Guide Spirituality, Theology and Mental Health: Multidisciplinary Perspectives

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Religion and psychology distinguish their diverse stance towards each other, but also recognise the mutual ground upon which interaction and collaboration could take place in answering questions of vital human well-being. This article is written from a distinctively Christian perspective and constitutes a call for an enriched relationship between the Christian religion and psychology based on a biblical reformational theology.

The article supports and encourages a holistic sense of cross-disciplinary reflection that could enable psychologists with a Christian worldview to respond to therapeutic situations with faithful, theologically informed, practice-related research based on a biblical reformational theology. During the Reformation, the threefold office played an important role in the Christology of reformed theologians cf. The threefold office munus triplex of Jesus Christ is based upon the offices of prophet munus propheticum Dt —22; Mt , priest munus sacerdotale Ps —4; Heb ; and king munus regium Ps ; Mt Osmer , 28—29 presents the four tasks of practical-theological interpretation as a guide to obtain the variety of knowledge and skill in facilitating participation in the threefold office of Christ:.

Many psychologists, academic and applied, do not relate to religion as such; they maintain a stance of neutrality or silence toward it. For many, this is not a hostile stance at all, but rather is the most respectful position one can take toward that which one does not personally endorse or understand. Regardless of the efforts to separate religion and psychology, Christian counsellors and psychologists with a Christian worldview have developed a growing interest in identifying the influences of religion and the interaction of faith and well-being to support and guide clients cf.

Tan Christian psychologists have made great progress in bringing together the disciplines of religion and psychology and engaged them as part of their determination to understand the interaction of faith and well-being. According to Peteet, Lu and Narrow xix and Lee and Newberg , studies have confirmed the important interaction between religion and well-being when health professionals are incorporating faith with their health care to support and guide clients.

Spirituality, Theology and Mental Health

This interaction between Christian religion and psychology exists because both approaches work with humans as physical, religious and psychological beings. Koenig describes religious beliefs that assist with psychological integration as follows:. Religious beliefs provide a sense of meaning and purpose in difficult life circumstances that assist with psychological integration; they usually promote a positive worldview that is optimistic and hopeful; they provide role models in sacred writings that facilitate acceptance of suffering; they give people a sense of indirect control over circumstances, reducing the need for personal control; and they offer a community of support, both human and divine, to help reduce isolation and loneliness.

According to Patterson et al. Many religious people still prefer pastoral counsellors when they need help in coping with emotional problems. This attitude results from a complex blend of interpersonal, psychological, spiritual and environmental factors, but gradually, more people are also looking towards psychology to answer questions on the basic matters of human beings and the complex queries of emotional pain and suffering cf.

Koenig describes an important approach to the dialogue between Christian religion and psychology as follows:.


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Clinicians need to be aware of the religious and spiritual activities of their patients, appreciate their value as a resource for healthy mental and social functioning, and recognize when those beliefs are distorted, limiting, and contribute to pathology rather than alleviate it. It is vital that mental-health practitioners understand the impact of religious and spiritual concerns of their clients to achieve healthy treatment goals cf.

According to significant developments in Christian approaches to therapy and the overall impact of religion on psychosocial functioning, research findings have provided support for the efficiency and effectiveness of religion for general mental-health advantages in actual clinical settings of Christian therapy cf. They have begun to appreciate the wealth and depth of psychological reflection that is available from ancient sources and the inseparability of psychological functioning from moral and religious functioning cf.

Roberts and Watson give a few examples of the variety in the long history of psychology, conditioned by the metaphysical commitments of the Epicureans, Platonists, Stoics and Sceptics and Aristotelians. According to Roberts and Watson , the therapeutic orientation of Greek and Hellenistic ethics and psychology has become more evident along with the striking similarities between some of the ancient and some of the modern therapies.

To understand the recent debates between religion and psychology within the evangelical world, Psychology and Christianity by Eric Johnson is a helpful resource for understanding five core paradigms of Christian engagement with psychology. The core paradigms are represented in five views: levels-of-explanation approach, integration approach, Christian psychology, transformational psychology and biblical counselling cf. Each of the five views proposes a basic structure for psychological models to develop, interpret and evaluate their approach to anthropology within a biblically informed Christian worldview:.

The levels-of-explanation model holds the view that the Christian religion and psychology are two diverse disciplines that offer complementary approaches to anthropology without any mixing or joining together of their unique research approaches and methodology. The integration model holds the view that Christian psychologists should combine psychology and theology by integrating psychological research approaches and methodology with fundamental Christian faith.

The model critically and constructively engages a Christian worldview with psychology but rejects any psychological research and methodology in conflict with the Bible as unacceptable and undesirable for integration. The Christian psychology model emphasises an approach to psychology that is firmly constructed on a Christian worldview. It defines a psychological approach to anthropology as understood according to a historical and philosophical approach to Christianity and engages in empirical research from within the Christian worldview.

The transformational psychology worldview model focuses on the spiritual-emotional transformation of the counsellor or psychologist as the fundamental basis to do psychology through the power of the Holy Spirit. The transformational approach is grounded in reality, including realities understood by faith e. The biblical counselling model highlights a distinctive approach and focuses on detailed biblical analysis, claiming that the Bible alone is the infallible and authoritative source of all relevant insight and disclosure in counselling.

Biblical counselling applies Scripture to clarify and addresses difficult circumstances of life, and any dependence on extra-biblical resources is seen as being able to distort the biblical counselling endeavour to care and cure what goes wrong in personal and interpersonal life. The five core paradigms contribute to approaching psychology within the theological interpretation and underlying framework of a Christian worldview.

