Christianity and Psychology – what is biblical counselling Part I
When we start to look at Psychology and Christianity, it seems fairly straightforward and easy to understand. Psychology is just like any other science, a commentary on the functioning of humanity and how they interact in their world. However as we begin to look closer there is a lot of differing information that is at times confusing and hard to make sense of.
As a part of our growth as Trellis, we have spent a significant amount of time studying the different perspectives on Christianity and psychology of through the lens of scripture. It is our aim to hold a strong Reformed Worldview in the work that we do and it is this world view that has informed our critique and adoption of the approach of Biblical Counselling.
When it comes to Christianity and Psychology, the different approaches can be classed into 5 separate views. These differing views fall onto a spectrum of sorts that relates to the strength of the biblical critique of psychology found in the model.
LEVELS OF EXPLANATION MODEL
On the one end of the spectrum, we find what is called the Levels of Explanation Model. This model looks at the different sciences as a collection of spheres or levels, providing explanation to that specific area of study. Hence the name. Levels of Explanation.
Psychology and Theology are seen as different sciences. Theology is a science that studies God and how the human spirit relates to him. Psychology a science that studies the human brain an how people interact with their environment. This model presents the idea that it is only an illusion that psychology and theology are addressing the same questions and providing differing answers. This cannot be the case as they relate to different levels.
This model was developed by Christians working in the academic areas of psychology and other sciences. The constraint of theology to one level allows for the compartmentalisation of faith and the avoidance of conflict in worldviews.
The Integration model falls onto the majority of the middle of the spectrum. It recognises that psychology and theology are both looking to understand what has gone wrong with the world, why there is so much hurting and what we can do to make things right.
This model combines an understanding of sin with psychological theory. It acknowledges the authority and sufficiency of scripture. The main argument made for this model is that our understanding of humanity can be studied through general revelation, scientific observation and the special revelation of scripture.
It is a model that sounds good in theory but when we look at it more closely it starts to fall apart as it can be a bit of an eclectic grab bag of techniques. It varies greatly from practitioner to practitioner and in some cases from client to client. The breadth of this approach has actually been quite divisive in the past. This model is the one that is most often associated with Christian Counselling services.
CHRISTIAN PSYCHOLOGY MODEL
This model was developed as a response to the Integrational approach. It recognises that the eclectic grab bag approach of that model doesn’t work and that there needs to be a consistent approach that is informed by biblical theology. The Christian Psychology model looks at the bigger question. What is foundationally wrong with humanity? And that is needed to put things right?
While psychology is classed as a science, a lot of the information is not based on empirical evidence. Instead it is a collection of different theories that all examine the questions of what is wrong and how do we fix it. A lot of the theory also does not acknowledge or address sin. The Christian Psychology model recognises this and places a strong emphasis on the need for counsellors to have a strong biblical understanding of humanity before incorporating insights from psychology.
As in all areas of science, the bible is the lens used to critique psychology. This model allows for practitioners to incorporate modern psychological insights if they align or come close to the Christian understanding of creation, fall and redemption. While comprehensive in theory, the Christian Psychology model has little evidence of practical application. This is in a large part due to the fact that a lot of psychology theory will not meet the criteria of fitting into the creation-fall-redemption understanding of the world.
Transformational Psychology is a relatively new approach that compares the modern-day psychologist and counsellor to the wise men of scriptures. The best description of this model is that it is a combination of spirit, scripture and wisdom. The counsellor is seen as a spiritual psychologist whose own sage observations of humanity, spiritual journey and emotional transformation is the foundation for the counsel provided. The model for the counsellor is the wise man of the Old Testament, the prophet or sage of Proverbs and other wisdom literature.
This too is a model that has a strong theory but seems to fall apart a little in practice. When you look at it at first, it seems that it has a good strong theology that is biblical and has a strong understanding of creation and redemption. However, when you look closer, the principles of change don’t seem to fit with what the bible teaches about sanctification. Here the change process focusses on the individual, and their worldly wisdom, rather than the growth and change that the Holy Spirit is working in us across all circumstances.
Scripture contains a wealth of insight and understanding into the human condition. From cover to cover our bibles are filled with wisdom, knowledge and expression of what is wrong with the world and what is being done to fix it. It is this premise that we find at the centre of Biblical Counselling.
Biblical counselling draws from the wealth of wisdom in scripture and how that connects to how we live our lives. Scripture has so much wisdom and insight into the condition of humanity and how that is shaped and changed. It gives us the framework to move past behaviours and thought patterns, giving insight into our will and emotions as a means to expose what is going on in our hearts. Scripture moves through all the different areas that psychology focusses on, pushing aside the layers, shining the light on our hearts. Scripture focus on our worship, it focusses on our faith. And that is the focus of biblical counselling.
With such a rich foundation in scripture, the central focus of Biblical Counselling is the gospel. The central focus is work of our Lord and Saviour in redeeming us from the brokenness of this world in our redemption and in our sanctification.
Psychological insight is incorporated very carefully when it comes to biblical counselling. The lens of scripture are used wisely. This model continues to acknowledge and respect the wisdom of psychology and within the framework of the model there can be benefits. That said, scripture offers us a depth of understanding that we cannot find in psychology. The knowledge and wisdom that God has revealed to us in his word goes so much deeper than the general knowledge of the world. As Christians, we have a God who is busy working about complete transformation in our lives. A God who is busy healing, restoring, changing and nurturing us so that we grow to become the people that he created us to be.
The sanctifying work of the Word and Spirit reorients and restores us in a way that isn’t possible when it comes to psychology. Change brought about by psychology is superficial. It is centred on self, and the goodness we can bring into our own lives, reorienting behaviour and emotion without digging deeper into what is really wrong with our heart. Real change, biblical change is Christ centred. It digs deep, focussing on our hearts, bringing about change that matters.