Monday, May 28, 2012

Spiritual Psychotherapy for the Sickened Soul

Tim Clinton and Pat Springle, Break Through: When to Give In, How to Push Back

Many ordinary people, plagued by ghosts of the past, bring the fractured relationships we grew up with into the present. The desire to care for others or be cared for, to trust blindly or withhold trust altogether, to forgive flippantly or bear grudges for years, tends to repeat over time. But modern secular psychology has begun to catch up with the ancient truths of Christian tradition, that we can heal if we place our trust where it belongs.

Clinton and Springle assert that many of us have flaccid boundaries and codependent relationships because we have placed others in the position reserved only for God. We may give in, rescuing the object of our devotion from the consequences of their actions, or we may dominate and micromanage their choices, or we may even flee from them; but the source remains the same. Damaged relationships are a form of idolatry.

This thesis, sure to be controversial in certain circles, manages to smoothly unify the worlds of Christian theology and psychotherapy. Both are historically based on the belief that we as humans naturally have things out of balance. And, as these and other authors have noted recently, the latest discoveries in human psychology have served to ratify the bulk of Christian insights on the soul, from Paul and Augustine to Erasmus and Calvin.

Much scientific thought has poured disparagement on Christian psychology as naive. But when you read the insights of the Church Fathers, their metaphysical discourse sounds remarkably similar to recent discoveries made using fMRI and PET scan technology. True, Christian psychology got spongy when Protestant theologians tried to stay hip with post-Enlightenment philosophy. We need to reclaim the older tradition, not throw it out in the craze for modernism.

For instance, the Church Elders knew what we know now, that the homes in which we grow up determine what kind of adults we become. Homes that rob us of power may leave us feeling permanently needy and desperate, which make express itself in mewling passivity, or in a wrathful desire to control others. Just as bad, from a Christian perspective, how we view our earthly parents has an inevitable influence on how we see our Heavenly Father.

When we identify how we make idols of the people around us, we identify the tools at our disposal to correct the problem. However, because we make idols in so many different ways, any one-size-fits-all solution will fall flat. Clinton and Springle collate the various ways we as humans manufacture idols out of the people we love, and force us to ask ourselves hard questions. Only then, they say, can we address the problems.

And address them we do. Through a mix of anecdote, Socratic dialogue, and counseling, they make us take stock of how we reached the point we’re at, and only then guide us on how to get back on track. I don’t recall seeing a better integrated piece of Christian counseling than this. Most books lean to either evangelism or therapy, and use the other to bolster the chosen central track, but these authors treat Christianity and counseling as two halves of one whole.

Moreover, they address the one problem I see most often ignored in books like this: most people don’t want us to change. They receive the benefit of our illness, whether as the beneficiaries of our rescues, willing targets of our control, or controllers of our passivity. Clinton and Springle require us, as part of our healing, to confront those who would hold us back. They even provide a guide for how to prepare for, navigate, and recover from that confrontation.

Adulthood can be a scary time for even the best of us. This is only worse for those who hit physical adulthood without the healthy passages that families and adolescence should provide. Too many people have jobs, homes, kids, even grandkids, before we have the chance to pass into real adulthood. But we have a Heavenly Father and an earthly family who will support us as we go through that time of changes, no matter when it finally arrives.

No book, of course, can replace good, guided therapy. Clinton and Springle even remind us of this periodically. But as a supplement for one-on-one therapy, pastoral counseling, or support group participation, this book makes a good guide to reconcile our lives to God’s vision. The authors don’t pretend this will come easily. But, as survivors themselves and guides for others, they show that good Christian healing is possible.


  1. Don't whatever mores of your own society and how you understand them make an important part of issues which may need therapy?

  2. Could you restate the question, please? It feels ambiguous as it is.

  3. Excellent and very thorough and thoughtful review! You mention the book's helpful guide to confronting people who have hurt or damaged us. I've created a wikihow article that summarizes that part of the book, which your readers may find helpful. This book is a game-changer for those who need help setting boundaries in their life.

  4. Here is the link to the wikihow article mentioned in my previous comment on confronting someone who's hurt you: