Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Accountability or Advocacy?

            Christian circles often emphasize accountability as a crucial component of spiritual growth. The idea is that we should not be able to live an invisible life that escapes the scrutiny of someone else. However, when I think of how God (and Jesus) interacted with his people, accountability does not seem like a word to describe this relationship. I think a better word is advocacy.
            God is our advocate. He is our defender and he points us in the direction we should go. I think the model of advocacy is a much better way of understanding how we are to support one another. Our task is to advocate for our Christian brothers and sisters, providing refuge during hard times while also providing caring encouragement to venture out in new ways. Therapy should not just be about accountability, but should be about advocating for people to become who God has called them to be.
For more about this topic, you can visit: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/elephant-church

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How to Be a Good Client

            My former supervisor, Dr. Ryan Howes, writes a blog for Psychology Today and several years ago wrote a popular post on how to get the most out of therapy. I think it is an important issue because sometimes people do not know how to be a “good client.” Being a good client does not mean you are all friendly smiles and happy thoughts, it just means that you benefit greatly from the experience of therapy. The link to the entire post is included below but here is a snippet of a few tips he suggests:
1) Arrive 10 minutes early for your session so that you can relax and prepare for the session.
2) Ask questions when you think of them. Do not worry about asking the wrong question. Let your therapist decide whether or not they want to answer your question.
3) Allow yourself to change. All clients want to change in therapy but change is uncomfortable, if not outright frightening. Prepare yourself to completely change who you are.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Research Review: Dr. Lehmann’s Dissertation

            The topic of my dissertation was on how spirituality and morality interact among teenagers. I wanted to know how spirituality influences adolescents’ decisions to engage in moral behaviors and refrain from immoral behaviors. I surveyed almost 500 kids at a local Christian summer camp on their levels of spirituality and their plans to engage or refrain from certain behaviors. The unsurprising finding was that higher levels of spirituality helped to promote positive behaviors, like volunteering, and to prevent negative behaviors, like alcohol use and cheating. Numerous studies have demonstrated that spirituality is important in healthy adolescent development and moral development. Other findings were more surprising:
·         The teenagers were largely influenced by their attitudes towards the behaviors. If they thought it would be fun, they were going to do it. If they thought it would be boring or unpleasant, they were not going to do it. Whether or not they thought the behavior was moral or immoral had much less influence.
·         Spirituality was related with whether or not teenagers find a behavior fun or not. Of course, spirituality was related to whether they found the behaviors moral or immoral but that was not surprising. What was surprising was that spirituality actually changes what they enjoy.
·         The reason spirituality seems to positively influence morality appears to be due to the fact that spirituality makes moral behaviors, like volunteering, seem like fun and immoral behaviors, like drinking or cheating, seem unpleasant. This is very different from thinking that spirituality helps adolescents do the right thing because they believe it is moral even though they want to do something else.
·         Contrary to popular perceptions, these teenagers were not heavily influenced by peer pressure, as the views of others played only a small part in whether they planned to engage in the behaviors.
            By the way, I use “spirituality” as shorthand for a number of variables, including beliefs about God, religious motivation, and belief in Jesus Christ. I believe strongly that spirituality is multi-faceted. I should also point out that these findings really only apply to highly religious Christian teenagers, since that was the sample I looked at. The big picture is that my research suggests that spirituality really can have a profound effect not just on our minds, which make judgments about right and wrong, but also on our hearts, which can find enjoyment and satisfaction in doing the right things.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Faith and Fear

            Does having faith mean that we never feel fear? Some people, in fact a lot of Christians, believe that it does. They point to Scripture, such as “Fear not, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). I think that oversimplifies the matter. Can you imagine someone who never felt fear and how often their life would be in danger? Fear is a basic emotion that keeps us from ruining our lives, socially, emotionally, and physically. Consider how fear of public speaking can be useful. Sometimes people wish they could feel comfortable speaking in front of a crowd but if we had absolutely no fear then we might walk up on stage and say something that could damage our reputation if we were not prepared. Fear can help us shore up our resources to meet an important challenge.
            I think Scripture teaches us that we should be worried and afraid about the right things. We should “fear God” and that means we should have anxiety about ensuring that our life resembles the one he has called us to. To fear God means having enough anxiety to perform well at our jobs, to act with integrity, to consider our appearance, and to maintain our relationships. Sometimes faith means that we take our lives a little more seriously than we otherwise would, that we strive to develop integrity, to work hard at our calling, and to show compassion, and we should fear the absence of these qualities in our lives.
            Of course, faith really does offer us a solution to the crippling and obsessive anxiety that sometimes can ruin our day and take away our peace. The line that is drawn is the one between that we can control and that we cannot. Our task is to work hard at what we can control, to be afraid that we will miss out on the opportunity to be part of God’s work, and to surrender over to God everything that is out of our hands.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Trauma of Being Alone

“No man is an island, Entire of itself…” (John Donne, 1624)
            Sometimes we forget how dangerous loneliness is to our soul. If we are designed to be connected to one another, then any situation that leaves us without that sort of connection will be traumatizing. In fact, the research supports the idea that loneliness is traumatizing. Studies have looked at orphaned infants who had all of their basic needs met but who were not provided with love and affection. These studies have found that these infants grow up poorly, with much lower intelligence, higher rates of criminal activity, poorer emotional adjustment, among other problems. Humans are engrained to need companionship and love as a basic need that helps them develop and flourish.
            In adults, we see similar problems when people have both their community and their marriage destroyed. When that occurs, the person becomes depressed, angry, and anxious, all signs of trauma. Now trauma usually refers to situations where our life is put in danger, which is not the case when we are alone. Instead, loneliness is traumatizing because our soul is put in danger. We define ourselves according to our relationships with others. The child who is loved will feel that they are lovable. The adult who has friends will feel they are likable. And the adult who has a loving marriage will believe that their soul is a treasure.
            In other words, other people are mirrors by which we know who we are. Without a mirror by which we can see ourselves, we cannot truly know who we are and, in a way, our self is at risk of dying. Sometimes we need to be aware that we may miserable not because of our life situation, problems at our work, or because of a chemical imbalance. We may be feeling miserable because we do not have a community that truly knows us. If that describes you, then you may actually be suffering from the trauma of being alone. Perhaps what you need to do, before you get your life in order, is to search out a friend. The place I would suggest you could begin is at church, which exists to be a community which can help our souls come alive again.