Faith and Therapy - Is There A Conflict?
Over the years I’ve learned I’m not alone. As unusual and unique my situation and my circumstances, even my thought process at times, when I’ve shared my story I found others who can resonate with the topic of conversation. So I know there are people out there who are wondering, how could I ever go to therapy if I’m a Christian or person of faith? Shouldn’t my faith and scripture be enough? Won't the therapist just try to make me feel better without me changing the way I’m supposed to?
Over the years, as I studied scripture, my faith has grown and strengthened in different ways. First, I’ve learned my God is so big, so amazing, and so loving, His grace truly is sufficient for me. That has brought an immense amount of comfort. But there is an opposing force. Satan, the father of lies, will use anything he can to cause suffering, including your religion. I'm borrowing that from Mike Christison, RCC, MACC, Here’s a link to the podcast "Spirituality and Psychotherapy: Contradictory or Complementary?" for more on this subject.
There is no conflict between TEAM therapy, or the integrative approach that I use, and faith. In fact, I found much support within the Bible for the concepts and methods we use. Here's some of what I found, granted this is from a Christian perspective. I am by no means trying to alienate other faiths, this is just what I am familiar with. The podcast listed above goes into more detail how those of any faith can benefit from TEAM therapy, and I assure you I would never push my faith in a therapy session EVER!
With that disclaimer, do we see in the Bible those who had issues with "negative" emotions? Of course. In fact, Jesus, our Lord, King, and example, struggled with complex, painful, and conflicting emotions. "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" So, do you take this Bible verse literally? Do you really believe God forsook Jesus? Or perhaps it just felt that way to Christ in that moment of crisis. If the creator of the universe (John 1:1-states Jesus was the creator) could feel so abandoned why are we so hard on ourselves for feeling badly!!! Job, also had some really painful emotions and he was said to be "a righteous man" by God Himself! Job 15:11,12 “Is God’s comfort too little for you? Is his gentle word not enough? What has taken away your reason?”
Reason can go out the window in times of severe stress or emotional crisis, such as King David when we was so ashamed of his sin against Uriah and Bathsheba. 2 Samuel 12:18, “Then on the seventh day the child died. David’s advisers were afraid to tell him. ‘He wouldn’t listen to reason while the child was ill,’”
That's one of the tools of TEAM therapy, we use reason to get us back on track. This gives us a Biblical foundation for doing cognitive-style therapy (using reason & wisdom) and there is more:
- God commanded us to use reason. Isaiah 1:18, KJV. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord:” TEAM uses reason at it’s core. We are arguing with distorted, untruthful, or misapplied negative thoughts. Reason is how we defeat those thoughts.
- Jesus, our example, used reason. Acts 17:17 ESV. “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.”
- Wisdom is open to reason. James 3:17, ESV. “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” Wisdom from heaven is “open to reason.” This verse also explores how to reason with heavenly wisdom. We can have this. God’s wisdom is first pure, that is there is no fault in it – no distortions. Then peaceable, gentle, full of mercy, how we reason with others is done warmly with empathy. It is impartial, no bias, and it is sincere, we must be genuine.
- Thoughts lead to emotions and actions/behaviours is the core of cognitive therapy and TEAM-CBT. The Bible uses this principle. 1 Peter 1:13, ESV. “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Prepare your mind, the mind is the starting point. Set your hope, you can choose your emotions and beliefs. Even for bad habits or things we think we can’t control this principle applies. We start with our thoughts. Job 31:1, NIV. “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.” Making a covenant, purposing in ones heart, these are choices.
- God’s word can help us examine our thoughts. Hebrews 4:12, ESV. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
- We can’t trust all the thoughts and feelings that we have because of our sinful nature. Proverbs 28:26, ESV. “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” Mark 7:21-22, ESV. “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” Note: the words heart and mind are used interchangeable in scripture. In our culture heart means emotion, but that was not how it was used 1000’s of years ago. Even still you could argue that still works, because when we control our thoughts we control our emotions. Romans 8:6, ESV. “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Philippians 2:5, ESV. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…”
- Feelings are not our guide, thoughts must be and they can be on better things. Proverbs 19:2, ESV. “Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.” Colossians 3:1-2, ESV. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” We can change our minds and be a new person. Ephesians 4:23, ESV. “..be renewed in the spirit of your minds…” 1 Corinthians 2:16, ESV. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”
- Working on a spiritual level is important. Colossians 3:2 ESV. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” This verse also can be used as a promise that the thing of this earth don’t need to consume our minds.
