Traditionally, psychology and theology have stood in opposition to each other. Christian counselors felt that the relationship between the two disciplines is essentially adversarial. Those who tried to integrate psychology and theology were criticized for doing so. As time goes by, important insights about human behavior and the importance of spirituality have been highlighted. As such, the principles of psychotherapy and psychology could do well to heed the lessons offered by theology, specifically the principles of prayer, worship, the Christian centrality of redemption and forgiveness.
McMinn’s book highlighted new theories, techniques, and other important information in psychotherapy and psychology. The book essentially integrates spiritual principles into the practice of psychology and psychotherapy instead of the other way around. Hence, even non-Christian counselors can make use of Christian principles in dealing with their counselees. In the course of this integration, McMinn discusses psychology, theology and spirituality and the different areas where they overlap and where meaningful integration can be achieved in helping people deal with different issues in their emotional, mental and overall well-being.
In traditional psychotherapy, religion tends to be relegated to the sidelines and not brought out into the open in discussions. Psychology instead relies on human experience, the meanings generated from these experiences and how such meanings impact the life of a person. God’s involvement, more or less is relegated to the sideways. On the other hand, theology has placed God at the center of understanding human behavior and the social processes in the world. Hence, God’s word and the way it is interpreted are used in evaluating human experiences and behaviors. Because of the mutual exclusivity of the two disciplines, practitioners of either discipline tended to ignore what the other has to offer.
McMinn, through his book however, poses that the Christian view of humans and of God’s involvement in the lives of people has an important impact in the mental and emotional help of people. Christian practices such as prayer and the reading of scripture can help a lot in determining the condition of individuals and help them initiate in the process of looking into themselves and evaluating themselves in light of God’s word.
If this were done, the counselee will be directed to areas of sin in his life. In a sense, he will not be able to understand the areas of sin unless he has a standard to use. In this case, it is the Scripture with the help of the Holy Spirit that directs the person’s attention to the areas of sin in his life. When these areas shall have been recognized, then confession can be done. Confession helps the person put a name to the nameless feelings of guilt and shame. When they have been named, then their power over the person tends to loosen. Confession, a distinct Christian practice, helps the person unload and pour out his heart. This in turn paves the way for forgiveness to come—forgiveness from oneself, from the people involved and from God.
Forgiveness then makes redemption possible. Even if the scars of the sins are still there, redemption enables a person to walk away from sin and its painful consequences and start anew. More than simply starting anew, however, redemption entails being re-integrated into the community and into the world.
Response to the Book
As a Christian, I was raised in a setting where the Bible is the authority over major issues in life. As such, I could identify with those who tend to look at Psychology with suspicious eyes. As such, with McMinn’s book came as an important eye-opener in regards to the benefits that the integration of psychology, theology and spirituality could do in the overall well-being of a person.
Confession though is a little difficult to do. Oftentimes, the church fosters a place where people do not feel safe to confess. Fellowship also tends to get broken down because of hypocrisy. People are afraid of opening up, afraid of being looked down as not being enough of a Christian. A friend of mine was struggling with depression even in the midst of doing ministry for the Sunday School of the church. He did not actively seek help for fear of being discredited in his ministry.
By the time he sought help he was under the throes of his depression and needed to have professional help. As a friend, I did not have much to help him because I did not understand enough psychology in helping him. I was loaded with bible verses, which he also knew. I found out that even if I had tons of bible verses, it was not enough without a good understanding of how a person’s experiences affect his emotions and his well-being. If I simply heeded the need to consult psychology, I would have been in a better position to help my friend even if I were not a professional.
During the course of my friend’s therapy, he related to me the counseling process and it was based almost solely on psychology. Even if God was being brought into discussion because of my friend’s faith, He was not central in the process. There were also techniques used by the psychotherapist that resembled some of the Christian practices that we were exposed to but were not being practiced in church.