The five paradigms attempt to enable Christians to incorporate the best of each paradigm or view into the construction of a new, more comprehensive approach to psychology that transcends the limits of simple linear reasoning.


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Through the centuries the Christian worldview, with its foundational grounding in the Bible as the divinely inspired Word of God, has offered a rich description about the nature of human beings cf. Johnson a One of the key challenges in the dialogical relationship between the Christian religion and psychology involves a solid theological basis to incorporate a biblical theology into therapy and counselling Pargament A normative perspective for Christian psychology would be consistent with the assertion and emphasis on going beyond integration to develop a distinctly Christian psychology that is more substantially grounded in a biblical reformational theology.

Spirituality, Theology and Mental Healthedited by Christopher Cook » BASS

However, psychology with a Christian worldview is similarly not an independent therapeutic activity that functions apart from God. Christian psychology developed an extensive hermeneutic approach to the study of human values, health and emotional welfare that deals with mental and physical health in relationship to religion and spirituality. It emphasises the crucial and central role of Christian theology, based on the Bible and Christian philosophical reflections on human beings Johnson Johnson a, For Christian psychology, the Christian tradition is the orienting guide cf.

Johnson a— for research on the Christian and theocentric understanding of human nature. The Bible has a normative primacy over Christian tradition. Johnson suggests that the scriptures possess a functional priority and offers a particularly relevant authority to a Christian worldview where psychological research will be primarily empirically based but imbedded in an extensive biblically informed vision of humanity.

Johnson —; cf. McMinn b:loc. The Bible plays an experiential role and provides a fundamental source of wisdom to meet with God and grow in knowledge of him through experiencing the power of the Word of God in a personal relationship. The foundational role of Scripture provides an adequate basis to ground human knowledge, basic assumptions and beliefs.

The axiological role discloses the values, principles and imperatives for humankind, derived from the Bible, to be incorporated into research, theory and practice. The anthropological role of the Bible provides an awareness of the redemptive-historical narrative of human sin and divine redemption.

The dialogical role of the Bible provides a deeper level of understanding through an exchange of values, principles and perspectives for dialogue as well as a comparison between psychological knowledge and biblical revelation. A dialogue between psychological and biblical discourse allows the Bible to exercise a normative and transformational role as it works upon the findings and theories of psychology, without simply measuring the discipline of psychology or undermining the unique authority of the Bible.

The creative role of the Bible could provide a context for exploring new concepts, findings and theories that derive from the biblical outline of the Christian psychological community rather than exclusively from a psychological worldview. The Bible, as the divinely inspired Word of God, and the Christian creeds and reformed confessions present a theological interpretation and underlying framework for research, theory and practice in Christian psychology. Christian psychology cannot relegate biblical teachings to the periphery of its psychological knowledge.

The Bible describes human beings as a unit of body, soul and mind with physical and emotional needs cf.


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Dt ; Lk In light of this divine act, humans are focused on God Coram Deo and dependent on their Creator. Their fallen sinful nature has marred the image of God Gl —17; Col —14 and has led to disobedience and the destruction of the relationship with God as well as conflict with fellow humans, the self and the environment Rm ; Eph —8; Belgic Confession BC , art. Despite the sin component of human existence and their broken relationship, God established a special relationship with his covenant people Gn 15— Jn ; Eph —19; BC, art.

Curriculum

Eph — Thus, as moral human beings, people live a life focused on God, addressed by the working of the Holy Spirit Richardson ; Seamands The appropriate goal of Christian psychology is to model or imitate the example of Christ. Tan and Johnson highlight that Christian spirituality focuses on the spiritual formation Rm of clients into deeper Christlikeness. This cannot be accomplished without spiritual development and constant daily knowledge and application of the virtues and truths of the Bible cf.

Unique in many ways those of us ministering in the various areas of psychology have the opportunity of leading others into deeper spiritual truth. The essential basis for spiritual development is the guidance of the Holy Spirit cf. Osmer Clinton and Ohlschlager described this counselling relationship from a distinctively Christian worldview with both vertical and horizontal dimensions. Christian counsellors require competence and training in counselling skills, but will first and foremost prayerfully depend on the Holy Spirit as the Counsellor, Advocate and Helper Tan Calvin Calvyn ; cf.

Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Calvin cf. Calvyn — states that true wisdom is of two kinds: knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves. This spiritual maturity can develop from the dialectic relationship with God and the self. According to Clinton, Ohlschlager and Centore , the ethical reflection of Christian psychology can be described by two essential perspectives: firstly, the foundation of truth and the standard by which everything else is evaluated is given in the Bible as the divinely inspired Word of God 2 Tim ; 2 Pet and secondly, an eternal perspective of life and hope in Christ is vital in a mental-health approach Ps ; Pr Christian psychology requires a description of the psychological nature of human beings according to the Bible and Christian philosophical thinking.

The constructive relationship between Christian faith and psychology includes principled theory and research, professional practice and personal integration that utilises biblical theological teaching and Christian philosophical reflection on human beings but that are still relevant to mental health. Christian psychologists have an important goal to explore human beings empirically in a manner similar to contemporary psychology and to practice such research in conformity with their broader commitments cf.

McMinn a emphasises that historical and systematic theology, biblical understanding and Christian tradition are all valued and considered to be essential components of counselling. A comprehensive biblical worldview, with its theological roots and spiritual practices, consists of a clear Christian understanding of human emotion, thoughts and relationships cf. Looking from this vantage point allows a constructive relationship between psychology and Christian theology.

The isolation of the two subject fields can be replaced by a model that inspires a holistic sense of effective cross-disciplinary dialogue between Christian religion and psychology.