Thursday, November 6, 2014

Multicultural Counseling and Shalom

Donna Brown is a graduate student in counseling psychology here at TCC.

Shalom is what God wished for us, His people; and, on our best days that is what we wish for ourselves. But by our very sinful nature life is not what it is supposed to be. Comparisons of this group to that group, this flaw to that flaw, this success to that success leave us as multicultural counselors open to a variety of cases that will test our ability and our will to promote shalom. “Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be” (Plantinga, 1995, p.10). Multicultural counseling is about seeing outside of your own worldview and through someone else’s to help them create shalom in their life. At the same time the client’s worldview and sin may disrupt the shalom in your own life as the counselor. Both shalom and sin create varied dynamics in the multicultural counseling setting.
Plantinga (1995) writes about spiritual hygiene and corruption and how corruption attacks the spiritually hygienic person. “A spiritually hygienic person is one who combines strengths and flexibilities, disciplines and freedoms, all working together from a renewable source of vitality” (p. 34). It is important that counselors, especially Christian counselors, strive to be this type of person. This person follows God’s purpose for their life. To help move things back in the direction in which it is supposed to be: shalom. One has to be called by God to do so by God. It is in poor taste for a counselor to be unhygienic spiritually because they would further disrupt shalom. A counselor promoting shalom in a multicultural counseling relationship and setting must shun the stereotypes and prejudices that might disrupt and negatively infiltrate their rationale and emotion. When counselors fail to do this they fail their culturally different clients because they have been corrupted. It takes discipline for a white counselor who has just learned about the residual effects of slavery and what it actually means to be White in America to withhold racially prejudiced comments that have been imbedded in them since birth. Spiritual hygiene does not come overnight but with time and discipline it is absolutely needed in the multicultural counseling setting for change to occur.
Those who promote multiculturalism and social justice are trying to create shalom in the world and they should be applauded for that. If Jesus Christ was walking the earth today it seems certain that He would be trying to break down systemic oppression and institutionalized racism.  It is a call for counselors to help create shalom not just in the personal lives of clients but to advocate for them outside of the therapy session. If that means speaking to a school counselor to coordinate service plans for a child in family therapy, or going down to Springfield to lobby for an increased budget for government-owned mental health care facilities, or implementing the social justice organizational development theory at the college level at the local college then it should be done to help create shalom. However, sin is never too far away. “God hates sin not just because it violates his law, but more substantively because it violates shalom, because it breaks the peace, because it interferes with way things are supposed to be” (Plantinga, 1995, p. 14). Even in the midst of these great things sin disrupts it. For example, it is easy for a counselor’s head to get inflated. Any great man or woman who has been a major contributor to change is at risk for being puffed up on one’s own accomplishments. With everyone lavishing attention on them for being so charismatic, taking a stand, and fighting for what is right it is important to know that they have a personal life. That personal life outside of fighting for multiculturalism, fighting for shalom can be filled with sin. Some, not all, cheat on their spouses, go without seeing their kids, accept bribes, and are highly narcissistic. When anyone tries to create the life that is supposed to be, shalom, the devil is always lurking around to tempt people with sin. It is by our own lusts that we are tempted. Counselors fighting for multiculturalism want shalom but sin is always lurking around so it is important to watch your motives and to discipline yourself to stay spiritually hygienic that way shalom is not being created in one area while simultaneously sin taking over in another.
Plantinga, Jr, C. (1995) Not the way it’s supposed to be: A breviary of sin. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.



Monday, October 6, 2014

Multicultural Counseling and Sin in a Reformed Perspective

Belinda Adame is a graduate student in the MA program in Counseling Psychology here at TCC.

“Evenu shalom alejem, evenu shalom alejem, evenu shalom alejem, evenu shalom, shalom, shalom alejem.” This is a traditional song that is sung at my church in order to greet the congregation. Translated this song reads: God’s peace be with you, God’s peace be with you, God’s peace be with you, peace, peace, peace be with you. This song most commonly reflects the definition that individuals often associate with shalom; peace. However, shalom, as Plantinga (1995) describes, has a deeper significance. According to him, shalom is “the way things ought to be” and “a spread of appropriate thoughts, desires, emotions, words, deeds, and dispositions” (p. 10). This includes relationships between two or more people as well as races within different nations. However, the problem arises when individuals begin to realize that the way things ought to be are not the way things are currently. If everyone imagined his or her perfect world, every individual would paint a different picture. However, some common themes may include happy, unified families, spiritual prosperity, and contentment. When it comes to the topic of shalom and sin, it could be stated that sin is the absence of shalom.

Sin is Generational

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5: 12, NIV).  In order for one to label sin as sin, one should feel a certain degree of culpability. However, this culpability is also presented in the form of a more structural element, one that is acquired through social learning;  generational sin. The first instance recorded in the Bible of someone sinning against God’s orders was when Eve ate from the forbidden fruit and shared it with Adam. This act symbolizes that just as it was that simple for Eve to share the forbidden fruit, sin is just as easily shared. When it comes to discussing race, there are many opinions. Racism is a generational sin that has been progressive, even before the birth of Jesus.

When slavery is mentioned one might automatically assume that one is talking about African Americans who were until recently subjected to this traumatic experience. However, in the book of Exodus, the bible narrates the story of the obstacles Moses had to overcome in order to release his people from slavery. Sins such as slavery, segregation, and superiority have not developed over the night, rather they have been generational. “Recognizing that youngsters not only idolize but also imitate their heroes… imitation is one of the main ways children sow what they have reaped” (Plantinga, 1995, p. 71). This quote is a perfect example of what happen with the fall of humanity. Eve ate from the forbidden fruit, shared the fruit with Adam, as a result both were released from the garden, where they procreated, and had two children. Most people who have read the story know that Cain, Adam and Eve’s son killed his own brother Abel. While murder is a sin, the sin was caused as a result of what Adam and Eve sowed. Cain and Abel were conceived in sin; therefore, this was part of their humanity. Similarly, one could explore how White privilege could also be generational sin.

According to Sue (2004), White privilege means to, “inherit and benefit from” and to “knowingly or unknowingly have a stake in the perpetuation of White Racism.” Simply because one is White, he or she has been born with the freedom to do more than individuals of other races. White privilege does not mean that White people do not also struggle to get where they are in life, it simply means that in some instances, opportunities have been more readily available to them.

Sin is Perverse, Polluting, and Disintegrating

Sin is repulsive because it separates us from what ought to be. Sin holds us back in terms of spiritual and personal growth; however, sin has more than just negative effects on the individual. Just as sin is generational and has the ability to grow, sin also leaks and spreads onto other individuals much like the flu or the common cold. In chapter three, Plantinga (1995) describes sin as a father molesting his daughter. While most of us are quick to reject the idea that we could possibly be compared to a child molester, sin is sin. Whether that father was lying to his daughter or molesting her, the fact is that because that father decided to pervert his relationship with his daughter, other relationships such as other members of the family, are also polluted. Plantinga claims that pollution is a way in which relationships are weakened due to the integration of an unknown element (p. 44). Furthermore, disintegration involves, “The breakdown of personal and social integrity the loss of shape, strength, and purpose that make some entity an “entirety” …Disintegration is always deterioration, the prelude and postlude to death” (p. 47).  Many times individuals do not examine how our sinful actions will cause harm to others because we tend to be most interested in what is more accommodating to us.

