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Going Back to School

July 17, 2014

Going Back to School

Going Back to School

BCC Staff Note: This blog was first posted at the Lighthouse Community Church blog. It is re-posted by the BCC with the permission of LCC and of the author, Jenn Chen. You can read the original article at Going Back to School.

The Perfect Storm

In May 2014, I printed out my syllabi for two classes. Yes, I’m going back to school!

I have been providing therapy for almost 20 years and as a licensed clinical psychologist for over 10 years. My degrees in Marriage and Family and in Psychology are from well-known Christian institutions. I had training in Christianity and Psychology, cutting-edge psychotherapies, and in neuropsychology. So why am I pursuing a Masters in Biblical Counseling at the Master’s College, especially in my (gulp) forties? (Last time I checked, I thought I just celebrated my 29th birthday…)

Because of God and His grace in my life.

When we first attended Lighthouse back in the summer of 2011, I saw a church pamphlet that stated, “We believe in biblical counseling.” My limited exposure to biblical counseling was in my “Introduction to Integration” (integration of theology and psychology) class. It was given a brief mention in lecture, critiqued as narrow and over-simplistic or even worse, as harmful to the counselee. And it doesn’t involve science (which psychology reifies)!

So I wondered if Lighthouse was the right place for our family, even to the point of discussing it with a fellow Christian psychologist. She encouraged me not to let it stop us exploring Lighthouse. Though I was unaware at the time of any Christian convictions against psychology, I could sense some discomfort at times when people would hear my answer to “What do you do?” (I get that anyways, but in secular settings, I get more “So can you read my mind?” or “So are you analyzing me right now?” discomfort.)

However, Peter and I felt like we were really growing from the teaching in Sunday sermons and continued to come to Lighthouse.

Then God created the perfect storm in my life: severe illness with accompanying panic attacks, no church home, awareness of my very limited faith. Everything I knew was not working, including therapy techniques. In desperation, I signed up for biblical counseling at Lighthouse. And through this, God showed me the core of “issues” I have been struggling with my whole life: my kingdom of shame, control, and fear. He began to show me His kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy (Romans 14:17). I began learning the sweetness of His Word of life and biblical truth. He began to turn my heart of stone into a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:25).

My Journey…

I could go on about how God continues to transform me, but that would be a digression for this blog. I began to read everything I could put my hands on about biblical counseling, and even took a class The Dynamics of Biblical Change through CCEF (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation: go to CCEF.org for great resources).

Through my own biblical counseling and through reading and class, I became aware of the untruths I had learned in my schooling. In seminary, theology had been difficult for me. In a postmodern era, I became very confused about truth—I began to think it was unknowable, because doesn’t everyone come from a subjective place? And to claim absolute truth can be arrogant and inflexible—no one wants to be either of those. Theology seemed like an ivory tower pursuit that did not pertain to my daily life, so I thought, let the theologians battle it out with each other.

But biblical counseling is applied theology. As Pastor Kim says, what we believe about God affects how we live our lives. And Scripture is filled with knowable truth, especially the life-changing truth of the gospel, not just for our eternity but for each moment in this life.

Also, I had been taught that the Bible addresses issues of ultimacy, while psychology addresses issues of finitude. In non-academic language, this means the Bible addresses our ultimate state (our eternity) of being, while psychology deals with our day-to-day life here on earth (what will end). And as a therapist, we should direct counselees to pastors for issues of ultimacy. Thus, therapy didn’t need to explicitly deal with Scripture, nor did Scripture necessarily entail the answers to psychological questions. At one point, I posited that Scripture told us how we should be ideally, but not how to get there (change our behaviors or hearts).

In addition, somewhere I learned that by being a Christian, I was bringing the Holy Spirit with me into the therapy room, which implicitly made my therapy Christian. I also thought that by bearing another’s suffering, I was acting on a theology of presence in suffering just as Christ bore our suffering.

Also in reading literature on biblical counseling, I realized that in a sense, as a psychologist I work as a “secular clergy.” A church has theology based on its leadership’s understanding of the Bible, of people, and of suffering, which affects that church’s ministry to suffering people. A therapist can also serve as a “priest,” listening to “confessions” and administering “wisdom” and how to deal with suffering. In fact, the word patient comes from Latin as “one who suffers.”

