Christianity & Psychotherapy

Christianity & Psychotherapy

After listening to a great article of Radio 4’s ‘Beyond Belief‘ and the discussion about the relationship between ‘religion and psychotherapy’ (read: Christianity & psychotherapy), I have transcribed a four minute interview with a Christian Psychotherapist, Tony Yates of Cornerstone, that takes place about half way through the program.  The questions are asked by the presenter, Ernie Rea.

Q. What drew [you] to this particular discipline?

I got into Psychotherapy by coming from a troubled background, going into therapy myself, and then deciding that this might be the way in which I could work in the future with other people who had troubled backgrounds of one sort or another, and who doesn’t, really, one way or another?

Q. You’ve had widespread experience of working with all sorts of people, including Evangelical Christians, who I gather come to you in unexpectedly large numbers?

Every one of my clients, without exception, have come from the Conservative Evangelical wing of the church, or perhaps and Irish Roman Catholic background.  I’ve never had a client from the Liberal wing of the Church.

Q. Well you clearly think it’s indicative of something. Why do you think Evangelical Christians are in need of such therapy?

Because of the way they’ve been brought up; with the best intentions, they’ve been brought up under a regime of a sense of sin and the consequences of sin, which are shame, it’s like a stain on the soul, it’s like you’ve transgressed the laws and expectations of God.

Q  Does that mean that Evangelicals are less aware of the inner subconscious self which is the source of who we are and why we do things?

Much less aware than my secular clients.  It’s almost as though the discovery of the unconscious which happens when they come into therapy, is another world they’ve hardly ever suspected.  They’ve never heard much about Freud, and the discoveries in the early part of the 20th century, or if they have they’ve been warned against it, in the same way that they might be warned against Dawinian Evolution.  So they’ve come trained from childhood, taught from childhood, to look upward rather than inward.  And when they come to Psychotherapy they have to switch their direction from looking upward toward God, the Church and the expectations, inward to what they have repressed in their unconscious.

Q.  Without breaking any patient confidentiality, can you give me one example of the sort of thing that you would encounter?

If you take sex and anger, of course they’re raised, the Evangelicals, to believe that sex before marriage a bad thing.  So they have to grow up in a society that is wall-to-wall promiscuity and pornography, sex is everywhere in the modern world.  They have to grow up inhibiting those expressions, while their hormones are raging.  It must be a bit like sitting on the lid of a cauldron to stop it from over-flowing, and they marry in their mid-twenties, without any prior sexual experience, and they marry someone with the same background.  You can imagine the problems from that.

But much more damaging than repressing sex, I’ve discovered, is repressing the natural appropriate warm expression of anger, so unlike their secular clients, they never have a teenage rebellion, and that’s very damaging.  They can’t challenge their parents belief, because their parents are a little bit like the representatives of God on earth, of the Will of God.  That’s a formidable array of power above a Christian child to rebel against if he dares, and if he does, the mere threat of shame stops them from ever getting there, they just keep themselves repressed so that they don’t have to feel shame.

Gralefrit Comment:

Sadly, Evangelical Christianity has suffered and still suffers from the worst kinds of repression, a reason why:  i) that all the Christian clients above, are from the same Christian tribe (Evangelicalism), and ii) why so many Evangelical churches suffer from abusive and violent  forms of relationships.  It is a branch of Christianity that I am affiliated to, and whilst it is not the whole picture, I have seen its rather crass tendency to illicit a kind of superman-Pharisaical Christianity that isn’t Christianity; or a super-spiritual-man gnostic Christianity.  Both in fact betray the actual Gospel; a Gospel that is, if true [and it is], welcomes the sort of psychoanalytical progress we’ve seen over the past 120 years or so.

It is why theologian Rob Knowles suggests,

“Church members are trained into coming to church without any expectation of growing into ministries of various kinds”; and this is because we have often facilitated “Church cultures of ‘tot-level Sunday-school for adults’ that alienates any Christians or non-Christians who reject infantilization, and that suppress any preaching that brings the maturity-forming, disciple-making power of the Scriptures alive” (Relating Faith, pg. 122-3).

My pal Joe Haward comments in an as yet unpublished paper,

“In psychoanalysis, a person exists through a lack, a split, a fissure. We may have dreams of being complete, and perhaps at a very early point in our lives we felt no lack, no split, no separation, being just one with whatever surrounded us. But as far as we are creatures of language and desire (and to Lacan language and desire are what separates the human from the animal being), we are split beings: split between ‘things’ and ‘words’, between what we want and what we get, between what we feel like and what we look like, between present and past, between what we think we say or want and what we actually say or want (that is between conscious and unconscious).”

