Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Where Secular Therapy Leads Us

The secular approach to mental health is diametrically opposed to Scripture in many ways. Here’s a checklist of the differences, which will help us gauge whether or not we are on the right path. However, even before we know if we’re going in our chosen direction, we need to know where we are. A captain has various instruments to make these critical assessments. We too need tools and maps to make equivalent spiritual/emotional assessments. Otherwise, we are afloat at sea, going around in confusing circles.

I must apologize beforehand for my over-generalizations. It’s hard to briefly capture something as diverse as secular therapy. However, I think that these generalizations might be helpful:

FOCUS: While the secular is focused upon the needs/desires – even “pathologies” – of the consumer (the self), the Bible counsels that in all things we have to seek the things of God first:

• Matthew 6:33: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and ALL THESE THINGS WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU AS WELL.

ANALYSIS: While the secular makes much of the “abnormalities” – the things that set us apart – Scripture places far more weight on the commonalities among humanity and the common principles that affect us all:

• Romans 3:23: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

THE ANSWER: While the secular attempts to find the answer in the self, the Bible recognizes our helplessness and sees God as the ultimate answer:

• Romans 8:31-32: If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

TRUTH: While the secular is concerned about reducing unwanted symptomology – guilt, shame, anxiety – the Bible is more concerned about thinking correctly than feeling positively (the feelings will follow as a by-product of being rightly connected):

• Psalm 51:6: Surely you [God] desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

SUFFERING AND WEAKNESS: While the secular regards these as unwanted symptomology – and this makes it difficult for us to affirm the totality of our experience – Scripture places great value upon brokenness:

• 2 Cor. 12:9-10: But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

UNWANTED FEELINGS: The secular tends to think that our painful feelings – guilt, shame, fear – should be medicated away, Scripture recognizes that there are reasons for these feelings. We can learn from them, and they can instruct us to go in the appropriate direction. They serve as both a record of our developmental influences and a roadmap for future decision-making:

• 2 Cor. 7:8-10: Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it--I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while-- yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

SELF-ESTEEM: The secular attempts to build the person up, convincing them that “you can do it!” The Bible warns against the danger of an inflated self-estimation:

• Luke 18:14: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

SELF-TRUST: While the secular seeks to inculcate self-trust, the Bible advocates for God-trust alone:

• John 15:5: “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

CAUSATION: While both sides recognize that the past is formative, Scripture places more emphasis upon our freewill choices as formative agents. Our feelings and mental habits are largely a product of our thinking and choosing. For instance, our choices to use anger and temper tantrums will imprint our future behavior patterns.

• Proverbs 1:29-32: Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them;

CULPABILITY: Secular psychotherapy tends to rationalize away bad conduct, since we are the product of deterministic forces. Scripture dignifies us by requiring that we take full responsibility for our actions.

Understanding these distinctions will help us to make better informed choices.

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