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Psychology and Theology Essay

1. My personal experience involves a combination of secular and religious study in the area of counseling.  This experience and education has led to a conclusion that although there are a number of opposing factors in the beliefs and theories used in both, the two are neither completely oppositional to each other nor mutually exclusive.  In many ways the views and methods of both can be combined to make a very effective counseling technique and a well rounded counselor (McMinn, 1996).

Secular counseling has numerous theories on how people learn and that the ways they learn affect the methods needed to modify negative behaviors.  These techniques can work to some degree, such as offering a dollar for getting an A on a paper.  Children then become more motivated to get A’s.  These techniques often fail to create long term results however, as people often get tired and the excitement of the reward fades.  They then go back to old ways.  When the eternal rewards of spiritual counseling are added, however, the motivation for long term behavior change becomes much more long term.

The two methods of counseling differ most greatly in life’s focus.  Secular counseling teaches that a strong sense of self will solve all problems, where as religious counseling teaches to focus everything around God and the problems will diminish (Kajer, 2006).  These can however be combined with the focus on God, while still encouraging the person to forgive himself and be comfortable with himself as the person God created.  This keeps the focus where it belongs while helping the person recognize himself as a creation from God.

I have learned to find a combination of these views by realizing why secular counseling often fails, and realizing that although a person needs to be humble he still needs to respect what is God’s creation and take care of it.

2. All human beings have sinned, but not all of psychology is sinful or thinking about humans as sinful.  Psychology is about the study of human behavior and because much of human behavior especially that requiring counseling is sinful, there is a degree of sin involved.  This does not make psychology sinful.  There are many psychologists and secular counselors with spiritual views and backgrounds.  Most of them are bound by legalities and job guidelines to keep the spiritual aspect of counseling out of the job, but not only because they are sinful humans or because they are thinking about sinful humans.

Many of the theorists in psychology have developed theories that contradict many Biblical teachings, the most notable one being self actualization.  In this theory, the person’s main goal is to reach the perfect self at which time he has reached the ultimate existence. This additionally is based on the theory that human beings are inherently good and not evil and can naturally distinguish between right and wrong (Management, 2005). Obviously this kind of thinking is sinful as spiritual people are supposed to strive to be closer to God and to live according to his will in order to reach the ultimate existence.

If a counselor can balance the basic idea of psychology (the study of human behavior) and the theological values, there is no reason psychology should be considered a sinful study or practice.  It does focus on the behavior of humans and how to change deviant behavior to make it more positive.  It is based on discovering how people learn and then taking that knowledge to help modify behavior.  It only becomes a sinful practice when those studying or teaching it contradict God’s teachings.

3. My goal as a counselor should be to help minimize the pain and negative effects of suffering and to help prevent as many future problems as possible.  In order for a counselor to continue to function and perform the job successfully, it is important to remember and understand that there is no way to prevent every cause of pain and heal all suffering.  There is no way to completely take away the pain a child feels after losing a parent or prevent an accident from happening.  It would not be realistic for any counselor to think it is possible or even ideal to keep all pain from happening.

People are allowed to suffer disappointments, set backs and losses in order for them to learn from them (Gress, 2007).  If  everything worked out exactly as people wanted them to and there were never any disappointments the world would be filled with a bunch of spoiled adults, who were unable to appreciate anything.

Counselors who go into the profession with the belief they can solve every problem and make everyone’s pain completely go away are setting themselves up for failure and disappointment, because they are expecting to accomplish the impossible.  Those who set the realistic goals of providing comfort, minimizing grieving, speeding emotional healing, and modifying behavior when needed are the counselors most likely to stay in the field long term.  The ones who hope to solve everyone’s problems have a tendency to take the problems upon themselves and “burn out” relatively soon.  Counselors need to focus on the most significant problem for each person and work on one thing at a time.

4. The subject of a healthy sense of self is one major difference between psychology and theology.  Both views involve people who are happy, and focused on a goal, but the views differ greatly in the center of the focus.

Many psychological theories focus on making people feel good about themselves and then everything else in the world will fall into place.  In this case a healthy sense of self is essentially a “puffed up self”, or a person who thinks of himself as the most important person in the world and can do no wrong.  This involves making the person become the center of his Universe.

The Biblical view of a healthy sense of self places God in the proper place as the center of man’s universe and when the focus is on God, everything else falls into place.  This requires the person to learn humility and to give God his proper credit for the role he plays in a person’s life.  The view here is that when a person is focused on living life for God, he will be happy and comforted in the knowledge that he is putting forth his best effort for God.

