This past year has been incredibly challenging for all of us. We share a common experience of disruption and loss that has been unsettling for many of us. I’m thinking that now is a good time for all of us to consider the merits of Psychotherapy for Christ-followers. Consider these five reasons for pursuing psychotherapy.
1. Psychotherapy engages our capacity to grow in the context of a caring relationship.
We are relational beings, created in the image of God. We are wonderfully made, with marvelous capacity to grow in the context of a meaningful relationship, where we are known and accepted. Ultimately, we are being transformed by the love of Christ and fellowship with the Father-Son-Holy Spirit. One of the ways we can experience the love and acceptance of Christ is in our relationships with caring, trustworthy and supportive people. The therapeutic relationship offers a safe and stretching place for being known and accepted in the presence of Christ and another human being.
2. Psychotherapy can help us process and make sense of our jumbled internal experience and the realities of a broken world.
It’s difficult for all of us to sort out the mix of thoughts and emotions we experience, particularly in a stressful season. Our world is often spoiled by division, hatred, racism, sexism, and violence, and, at the same time, there is a common desire for love, mercy, reconciliation, and justice. Putting words to the contradictions as well as expressing and experiencing what we feel, in the presence of another person, can be centering and healing. We need to acknowledge the wide range of feelings we experience – feelings that are often conflictual and unpleasant. If we are bent on simply avoiding our feelings, how can we weep with those who weep, be angry and sin not, or pour out our heart to God? In like manner, therapy can help us learn to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.
3. Psychotherapy can complement other approaches to spiritual formation.
Therapy is another means of grace that we can engage to grow in love for God and others. Self-awareness and self-understanding have an important place in spiritual formation. As John Calvin (1536) suggested, wisdom consists of two parts: knowledge of God and knowledge of self. As we come to know God and ourselves better, we can see the places where we need to grow, applying helpful practices, engaging community and leaning on the grace of God.
4. Psychotherapy can help us practice transparency, humility, boundaries and taking responsibility.
Therapy is a place for sharing things that we often hide from ourselves and others. In this sense, it is a place for practicing transparency. In sharing, we also acknowledge our imperfections, biases, painful experiences, and the reality that we cannot do life alone. This is humbling, spiritual formation. We share in the context of a supportive relationship with good boundaries. Boundaries are important for growth and the health of our relationships. As we share, growing in self-awareness and healthy boundaries, we can increasingly assume responsibility for our actions and lives. It’s not that we do the Christian life alone, but that we accept that, ultimately, I am responsible before God. I am responsible to work the best recovery, health, formation, and transformation possible for me at this point in my life, by grace, in the context of God’s love, a supportive community, and caring relationships.
5. Psychotherapy can help us model a way for others to grow.
Going to therapy is another way to lead by example. Our willingness to be in therapy may make it easier for others in our circle of influence to go to therapy as well. For example, as we experience therapy, we gain a better understanding of how it works to help us cope, grow and heal. This is something we can choose to share with others, or not, as we see fit.
As I reflect on these five reasons for Christians to go to therapy, I am reminded of Biola’s Rosemead School of Psychology alumnus, Dr. Henry Cloud, and his book, Changes that Heal: Four Practical Steps to a Happier, Healthier You. In the book, Dr. Cloud unpacks four developmental tasks vital to our spiritual journey and wholeness. These tasks include:
- Bonding with others (attachments)
- Separating from others (boundaries)
- Reconciling good and bad (in ourselves, others, and the world)
- Taking Responsibility as an Adult.
This is a spiritual, psychological, and interpersonal journey that we all share. It can be helpful to connect with various guides and fellow believers. Therapy is one such resource.
Interested in therapy? Students, members of the Biola community or others who want to make a therapy appointment can contact the Biola Counseling Center at 562.903.4800.
Doug Daugherty is the Dean for the Rosemead School of Psychology at Biola University.