The Integration of Psychology and Christianity
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The Integration of Psychology and Christianity

A Domain-Based Approach

William L. Hathaway, Mark A. Yarhouse

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eBook - ePub

The Integration of Psychology and Christianity

A Domain-Based Approach

William L. Hathaway, Mark A. Yarhouse

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Over the course of recent decades, scholars and practitioners have been working to integrate contemporary psychology-related fields and Christianity. This project continues to move forward, evidenced in associations, publications, degree programs, and conferences around the world. While much progress has been made, there are still foundational issues to be worked out and aspects of integration the community is just now venturing into.In this expert overview, psychologists William L. Hathaway and Mark A. Yarhouse take stock of the integration project to date, provide an introduction for those who wish to come on board, highlight work yet to be done, and offer a framework to strategically organize next steps. The authors' attention encompasses five domains: - worldview integration- theoretical integration- applied integration- role integration- personal integrationTheir comprehensive approach yields insights relevant for non-clinical areas of psychological science as well as for counseling, social work, and other related mental health fields.Done properly, integration enriches our understanding of both Christianity and psychology. Through biblical and theological grounding and numerous examples, Hathaway and Yarhouse demonstrate how synthesis can continue to serve the field and make a difference in caring for individual lives.Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS) Books explore how Christianity relates to mental health and behavioral sciences including psychology, counseling, social work, and marriage and family therapy in order to equip Christian clinicians to support the well-being of their clients.