Sin is Self-centered

We live in a society that values independence. Being dependent on others and acknowledging that not everything could be done on our own is difficult to admit. While self-sufficiency is a trait that most of us value, this can lead to feelings  of pride, which is a sin that also disturbs shalom. Plantinga (1995) is very direct when he states, “God wants to fill us with his Holy Spirit, but when we are proud we are already full of ourselves. There’s no room for God” (p. 82). This statement is difficult to accept because even if one is prideful, one is unaware of this characteristic. Having some pride is not always harmful; however, it is when this pride directs us to engage in discrimination that it is not acceptable. Much like the Holy Spirit wants to work within us to restore our lives and simply to be a part of us, God also desires us to depend on one another. However, an issue arises due to the development of various assumptions that separate us rather than unite us. For instance, it may be difficult for some Caucasians to accept the reality of slavery. And although “moving forward” for some African-Americans would be ideal, this experience is not a simple task (Hardy, 2008). For some African-Americans it may seem that Whites are being prideful in not acknowledging their experiences, and this thought or action is causing disintegration between one another.

On one hand being prideful is a sin, but being envious and holding resentment is also a cause of sin. Resentment is, “anger aimed at what the angry person regards as unjust, insulting, demeaning, especially to her personally” (Plantinga, 1995, p. 166). Resentment may stem from one’s racial experiences or inability to be accepted or understood at a multicultural level. If one does not allow the Holy Spirit to work with the anger and resentment that is being stored, this is also a development of sin. Avoiding the Holy Spirit within us would be to push God aside and claim that we are self-sufficient individuals, however, God’s intended plan for our lives was and is to depend on Him, our creator.

Sin is Deceiving                                          

Sin is beautiful. After claiming this most individuals would be fast to argue this statement, however, if sin were not desirable, it would not be difficult to voluntarily stop engaging in sin. Ordinarily, things would probably being going the way they ought to. What attracts us about sin is, “the goodness in it” (Plantinga, 1995, p. 94). Sin is disguised so that what is wrong seems right to do. However, how could this be translated into our society in regards to multicultural counseling? For some individuals, the way they conceptualize race is normal. Again, this may be due to the way a person was raised by his or her parents or by the lack of racial consciousness. However, this does not excuse the behavior that it perpetrates. Because racism could be as subtle as not feeling any responsibility for feelings expressed by African-Americans in regards to slavery, it is often difficult to accept that one is “racist” and therefore, much easier to deny it. According to the AMCD Multicultural Counseling Competencies, counselors are expected to have certain skills, knowledge, attitudes and beliefs in regards to their own understandings of cultural values as well as a worldview perspective (Arredondo, 1996). However, in order to do so one has to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and let go of pride, regardless if one believes he or she is subjected to it.

Arredondo, P., Toporek, M.S., Brown, S., Jones, J., Locke, D.C., Sanchez, J. and Stadler, H. (1996). Operationalization of the multicultural counseling competencies. AMCD: Alexandria, VA.

Hardy, K. V. (Producer and Director). (2008). Psychological residuals of slavery [Motion Picture].(Available from Alexander Street Press).

Plantinga, Cornelius. (1995). Not the way it’s supposed to be a breviary of sin. Grand Rapids, MI:              William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Sue, D. W. (Producer and Director).  (2004). What does it mean to be white? The invisible whiteness of being [Motion Picture]. (Available from Alexander Street Press).  


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Anxiety and the Christian Life

The following blog entry is adapted from a chapel meditation given by Dr. Wolff on May 7, 2014.

I John 3:18-24 The Message

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave to us.

As a psychologist I have spent many years being trained in how to be aware of people. Really much of my academic work has been to think about how people’s feelings, actions and perceptions all work together to form them. And perhaps you’ve heard the jokes that people tell psychologists when they’re introduced; “Don’t analyze me,” “I better watch what I say around you,” or “can you read my mind?” To me those oft-repeated jokes, while funny and corny, also betray an inner sense of worry that we have, “what will happen if I’m truly seen by someone? Will I be unmasked? What will really be known about me?”

