A Christian Perspective on Family Therapy Models.

Therapy has many negative connotations. For some reason, Hollywood has portrayed therapy by psychiatry as a mainstream concept or axiom as if everyone visited a psychotherapist regularly to better themselves. The reality is that this could not be farther from the truth, both fiscally and pridefully. The truth is that there is a stigma associated with seeking mental health betterment from physicians or even counselors. This is more prevalent in faith-based communities where many people believe that the Bible precludes them from seeking therapy or professional counseling. We pray that this article can give you a taste of what therapy is and can be to you and your family.

It should be important to make a side note; biblical counseling (therapy) is regularly debated by many theologians who purport that secular therapy or counseling has nothing beneficial to biblical counseling and is somewhat equal to heresy or apostasy. Many famous pastors and theologians have gone on the record that biblical counseling is not performed correctly in most practiced settings today. They do, however, have some good points of dissent but those matters are best left for another time.

Family therapy (counseling) from a pure Christian perspective does have its own obstacles. We, as Christian counselors have to marry secular therapy with biblical doctrine and precedents. This can only be done with a good understanding of these therapies taken from a biblical lens. This essay will analyze psychodynamic, contextual, and experiential family therapy approaches in ministry with a critique of their applications in faith-based counseling situations. The purpose is to serve the community and its families with solid theology while extrapolating vital components of these therapy approaches without bastardizing both texts. Renowned professor and Christian psychologist Mark Yarhouse write:

The Christian faith has a unique significance in understanding the potential of relational life. Furthermore, we believe that the effectiveness of the counselor, psychologist, therapist and pastor who seeks to bring aid to families or couples in crisis is better equipped when he or she can utilize the central themes of the Christian tradition with the best practices drawn from mental health theory, research and technique.[1]

We believe this is the sagest approach to Christian biblical counseling by exalting biblical doctrine over secular theories without completely disregarding what several centuries of mental health research and discovery have to compliment and support said doctrine.

Psychodynamic theory is one of the most famous styles of counseling touted by the majority of Hollywood movies and television shows. Most notably was the famous nineties sitcom character Frasier Crane who highlighted this concept throughout its highly acclaimed eleven-year run. A good perspective to hold is that it “addresses how family structures influence daily interactions and experiences.”[2] Originally the brainchild of Sigmund Freud, psychodynamic therapy has evolved and augmented itself pulling from various theories designed to analyze the self, ego, context, attachment, object relations, and many more.[3] Psychodynamic therapy views the family structure as an attachment of relationships within the family order. These relationships can be symbiotic or parasitic depending on the level of dysfunction within the family or its members. For brevity sake, this discipline generically espouses:

The effectiveness of the therapeutic process is seen to rest largely on the therapist’s ability to enter into the system (engagement), receive the family’s accumulated projections (transference), interpret these transferred projections from the perspective of objectivity (countertransference), and implement an alternative set of responses that can be taught, practiced and mastered by the family (intervention).[4]

This process is analytic to the point of failure. It seems to view relationships without passion or forethought but mechanisms on a family cog that integrates to humanistic reactions as that of machines or heartlessness. Psychodynamic has biblical foundational problems in that it seems to conclude that outside influences in the family are part in parcel to the family itself. It attempts to fracture the biblical family structure and blurs the lines between man/woman and his/her actions. This type of therapy would be a hard challenge for Christian family therapists; however, in a situation where families are dealing with secular, agnostic, or atheistic members this type of therapy could be used to gain the respect and trust of those members.

Contextual family therapy focuses on the holistic emotional healing of the family as a whole. “Contextual family therapy, initially developed by Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy, is an integrative, intergenerational family therapy framework that focuses on relational strengths or resources and stresses responsible relating.”[5] These strengths or resources are mainly built on trust or working toward trust. This trust is built-in contextual dimensions or modes of expression. “The four modes of contextual expression are facts, individual psychologies, transactions, and relational ethics.”[6]

Facts deal with unchangeable factors such as race and gender but can be changeable such as relationships or faith. Individual psychology is the feeling toward experiences within any given context. It deals with a mental framework that is subjective in nature in how he/she feels toward incidents that transpire during life history. “Transactions involve observable patterns of relational behavior, such as feedback loops.”[7] Relational ethics or a set of rules or morals that are used to guide facts, individual psychology, and transactions. Later in Nagy’s life, he developed a fifth dimension known as ontics where “health and symptoms are a measure of the level of balance in one’s significant relationships.”[8] This process views the immediate family situation into a larger family structure that pits situations alongside a larger context of history and meaning.

The contextual family model is useful but also carries subjective problems: whose facts are we basing this on? In today’s society, the secular world is taking away certain immutable facts such as gender that would give way to serious problems from this point of view. Relational ethics poise the question; by whose ethics are we implementing on the first three dimensions? Ethics itself in a secular world is subjective. This can cause serious problems in therapy sessions when therapists and clients have a different view of ethics. The ontics dimension is fraught with questionable situations that bring secular and religious doctrine at a standstill such as what is a balance, or just which relationship is most significant? These questions give skepticism to contextual family therapy as its effectiveness is Christian counseling. Most notably: in which context would the counseling be held in, a secular world or the kingdom of God, here on earth. It would seem that for this form of therapy to be most effective, that truth would have to be established at the onset.

