Friday, April 2, 2010

Christianity and Psychology

What is the relationship between Christianity and psychology? Is it necessary if Christians are to minister to people, or is it contrary to Christianity and not to be listened to? Where does the truth lie?

Psychologists on the whole are sincere individuals who want to help people who are dealing with pressing concerns. But the problem is the lack of proven theory to work from. They are in the position of medicine before the discovery of microorganisms. That medicine knew some useful things like how to set bones; it also taught false things, such as bleeding as a treatment for disease. It would have been hard for someone then to know which was which. I do not see this as a criticism of psychology or psychologists. No one knows what they do not know.

There are in psychology a number of basic approaches, and most psychologists are eclectic, choosing treatments from different theories depending on what makes sense to them. This is like having different sets of Newton's Laws without knowing which is true and choosing results from different sets of laws. Would you get on an airplane built by this approach? There is a current theory that many mental disorders are biochemical. Whether this is the equivalent of the germ theory of disease for psychology remains to be seen. I have no problem with it in principle; it is a proven fact that the ingestion of certain substances affects the mind. Perhaps there are cases where the body produces the same effect without the external agent. But I prefer to reserve judgment.

One of the results of incomplete knowledge in this area is the tendency to read in philosophical assumptions. We can claim our behavior is determined by circumstances, so we are not responsible for our actions, or that we should accept ourselves no matter what, or that absolute independence is the ideal. But those who oppose psychology can go to the opposite extreme. In their zeal to uphold responsibility, they can lose compassion for the person they are counseling.

The bottom line is we are sinners saved by grace (Romans 3:21-31; Philippians 3:7-16; 2 Corinthians 3:4-18; 1 John 1:5-10), and we cannot expect to be completely well adjusted. Therefore, for minor mental foibles, considering the imperfect state of psychological knowledge, we are better off seeing them as part of life and dealing with them through Scripture and common sense. But in the case of crippling problems we need to deal with them as best we can using the methods available. I would urge caution in choosing treatment on the part of the person or their caregiver. We must be on guard against treatments that are opposed to Christianity or just do not work. (Going to a Christian counselor is a help but is not a guarantee.) But above all, you must realize you are dealing with a discipline where we do not know all the answers and judge accordingly.

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