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

The 11th Plague: Pornography

Free CandyOver the years I have mentored and counselled many young men and older-to-middle-aged men on the addictions they have regarding internet pornography.  I am convinced this has to be at the centre of all discipleship discussions and in no way shirked by ministers and anyone in leadership responsibility.

In every case I have assumed it is happening in the lives of these men and I have never been wrong (in this at least)!  The prevalence of shame and guilt linked to this addiction is destroying not just marriages and relationships, but people as individuals.

shame

Pornography is the ultimate locust plague and the newest form of the Golden Calf; the ultimate consumerist need; a dehumanising consumption of humanity – by humanity – on a scale hitherto unknown.

It presents itself as something good, something delicious, but it is not; it may look like a nice cake but it is horse manure wrapped in icing that is laced with despair and brokennness.

Yes I know pornography is as old as the skies.  Yes I know the complexities of the nature-nurture debates and the desire-affections debates and the secret Victorian obsessions and the Canaanite fertility symbols that demonstrate in one way or another this is not new:  mankind is obsessed with sex.  But what we face today as a “postmodern” people in a global world is new.  Something has shifted, and the statistics below merely highlight the beginnings of this new-(but old)-world-order.

We are now beyond the territory of the erotic (marital) sex of the Song of Solomon, and we have walked blindfolded into the horror show of Ezekiel 16 and 23.  Some may say that since this blog is a Christian blog, that I am some sort of lemon-sucking prude, a proper Victorian anti-sex Puritan.  Well I’m not.  The statistics below (from but one country) will contain the detail of what and why I am against this vile trade in people who are made in the image of God.

The Guardian online recently published an excellent article by Laura Bates entitled ‘Rape is not a punchline or a way to sell Christmas presents‘.  She writes,

“In fact, there is evidence of some links between the portrayal of women as sexual objects and attitudes that underpin violence against women and girls. The government-commissioned Sexualisation of Young People review found evidence to suggest a clear link between consumption of sexualised images, a tendency to view women as objects and the acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behaviours as the norm. And the 2010 report by the American Psychological Association on the Sexualisation of Girls detailed links between sexually objectifying images of women and girls in mainstream media and significantly higher levels of acceptance of rape myths, victim-blaming, sexual harassment and interpersonal violence.”

I find it astonishing we need government-commissioned reviews to reach this plainly obvious conclusion.  This runs in tandem with the idiotic advertising strategies of various corporations around the world to suggest and insinuate rape and abuse of women in order to sell their grubby wares!  It should take more than public shock and complaint to realise this; or is the saturation of our minds by advertising companies now so dense that enticements to rape and abuse are the thing that will keep our economies strong?  In fact, “woe to you” if that’s what it takes to run a business in profit, and maintain a strong economy.

BTW, this post is not about anyone’s right “to do what they want” or whatever narcissistic neo-liberal construct of society you choose to adopt (as though anything one individual does is completely independent of anything and everyone around them (whether you are a Christian or not) – what nonsense)!  It is simply about the fallout from this industry that is destroying real lives on an industrial scale.  

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What Exactly is a Saint?

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Church history is fascinating and studying it is essential.

Some people will have stopped reading already, well boo to them because Church History guards us today against making mistakes that, wait for it, have already been made!  

The person who doesn’t read history, will likely dismiss history as irrelevant or romanticize it to the degree that whatever goes on today, is just not good enough, holy enough, whatever enough, as it was in the glorious past.  Both views are lazy.

The reason I love dabbling in Church History is because time and again I find people much like me, and much like the people in my church: real, hurting, sinful, broken, loving God, needing forgiveness, and so on.

Whilst there are peculiar aspects to todays culture (I’m sure St Jerome never had gadgets beeping every five minutes demanding his precious time on things that are, how shall we say….. not precious at all.

So what is a saint?  Let’s look at St Jerome (347-420), born in Stridon, somewhere in the Balkans, possibly Croatia or Slovenia.

This saint was a reluctant convert to Christianity, but once converted, became a publishing powerhouse on most things theological.  He seems to have been particularly sensitive to various descriptions and feelings about hell, especially as he observed the vast scale of immorality in Roman society and Empire, something he felt deeply shameful about, because he was certainly involved himself!

After conversion he became obsessively pious.  Umm.  Interesting!  Why?  Maybe because he, as that other saint, Augustine, in his pre-conversion to Christ states, was a sex addict!  When he lived as a hermit in the Syrian desert (no doubt to try and master his feelings and urges), he would write, “Although my only companions were scorpions, I was mingling  with the dances of girls, my mind throbbing with desires.”

Even when he served as the secretary to the Bishop of Rome, Damascus I, there was sexual scandal.  Damascus himself was accused of adultery and Jerome was accused of having an affair with a very wealthy widowed mother named Paula, a lady who helped him translate the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin.  Jerome and Paula were exonerated!

In the late 4th century, Jerome, wrestling with his mind and feelings, wrote tracts warning of the dangers of the powers of sex and lust.  It was as if he smelled sex everywhere he went.  Of lust he wrote that it, “tickles the senses and the soft fire of sensual pleasure sheds its pleasing glow.”  (To the reader: are your eyebrows raised as you read this)?

Once when in Jerusalem, he found the “holy” city to be a melting pot of trade, cultures and sex, not to mention extreme piety and devotion to all traditions of the Jews and Christians.

Jerome was horrified by the sheer volume of sexual opportunities offered in this theme park of religious passion and sensory excitement, “all temptation is collected here…. prostitutes, actors and clowns.”

The point?  That this man’s struggles are common to all, and our culture perfectly mirrors what Jerome described.  There is nothing new under the sun.  Jerome is typical of me and you, and Roman culture is typical of ours!

So what is a saint?

Not someone who’s perfect.  Not someone who doesn’t feel or desire.  Not someone who walks on a cloud two feet off the floor.  A saint is a person who recognises their failings and weaknesses, who interprets themselves and their culture correctly, and who then comes under the sovereign care of a God who saves, heals and forgives.

It is God Himself who declares sinners saints!  The moment a person confesses Christ, he or she receives His righteousness and is de facto declared a saint.  Being sinless doesn’t make one a saint, being “in Christ” does!

And Church History helps because knowing this biblical truth and historical detail, is an encouragement for us to persevere, to press on towards the finish line, to apprehend Christ Jesus, the one who fulfills our desire and makes us what we were always meant to be:  Children of God and fully human.