Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Victims Can Apologize Too

Imagine you're in a situation where a good friend has gossiped about you regarding something very personal about you. They told something to others, let's imagine they told lots of people, that they promised never to tell. What would you do? Who would you talk to about this?

This is a situation where it is safe to say that you have been harmed. But is that where it ends? Usually not. If you were honest, you would probably have said that you would have told all of your close friends what that person did to you. Then you would start thinking about how much better you are than the other person. Then you might have tried telling the person you were hurt but did it in a way that did not even try to understand why they might have shared the information in the first place.

The point I'm trying to make is that we often do something wrong when we have been wronged. And we always have done something wrong when we cannot let an offense go. It scares me to go to such a distance, because I know how difficult the issue is, but we will inevitably do something wrong when we suffer something heinous as a victim, like physical or sexual abuse. That is not to say that we need to carry more shame. But we should not deny or discount our selfish reactions in any circumstance, especially when we are clearly the victim.

Especially when we are clearly the victim? That seems counter-intuitive. We think that the more we have done wrong, the more we are responsible to admit our wrong. But I have two simple reasons for saying this.

1) Admitting our wrong narrows the gap between how wrong we were and how wrong the original perpetrator was. It is more likely that the other person will not apologize if they feel that there is less distance between you and them. Again, it is a bizarre truth that the greater the sin, the harder it is to accept responsibility for it. Thus, admitting our wrong draws us closer to getting the apology we deserve because it decreases, ever so slightly, the shame of the wrong that the other person committed.

2) Admitting our wrong allows us to better handle problems in the future. We should desire to be less affected by the evil actions of others. But often our way of handling the wrong that has been done to us exacerbates the problem. Accepting that we have done something wrong means that I will be more aware the next time I am in a similar situation and will be able to control my reaction better.

A final warning. We should never approach a person with the expectation that our apology will guarantee us that they will apologize in return. In some instances people feel more free to apologize when we apologize first but that is not the rule. It would be easy to feel coerced into apologizing if someone apologizes for their smaller offense first. That is why we need to remember the second reason. We may hope that they apologize, and will likely be disappointed if they don't, but we should be careful not to take the focus off of what we can gain from apologizing.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Secret and the Desire for Omnipotence

My professor in my Christians who Counsel class laid out his theoretical framework for therapy this past week and it kind of reminded me of the popularity of "The Secret." If you're not familiar with the book and the videos, the underlying principle is that positive thoughts can influence the universe in such a way that you will be able to get what you want. The reason that you did not get the promotion you wanted was because you had conflicting and negative thoughts about it. Based upon the principle that "like attracts like," the power to have a successful and thriving life is within us.

Now I hope that I do not overplay the difficulties of this worldview to completely undermine some of the lessons that can be learned. In fact, confidence and belief in yourself can lead to better outcomes in careers, relationships, and daily life. Positive thinking allows us to pursue our dreams more fervently. The zeal we have for pursuing our dreams can and does impact the probability of achieving your dreams.

But back to my professor's theory. He believes that the primary motive for most human behavior is the desire to be self-sufficient. The problem is that humans are not self-sufficient and they cannot control the universe. Thus, our primary motive is reality denying. This is evident in how we blame ourselves for problems that were out of our control or in how we feel guilty that we cannot be in two places at once. The Secret is popular for this very reason - it allows us to believe that we have more power over the world than we actually do.

The Secret can promote pathological guilt responses. Why did my aunt die from cancer? Because I had negative thoughts about her. Why do I have diabetes? Because I don't like my body. Obviously this perspective would be devastating but it is the logical consequence of believing the principles of The Secret.

What is the alternative? As my professor often repeats: "Embrace your limits." You cannot control the universe. Sure, positive thinking can create opportunities that weren't there before. But know where your power over a situation begins and where it ends. The Serenity Prayer sums it up nicely: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Response to Christians who Counsel

Here are my personal thoughts on Chapters 1 - 3 of Christians who Counsel. Anderson's anthropology of humanity is one of the great strengths of his approach. Many who have discarded psychology, even Christian psychology, have lacked the insight into how human beings are "not good" when they are alone. We are created to become fully alive when we are in communion with others. Beginning here helps us challenge views of spirituality that claim that a relationship with God is sufficient for our growth as humans and as followers of Christ. This is where counseling can come in.

Counseling (which I will use as an equivalent term for therapy) states that all of our problems in life do not stem from spiritual issues. An example would be a young man who was physically and sexually abused as a child and who now acts out with sexual promiscuity and angry outbursts but is depressed and believes that he is worthless. A spiritual response would state that he needs to connect with God through prayer, accept his forgiveness, and be transformed by studying God's word. However, this would ignore the fact that he has not learned to have healthy relationships with other people. His sexuality is intertwined with his low view of himself and with his inability to cope with the pain in his life. And his view of himself will affect his spirituality and not just the converse.

A view of humanity that sees spirituality as being affected by social, personal, and sexual aspects will not dogmatically hold on to relationship with God as being supreme. God has created human beings to have dominion over the world and to live in loving relationships with others. While spirituality should never be downplayed, the more common approach is to overemphasize spirituality while neglecting the other realms. However, Christian therapists will sometimes overreact to this approach by neglecting the spiritual aspect of living. We do need to live in God's grace and forgiveness and in constant relation with him in all we do, think, and say. This model reminds those who counsel that spirituality IS an important part of emotional life and should not be downplayed.

