Christian Psychology

Many years ago I earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and recently at quite an advanced age, I earned a master’s degree in Christian psychology.  A number of people have asked me what is the difference, and that has provoked a lot of thought on my part.

When I was in my twenties and working on my bachelor’s degree, psychology was a way of seeking truth.  It was, in a sense, my religion.  I wasn’t a Christian myself, although I liked Jesus.  I was almost completely ignorant of the bible, and I had certainly made no commitment to Jesus, or any religion.  I thought, in studying psychology, I could learn what brings people happiness and fulfillment.  I thought psychology would give me answers to problems in my own life, such as anxiety, loneliness and relationships that weren’t working very well.  Psychology, I learned, was the science of human behavior.  In the first year, I learned that if something couldn’t be researched, it wasn’t psychology, but belonged in the realm of philosophy or religion.  By the final year, I was learning dozens of theories of psychotherapy.  These theories could be researched as to whether clients felt themselves to have been helped, but it was all very nebulous as to how the theory helped.  I became very Rogerian.  I felt people just needed love and understanding, and they could go a long way toward solving their own problems.

After college, I began to work in the mental health field.  I very quickly learned some conditions were improved with medication, such as certain types of psychosis.  I also learned that psychotherapy of almost any stripe seemed to help very little.  We did it all.  We had a “therapeutic community”, had group therapy twice a day, psychodrama, occupational therapy, individual counseling, and so forth.  We had the same patients coming back and back.  After three years I was pretty doubtful that we were doing much good other than giving patients and their families a break during hospitalization.  I got into a related career field, doing health education.  I felt I could contribute more to people’s mental health by helping them to live healthier lives in general.

About that same time, I became a follower of Jesus Christ.  I had begun to read the bible, and became convinced the accounts of Jesus were true.  What is more, there were answers in His teachings to the questions I had asked since college.  Jesus had answers I had never heard while learning psychology.

All human beings have questions, and the answers they come up with determine how healthy and happy their life turns out.  Universal questions include:  Who am I?  What am I doing here?  Do I have significance?  Why do I feel so lonely inside?  Why do I feel so guilty sometimes?  Why can’t I get along with …?  How can I feel satisfied with my work?  Is this all there is?  Why am I not happier?  Why is life so unfair?  What happens when I die?

Psychology, as far as I ever learned, just doesn’t answer these questions.  It essentially says its up to each individual to find their own answers.  Well, answers that are invented just can’t satisfy.  People know they are engaging in wishful thinking.  They want to know there is truth, and they want to know what it is.  The other thing psychology doesn’t address is our limitations.  Limits are what cause mid-life crises.  The young think the whole world is out there for them to examine and enjoy, but by middle age one realizes there are limits and one won’t ever do all one has wished to do.  How can we live with our limits?

Christian psychology helps people to seek truth where it may be found: in the teachings of Jesus, and the older book Jesus so often quoted, called the Old Testament by Christians.  Jesus addressed all the issues that go beyond psychology to our deepest self, beyond this life, beyond this world, to God Himself.  In addition, He offers a relationship, whereby He helps us with our limitations, satisfies our loneliness, deals with our guilt, gives us meaning and purpose, and settles once and for all our value, based on God’s love for us. 

The bible has something to say about every issue people face, and deals with these issues on a deep level beyond the surface behavior and emotions.  Christian psychology gives people, not only answers to their day to day problems, but a view of life based on God and eternity. 

One might ask if this isn’t just religion dressed as psychology.  It is more.  It is the same truth found in the Christian religion, but it is made personal, it points to specific, individual needs, and it uses counseling techniques as pschology does.  It also shares truth with psychology, because truth is a unity, and all truth comes from God.  Where psychology can teach relationship dynamics and communication skills, that is truth and is used in Christian psychology.  Where psychology attempts to get into humanistic philosophy, relativistic values or sheer speculation, that would not be part of Christian psychology.

Much more could be said on this topic.  Someone smarter than I am could write a book titled “Why Christian Psychology.”  I have just scratched the surface.  What I have seen, is healing going on in lives where a person begins to follow Jesus.  These healed lives aren’t all that uncommon among Jesus followers, yet they would have been considered a miracle in the mental health world where I worked.

 

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