1 John seems to speak to that a bit, he reminds us that, hey, we all have that debilitating self-criticism, that inner voice that can plague our thoughts with reminders that we aren’t any good, or aren’t very capable. I don’t know about you, but I am visited by those kinds of thoughts on occasion. I suspect most of us live with some worry about our ability to measure up. We’re frequently aware of the ways in which we aren’t good enough. This is a paradox, though, for the generation of the “selfie”, that despite our focus on ourselves and our usage of things like social media to “announce” the smallest detail of our lives, we still live with uncertainty and insecurity about our worth and value.

The author Anne Lamott puts it quite well in her book, Bird by Bird (1995). This is a book on how to write, but as is characteristic of Lamott, there is a fair amount about the human experience as well.

“If you are not careful, station KFKD will play in your head 24 hours a day, nonstop in stereo….Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything that ones touches turns to shit, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on” (p. 116).  

I suspect that many of us can relate to Lamott’s radio station analogy, that in the very moment we ready ourselves to do something difficult or challenging we are plagued by negative thoughts about ourselves. I know that I have had those moments when preparing for class or even before getting up to share this chapel meditation.  Maybe like me you’ve heard the phrases in your head “Why did they ask me to do this? I don’t have anything to offer. This is going to be a disaster!”

All of this is what we psychologists often call negative self-talk, and some of us struggle with it more than others. And as I John references, it’s even harder to shake because often pieces of it contain truth. When 5% of our critical thoughts contain some truth, we hear that 5% amplified as through loud speakers blaring throughout our minds, often blocking our ability to do or think about much else, leaving us stuck.

What follows this critical attack on our sense of self? Well, many of us shake it off, we combat it with good thoughts or reminders about our capabilities. Perhaps we even remind ourselves about our worth in Christ as the scripture suggests. But for others of us this negative thinking will lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. Worry might overtake us for a while, and we find our belief in ourselves shaken.

So what is anxiety? Most professionals agree that anxiety is a series of worries about everyday events, fears about the future and apprehension regarding social interaction. All of us will experience brief periods of worry in our lives. In fact, as I often quote to my students before an exam, a moderate amount of anxiety can be motivating! It helps us to study harder and become more prepared. But once that worry becomes more extreme and excessive, it can become paralyzing.

The statistics suggest that a great number of us are familiar with feelings of worry. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health 40 million Americans over 18 in a given year could be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. That’s about 18% of the population over 18 years old (Anxiety Disorders, 2014). Additionally, the Association for University and College Counseling Centers continues to note that anxiety is the most predominant presenting concern among college students who are seeking help from college counseling centers (2013). And these numbers don’t include those of us who just get caught in the grip of worry occasionally. What this suggests to me is that I John’s acknowledgement of our self-debilitating criticism is an accurate reflection of our human condition. Most of us know how that feels. We can relate to feelings of anxiety because we have known them.

A band I enjoy is the Wailin Jenny’s; they have kind of a guitar folk style, and as a preface to one of their songs, they offer this introduction:

“But even if you don’t consider yourself a chronic worrier, I think there are times in all of our lives where we find that our mind is not with us at a particular moment. It’s not seeing anything that is actually going on in front of us. Its running the little films of our lives in our head you know of what maybe shouldn’t have happened a few weeks ago or what is going to go wrong a couple of months from now or go right a few months from now. It’s just not with us, and I think that the antidote to worrying is being in the moment. So I wrote this song to remind us to be mindful.”

The singer goes on to offer a song called, Begin that focuses on staying present where we are at any given time. Mindfulness is an increasingly popular term within the psychological community. It’s been integrated into several mainstream treatments for anxiety, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Over and over studies of the effects of mindfulness in psychology say, yes it works! It helps people cope with feelings of worry.

But what is it? It’s a practice of staying present in the moment and really focusing on the what is going on around you rather than letting your mind wander off ahead of you into the what if’s. I also hear a nod to a practice of mindfulness in 1 John. It’s a specific kind of acknowledgement that abiding in God’s presence keeps us grounded and mindful.

