For the last four years, I have been working to complete my bachelor’s degree in Psychology. I plan to continue my education and become a licensed professional counselor. Psychology is defined by the American Psychological Association as “the study of the mind and behavior” (n.d., Frequently Asked Questions). The field of psychology perfectly manifests man attempting to figure out things for himself and potentially find the ultimate purpose for living. However, for years many Christians have viewed psychologists as scientists that are simply trying to transcend the hand of God that created, they the way they are. However, psychology does not have to be the attempt as ascending from the hand of God, but instead a positive ground for growth. Despite the common belief of many Christians, I believe that psychology is not antitheological but instead simply a tool that God has provided to us to better understand his greatest creation: man.
Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in Psychology
It is worth acknowledging that the study of mankind simply that: the study of God’s creation. We are created and embodied in his image, we are embodied individuals, we develop both physically and mentally because God created us that way. In Exploring Christianity and Psychology, Moes and Tellinghausen mention, “Being made in God’s image has traditionally implied that we are made for at least three kinds of relationships (2014, p. 3). This naturally embodied desire for relationships is what I see as a large reason for the development of psychology. This leads to another argument Psychology posits: we are relational beings. We have been created as individuals who hunger for relationships with other individuals; this is one of the defining factors of what makes us human. As God himself said when creating Eve for Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18, NIV). God created this “helper” for Adam for many reasons, but the greatest reason is the companionship brought about by the relation of his partner. While Eve was created to be Adam’s wife, the bigger picture is shown humanity is not made up of several individuals remaining separate from each other, but rather individuals who come together for their sanity.
“What is evil or false in Psychology? What is missing in psychology? What is broken or ugly in Psychology?”
As mentioned before, it is a common belief that Psychology is a secular science; devoid of God and focused solely on humanism. I have had countless interactions with people who held this belief, especially when I was a waiter interacting with traditional Christians every day. They would ask: ‘How can you be Christian and practice Psychology? Psychology isn’t Christian.’ That is (sadly) a common belief held by many Christians since the founding of Psychology. Major figures of psychology such as the controversial Sigmund Freud or humanist Carl Rogers are looked at as faces of psychology, with their theories defying God’s plan causing a misconception speaking for all in the field. When speaking about religion, Freud said, “Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires.” (Freud, Strachey, & Gay, 1989).
It is not a huge surprise that we have deviated so much from God. We have a natural tendency to try to find out our understanding. We are created with a desire to understand ourselves and others. Humanity is a naturally curious species of being, always testing and creating things. One of the greatest questions since the beginning of humanity has been ‘how and why do we exist?’ and ‘what created us?’ Despite what I or others believe, one thing remains true, mankind is curious. Moes and Tellinghausen state that “Humans are Meaning Seekers” (2014, p. 15) and have a hunger for knowledge. While this hunger for knowledge may hurt us in some respects (i.e. Adam and Eve in the garden, Genesis 3), it can also help further our faith and relationships with others. In The Confessions, Augustine speaks about furthering his faith after years of searching: “What I now longed for was not greater certainty about you, but a more steadfast abiding in you” (Augustine & Boulding, 2012, 7:6-7). I believe we should follow Augustine’s model and learn all that we can, not only about God but also about his creation. As stated before, we are embodied and created in the image of God. Therefore, the study of ourselves and others that psychology focuses on can bring to light the good and Godly aspects of humanity.
I believe there is a painful absence of Christian principles that should be further applied in Psychology. Because we are made in his image, we have a desire to help others, and I believe the best way to do that is to help them reach spiritual maturity. Conn and Conn state in Christian Spiritual Growth and Developmental Psychology that “the gospel vision of spiritual maturity is one of deep and inclusive love” (1989, p. 5). If this is true, then we should take every action that we can to not only show the love of God to others but also help them to grow. While this is a very spiritual topic, it can be applied to psychology. Depending on the setting of their work, one may not be able to openly speak about their faith with client, but they can help them start taking the right steps towards faith. A counselor can show love for a client that may have never been seen by them before. Of course, there are many psychological issues that can potentially harm the greater good of society, but the more clinical fields of psychology focus on issues of that matter. Counseling psychology exists for the common individual that is having a difficult time or is needing to work through something. The existence of counseling for individuals in demanding situations such as divorce or the loss of a loved one serves alone as proof that helping professions are some of the most personal and relational professional fields in the world. This reason alone leads me to believe that psychology is undeniably open for the integration of Christian ethics and principles. The biggest theme of the bible (in my opinion) is love. God created us out of love in the beginning and he sent his son as the ultimate sacrifice so that our sins are forgiven, I am not sure God would’ve done that if he didn’t love us. Therefore, it is our duty to not only love him in return but also love one another and care about the good of mankind. In a time of terrible Roman persecution, Peter wrote to scattered believers a letter of encouragement and advice. Perhaps the greatest advice he gave them is: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sin. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:8-9, NIV). As Peter said, we are created to love one another, and psychology can and should be an environment for this love and hospitality.
God created us not as isolated beings competing for resources, but rather as people who depend on each other for comfort and companionship. To be good stewards of God’s most proud creation, we should strive to treat others with the love God shows us. As meaning seekers who want to see a greater purpose in life, we should find that purpose through further studying and worshiping God. We should also look to have a greater understanding of his creation. Psychology exists for manly reasons, but the best reason is to help individuals who have been hurt by society. Individuals who think they have nothing left, on the brink of depression or suicide. Psychology can be the work of God if we as Christians allow it to be. As Christians desiring a career in a helping profession of psychology, we should be ready to accept others for who they are and apply the same love to others that Jesus Christ gave to us when he made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross.
- A., & Boulding, M. (2012). The confessions. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press.
- Conn and Conn (1989). Christian spiritual growth and developmental psychology. Accessed April 12, 2020
- Freud, S., Strachey, J., & Gay, P. (1989). Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. New York: Norton.
- Moes, P., & Tellinghuisen, D. J. (2014). Exploring psychology and Christian faith: An introductory guide. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group.
- (n.d.). Retrieved 2020, from http://www.apa.org/support/about-apa.aspx