There are even Bible verses about negative thoughts that are in line with TEAM therapy (and other therapy models, including CBT, DBT, mindfulness, etc.):
- Negative thoughts seem real. Proverbs 14:12 as well as Proverbs 16:25, ESV. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” This verse is almost word for word the same in both places. Bible writers would repeat things that were of extra importance, thus we can deduce God is really cautioning us about thinking we know what is right in absolute terms. Being open to exploring what we believe is the only safe guard. We can be sure about what we believe about ourselves, others, or even how we understand the Bible, yet be wrong. Reason, prayer, surrender, along with continued study are vital to know truth.
- We can kill our own happiness by the negative thoughts that we believe. Proverbs 15:26, ESV. “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord, but gracious words are pure.” Since “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” we are not excluded from this verse. So, are you being gracious to yourself, having pure or truthful thoughts?
- Bible teaches us to dispute our negative thoughts. 1 Corinthians 3:18 ESV. “Let no one deceive himself...” 1 John 4:1, ESV. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” We can be influence by the spirits/Angels around us, for good or bad. We could also view this verse as talking about our own spirit and thoughts. Replace the word spirit with thought and this is how it reads, Beloved, do not believe every thought, but test the thoughts to see whether they are from God, for many false theories have gone out into the world.
We have permission from scripture to work on our belief system, in TEAM therapy we call it analyzing self-defeating beliefs (REBT and CBT therapists also work on self-defeating beliefs), and there is biblical evidence certain tools can be effective:
- Humility is critical. This verse could also be used to support acceptance. 1 Corinthians 3:18 ESV. “…If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.”
- God has something better for us than our current self-defeating beliefs. Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Ephesians 5:17, ESV. “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
- Life isn’t fair, but God is. James 1:2, ESV. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” Trials and challenges shape us, and if we allow it, make us better people. God can turn bad experiences into a positive outcomes for those that are willing to trust Him. Romans 8:28, NIV. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Notice, it doesn’t say all things are good, or all things work good. There is a catch to this verse, all things work for the good of those who love him. Love trusts.
- Positive reframing and straightforward thinking are tools I use in my sessions with clients. The Bible supports we are to focus on positive thoughts. Philippians 4:8, ESV. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
- Examine the evidence, another tool in the TEAM and other therapy models. Testing thoughts to see if they are true. Romans 12:2, ESV. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Acts 17:11, ESV. “… they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
That's just the tip of the iceberg so to speak. There is support for us to work through some of the stuff that goes on in our heads. It's ok to get help and support, God understands. In fact, I strongly believe God has given me the tools to do this job. I felt called to become a therapist, so there must be people God has out there that need me to be a therapist. Just seems logical to me.
Here's a disclaimer that actually ties this all together, or I hope it does. A good therapist from any background is there to be a guide but they are on dangerous ethical ground if they work against your belief system vs your self-defeating beliefs or cognitive distortions (distorted thoughts). Most therapists try to honor their clients without imposing their own ideas. Now, I admit from experience this doesn't always happen, and research shows desire/effort doesn't always equal success. If you feel your therapist seems to be leading you in a direction not congruent with your belief system, OR if your therapist doesn't realize you feel in conflict, it is up to you to tell them how you feel. Also, not every counsellor is a good fit for every client. I'm certainly not perfect, and I am not a good fit for every client either. It's ok to shop around!
If you do want to give me a try, and you live in Canada, I'd love to talk with you. If you live in the USA, or elsewhere, I offer life coaching which can be quite effective for many life challenges too! Book a free 15 minute consultation, to learn more.