the love displayed in the three persons of the Trinity reflects how God wants us to interact in our marriages. We also turn to Scripture passages that exhort husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and for wives to respect their husbands. Exploring how couples love and respect each other often uncovers areas of growth opportunities. What we sometimes find is insecure attachment in one or both spouses, generational patterns of anger or passive-aggressive tendencies, conflict avoidance, etc. As therapists, we can help these clients heal from insecure attachments and realize, heal generational patterns, as well as help them develop better communication skills. Taking this integrated approach helps couples begin to heal and flourish. 

Understanding the Brain God Created

The field of neuroscience is making important discoveries in how the brain functions. Trauma, addiction and other factors can disrupt healthy brain functioning. Fairly recent techniques, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and brain imaging are being used with great success all over the world to help those who suffer from PTSD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression and other mental illnesses. Important connections are being made between neuroscience and the Christian faith by leaders in the field such as Dr. Curt Thompson. The more scientists study the brain and how it functions, the more we learn about God’s intricate and powerful hand in creating us in His image. We can also learn how brain function can be improved and mental health symptoms relieved through new medications and treatment methods. 

We are all made in the image of God and we all have intrinsic value as His children. Because of sin, we live in a fallen world where we hurt each other, we experience trauma, natural disasters and disease. God wants us to have life in abundance (John 10:10). He wants us to fully experience and enjoy His presence (Psalm 16:11). God wants us to love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34). And God rejoices when we live out the plans He has for us (Ephesians 2:8-10). As integrated Christian counselors, our goal is to help those suffering from mild, moderate and severe mental illness realize their full God-given potential. We want all our clients to experience His goodness, mercy, love and faithfulness, and reflect Him in all their relationships.  

Mark McMinn is an expert in the field of the integration of faith and psychology. He wrote this as a mission of integrated Christian counselors: “If counseling is a process of discovery and recovery, then grace is essential to help clients experience enough safety to explore the hidden places of their lives.”