Thursday, January 12, 2006

Simul Justus et Peccator

I once read that some ancient rabbi taught that every person should keep two pieces of paper on them at all times, one in each pocket. The one would read, "I am but dust and ashes" and the other, "For my sake was the world created." The object was to look at whichever one the person needed in the moment, to keep the balance between hubris and despair. This struck me as a sound "intervention" but I thought a Christian version would certainly substitute "For me Christ died" for the phrase about creation. I thought about getting a coins made that had these sayings on opposite sides. Then I realized that we have a reformation slogan that fits the bill quite nicely and has even deeper implications: Simul justus et peccator / At the same time righteous and a sinner. So I got onto and had a stamp made that says just that, along with a Luther Rose. I have made up some of my own "pocket pieces" modeled after the pocket sponsor for alcoholics. I gave out the first of these today and explained its significance. Sure this may be a bit silly, but we need physical reminders at times, correctives to our concupiscence. One of my clients told me that his wife's pet peeve is when Christians refer to themselves as "sinners." I have not given him a token, but I did tell him my take on the issue, which is that we will suffer from our sinful nature and have to daily turn to Christ so long as we live, with full comfort in the faith that Christ's righteousness is ours.

I also have a "comfort cross" in my office that is made out of olive wood and is essentially a cross with all of the corners rounded off so that you can hold or squeeze it and presumably take comfort from meditation on the cross. I actually fretted about whether to get this (I'll write later on my overactive cringe reflex). I had a client ask for something like a ball to kneed while he spoke of difficult things and that got me thinking that handling the cross might be a nice way for some clients to focus their thoughts. I wrested however because a comfortable cross is an oxymoron, maybe even a step toward a theology of glory. I do take great comfort from the cross, however, upon which Christ won my redemption.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Published! (finally)

My article that uses virtue ethics to examine the practice of counseling those for whom same-sex attraction and their religious beliefs conflict has finally gone to press and is available. I would be glad to send (electronically) a copy to anyone who drops me an email to that effect. I would definietely like some feedback from a Christian Ethics, 2 kingdoms, vocation, Law-Gospel, perspective.

Here is the abstract:

This article addresses the treatment of individuals who experience conflict between
their religious convictions and their same-sex attraction. Recently, attention has been
drawn to the ethical issues involved in the practice of sexual reorientation therapy
(SRT) with such conflicted individuals. This article reviews the ethical arguments for
and against SRT through the lens of the general ethical principles of the American
Psychological Association’s (2002) ethics code. Practitioners are then challenged to
think about how they might respond virtuously (Meara, Schmidt,&Day, 1996) when
presented with such a client. Thought questions are presented to assist therapists to
develop in virtue while working with religious clients who are conflicted about
same-sex desire.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

On the Internet Monk's "Christians and Mental Health"

Albert Mohler just wrote about the Reign of the Therapeutic which reminded me that I have yet to respond to Michael Spencer, the venerable Internet Monk, who recently did a whole series on The Christian and Mental Illness. Mr. Spencer's work is good reading and good thinking, as usual.

Spencer points out that Freud has done more than even Darwin to introduce tensions into Christendom. This is most certainly true. Freud's language and ideas have so saturated our culture that it's hard to think about what it would be like to talk about motivations and behavior without reference to the idea of the unconscious. We talk about someone being "anal retentive" and engaging in "repression" without any hesitation whatsoever.

However, I would again remind all: Freud is not the father of Psychology. That honor goes to Wilhelm Wundt in about 1879, when he founded the first laboratory for experimental psychology. Freud published his first major work The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, and became the father of personality psychology. Modern applied psychology (Clinical, Counseling and Industrial/Organizational) in many ways has more to do with the former individual than the latter.

Despite this being a pet peeve, I understand the Freud=Psychology association that most people have (which is similar to the Schizophrenia=Multiple Personalities mistake). Freud was indeed extremely influential. I really enjoy Vitz's reinterpretation of Freud. He sees alot of Freud's work as a reaction against his strong attraction to Christianity. Vitz also talks about Freud's prototypical individual as the opposite of Christ - kills the father versus submits the the father, etc. Vitz's extremely interesting book on Freud is available for free here.

Spencer is absolutely correct that our culture calls on the psychologists when there is a crisis, as the sort of "secular chaplains of the American religous/cultural mileau." There is a movement within psychology to appreciate religion and even use spiritual interventions in counseling. In many ways, this is worse than an open animosity. At least when religion was pathologized, people were aware that the therapist was clueless and hostile to their beliefs. Now that some psychologists have a rudimentary knowledge of psychology and everything goes as "true for you," the therapist is actually more dangerous. Read some of this issue of the APA's Monitor on Psychology issue on Spirituality and Mental Health.

Regarding FBI profilers, everyone who watches Dangerous Minds should read these articles from the APA Monitor on Psychology - Psychological Seluths.

Another point that I would like to make concerns the Monk's battle with the concept of normal versus mental illness. There is actually a supposed failsafe for this problem built into the Diagnosic Manual of Mental Disorders (presently in is 4th - text revised edition, or DSM-IV-TR). Most diagnoses require subjective distress in order to be used. That means that theoretically, you, not society get to determine if you have a mental illness. If you're about to function adequately in the world even though you have obsessive rituals, you do not have a diagnosable condition. I don't remember where I heard it (see: source monitoring error) but I heard that there was a high-powered executive who had cleanliness obsessions and compulsions, but since he had a shower in the room off of his office, he was able to function quite well. Actually, there is controversy about the subjective distress criterion, particularly in the personality disorders which are characterological and tend not to cause distress. The best example is Antisocial Personality Disorder which is a "pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others" for which remorse is superficial or non-existant. Many have begun to talk in terms of a problem being "maladaptive" rather than "abnormal" or an "illness." This reflects more of a psychological understanding (the behavior was learned and can be changed) rather than a medical model (the patient is sick and needs to be fixed). But this shift is also inadequate to deal with personality disorders because Antisocial Personality Disorder can help a person achieve great power and fame becuase they become good at manipulating others and do not have qualms about doing so. This is true as long as the person also has a good bit of intelligence.