When I read this passage in I John, I can’t help but feel openness, a sense of space enlarging before me and an awakening hopefulness. It’s sort of the same feelings that I have had during the last few weeks when it became clear that spring is sticking around. The life-giving greenery around me in contrast to the cold, snowy, dark winter that we’ve just come out of is refreshing to my spirit.

That feeling of freedom that the passage suggests is in direct contrast to the chains that anxiety shackles us with.  Such freedom seems to be possible both due to the acknowledgement of our struggle and a response that God knows us better than we know ourselves.

Does this lay out a formula for eliminating anxiety and worry from our lives? No, it does not. The organic methods of the Holy Spirit are much more complex than that. What I see instead is the offering of hope for our troubled and weary selves. The wonderful line, “truly living in God’s reality,” feels like a promise to me, one that I’m not even sure I can fathom. I’m encouraged by it, but also left wondering, what does that mean? What does it look like? Especially when we are weighed down by troubles, what is God’s reality?

The passage seems to suggest that there is something that can change simply by living in God’s knowledge of us, rather than our definition of self. It’s a good reminder that our sense of our own identity is ultimately limited. As is our vision of the world. God’s is greater and much clearer.

There is also the reminder to love one another. The passage doesn’t use the word “authentic”, but it’s a good word for our era. To love each other authentically. To really see each other, worries and imperfections and all.  One of the great privileges of being a psychologist is sitting in a space with people that eliminates the need for social convention. Therapy often allows us to simply be present with each other, to sit in the moment and really listen. It’s always remarkable when strangers allow me to enter in to some of the messiest parts of their lives. It’s an act of truly being seen and heard by someone else. One of the things I’m most grateful for is the way it has changed me, and taught me to really look at the person in front of me.

And outside the therapy room in all aspects of our lives, we are presented with opportunities for authenticity, or to worry about how we are perceived or we worry about taking relational risks. Will the other person reject our attempt at authenticity? Or will it be received with love and tenderness? I find myself worrying about those things in my day-to-day life.

So this passage in I John is a good reminder that God’s promise is real, and it’s inviting us into freedom.

Anxiety disorders. (2014). Retrieved April 17, 2014 from

Association University and College Counseling Center Directors. (2013). Annual survey. Aurora, IL: Author.

Lamott, A. (1995). Bird by bird: Some instructions on writing and life. New York, Anchor Books.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The integration of Christianity and Psychology

Molly Johnson is a recent graduate of TCC who would like to work with children, in particular through the Department of Children and Family Services or an adoption service. 

I believe that the best way to look at Christianity and psychology is through an integrated lens. My overall synopsis would be that Christianity and psychology should be integrated and work together in order to heal patients as well as guide them in the right direction to living a happy and healthy life through the glory of God. I feel as though Christianity and psychology cannot be separated into their own separate realms because they need to incorporate the insight of the other in order to function as a key component in understanding how life works. This type of integration can bring us one step closer to an even better understanding of God’s kingdom through the knowledge He has given us about it through His word and through the scientific knowledge we have been blessed with.

For a specific definition of psychology, I would say that psychology is the knowledge and understanding of our cognitive processes. It is these processes that we study and our attempt to explain them leads to even more linked discoveries. It is the study of human nature as well as the study of human cognitive processing. Psychology is aimed at not only our cognitive processes but our behavior as well. It requires careful observation and thought and is interconnected to other aspects and areas of scientific knowledge such as biology, physiology, chemistry, etc. Our description of the psychology that is unique to us as humans helps us differentiate between other living things.

Psychology serves the purpose of being able to understand why we do the things that we do and how certain things affect how we live and experience our lives.  It is also the means through which we help people work through their disorders, conditions and problems. We study psychology in general to be able to improve our well-being and to gain a better understanding of our capabilities as human beings. We should study the discipline of psychology in order to engage with the world in our surroundings and other people while doing it in a way that glorifies God. We strive to help others better understand themselves and show them the ways that explain how and why they are the children of God.