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The Very Idea

FOR SEVERAL DECADES NOW, students and professionals have been investing their time, talents, and resources in pursuit of the “integration” of the profession and science of the contemporary psychology-related fields and Christianity. This book provides an overview of this integration project, focusing on psychology but also touching on its development in related fields such as professional counseling, marriage and family therapy, and social work. We will focus on work done in the clinical and professional areas of these fields, which is where most of the integrative writing has been done; it is also the specialization area for both of the authors. Yet we believe the approach we take in this book has relevance to integration in the nonclinical areas of psychology as well and will illustrate that with examples in each chapter.
In the context of psychology and Christianity, the term “integration” has been used to refer to the integration of different sorts of things: the integration of Christian theology and psychological theory, Christian spiritual disciplines and psychological practice, Christian and professional values, replacing select worldview assumptions of contemporary psychology with Christian ones, and even the revision of approaches to psychological “knowing” that allow for theologically informed psychology. Also, it is important to note, while not framed explicitly as an integration project, Catholic efforts to formulate a Christian approach to a scientific psychology were present since psychology’s earliest decades or perhaps even before. Recently, attention has been given to Ferdinand Überwasser of the Old University of Münster. As an eighteenth-century Catholic scholar holding the title of professor of empirical psychology and logic (Schwarz & Pfister, 2016), Überwasser conceptualized an empirical psychology a century before Wilhelm Wundt, whose laboratory psychology is frequently presented as the start of psychological science.
Efforts at the integration of faith and academic disciplines are of course not unique to psychology and Christianity. There have been formal efforts to integrate Christianity with law, medicine, and various natural sciences. The fashionable rendering of the phrase “integration of faith and learning” has been credited to Art Holmes (1975) in his The Idea of a Christian College, although the notion was evident in earlier works (i.e., Gaebelein, 1954).
There are several possible starting points that could be identified for this contemporary psychology-related integration project in the evangelical world. In 1952, Taylor University’s Hildreth Cross published An Introduction to Psychology: An Evangelical Approach. In 1954, Clyde Narramore, together with his wife, Ruth, launched the successful Psychology for Living radio program and other ministries. The Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS) was founded in 1956 with an integrative mission. Fuller Theological Seminary launched its doctoral programs in clinical psychology in 1965 with a stated desire to “put the cross at the center of psychology.” Out of the work done by the Narramores, the similarly pioneering Rosemead School of Professional Psychology was birthed in 1968. Professional integrative journals, such as the Journal of Psychology and Theology and the Journal of Psychology and Christianity, have now published regular volumes of integrative work for decades. The establishment of rigorous, peer-reviewed venues of this sort to disseminate scholarly work in an academic enterprise is necessary for a scholarly project to be taken seriously. It also functions as a marker that the project has to some degree become a meaningful niche within a discipline.
In addition to the growth of integrative doctoral programs in professional psychology, the latter part of the twentieth century witnessed an explosion of integrative masters and undergraduate psychology and counseling programs at Christian schools. Many of these programs have tailored themselves to prepare their students for careers in related mental health professions outside of psychology, such as licensed professional counseling or marriage and family therapy. There have also been organized efforts to integrate Christianity and social work. For instance, the North American Association of Christians in Social Work grew out of a series of conferences held at Wheaton College in the early 1950s. Its mission is to “. . . equip its members to integrate Christian faith and professional social work practice” (NACSW, 2020).
This book will be most directly focused on the integration project in psychology, but we believe it will be directly applicable to frame integration efforts in the related mental health fields as well. While we are both psychologists, we also have relevant experience with these related fields. Bill is dean of a school that includes CACREP-accredited professional counseling and an APA-accredited doctoral program in clinical psychology. Mark is credentialed as a marriage and family therapist and also teaches in an integrative psychology department that also has dual APA and CACREP accreditation. Both have supervised trainees and instructed courses for students in a range of these mental health professions.
Beyond these North American efforts, the academic integrationist movement has gone international, spawning programs such as the Moscow Christian School of Psychology in 1995 and other collaborations such as The European Movement for Christian Anthropology, Psychology and Psychotherapy. Outside of academic settings, explicitly integrative Christian practice contexts have grown to represent the spectrum of practice contexts (i.e., group practices, psychiatric inpatient and residential facilities, interdisciplinary one-stop shops, consultation centers, etc.). In addition, applied integration contributions have also occurred at a semi-popular level drawing from Christians in a variety of mental health professions and counseling ministry vocations. On the counseling front, Collins’s (1980) influential Christian Counseling text provided a wide-ranging guide offering practical guidance on how to counsel from a faithfully Christian approach informed by the mental health fields. Collins expanded on this resource by serving as the general editor for dozens of volumes of a series of professional Christian counseling texts covering a wide range of counseling problems during the 1980s and 1990s.
The American Association of Christian Counselors started in the 1980s and grew rapidly in the following decades. It has emerged as the largest professional trade association in Christian counseling with nearly 50,000 members and holding large conferences of Christian caregivers from diverse professional backgrounds. The conferences feature the most popularly influential contributors in Christian counseling, such as Mark McMinn, Gary Smalley, and Larry Crabb. As Christian life and leadership coaching has emerged as a distinct niche for integrative mental health professionals, the AACC conferences have also showcased high impact Christian professionals in this niche. For instance, Henry Cloud and John Townsend (1992) are frequent presenters, known both for their bestselling self-help books on boundaries as well as their highly successful training and consulting enterprise impacting millions within the church and corporate world.
