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Philosophy Lite: Integrating psychology and religion

Feb. 18, 2011 at midnight
Updated Feb. 17, 2011 at 8:18 p.m.

Raymond Smith

By Raymond Smith

Psychology is defined as the science of mind, or of mental states and processes - the science of human nature. Philosophers, such as Rene Descartes, played an important role in the history of psychology. "An Austrian physician changed the face of psychology in a dramatic way, proposing a theory of personality that emphasized the importance of the unconscious mind. Freud's clinical work with patients suffering from hysteria and other ailments led him to believe that early childhood experience and unconscious impulses contributed to the development of adult personality and behavior." (About.com: psychology) In America, men like B.F. Skinner, Carl Rogers and William James carried on the work.

The problem was that secular psychoanalysis had its limitations. By lengthy sessions with the patient, the analyst might bring out factors that the patient could work on, but relief might come slowly, and the burden was on the patient. Today, we have a better way, setting the patient free from his problems. It is Christian psychoanalysis, and it offers a new life through faith in Christ. Instead of the patient trying to overcome his problem on his own, he can discover a way to turn his problems over to God who would offer forgiveness and give him a clean slate. Guilt leads to death, but forgiveness brings life. Who could possibly be a better counselor or Savior than the author of life itself? The teachings of Jesus offer the highest and noblest way of living known to man and the best moral order for man to live in peace with his brothers. More than this, the redeemed person can find love, fellowship and acceptance in a Christian group that would meet his needs.

"There's a growing awareness in the counseling field and in seminaries that Christianity and spirituality in general are integral to a person's well-being," says Paula Baylor, a Christian counselor and graduate adviser at Eastern University in St. Davids, Penn., a school that trains faith-based counselors.

While nearly three-fourths of Americans say their life is spiritually oriented, only 32 percent of psychiatrists feel the same and the majority of traditional counselor training programs have no courses dealing with spiritual matters.

The American Association of Christian Counselors has grown from 15,000 members in 1999 to 50,000 today.

Just as there are lay preachers, there can be lay counselors, but persons with serious problems should be referred to the professionals. There are many instructive books on the subject, such as Jay Adams' "Competent to Counsel" and Frank Minirths' "Happiness is a Choice."

One of my favorite writers is Paul Tournier (1898-1986). As a Swiss physician and committed Christian, he became interested in the healing of the mind and, in 1937, combined his medical practice with Christian counseling. His first book was "The Healing of Persons." In 2006, Christianity Today magazine listed Paul Tournier's subsequent book, "The Meaning of Persons," as one of the top 50 books that have influenced the way evangelicals think, talk, witness, worship and live.

Raymond F. Smith is a deacon at Fellowship Bible Church in Victoria and President of Strong Families of Victoria.

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