The relationship between Christianity and psychology should be that they have the potential to be separate but when they are brought together they bring us one step closer to knowing even more about ourselves and the world we live in. Psychology helps us to understand the individual while using Christianity as a means to answer the questions we cannot scientifically prove. In the same breath, a Christian psychologist should play a role that seeks to provide scientifically sound therapy or counseling while also addressing those ‘unknown’ bits of knowledge through a Christian perspective. They should be able to provide a place of welcoming peace and remind the patient that they are one of God’s people and that He always has their best interests in mind.

We would be able to recognize work in psychology as “Christian” by acknowledging that it is faith-based with the goal of providing evidence that shows that we are doing this work ultimately through and for God. All work in psychology should strive towards the common goal to better God’s kingdom and help His people be the best that they can be. Some, but not all evidence should be scripturally-based since the Bible is not a textbook and we should not use it as such. We can recognize work in psychology as being Christian by seeing that it is centered in God and that the person who is involved in that particular work has a strong faith background.

Anything in life can be looked at through a Christian perspective and it is important for us to not have all of life’s answers because that is where faith comes in. It brings mystery and enchantment into our lives and it will always provide us with God’s love no matter what we encounter. We must leave it up to faith in order to answer the questions that cannot be proven by science. The questions we have simply cannot all be answered but at least we may have some peace of mind that everything in life happens for a reason. Psychology brings us closer to knowing more about the world, ourselves and God, but only just so much that we don’t obtain all of the world’s answers. Those answers we cannot have are God’s and God’s alone. We must put our faith and trust in Him because in the end, all that matters is that we are blanketed in His unconditional love.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Religion and postpartum depression

Kaleigh Velasquez is an undergraduate student here at Trinity Christian College. 
The article that I reviewed deals with postpartum depression and how religion may play a role in overcoming this disorder (Zittel-Palamara, Cercone & Rockmaker, 2009). Postpartum depression is a form of depression that happens after a woman gives birth. The symptoms are similar to major depression and are characterized by anxiety, having a short temper, feeling hopeless or guilty, a decrease in appetite, inability to focus, decreased interest in the baby, and having trouble sleeping.
Postpartum depression is more likely in disadvantaged communities than in advantaged communities and also higher within African American and Latino communities rather than Caucasians. This type of depression affects between 15% to 25% of woman annually, but there are also reports of 34% to 55% of woman suffering (Zittel-Palamara, Cercone & Rockmaker, 2009).
When it comes to treatments, the most common is medication and specifically antidepressants. Even though antidepressants may work for a certain client, many clients claim they take them without knowing their other treatment options. Other medical treatments include alternative medicines and hormone treatments. A medical perspective also uses hospitalization, as well as day and visitation programs. Another form of treatment is psychological based interventions. These include individual and group counseling.
There are different types of treatment that combat postpartum depression, some of them with the use of religion and spirituality. It is said that nearly 60% of the women struggling found strength in religion. There are different ways in which a professionals may introduce spirituality into a treatment. One way is having the professional bring spirituality into the session directly. Another way is having the client bring spirituality into the session willingly (Zittel-Palamara, Cercone & Rockmaker, 2009).
In one study almost two-thirds of the participants disclosed that they found strength from their religion. Of the women in the study, the vast majority reported having limited ability to access postpartum depression care. Over 50% of the women in the study that wanted spiritual guidance reported that it was not hard for them to find postpartum depression care. This study found that a lack of desire to seek spiritual assistance could actually be linked to these women’s longer exposure to mental health issues in their lives before their pregnancy (Zittel-Palamara, Cercone & Rockmaker, 2009) .
Women who believe that they find strength in their religion would be well served to seek treatment for postpartum depression that includes spirituality. When a person is under great stress and feelings of desperation, it is wise to turn to religion and spirituality because it appears to be a positive strategy to cope with these issues. Numerous studies done with people of color and individuals suffering from mental health issues have shown that people who turn to spirituality reported decrease in symptoms, a better outlook, and increased positivity (Zittel-Palamara, Cercone & Rockmaker, 2009).
My understanding of depression leads me to think that even with all the treatment options out there it is hard to find one that relieves the depression. Based on this article, I have learned that religion is a big part in the treatment process for some women. I feel like being prescribed antidepressants could have variable results and finding the strength through religion could be a stable base for some of these women struggling. Many people may need to be prescribed medications but can also focus on religion as part of their treatment plan.
This article leaves me wanting to do more research on the medical based treatments to see how effective/non-effective they are in comparison.  Also, a critique would be for them to do more follow-up studies so they know their results can be repeated.
Zittel-Palamara, K., Cercone, S.A. & Rockmaker, J.R. (2009). Spiritual support for women with postpartum depression. Journal of psychology and Christianity, 28(3), 213-223.   