Given the sheer growth of its academic, institutional, and applied forms, the integration project seems well on its way to realization. Integrationists typically believe they bring a value-added contribution to both their psychology-related disciplines and their Christian communities. Our assessment is indeed that progress has been made and the project has become more sophisticated. Still, there remain foundational issues to be worked out and many aspects of the project into which the integration community is just now venturing. For instance, what scientific methodology should characterize an integrative approach to the psychology-related fields? To what extent can biblical revelation and Christian thought be an explicit source of ideas for psychological theory development? How do professional ethics relate to biblical morality? How are we to navigate professional/disciplinary role conflicts with Christian norms? How can the church be effectively engaged in a manner well-aligned with the mission of God’s kingdom to help resolve the world’s critical mental health crisis?
The purpose of this text is to take stock of the project to date, to provide an introduction for individuals who wish to come on board, to highlight work yet to be done, and to offer a framework we think may strategically organize and focus this work. We presume both the value of contemporary psychological science and the truth of Christianity. While some of our reasons for believing these starting points are warranted will be evident, we will not attempt to offer a full apologetic for them in this text.
Some have claimed the integration project is inherently flawed and needs reformation or possibly even reformulation under a different label and vision—although none have emerged as a widely accepted alternative among those Christians who enter the academic and applied discipline of psychology. Such integration project detractors have made their cases on varied grounds, which we will engage throughout this book. We remain open to the idea of shifting to a new label for the integration project should a compelling one emerge. However, we are not aware of any proposed alternative that more accurately summarizes what Christians have been attempting to achieve under the integration banner.
Proposals by Christians who find value in the psychology-related fields have included an emphasis on ideas such as transformation, conversation, or thinking Christianly about our disciplines, which still seem to us—at their core—an integrative endeavor. Some dissenters from the integration project are discontent with what they perceive as an anemic presence of Christian thought and life or the professional/scientific weakness of its product. From our perspective, to the extent these concerns are founded, this represents inadequate realization of the integration project, not an inadequacy integrative vision itself.
The term “integration” has been put to sundry tasks in contemporary discourse beyond this specifically Christian endeavor. The Oxford Learner Dictionary defines integration as “the act or process of combining two or more things so that they work together.” The Latin origin for the term conveys the notion of “renewal, restoration to wholeness.” So virtually anything that is not already whole can be considered grist for the integration mill. As a fruit of the civil rights movement, many settings were integrated, bringing previously segregated racial groups within the same schools or public venues. In chemical engineering, process integration attempts to design its product more efficiently by considering the interaction of the various component processes from the outset.
Integration projects have been seen in purely secular contexts. The interdisciplinary movement in academia has attempted to build models, degree programs, and garner institutional support for integrating across disciplines. In some cases, these efforts have even spawned their own interdisciplinary study areas and degrees. One way of thinking about contemporary psychology is that it emerged from the interdisciplinary study of natural science, anthropometrics, medicine, and philosophy. It can be understood as arising from attempts to use investigative methods inspired by the experimental sciences of the nineteenth century to answer questions in what might today be called philosophy of mind and ethics. In that sense, it was an integrative discipline from its inception.
More recently, the American Psychological Association’s Standards of Accreditation for Health Service Psychology (2015) have formally identified the discipline-specific knowledge areas requires to be covered in an accredited psychology program. These include topics familiar to psychology majors like cognitive, biological, or social aspects of behavior. But with the 2015 standards came an added requirement for programs to cover “advanced integrative knowledge” in psychology, (abbreviated “AIK” in accreditation shorthand). AIK is defined as “. . . graduate-level scientific knowledge that entails integration of multiple basic discipline-specific content areas” (APA IR C-7 D). The advanced integrative knowledge requirement came about in recognition that work in psychology routinely cuts across disciplinary subfields like social, cognitive, or biopsychology. Research projects are now common in areas such as social cognition and cognitive neuroscience. APA does not delineate what specific topics or methods may constitute an AIK area, only that it involves the integration of multiple foundational areas at a graduate level.
Regardless of the specifics of what one is attempting to integrate, the integrative project assumes there are components to be brought together that are currently not united. But synthesis is not automatically a good thing. If we integrate spoiled milk with our cereal, it does not result in an improved breakfast. Such is the concern of integration project critics. These critics can be roughly placed into two camps. The first camp includes several proponents for a psychology or counseling approach derived from explicit Christian sources—either entirely or to a much larger degree than is evident among most integrationists. The nouthetic biblical counseling movement, associated initially with Jay Adams, argues that psychology operates from unbiblical beliefs that are detrimental to a biblically faithful approach to human functioning or to counseling. The very idea of integrating psychology and Christianity has been taken by some to imply some insufficiency in the Christian faith. If Jesus has provided us with abundant life, then why should we need to turn to this odd, Darwinian modern enterprise of psychology to fix our broken marriages, bind-up the demoralized, or “find ourselves”? Such ways of stating the issue seem to cast a shadow over the entire project. But this is only because the appropriation of psychology is somehow considered a divergent tangent from the redemptive and life-giving work of the Spirit. While not antipsychology, the Christian psychology movement has also criticized integration efforts in psychology for being insufficiently informed by Christian revelation and theology. Conversely, a second camp consists of some in the secular mental health professions and psychological disciplines who view the integrative project as an attempt to subvert the science and profession of psychology with religious bias and nonscientific beliefs.
Both camps feel their “breakfasts” would be ruined by the integration project, but they could not disagree more about what is the “spoiled milk.” We will return to such perspectives throughout the text and find insight in their criticisms. Suffice it to say for now, we do not fit in either camp. Our view is that the integrative project in psychology, however it might be labeled, is a vitally important way to advance related concerns in both psychology and Christianity. Done properly, such a synthesis is enric...

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