The medical model itself has its detractors, even from without the Christian community. The biggest problem with the medical model right now is that that it is used to restrict treatment goals. The APA has said that becuase homosexuality isn't a mental illness, treatment of homosexuality is a non sequitur. This argument doesn't seem to float because I could present to treatment for shyness and receive help, despite the fact that shyness isn't a mental disorder (but Social Anxiety is if it reaches the point that it interferes with my normal routine and there is "marked distress about having the phobia"). It actually made some sense when there was an Ego-Dystonic Homosexuality diagnosis (ego=I + dystonic=out of sync therefore "my sexual attractions are out of sync with my identity"). Now you would have to diagnose such a person as Sexual Disorder Not Otherwise Specified one example of which is "persistent and marked distress about sexual orientation."

Managed Care opperates from the standpoint of a medical model. If there is no diagnosable condition, then they won't cover it. The problem with this is that it discourages preventative care and doesn't cover things that lead to problems. Marital therapy is often covered differently or not at all. Vocational testing and counseling are often not covered either. One can easily see how work stress often follows a person home and affects well-being.

The good Monk also got me thinking about "mental illness" as a turning inward. Adler recognized that depressed people could become self-absorbed and would prescribe thinking about "how you can give another person pleasure." Now of course, I might change the task a little, but the idea of turning outward is interesting to me. I like Frankl's term - dereflection.

A couple more points and I swear I'm done.

Michael uses the terms Manic Depressive and mentally ill quite a bit. My training was of late so I am privy to the current thinking in psychology, especially Counseling Psychology wherein I would be excommunicated for calling someone a Manic Depressive. We would say, "a person with bipolar disorder" rather than "a Manic Depressive patient." Now I react just as strongly as you do to the idea that we are sugarcoating our language, but I do see where this is appropriate. First, a global label like Manic Depressive tends to be reifying - as a clinician you might start thinking of clients as diseases not people (rewatch Patch Adams). Also, it does no favors to the client, who can then blame all sorts of behavior on their being a Manic Depressive.

Finally, I just read a journal article that showed that psychologists who are trained in secular university are actually more dogmatic or conservative, presumably becuase they have had to defend their convictions throughout. Interesting that I am leaving graduate school as a Confessional Lutheran when I started as not much.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Book of Daniel Half Review

I only caught the first half of The Book of Daniel premier, but there was a few good parts. At one point Daniel is whining to Jesus that life isn't easy and Jesus says that he never promised such and then they toss titles of self-help books back and forth such as "Jesus' Guide to a Comfortable Life" and "My Tuesdays with Jesus." What a great way to mock Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and Osteenesque positivity.

Another good part was when Daniel was repenting for asking God to damn his brother-in-law for stealing (which he did before he found out that his brother-in-law was actually dead). Jesus tells him, "Don't worry, you're not that powerful." The power of the keys notwithstanding, it was nice to hear something other than the typical Christian Hubris.

How 'bout y'all? What did you think?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Book of Daniel

My wife gets a kick out of my reaction to every TV commercial with a religious theme. The most recent of which is the new series called the Book of Daniel. Apparently the American Family Association isn't happy with the show, despite the fact that none of them have seen it yet. I almost welcome a show (note the qualifier) about a non-perfect Christian. 7th Heaven (one my my wife's favorites) give me the dry heaves. So now I briefly review my favorite and least favorite media portrayals of Christians/Christ.

The Life of Brian (B) - When this movie came out, many Christian people were jumping up and down about it being blasphemous. I don't think it was. There were a couple of really crappy parts (the rescue by spacecraft and the ending) but overall it was pretty funny. My theological take? It' s about our natural desire to follow something, made in our own image.

7th Heaven (D) - Crap. Absolutely no gospel and no Christ. Not that I expected either, but there are scenes of sermons by the father (local minister) and they are pure smarm. There have been a couple of times that I have jumped up from my post behind the computer to shout at the television, "do it, the Gospel, right now, don't be a %@#!@, etc..." again, to my wife's infinite amusement.

John Dominic Crossan (F) - Why, when the major networks need an expert, do they call in JDC?Yes, they usually do get someone to be a counterpoint (but usually someone I have never heard of, and then they edit unmercifully) but this guy has been totally overplayed. My wife turned on one the other night about Christmas for me, because she knows I enjoy pointing out what they fail to mention, but I couldn't take it. Why can't they call R. C. Sproul or Kenneth E. Bailey as a counterpoint?

Revelations (C) - Recent miniseries featuring Bill Pullman that tried to capitalize on everyone's fascination with the secret, scary Vatican. My wife got an earfull when they would have the little black-screen-with-white-text scripture quotation before every commercial break. It's like they have a short book called Spooky Ominous and otherwise Indecipherable Scripture Readings for the Year. Nevermind that they are in every way less so when put in CONTEXT. When I thought they were portraying the Second Coming of our Lord Christ as an infant I believe I ranted something like "He's already come in humility, He's coming back with a giant (unremembered expletive) sword!"

Dogma (B) - Kevin Smith tries to work in the same spooky vein, while still making something funny. The whole "Catholicism - Wow!" campaign makes me laugh, exactly becuase it wouldn't be funny with a protestant denomination (already been there).

Clearly this is not an exhaustive list, just what came to mind. I think I wait until I've seen an episode of the Book of Daniel before I make any pronouncements, that is unless I miss it becuase there is something else more interesting on, say an episode of House.