It is amazing how well Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) works and especially how similar it is to the biblical model of change and growth. I can't tell you how many people I have met who used to believe that God hated them or was angry with them and pointed to things going wrong in their life as proof. Many think that this is a spiritual problem and some think counselors should leave that alone because it's rooted in religion and values. But truthfully these real-life scenarios are no different than viewing this as a relationship and whether it is a functional or dysfunctional relationship.
It's amazing that people can read and understand from scripture that God is love, he promises to never abandon them, he promises to provide for them, he promises to restore them if they lose their way, promises to heal their broken heart and all without one shred of condemnation. His parenting style is absolutely the functional Authoritative style vs the dysfunctional Authoritarian, Negligent, and Permissive styles. Yet, knowing all of this some people still have abandonment issues with God, often exhibiting an anxious attachment style to God, while having obsessive thoughts and self-talk of shame, condemnation, and rejection play in their heads concerning Gods attitude towards them.
I have observed several common patterns in Christian normal and abnormal behavior and oddly enough some are due to a psychoanalysis principle. Some project their own self-rejection upon God and believe that he rejects them because it is too painful or creates too much anxiety to consider the reasons for their own self-rejection. Sometimes individuals (some not all) displace their anger and frustration with God towards others. I knew a person who was angry with God for real injustices in his life, but he took that anger out on his family. Sometimes they hold irrational beliefs about God that contradict what they know the bible says about Gods character. The belief is irrational because there is no evidence of its validity and yet it creates one or more psychological dysfunctions such as anxiety, anger, guilt, or toxic shame to name a few. They are living in a state of cognitive dissonance in their relationship with God and they often relieve that anxiety by turning to dysfunctional or addictive behaviors such as self-rejection, multiple sex partners, unprotected sex, drugs or alcohol abuse, spousal abuse, and other such behaviors.
What's interesting is that I have known men and women who believed that their mate did not love them regardless of evidence to the contrary. Those mate's irrational beliefs and a Christians irrational belief concerning their relationship to God are eerily similar, in fact, almost identical with similar behavioral outcomes. That obviously does not apply to everyone, but there is a segment of the Christian population that holds these irrational beliefs and behaviors. That is where CBT can help people in the church (and obviously outside of the church too) because a counselor is not dealing with a religious belief but an irrational relational perception. Some examples of how CBT and Biblical CBT are similar are from Hebrews which states that the word of God is able to divide between soul and spirit. In Christian theology, it is taught that the spirit is completely perfect at the new birth, but the soul needs to go through the process of gradual transformation (theologically termed sanctification). The soul is considered the cognitive, emotional, and decision-making area of a person in Christian teaching. Christians are also instructed to renew their minds so that their behavior can be changed (Romans 12:2) Sounds similar to CBT and Reality Therapy (RT) which states, "Psychological dysfunction results when we make bad choices" (Murdoch, 2017, p.367). What will we (present graduate students) be doing as future therapists? We will enter into a mutual collaboration with the client to change irrational thoughts and behaviors, to reduce anxiety, and enhance personal relationships ( I understand there is much more, but that is it in a nutshell,).
That's exactly what God/Jesus does with us if we understand his character correctly. He is called the Counselor and loves to talk with us through his word and collaborate with us to reduce anxiety and develop strong relationships. RT also states that one of the most important drives in human beings is the drive to experience love. This all sounds so similar to the desire for normal, loving relations and the desire to experience a loving, normal relationship with God; and in both types of relationships anxiety is created when an individual makes poor choices or embraces irrational beliefs about their mate/God that may have developed in their family of origin, poor caretakers, poor mentors etc. So ultimately the way CBT or even psychoanalysis relates to Christian individuals is to use them as tools to reconcile the Christian in their mind with their God who loves them far more than they can comprehend or imagine.
Does this sound far-fetched? Is it really possible to project onto God our own internal abnormalities, cognitive distortions and valueless worldviews? Consider these words of Adolf Hitler in a speech he gave in 1922.
"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. ...Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross". ...
(Adolf Hitler, speech on April 12, 1922)
(Adolf Hitler, speech on April 12, 1922)
Did you know these are the words of a man who at one point in his youth contemplated becoming a priest while attending a Catholic school? Notice the projection and displacement in Hitler's statements. He projected upon the Lord and Savior his own anger and violent behavior by seeing God as a fighter against the Jewish people! Less than twenty years later he was living this irrational belief concerning God in the most dysfunctional and diabolical behavior imaginable. I doubt CBT would have helped Hitler, but the point is that some people project their own inner conflicts upon God and either become angry with him or justify their abnormal behavior as approved by God. Granted, this is an extreme example but does hold some lessons for us today.
This has incredible and profound social implications because if a person can successfully project what is inside of them upon God and then displace their anger, self-rejection, etc etc., upon society then all forms of abnormal behavior and dangerous ideologies proceed and infect homes, workplaces, churches, schools and other institutions with the dangerous notion that it is either Gods fault or God approves of their decision to hurt, maim, or kill others. Some would read this and conclude that we must do away with religion. The problem is not with religion but in the suppression of absolute values and normal moral development by our institutions.
As a future counselor, I fear that most of my clientele will be restricted to the Christian community. I'm not being discriminatory, nor favoring one group over another and it's not that I don't want to help everyone but it seems as though the ACA's values parameters are so restrictive that any type of counseling that requires even a mediocre level of moral development is taboo. Whether we like it or not we live in a society of moral relativism that has, in my humble opinion, developed a society of people demanding their rights regardless of how it may harm others. Additionally, we have given the impression that everyone is good, evil does not exist, and/or that whatever is good for me is okay and whatever is good for you is okay. That's a recipe for moral and societal chaos which seems to be what we have at this time. I am 61 years old and I can truthfully say that when I went to school or worked as a teen, we never had the level of violence, resentment, vitriol, and near lawlessness as we have today.
Sooner or later our institutions such as counseling profession, the ACA, schools, higher educational institutes, as well as Government institutions, will be forced to deal with this and create some type of values counseling or education rooted in law versus non-scientific ideological theories. The outcome of the past 50 -70 years of ideological moral relativism is self-evident; people have lost their way, are making poor moral choices, and are more egocentric than any time in modern history. The cognitive outcome is that it's creating psychological dysfunction (Murdoch, 2017, p.367) and moral chaos. If I read Piaget and Kohlberg's theories about moral development correctly then we are regressing morally as a society instead of progressing. Just consider Piaget's concept of respect for authority at 12 years of age;
"Mutual respect for authority and peers allows children to value their own opinions and abilities and judge other people realistically. Children should obey rules because of mutual concern for the rights of others". (Montgomery Community College & Hodges, n.d.)
Our society has produced people today who want to kill policeman simply because they are police. In other words, there has been a profound loss of respect for authority, because of some injustices that may be real or perceived. When any segment of society deals with real or perceived injustice by killing others they are only creating more injustice, as well as moral and social chaos. Maybe there is a values-based therapy and education system that I'm not aware of; if there is we are in desperate need of more such therapy.
Montgomery Community College, & Hodges, J. (n.d.). PIAGET’S THEORY ON MORAL DEVELOPMENT [Pdf]. Retrieved from http://faculty.mc3.edu/jhodges/PIAGETmoral%20theory%20.pdf
Murdoch, N. L. (2017). Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: A Case Approach. Boston, MA: Pearson.