As for the place of the agogic moment, where the three components, motive power, intermediary, and response, define growth while the hermeneutic moment is put on the sidelines, I have a couple problems. While I believe that it is true that creating an environment of love and parity between therapist and client is beneficial, I don't believe that it is always necessary. Those who are relatively healthy have the capacity to accept condescending advice and integrate it into their lives. Doing so is more difficult, because the person needs to remove the advice from the advisor, but it is possible. We have the capacity to grow through experiences with ourself, where we open ourselves up to the need for growth and can recognize growth promoting ways of thinking and acting, even when they come from non-equal sources. I do believe that people can change from listening to a sermon, though it is much less likely. This may be a mute point but I think it needs to be said. An agogic moment is not always required.

Finally, I think that Anderson's model lacks a theology of shame. If our starting point is creation then there must be at least some discussion of the fall. Humans now have a sense of shame in their lives, a pain that makes them feel that something has gone wrong in the world and in themselves. This pain is present in every single person but you wouldn't know it from Anderson's model. We all react not only to love that has been shown to us but also the the pain that is oppressing us. A person in pain will try to numb themselves in many ways. But they may also, after finding temporary solutions to the pain to be just that, realize that true growth will bring about healing. Pain, like love, can be a motivator for growth.

I hope these thoughts show my general satisfaction with Anderson's model and are taken as possibilities for what can be added. So far Anderson's approach as a theologian, rather than a psychologist, has been quite helpful.

Partnering for Growth

Chapter 3 of Christians who Counsel centers on the position that the possibility for growth is opened up when the client perceives that the therapist is a partner in the growth process. As Carl Rogers has often made clear, therapy involves removing the obstacles that were hindering process for growth. Thus, Anderson argues that the capacity for growth is within the person rather than from the therapist. But first of all the nature of growth is clarified as: integrative, relational, and open to change. The therapist, unlike the doctor who focuses only on the physical realm or the pastor who teaches only closeness with God, is concerned about integrating all the areas of our life. Asking questions like - how does my spiritual life affect my physical life? and vice versa - the Christian who counsels can facilitate wholeness in all realms of being. The therapist will also help the client develop relational closeness in the room and with others in order to facilitate new experiences of the self and others. The third aspect of growth is openness to change. Although openness to change is itself a consequence of growth, the role of this openness needs to be highlighted because it will, in turn, promote more growth.

But how does this growth occur? Rather than arguing that the therapist causes the client to grow in a stimulus-response manner, Anderson argues that the therapist merely creates situations for growth. Within the therapy room, two important moments are described. The first is the "hermeneutic moment," or aha! moment, where the client is able to change the way s/he looks at him/herself. The second is the "agogic moment" where the client gains a motive for change from an experience with the therapist that creates change. The agogic moment is where true growth occurs. It is a situation where the therapist places herself as equal with the client. Hermeneutic moments are often necessary, but never sufficient, to create an agogic moment.

As mentioned above, an agogic moment is created when the therapist and the client are perceived as equal human beings. This equality is the humanization of the client. The client no longer feels inferior and can have a real relational moment. To create this atmosphere, the therapist must engage the client wherever they are and enter into that experiential space. As the therapist attempts to do this, the client can see the therapist as a partner in the growth process rather than invader of the client's space.

Finally, the power of growth is that of love. As I pointed out in my look at Chapter 1, humans were created to be in relationship with one another. We are created to be set in motion towards growth by others. Anderson writes, "The power of selfhood is response power." The overwhelmingly most important aspect of therapy is to create an environment where the client feels loved and cared for. It is only in this situation that any growth can occur.

1) Growth is integrative, relational, and open to change.
2) Growth occurs in the agogic moment, where the motive to change is released.
3) The counselor is an equal partner in this growth.
4) Love is the fundamental ingredient to produce change.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Chapter 2 of Christians who Counsel by Ray Anderson discusses the human being as an integrated being that must be counseled through integrative means. Anderson states that humans are a gestalt of subsystems that include the social, personal, sexual, psychical, and spiritual. People progress through these subsystems in a developmental fashion, although not in a cut and dry stage manner. We continue to have difficulties in each subsystem throughout our lifetimes and problems in one subsystem will often create problems in other subsystems.

A second way in which we must be integrative beings is that we need to grow in relationship to God, others, and ourself. If we have problems in one realm that will create problems in the other realms. These realms are placed on equal standing, with no one relationship being more important than the others, which means that our relationship with God is not considered to the primary issue through which all other relationships are subject. Instead, relationships with others and self are considered to be so categorically different that they must not be treated as inferior in the quest for wholeness.

In order to facilitate growth towards an integrated being, therapy must utilize hermeneutics, narrative, and eschatology. Hermeneutics means the process of interpreting. Thus, counseling needs to help the client re-interpret life events so that they will have different meaning, perhaps even a spiritual significance. Next, counseling utilizes narrative by allowing the client to see his or her story as placed within the story of his community and thereby creates a value-oriented world for the client to enter. Finally, counseling must involve a look at eschatology or the end times. Having an eternal perspective can allow the client to gather a more global view of the world and their own personal and social problems.

What I enjoyed about this chapter was that it was anthropological. It began with a look into what a whole human being ought to be and therefore provided a goal for where therapy could lead. This is helpful because many theories for counseling do not have a clear vision for health and therefore can potentially remove one pathology only to have it replaced with another. But the chapter also described how wholeness could be promoted through specific growth promoting processes. I enjoyed that the hermeneutical task was more than just changing specific beliefs but was focused on changing entire worldviews. Overall, I really thought that this chapter laid a solid foundation for which therapy could be built upon.