GirardAnd now, Rene Girard, at the end of his interview with Steven Berry, published in Reading the Bible with Rene Girard, edited by Michael Hardin (review of this excellent little book coming soon), takes issue with psychoanalysis itself.  In a brief critique of Freud as the one who targeted the father-figure to the degree that the father became the scapegoat of the culture.  Girard argues that this cannot be done in todays more fractured culture, because of the sheer fact of the importance of peers to a child, and so not merely “the father”.  This is why Girard calls Freudian analysis “outdated”, he says,

“Psychoanalysis in a way lives on values that are already outdated.  I have a friend, a good friend, who’s seeing a psychiatrist but he’s also a psychoanalyst.  He said today people use formulas that are unbelievable.  Previously in psychoanalytical theory the Oedipus complex was what you had to fight; now psychiatrists talk about injecting more Oedipus into people.  They don’t have enough meaning; the don’t have enough backbone.  My friend, because we have great discussions, says he thinks it can be a death of mimetic desire, which is the worst thing of all.  I mean, not a death through conquering mimetic desire, but just no more mimetic desire.  I mean a world where there are so many cheap pleasures and no more taboos” pg. 192

If we were to make a link though, between the interview above and Girard, with Protestant anxiety and activism that ensures they need some kind of therapy, Girard makes this wonderful point immediately prior to his Freud comment above, he says,

“I’m taking about some relaxation of tension (with a hurried Christianity), which is a form of charity at the same time toward your fellow man.   I’m talking about an acceptance of good fellowship, joy, and relaxation, which are sometimes a bit missing in modern forms of Christianity, democracy, and so forth, which are never relaxing” pg. 190

Fellowship, joy and relaxation!  Who’d have thought?

I don’t know if psychoanalysis is outdated.  I’m sure it has a lot more to offer, despite Girard’s comments.  Even in his introduction to ‘The Church’s Pastors’ in ‘The Contemporary Christian’, John Stott lists various categories that add to the confusion about what an ordained pastor is.  He writes, “Are they priests, prophets, pastors, preachers, administrators, facilitators, social workers or psychotherapists?” ( emphasis and re-ordering of the sentence mine).  In my brief experience, being a pastor covers all these and then some.  I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or not, it doesn’t feel like it.

However, in his typically brilliant style, G. K. Chesterton makes a telling obervation in his short article ‘A Criminal Head’ in ‘Alarms and Discursions‘.  The first sentence below is only slightly pertinent to this discussion, that “heads” could be “taken to pieces” in more than a surgical manner, thus well worth a look ; the second, pertinent to contemporary debates about the rich and poor, a psychoanalytical treasure trove in its own right:

“In a popular magazine there is one of the usual articles about criminology; about whether wicked men could be made good if their heads were taken to pieces. As by far the wickedest men I know of are much too rich and powerful ever to submit to the process, the speculation leaves me cold.”

Whatever, long may psychoanalysis address what it means to be fully human; long may the Gospel of Jesus Christ speak life and truth to all humanity; and speedily may false versions of a suppressed gospel be exposed for what they are, that the victims of it may be set free to live a life less of guilt and shame, and more of life and joy!

Meadow

 I took this somewhere in Devon

Angry at God

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Have you ever wanted to shake your fist in the face of God?

Have you ever read the story of the ancient Israelites and wondered why on earth they were such a dopey bunch of failures?

Have you ever read the Psalms and wondered why so many of them seem so angry, so confused, so desperate?

Have you ever read the Bible and just known that you could be reading a story of your own self, your own life?

Why can’t we just have a list of propositions?  Because God is not an abstraction.

Why can’t we just have a list of rules?  Because God is not a task-master.

Why can’t we just be told in plain Hebrew and Greek?  Because God is a Lover and all good lovers love poetry.

No doubt the relationship you have with God is difficult.  You are the angry fist-shaker.  You are the ancient Israelite.  You are the confused Psalmist.  You want abstraction because relationship is too costly.  You want rules because you are a task-master.  You don’t want the love language of poetry and Psalm because you are not a lover!

The Bible forces, allows, challenges us to face our inner conflicts.  Go on, shake your puny fist in the face of God, tell Him you’re angry at this or that, but then move on to praise, as the Psalmists often do.  Be angry; be grateful.  Complain at the bitterness of your life, how unfair it is; and then give praise for all the blessings you receive. In the fullness of your humanity, just as the ancient Israelites found out over the centuries, you discover the Face of God.

