Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

The Efficacy of a Manualized Group Treatment Protocol for Changing God Image, Attachment to God, Religious Coping, and Love of God, Others, and Self

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

The Efficacy of a Manualized Group Treatment Protocol for Changing God Image, Attachment to God, Religious Coping, and Love of God, Others, and Self

Article excerpt

This study compared the efficacy of a manualized group treatment protocol on God image and attachment to God to a manualized Christian Bible study and a waiting list control group in a sample of undergraduate college students attending a Christian college. Thirty students were randomly assigned to one of the treatment conditions and assessed with measures of God attachment, God image, religious coping, and general spiritual outcomes. It was hypothesized that significant God image and attachment change would occur among the God image treatment group participants only. In addition, it was hypothesized that significant religious coping and spiritual outcome change would occur within both groups compared to the waiting list control group. The results supported significant spiritual outcome changes in both groups but no significant God image/attachment change or religious coping change. Feedback from group participants informed how manualized God image/attachment protocols may be modified in future research to improve outcomes for young college-age Christian participants.

For many years, God image development has been a topic in the psychology of religion literature (Rizzuto, 1974; Rizzuto, 1979; McDargh, 1986; Hall, 2004; Peloso, 2008). God attachment has also become a major area of exploration (Birky & Ball, 1988; Kirkpatrick & Shaver, 1992; Kirkpatrick, 1992; Kirkpatrick, 1999; Granqvist & Hagekull, 1999; McDonald, Beck, Allison, & Norsworthy, 2005; Beck, 2006; Hall, Fujikawa, Halcrow, Hill, & Delaney, 2009). While much theoretical development has occurred in understanding these constructs, true experimental studies examining how individual or group therapy can impact these constructs are limited.

The purpose of this study was to assess the effects of a manualized group treatment protocol on God image and attachment to God in a sample of undergraduate college students attending a conservative Christian college. The treatment group manual (entitled "Discovering God") was designed to help individuals within the Christian tradition to experience God in a manner more congruent with their cognitive understanding and included psychoeducational, dynamic-interpersonal, cognitive interventions, bibliotherapy, and art/music interventions (also used in a pilot study by Thomas et al., 2011). The Bible Study group manual (entitled "Spiritual Life Group") was designed as a spiritual formation-focused Bible study and included psychoeducational, dynamic-interpersonal, cognitive interventions, bibliotherapy, and art/music interventions (Rasar, 2010).

Definitions and Development

Definitions

As a psychological construct, God images are persons' affect-laden mental representations that underlie their embodied, emotional experiences in relationship with God (Davis, 2010). They involve implicit relational knowledge that guides how people experience God at a largely nonverbal, emotional, physiological, and frequently implicit level (Moriarty & Davis, in press; cf. Hall, 2004). God images thus may be conceptualized as attachment filters that mediate people's emotional experience with God (Hall, 2007). The God image is a psychological construct concerned with how an individual feels toward God and one's impression of how God feels about him or her (Grimes, 2007). People vary greatly in their God images. For example, some may experience God as loving and kind while others inwardly experience Him as harsh, judgmental, or distant.

God image stands in contrast to God concept, which is best defined as a person's belief-laden, intellectual, understanding of God. It includes the personality traits and qualities that an individual cognitively ascribes to God which mediate one's theological ideas and abstract thoughts about God (Thomas et al., 2011; cf. Davis, 2010). God concepts mainly derive from formal and informal learning (Hoffman, 2005). For example, people from the Christian tradition generally are taught and believe that God is creator, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. …

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