Inviting the Spirit into Counseling: a book review

Secular models of counseling are certainly of benefit, but they often rest on materialist assumptions. Christians have responded by either dismissing psychology as godless or finding some way to accommodate its insights within a Christian paradigm.  Various models of Christian counseling have emerged. Some are ‘Christian derived’–drawing on the resources of scripture and the church as their basis. Other models of counseling  accommodate secular practices. What all Christian counseling has in common is a belief in the God revealed through the Bible and  an openness  to the way God ‘breaks in’ to our lives in miraculous ways.  A new book from IVP Academic entitled  Transformative Encounters: The Intervention of God in Christian Counseling culls together a variety of Christian models of counseling. In the introduction, David Appleby writes:

We recognize that this book runs counter to the antitheistic trends and secularizing forces dominant in American culture today. We are surely swimming upstream against the ever-quickening flow in a modern and post-modern world that accepts without question an evolutionary naturalism that denies the reality of God and dismisses any reference to or evidence of supernatural intervention.  Like most of our colleagues in Christian counseling and ministry, we live and work on that delicate boundary that affirms both the methods of science ( while rejecting scientism and empiricism) and the God who breaks into this natural world, momentarily seizing  that world and the laws by which it operates to effect supernatural change by miraculous encounter (33).

Appleby and Ohlschlager have gathered  together a number of approaches to Christian counseling which combine thoughtful, sophisticated methodology with an expectancy of seeing God work. Each  model profiled invites the Holy Spirit into the therapeutic process.   Contributors to this volume describe their approach to counseling, their methodological and theoretical framework, provide a case study from their own practice, and discuss the limits of their particular herapy. There are both Christian derived models and accomodative approaches profiled.

The book devides into four parts.  Part one presents ‘transformative encounters done in church.’ These include inner healing ministry (the Elijah House model and Theophostic prayer ministry are both profiled), deliverance ministry and the Biblical Counseling movement.  Part two widens the focus to include ‘transformative paradigms for both church or clinic.’ Various therapeutic approaches are profiled, such as: Spiritually Oriented Cognitivie Therapy,  the IGNIS model of counseling, Christian Holism, Contemplative Focused Prayer, Emotion Focused Therapy, Formational Counseling, the role of Forgiveness in treatment, and Cognitive/Behavioral/Systems Therapy.  Part three looks at transformative interventions within a clinical context. This include the use of visionalization and Christian cognitive behavioral therapy to deal with PTSD, Depression and Anxiety, approaches to sexual addiction  and other addictions, therapies for transforming unwanted homosexual behavior and attraction (beyond the reparative therapy model),  and life coaching.  Part four ties these variosu threads together as a ‘universial transformaitonal practice’

Appleby says that this book was written for ‘the sole purpose of giving counselors, church-staff, clinical practitioners, academics and students-in-training the best work of those who are doing this kind of Christ-centered ministry–inviting God to step into the helping or ministry endeavor in a way that works miraculous change (35). ‘ Practitioners of one or two approaches will find their vision widened of the types of theraputic approaches and resources available to those in helping ministry.  Certainly particular models will resonate more readily with clients and therapists than other models; however there is so much that is instructive about the various approaches.

Transformative Encounters is comprehensive without being exhaustive.  With chapters on the role of contemplative prayer in therapy (chapter 8, J Mark Shadoan) and formational counseling (Chapter 11, Terry Waddle), one would also expect a chapter profiling the benefits of Spiritual Direction. They also profile psychological treatment, but have no entries from psychiatry. This means that the place of medication to treat mental disorders is not treated in this volume

Another area where I would critique  this book  is that the editors aver that ‘Transformative change’ is a ‘God-influenced’ change of beliefs, behavior or emotions that assisted a client in getting unstuck from an overwhelming dilemma or that delivered significant gains in a very short period of time–either in one session or over a few sessions.(35)’  While these breakthroughs are important and evidence of where God has breathed into the counseling process, an exclusive focus on the ‘miraculous encounter’ in counseling obscures the fact that the Spirit is also at work in the hidden, the quiet and the incremental change throughout the counseling process.  Thankfully the various practitioner/contributors have an eye for where God is at work in imperceptible ways.

These criticisms withstanding, this is an important resource outlining an integrative Christian approach to counseling which makes use of sacred and secular resources available to us, setting them under the Lordship of Christ. I give it four stars and recommend it to pastors, mentors and counselors who are involved in ministering to others. This  book gives a nice overview of the types of treatments and resources available.

Thank you to IVP Academic for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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