If their struggle is our struggle, the relationship is going to be difficult.  Newsflash:  We are sinners; God is not.  There is a conflict of light and darkness, love and hate, humility and pride.  Don’t misunderstand, this is no ying and yang thing.  But we post-moderns are like the ancients.  Our flesh battles with God and desires God.  We desire His love in all the wrong places.  Distorted love, broken hearts, indulgence, pride.

So the relationship is difficult, and that should console us.  We identify with those who experience struggle and sacrifice, who know the light and the dark, who hunger and thirst, who grumble and complain, who rejoice and praise.  This is not contradictory living and believing, this is real faith worked out in the real world.  A faith worked out and lived out before the inscrutable and exquisite God of love.

Augustine was right, when he said in his Confessions, “Can any praise be worthy of the Lord’s majesty?  How magnificent his strength!  How inscrutable his wisdom!  Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise you.  He bears about him the mark of death, the sign of his own sin, to remind him that you thwart the proud.  But still, since he is a part of your creation, he wishes to praise you.  The thought of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you…”

Go on creature…

Go on sinner…

Go on you bag of contradictions…

Go on you creature of the dust…

Go on – one marked with death…

…be real.

Shake your fist, but bend your knee also.  Shout “Why?” and “How Long O Lord?” but don’t forget to make confession and give thanks.  It’s not contradictory, it’s complexity in reality.  Worship Him, Jesus, our Lord and our God!

Philippino Storm: Act of God?

storm

TheRich

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Philippine’s is a place of geographical, political, fiscal and meteorological interest.  It has a vast population of very poor people, scrounging out a living on the metaphorical “dollar-a-day” bull-shit cited by utopian inspired Westerners trying to do a good thing.

What if the crappy excuses for homes that millions live in were built to British Standard?  Maybe we’d pay more for our t-shirts!  Imagine the uproar!  “I’m writing to my MP!”  It’s my human right that someone else on the other side of the world lives like a rat to ensure I live like a King.

What if we as Westerners were less concerned with cheap “goods” than a liveable wage – you know – a wage WHERE PEOPLE CAN ACTUALLY LIVE and NOT JUST GET BY?

Oh yes, it’s a job, isn’t it?  A job created by multi-nationals and governments to GIVE US cheap clothes – the whining, price- obsessed bastards that we are!   “Well, at least they have a job!” we pathetically cry!  REALLY!! Are you taking the proverbial and actual piss!

Well, at least during the worst storm in recorded history, they’ll be safe in their factory…..!  Safe as what?  Philippino housing for the poor!  Oh, maybe they can rush to their own personal houses!  Did I say “houses”, aww shucks… I mean shacks!  You know, the kind of shacks built to withstand a Philippino Super-Storm, named Haiyan!  “But…” I hear the wealthy (i.e. Westerner) cry, “…there’s not a lot one can do about a Super-Storm, I mean, it’s a Super-Storm…!”  Nothing?  NOTHING?  Really?  REALLY??

How about building houses like the safe hotels that the rich book into when a storm hits?  Oh yeah, the rich have access to such wonders!

How about the West stop having a pity party for disaster and start doing something BEFORE not AFTER?  How about less collection more action.  By collection, I mean your pathetic pennies put into a tin as you go into “your” supermarket of choice – BECAUSE THEY HAVE REALLY CHEAP AVACODO’S.

I know, how about we stop living cheaply and start living.  Living in such a way that we do not see disaster relief as a humanitarian act, but GET IN THE FACE OF GOVERNMENT to stop cheap living.  How about we stop thinking, “At least they’ve got a job,” to “Gosh, if this person is educated [as they should be, as is their right], maybe they have it within themselves to find the cure for Cancer!”  How many Nobel Peace Prize winners are [not] found in Third World factories, Sweat Shops, and crappy shanty towns (“Western viewers may find the following scenes upsetting” – well my heart bleeds for you)!

The only “Act of God” coming is the one on injustice.  Global capitalism, cheap labour, poor housing, faceless people…..people made in the image of God….For God’s sake! The storm was bad, but imagine it in Croydon, or Manchester, or Chicago!  GO ON, IMAGINE!

This storm is not an act of God, as some would like to neatly argue.  Get your arse down to the Philippine’s and see for yourself: the disaster here is entirely man made.  Greed, poverty, capitalist interest and sheer de-humanisation are the real causes.  Mud slides are caused by de-forestation, which is caused by unaccountable commercial interest, which is caused by global capitalism, which is caused by the free-market economy of the West.  And we have the balls to worry about our pensions!

Dammit!  What was the Philippino word for pension again…. anyone…..?

Act of God!  Piffle.  Let’s be honest:  The storm may be a phenomenon of nature, but much [most] of this disaster is an Act of Man!