Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

A Holistic Psychology of Persons: Implications for Theory and Practice

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

A Holistic Psychology of Persons: Implications for Theory and Practice

Article excerpt

A Christian worldview that takes seriously the idea of personhood as a holistic unity presents an ideal perspective from which to explore human behavior as an expression of biological, psychological, and social influences (the "biopsychosocial" perspective now common in psychology) as well as an expression of spiritual realities that, while often expressed through biopsychosocial media, are not simply 'explained away' by them. A Christian worldview that holds that human beings are a unity of biological, psychological, social, and spiritual realities creates an opportunity for theoretical integration and holistic practice, but it also creates practical tensions regarding how to discern the root causes of behavior (e.g., biological, psychological, social, or spiritual etiology) and attempting to discover the best way to intervene when impairment of functioning is noted (e.g., whether biological therapy, psychotherapy, social intervention, or religiously-based interventions are called for). Additionally, there are ethical and legal issues that must be taken into consideration by Christians who are licensed mental health practitioners, especially when hypothesized causes or proposed interventions stand somewhere between recognized secular interventions and specifically religious interventions. In this article, these topics are addressed both as theoretical issues about how best to conceptualize human behavior and the causes of impairment, as well as practically in regard to how to proceed in evaluating and using religiously-based interventions.

Many perspectives about what role spirituality may play in mental and physical health and illness have been offered throughout history, ranging from the view that religious belief inevitably leads to mental illness, on one extreme, to the view which claims that there are only religious solutions for psychological or medical problems on the opposite extreme. The perspective that sees religion and psychological health as incompatible was common in psychology several decades ago, as illustrated by the following quotations from Albert Ellis, one from early in his career and one shortly before his death:

In most respects religion seriously sabotages mental health. (Ellis, 1980, p. 5) Try to avoid a doctrinal system through which you are dogmatically convinced that you absolutely must devote yourself to the one, only, right, and unerring deity.... Otherwise, in my view as a psychotherapist, you most probably are headed for emotional trouble. (Ellis, 2002, p. 365)

Although Ellis modified his perspective somewhat in later years, his comments are prototypical of what might be called naturalistic metaphysical extremism. Naturalistic metaphysical extremism assumes that human nature indeed all of nature - is a purely naturalistic system and that any reliance on religious systems is likely to be damaging psychologically. While many psychologists adopt naturalistic assumptions, it is probably fair to say that few of them occupy the extreme position that sees religion and mental health as incompatible. For the purpose of the present discussion, it is the assumption that religious belief is pathological that is being labeled extremism rather than the quest for naturalistic explanations per se. An opposing extreme casts suspicion on natural explanations and interventions because of what might be called spiritualistic metaphysical extremism.

The perspective that views mental and physical health as having only religious cures is sadly illustrated by the death of 15-month-old Ava Worthington, whose parents were members of a small sect called the Followers of Christ. Ava, who had pneumonia and a secondary blood infection, was treated solely with prayer in accordance with her parents' religious beliefs; she would almost certainly have been saved with a course of antibiotics (Faith Healing, 2008). This was not an isolated incident; a decade earlier, a newspaper reporter investigated the deaths of 78 minors that occurred during the previous 30 years among the small Followers of Christ sect, and concluded that over a quarter of the deceased children would have survived with simple medical treatment (Von Biema, 1998). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.