Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Clinical Use of Explicit Religious Approaches: Christian Role Integration Issues

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Clinical Use of Explicit Religious Approaches: Christian Role Integration Issues

Article excerpt

Christian counseling and soul care is a broad and ancient part of Christianity that predates the contemporary mental health professions. In recent years, explicitly religious interventions have been increasingly advanced as tools for treatment and, in some cases, as entire treatment protocols. These approaches have been utilized by lay Christian counselors and by Christian mental health professionals. This article explores factors that may impact when it is appropriate to use such methods. Considerations include standards of evidence based practice, accountability to professional bodies, and whether the treatment is being used in lieu of standard treatments or adjunctively. The article concludes with a discussion of the issue of role integration: the attempt to live faithfully both as a Christian and in a secular role that one has adopted.

The Christian soul care tradition is an ancient and rich part of Christianity. It has continuities with soul care traditions pre-dating it in Judaism. The pastoral counseling tradition is one form of the Christian soul care tradition (Evans, 2000). However, pastoral counseling has been increasingly used to refer to a form of spiritually based care that is not limited to a particular faith tradition. For instance, there are members of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors who counsel from a Buddhist perspective (Beck, 1997).

Christian care giving in its various forms has made use of the full range of available helping options throughout history for every area of human need: emotional, financial, legal, medical, etc. (Evans, 2000). In areas that would now likely be identified as a psychoemotional need, Christians have provided assistance using pastoral or communal support, confession, forgiveness, spiritual direction, personal prayer, intercessory prayer, deliverance ministry, and a wide variety of spiritual counseling methods including: Biblical and theological casuistry, spiritual instruction, directed self-reflection, or disputation of counter-normative ideas.

In recent centuries, the modern mental health professions have arisen as a relatively secularized way of providing help to humans facing psychoemotional and life adjustment difficulties (Millon, 2004). The contemporary notion of mental health is itself a by-product of this modern movement. By demarcating a turf in human functioning that is not quite the focus of traditional medicine or merely a pastoral concern, the secular clinical mental health counseling professions discovered a raison d'être. Yet the boundaries between the traditional turf of soul care, on the one hand, and medicine, on the other, have not been well-defined. Consequently, many people continue to seek assistance for issues that are the bread and butter of mental health work from religious professionals or faith communities and spiritual problems are sometimes engaged by secular mental health professionals (Danylchuk, 1992).

The emergence of the mental health professional has formalized a helping identity and a way of thinking about the help that is to be provided. There are longstanding types of Christian caregivers whose roles have included helping persons with psychoemotional needs. Examples include the emotional care giving provided by chaplains, confessional priests, or the Russian Orthodox eldership tradition. Such caregivers have customary roles that frequently include providing comfort or other assistance for emotional issues. Yet this is typically done for an ultimately spiritual goal (e.g, helping people find peace with God, grow into the image of Christ, overcome sin, etc.). Christian caregivers often functioned in ways that overlap with the functions of contemporary secular mental health professions. Yet despite this continuity and overlap, the modern notion of a professional caregiver to address mental health needs brought with it a number of contrivances that differed in distinctive ways from the customary functions and roles of spiritual caregiving traditions. …

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