Interestingly, prior to the illness that brought me to biblical counseling, I had been working on a book on the latest psychotherapies. I was laying out how each therapy viewed etiology (cause of the problem), its philosophical underpinnings and assumptions (worldview and view of sufferers), and techniques (how to solve the problem). Biblical counseling speaks to the idea of instead of taking secular therapies and trying to adapt them for a Christian, starting from the beginning with a Christian worldview of the problem and a scriptural solution.

I have been able to use some of what I have learned about biblical counseling with some of my Christian patients and have been blessed to see heart changes. One woman with bipolar has become less reactive—in situations which she would have cursed people out, she has been able to stop and bless them. Another woman who would isolate for days in her room with depression has joined her beginning believer’s class at her local church even though she has been attending there for years. I have also come across challenges, which has caused a deeper desire to learn even more about biblical counseling.

When I originally went to seminary for psychology, I thought I was going to learn how to minister to others through my faith. I learned about how my faith would “inform my practice.” Today, I am going back to school for the gospel and my faith to be my practice!


9 thoughts on “Going Back to School

  1. Jenn,
    Thank you for sharing your story. It is truly is a blessing to be in class with you.
    Jennifer

  2. Jenn, so excited to see you pursue this path. I have been on a similar journey as you know and it has been a blessing. After 20 years I can tell you it was well worth the effort and time to be retrained. God will use your past in surprising ways but more exciting is how He will work through you as you are sold out to the power of Christ and His word.

  3. I am a licensed clinical social worker who currently practices outpatient counseling work from an integrated framework. However, I am now in the beginning stage of pursuing certification as a biblical counselor because I simply can no longer continue to practice my work as as an “integrationist”. I know that I must undertake retraining so that I too can learn to have “the gospel and my faith…be my practice” rather than having my faith merely “inform” my practice. Thanks very much for writing the article.

  4. Jenn, I am so encouraged by your story and how God has used your own experience of being biblically counseled to increase your thirst for helping others with God’s life-changing Truths! So excited for your opportunity to “go back to school” and pursue this degree! Thank you for sharing your story with us!

  5. I was blessed by your story. I too studies sociology and psychology and in my own personal journey discovered the truth of biblical counseling and that we cannot trust counterfeits. Praise the Lord

  6. While I commend you for following our Lord’s design for counseling (Scripture), and attest to the Bible’s sufficiency for life and godliness, I must share that many biblical counselors are insufficiently trained in Scripture. Moreover, they lack the most foundational component of biblical counseling – COMPASSION, SYMPATHY, AND EMPATHY (though not always possible). These counselors tend to demonize the victim – they make the counselee feel guilty for grieving or physical abuse (just examples). Biblical counseling is a HUGE responsibility and should be meted out with WISDOM by MATURE Christians. Also, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to throw out all the research and data that has been accumulated by secular behavioral psychologists. Science is not such a bad thing – especially when it’s just data gathering – i.e. “just the facts m’am!” I don’t agree with secular interpretation of the facts, but empirical data is empirical data! So, I say the following with humility – please approach the MABC program soberly. To be sure, it is extremely effective, but please practice wisdom when counseling folks. People are hurting, even if the pain is self-inflicted; however they still should be treated with kindness and respect.
    I pray the Lord will bless you as you seek his best 🙂
    Mimi

  7. Mimi,

    Thank you for responding to Dr. Chen’s post.

    I did not read anything in her post that indicated any lack of respect for scientific research. The biblical counseling movement fully endorses and encourages research. What Dr. Chen addresses and what the biblical counseling movement is concerned with is secular theory building–understanding people, problems, and solutions based upon a secular worldview.

    As for your concern about counselors who counsel without and who are insufficiently trained in Scripture–the biblical counseling movement again shares your concern. That is why there are such high standards (and increasingly so) of certification from groups such as CCEF, ACBC, ABC, IBCD, and others. Are there some integrative counselors, secular counselors, and biblical counselors who lack compassion? Unfortunately, yes. But as a movement we are committed to compassionate and comprehensive Christ-like care.

    Bob Kellemen

  8. Mimi, your point, “Science is not such a bad thing,” is well-taken. I am reminded of the recent news that Johns Hopkins University Hospital’s former head of psychiatry said they had stopped doing sex change operations, even though they had been one of the pioneers in this procedure. They came to realize that the results after twenty years were the same percent of satisfaction between the people who had the operation and those that did not, the only difference was “the mutilation,” [his words].
    This took courage… by God’s grace. MaryJane-

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