At first, I was skeptical of the process because the role of God and of faith has been minimized. As I continued my discussions with my friend, however, there was a noticeable change in my friend and he was indeed becoming better. In one of our conversations, he even talked about his realization that psychology has much to offer to Christians who want to make a difference in the lives of others in terms of counseling and helping cope with the challenges of life.
Integration of Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality
The greatest learning for me in this book is the idea that three separate disciplines could be integrated for the promotion of the total well-being of a person. Indeed, psychology can help look at the mental aspect of person and help provide additional understanding of the significance of the experiences that people go through. More than that, there are techniques and tools that psychology offers. These can then be used by a Christian counselor in helping a person who is going through a difficult time in his life.
Psychology can also help blunt the tendency of theology to focus too much on sin, guilt, and shame. These concepts however, should not be set aside totally as they are also important in helping a person come to terms with his true situation in life. The role of theology is to bring God’s standards to the settings in which humans find themselves. God’s word stands as the standards in which human behavior may be subjected to.
Being Christians, the primary purpose of counseling is to align a person’s life in the standards of God. This is what I am alarmed about in the book—that in the process of integrating theology and psychology, theology might be relegated to the side and psychology takes center stage. There is indeed a place for scientific inquiry and the use of tools and techniques developed by man for the betterment and empowerment of a person.
Yet, as Christians, God’s word should be the first basis of truth and standards of behavior. Psychology deals with emotions, thoughts, responses, and other insights from the lives and experiences of humans. Psychology, in itself, might even draw a person away from God and institute a new version of spirituality that may not be in conjunction with the Christian faith.
Another question that I had in the course of reading the book concerns the Christian practices and principles. If for example, non-Christian psychologists do recommend the practice of these principles, such practices may simply be practiced for the sole purpose of improving the person and not for the original purpose of these principles and practices.
Prayer, scripture, confession, forgiveness and redemption are concepts that are heavily Christian in essence. Can they be practiced effectively outside of the Christian context? Moreover, if a Christian counselor would use these practices, would not that be constituted as a means of proselytism?
There have been challenges in the integration of psychology into theology. On the other hand, while integrating spiritual principles and practices into psychology has its benefits, there may also be drawbacks. The spirituality of the person may be seen as simply a means of improving one’s well-being and not as means of following Christ. Spirituality then might become as simply another tool for man to use instead of being used for the glory of God.
Furthermore, the issue of openly promoting Christian practices in the practice of psychology might not be welcome to certain kinds of people. Although it is good to promote Christian practices, there may be issues in terms of their general acceptability, especially because religion is being seen as a highly personal matter.
Nonetheless, what I like about the book was the way that McMinn used the term spirituality instead of religion. Spirituality seems to indicate a higher level of significance in the life of people. Christianity as a means to ensuring spiritual and mental health was clearly elucidated by McMinn. He showed in his discussions that Christianity is not only about church attendance every Sunday. Rather, it is a dynamic faith that can help a person deal with issues on a daily basis.
McMinn also was riled against the kind of spirituality that seeks only to serve the interest of an individual, especially the type that integrates this and that from different disciplines. His presentation about the integration of psychology, theology, and spirituality was not only theoretical; he presented case studies, which illustrated that Christianity as a faith is relevant to twenty-first century life.
The divide between theology and psychology has been going on for a long time in their applicability in counseling. There are those who look at psychology as a purely human-made discipline and that it is totally incompatible with theology and the way that God’s word deals with human experiences, emotions, and mental health problems. Yet, in this age, the techniques, tools and strategies offered by psychology can no longer be denied. They also offer something which Christian counselors—professional or not—can use. Such techniques however should not be used in themselves. Rather, they should be integrated with God’s word and with theology so that true spirituality may be attained by a person.
Spirituality is more than just religion. It takes into account the overall well-being of the person, which is the intent of psychology. It also helps a person align his life with God’s word, which is the aim of theology.
When there is a balance and skillful use of psychology, theology and spirituality, counselors everywhere will be able to look at the benefit of God’s ways for humans. It will also help humans avoid pitfalls and if they fell into such, they can easily consult God’s word and get back on track.