Monday, June 2, 2014

Self-of-the Therapist in the Living Moment: Dr. Aponte

Jeannette Kiser is a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology program here at Trinity Christian College.

In the Marriage, Couple & Family Counseling class offered at Trinity Christian College my then professor Dr. Mike Ideran, assigned the class a choice of a written final or a final presentation. My cohort member, Terry Jones, and I felt we would learn more through putting together a presentation on one of the concepts that we learned in class rather than regurgitating information on a test. During one of our subsequent class sessions, Dr. Ideran came in with an article entitled, “Training of the Person of the Therapist in the Academic Setting” (Aponte, et al, 2009).

The article offered many indications of how important family of origin issues are in the life themes of individuals. The article also introduced Terry and I to a rather fascinating individual, Dr. Harry Aponte. Dr. Aponte is a Structural Family Therapist who also teaches at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The article further introduced us to his work on the concept of signature theme and the Person of the Therapist Training Model (POTT Model). The POTT model is a training program where one spends a year exploring, working, and resolving their signature themes. Signature themes are struggles or wounds that permeate through an individual’s being without them being aware of them.

In October of 2013 Terry contacted Dr. Aponte to ask if he would be willing to spend 15 to 20 minutes being interviewed by us so that we may further understand his concept of signature themes and the POTT Model. About a month later Dr. Aponte granted our interview. This gracious man provided us with one hour and fifteen minutes of his valuable time. This interview was an amazing experience. The understanding that Dr. Aponte has of working with clients and the therapeutic experience aligns quite well with my view of therapy. We discussed everything from cultural influences (he is Puerto Rican and Catholic “raised in the slums of New York”) to the use of the self-of-the therapist.

The use of the “self-of-the therapist” is realizing that the client gets us (the therapist) as we are. It is the therapist’s responsibility to be aware of what it is that they bring to the therapeutic process (or the living moment). Dr. Aponte suggested a question that therapists should often ask themselves, “What of me is affecting the therapeutic process?” That question is really what the POTT model and signature themes are all about. What about us, good, bad, ugly, indifferent is affecting our therapeutic presence in the living moment?
Dr. Aponte states, “I have to take something from my human experience that relates to the core of the other person’s humanity. Yes, I have to recognize our differences. But if I am going to do this work we have to discover our sameness. We all suffer, we all get lonely, depressed, discouraged. We all are longing for love and somehow or other I have to find that very essence of what it is to be human and vulnerable and fallible.”
We as therapists have to get in touch and feel “our common humanity” so that we can feel what our clients are feeling, cry when they cry, hurt when they hurt, smile when they smile, etc. In order to do this Dr. Aponte says that we have to open ourselves up to our own brokenness, our own woundedness.