The experiential family theory works to get family members to better understand and emotions, feeling, and experiences of the other family members with a goal toward reconciliation. “Experiential family therapy is rooted and grounded deep in the 1960s values of humanistic, gestalt, and existential perspectives of counseling.”[9] This approach values the self-actualization of each individual within the family structure. These individualistic qualities would then add to or detract from the family and give way to it dynamic. It stems from existentialism and humanistic philosophy that festooned the counter-culture hippy movement. It focuses on emotionally based therapy (EBT) whereas emotions and feelings tend to overrun the undergird the sessions.

From a Christina perspective, this would seem to be the least useful of most therapy approaches. “This is because experiential family therapy originates from an existential-humanistic perspective that, in its early years, defied rigid codification of theory, and empirical evidence for its effectiveness.”[10] It actually can be argued that it goes against the truth. The existential-humanistic movement advocated against empirical truth, which is in stark contrast to biblical theology. Today we see this manifested in the “this is my truth” sentiments of post-modern millennialism and secular self-indulgence where no one is wrong, and feelings or victimization is paramount.

In conclusion, many different types of family therapy models can be helpful to Christian counselors or therapists and we just skimmed the surface. Psychodynamic, contextual, and experiential are just a few that make up a large body of work over the decades (some argue centuries) of research. R-Rated Religion strongly urges you to look into some of these methods and consider them when seeking family or couples counseling. The bible is about salvation, truth, and sanctification and what that means to the practical life of each believer. These principles are all methods of Christian counseling, whether sought after in sessions, our private homes, or the Church pew. These methods are obtained by faith, wisdom, and seeking after biblical truth.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with seeking biblical Christian counseling, nor is it something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. It is, however, vital that you get a good understanding of what counseling consists of, comes from, and by what methods are used in the post-modern world in which we all live. The legacy of Christian philosophy and theology documented, over time, through the word of God can bring wonderful methods and theories into the lives of families seeking guidance, reconciliation, and God’s truth. The key is not to be naïve in what you believe.

Bibliography

Kirby-Green, Gloria, and J. Elton Moore. “The Effects of Cyclical Psychodynamics Therapy on the Codependence of Families with Legally Blind Children.” Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness 95, no. 3 (March 2001): 167–72. https://www.thecampuscommon.com/library/ezproxy/ticketdemocs.asp?sch=suo&turl=https://search-ebscohost-com.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=pbh&AN=4255175&site=eds-live.

Sudem, Michael E.1, sudem@lasalle.edu, and Laura2 Eubanks Gambrel. “A Contextual Therapy Framework for MFT Educators: Facilitating Trustworthy Asymmetrical Training Relationships.” Journal of Marital & Family Therapy 43, no. 4 (October 2017): 617–30. https://doi.org/10.1111/jmft.12224.

Yarhouse, Mark A., and James Nathan Sells. Family Therapies: a Comprehensive Christian Appraisal. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, 2017.

Footnotes:

[1] Mark A. Yarhouse and James N. Sells, Family Therapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 15–16.

[2] Gloria Kirby-Green and J. Elton Moore, “The Effects of Cyclical Psychodynamics Therapy on the Codependence of Families with Legally Blind Children.,” Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness 95, no. 3 (March 2001): pp. 167-172, https://www.thecampuscommon.com/library/ezproxy/ticketdemocs.asp?sch=suo&turl=https://search-ebscohost-com.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=pbh&AN=4255175&site=eds-live.

 [3] Yarhouse and James, Family Therapies, 147-148.

[4] Mark A. Yarhouse and James N. Sells, Family Therapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 157.

[5] Michael Sudem, sudem@lasalle.edu Sude and Laura2 Eubanks Gambrel, “A Contextual Therapy Framework for MFT Educators: Facilitating Trustworthy Asymmetrical Training Relationships.,” Journal of Marital & Family Therapy 43, no. 4 (October 2017): pp. 617-630, https://doi.org/10.1111/jmft.12224.

[6] Mark A. Yarhouse and James N. Sells, Family Therapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 173.

[7] Michael E.1, sudem@lasalle.edu Sude and Laura2 Eubanks Gambrel, “A Contextual Therapy Framework for MFT Educators: Facilitating Trustworthy Asymmetrical Training Relationships.,” Journal of Marital & Family Therapy 43, no. 4 (October 2017): pp. 617-630, https://doi.org/10.1111/jmft.12224.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Mark A. Yarhouse and James N. Sells, Family Therapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 192.

[10] Ibid, 199.

Published by Samson

Concerned biblicist who challenges mainstream ideas and speaks truth to the powerful; consequences be damned! Many are tired of corrupt and manipulative leaders in politics, culture, and religion. This site serves as a platform for biblical truth, social responsibility, and good faith action.

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