A person with a true healthy sense of self would be a person who values himself as a creation of God and a worker for him.  This is a person who knows his place in the world, yet places the focus of the world on God.  As the person strives to be more like God, he appreciates what God has provided him and uses the talents God has given him.  This person is happy and well adjusted to the world around him.  He knows his talents and his mission and uses them to grow closer to God.

This description of a healthy sense of self tends to lean more towards the Biblical view, but does place value on the person and God’s creation and teaches the person to have respect for himself.  This is consistent with God’s teaching that the body is his temple and that people need to care for their bodies and respect them.

5. Scripture can provide answers to essentially any problem that is faced by people.  Verses that say “through God all things are possible” or “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (NIV) provide people with the knowledge that they do not have to face problems alone and that there is hope.   When a counselor is allowed to use scripture and the hope it provides, the counselor has a great deal more comforting hope to provide the person who is suffering.

The instruction and guidance provided by scripture can provide the counselor with a great deal of information and guidance to help the counselee though most of life’s situations.  It additionally provides more appropriate alternatives to deviant behavior and provides people with ways to resist the temptation of falling back into old unhealthy habits.  In more extreme cases the Bible can show examples of what has happened to people who could not change behavior or are unable to turn problems over to God.

In addition to providing the counselor with the most powerful tool available, it can provide a source of comfort and hope for the counselor as well.  When a counselor begins to feel overwhelmed or helpless, the same verses that provide comfort to the counselees facing crisis can provide renewed strength and hope for the counselor.

Scripture provides the hope, answers, and promises to help people overcome the greatest obstacles, but they need to follow the directions and examples the Bible provides.

6. Most secular counseling jobs do not allow counselors to use scripture or express their personal religious beliefs to counselees.  The purpose of this is to avoid pressuring people into complying with beliefs that go against their religious beliefs.  In the United States people do have the right of religious freedom.  The rights of others have to be respected by the counselor.  Using prayer in these settings could cause the counselor to lose his job, or the counselee could lose respect for the professionalism of the counselor.

Religious counselors have more freedom in this area due to the fact that they are counseling in a spiritual based setting.  When people seek the help of these counselors, they know they are going to a person who uses the Bible as a reference and a basis for the counseling.  Payer is more accepted and sometimes expected in these counseling settings and can be very helpful with counselees who need the hope and guidance of God (Goliath, 2007).

A counselor with a new counselee should ask the person if they would like to pray,  this provides the counselee the option of being prayed for if they would like it.  For those who do not feel comfortable with prayer or would not take the prayer seriously additionally have the option of passing on it.

The counselor can pray for those who choose against prayer when the session is over.  During the private times of prayer the counselor can ask for guidance to help the person not only overcome the crisis, but to grow more comfortable with prayer and asking God for his help.  Everyone needs prayer, but if a person prefers private prayer or has different beliefs than the counselor, it can either cause the counselee to not return or can cause a setback in the counseling process.  Counselees need to feel comfortable during counseling sessions in order for progress to be made.

6. Sin is often the source of the problems for which people seek counseling.  In order for the situation to be resolved and the person to get past it, the sin has to at some point be confronted.  The problem is how a counselor should go about confronting the sin.  If the sin is confronted before the counselee is willing to admit that sin is the cause of the problem, there is a chance he will leave and the problem will not get resolved.  If the counselor however spends too much time making the counselee comfortable and avoiding the issue, the sin will not be likely to be confronted and the situation still stands the chance of not getting resolved.

In the very first session, the counselor needs to get a back ground of why the counselee has either sought or been referred for counseling.  One of the best ways to do this is to ask him.  Along with this is a good time to ask if there was any sin involved that needs to be forgiven.  If he is able to state the sin and talk about it then the sin should be confronted and resolved very early in the counseling.  Then healing can begin quickly.

If the person denies sin as playing a part in the situation, then the instigating situation needs to be discussed in greater detail and possible reasons behind that including sin pointed out.  Once the person is able to understand there is sin in his life, then is the best time to talk about ways to have the sins forgiven both by God and anyone who was sinned against.

The best way to confront sin is to ask questions and to provide guidance as needed.  Direct confrontation often leads people to be offended and shut down, but questions can lead them to discover the problem on their own.  Although it is never easy to confront someone on sin, a counselor or church leader must do it in order to help those in need overcome the sin (Adams, 1980)


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