As therapists we must know about ourselves in order to develop the skills and discipline that will allow us to tap into our experiences and figure out how those experiences will fit into our model of therapy. “How do we use ourselves to maximize our effectiveness in the therapeutic process?” When our clients come to us we are joining them in their journey, in that one particular life moment and we are offering to aide them in overcoming the hurdle they are presently facing.
Dr. Aponte offers his perspective on the human condition and the role of the therapist. “People are not broken or in need of being fixed. People are on a journey of their own and we are merely meeting them in a moment of their life history.” –Dr. Aponte


Aponte, H.J, Powell, F.D., Brooks, S., Watson, M.F., Lizke, C., Lawless, J. & Johnson, E. (2009). Training the person of the therapist in an academic setting. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 35(4), 381-394.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Creation, Fall, Redemption and the Naturalistic Fallacy

In Christian colleges that have developed from Reformed denominations you will often hear the words:  Creation, Fall, Redemption.  This is the general framework that guides our studies.  God created the earth and it was good.  The physical creation was good and the societal, psychological, spiritual aspects of life were also good.  Then Adam and Eve sinned and the earth was cursed and filled with brokenness.  But God sent his Son.  He died for our sins and started the whole creation – human beings and all – back toward the good and the unbroken.  He redeemed and is redeeming his world. 

Opportunities to reflect on creation, fall, and redemption often arise in the field of social psychology.  Social psychology looks at how an individual affects and is affected by others.  The topics in social psychology include romantic relationships, prejudice, persuasion, conflict, and conformity.  Psychologists have unearthed some well-supported findings on these topics.  One finding is that men everywhere are more likely than women to be found in socially dominant roles; things like CEOs, politicians, and religious leaders.  Women, on the other hand, are overly-represented in more help-giving roles; things like nursing, education, and counseling.  So is this role distinction an intentional part of God’s creation?  Or does it exist because of the fall?  Or is it part of God’s ongoing redemptive work?  Another well-supported finding is social facilitation:  we do easier tasks better when we are around other people.  You can get a better work-out when you jog with a friend.  You can lick 200 envelopes faster if you’re not alone.  So is social facilitation part of God’s creation?  Part of the fall?  Or part of God’s ongoing redemptive work?  It is tempting to say that because it is universal, well-supported, and scientifically sound that it must be part of God’s creation.  It’s easy to say that something exists because God made it that way. 

I think this temptation stems from our acquaintance with other sciences.  When you learn about the biological processes of photosynthesis you know that because it is universal, well supported, and scientifically sound that God probably created it that way.  Yet we must be careful not to fall into a naturalistic fallacy.  We mustn’t say; “that which is, is good.”  Just because you find something everywhere does not mean that it is God’s original creational intention.  For example, researchers in the biological sciences have discovered that skin cancer is naturally occurring and can be found everywhere.  Does that mean that God included cancer in his creation?  On the sixth day, did he survey all he had made, and did his eyes fall on skin cancer, and did he say, “It is very good”?    

Now consider an example from psychology.  One of the most well-supported findings in social psychology is the self-serving bias.  We think highly of ourselves to an unreasonable degree.  When something good happens it is because we brought it about, when something bad happens it is because of factors beyond our control.  When we get an “A” it is because we studied hard.  When we get an “F” it is because the teacher is too hard.  Psychologists have found time and time again that most people have a self-serving bias.  So is this part of God’s creation?  Part of the fall?  Or part of God’s ongoing redemptive work?  Did God create us to always take credit for the good and never take responsibility for the bad?

Our world is so entirely affected by the fall that it can sometimes be difficult to pull apart what exists because it was part of God’s plan for the world, what exists because of the fall, and what exists because of God’s grace to us after the fall.  Understanding Gods good and perfect will for our world is no easier than understanding God’s will for our own personal lives.  We must be careful and prayerful when we consider these things.  We must not assume that because we have discovered a scientific fact or law that it is thereby God’s law.  It could be the law of sin working in our own members. 
 Jessica B. Clevering, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Trinity Christian College