For many people seeking psychotherapy, having a therapist of the same faith is mandatory. For others, it is simply preferred. As a Christian therapist, I have learned that bibliotherapy through the Bible can be very helpful to my Christian clients.
In couples’ therapy for example, once the client’s level of spirituality is determined, and they want their faith integrated in therapy, there are Bible verses that can be used to help the couple solve problems. For example, in the book of Ephesians (Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus) there are verses directing husbands and wives about how to improve the marriage. In chapter 5 verse 25, Paul instructs husbands to love their wives sacrificially, and in Colossians 3:19 husbands are told not to be harsh with their wives. In 1 Peter 3:7, husbands are told to be considerate, treat wives with respect and as co-heirs of the gift of life. Wives are told to live in submission to their husband’s authority in Ephesians, Colossians and 1 Peter. Can you see the pitfall coming?
In Proverbs, there is a myriad of advice to parents raising children, as well as life management in general. Proverbs 22: 6 says that parents should train up their children in the way they should go. Proverbs 22: 15 says to discipline your children, and 3:12 says that we discipline our children because we love them. Ephesians 6:4 tells fathers to discipline their children taking care not to provoke them to anger.
The pitfalls come with misunderstood interpretations of scripture. This could be a misunderstanding on the part of the therapist, the client or both. There could also be disagreement as to the meaning of certain scriptures between therapist and client.
In today’s America, it is not politically correct to instruct women to submit to their husbands. This is what the NIV and other English translations say wives are supposed to do. The Message translation uses a little different language saying that wives should “understand and support” their husbands by submitting to them in ways that honor God. Here the message is that in submitting to the husband, they are actually honoring God. The idea of submission carries with it the concept of slavery or subjugation. But, if you re-read the instructions to husbands, the Bible does not tell them to subjugate their wives, but to respect and love them in a sacrificial way. These ideas are supported in other works like Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, His Needs Her Needs by Willard F. Harley Jr. and Hold Me Tight by Dr. Susan Johnson. Dr. Johnson developed Emotionally Focused Therapy which Don uses with couples.
Therapists should also be aware of the differences between church doctrine and scripture. Is dancing a sin? Can women cut their hair or wear makeup? Can men have long hair and drink whiskey? Mixing your own doctrinal beliefs with professionally accepted therapy models can alienate clients who don’t believe that same doctrine.
So let us therapists be careful when using the Bible that we don’t use our own preferred interpretation, but that we respect the client’s interpretations.
For people seeking a Christian therapist: Ask questions about the therapist’s views on the issues important to you. Don’t assume the therapist believes all the same things you believe. Read your bible and make sure you don’t take anything out of context, which is our favorite thing to do. For couples, make sure you are on the same page when choosing a therapist. Decide beforehand whether to incorporate your spirituality or faith into your therapy. And also be prepared to hear something you may not like. The bible is full of very high expectations as far as our behaviors are concerned. Jesus tells us that the greatest commands are to Love God, and to Love our neighbors. Here, Love is not a feeling, but an action verb.