The benefits for Christian mental health professionals
4 MINUTE READ
If the Bible teaches that truth, wisdom, and strength come from God and His word, could it then be hazardous for Christians to engage in psychology without bringing theology into the conversation? On the other hand, if psychology studies human thought and behaviour and human beings are made in the image of God, can psychology reveal truth and wisdom that will deepen our faith and relationship with God?
The Centre for Theology and Psychology (CTP) at Melbourne School of Theology/ Eastern College emerged from these types of conversations. We believe both disciplines have important insights to improve people’s spiritual and mental well-being and that their integration brings significant advancement for the church and its connection with society at large. At CTP, we adopt a form of integration that respects the expertise and boundaries of each discipline, while engaging in a creative and curious conversation that is infused with a clear Christ-centred focus. “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Col 1:16-17)
“We believe both disciplines have important insights to improve people’s spiritual and mental well-being and that their integration brings significant advancement for the church and its connection with society at large.”
CTP’s professional training and degree programs explore this integration to help equip Christians, including mental health professionals, with the skills they need to support believers on their mental health journey. For many mental health professionals, the exploration of faith in mental health has taken a minimal role in their training, if existent at all. And yet those who come to CTP with mental health challenges appreciate counsellors who understand Christian beliefs, offering support consistent with Christian values and that will deepen their faith. They may bring with them difficult issues about the character of God in a world that can feel absent of a benevolent and loving God. They question their meaning and purpose in life, and they question God’s presence in this world.
“When we don’t consider theology, we can fall into the trap of providing care that doesn’t fit with Christian values.”
These questions are not part of the mental health professional’s portfolio, but that is where theology comes in. When we don’t consider theology, we can fall into the trap of providing care that doesn’t fit with Christian values. One of the most pertinent issues in psychology now is the rise of Mindfulness and Yoga-based strategies that are rooted in a Buddhist framework. Although the Christian worldview has a lot to say in the space of meditation and mindfulness, some of these techniques do not align with a Christian worldview. From a psychological standpoint, it may be unethical to recommend these strategies to Christian clients (and even non-Christian clients) without them being aware of the roots of such strategies. At CTP, we attempt to review such techniques for their validity for use with Christian clients, and to provide Christian knowledge and techniques on the topic.
“At CTP, we attempt to review such techniques for their validity for use with Christian clients, and to provide Christian knowledge and techniques on the topic.”
Other topics that we have explored this year through our CTP training events have included the theological perspectives on suicide, how to identify various life orientations in people experiencing trauma and adversity, how to create a biblical foundation in the counselling room and the interaction of addiction and spirituality. In future events, we explore God’s plan for abundant life into retirement and how we can support and engage our senior members, theological perspectives on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and a panel exploring the nature of grief with panel members from different backgrounds, such as a psychologist, a theologian and a grief counsellor.
Our flagship program at CTP is ‘Spotting the Signs: Mental Health Caregiving in the Christian Community’. This program brings a unique and distinct Christian worldview to understanding mental health and offers a biblically and theologically sound foundation alongside a rigorous evidence-based psychological approach. This program explores the theological underpinnings of mental well-being and mental illness, understanding how Christian care in the community can support those with mental illness and the barriers that arise in this context. It also considers the unique biblical strategies that help people persevere through emotional distress.
Mental health professionals who have an interest in leadership may also be interested in our THRIVE Leadership program 2024. The first half of this program explores personal leadership formation, including understanding different leadership styles and Christian followership. It examines how to integrate your faith into your work and create a healthy Christ-centred identity and spiritual formation; it also involves building and maintaining self-care and resilience when leading others. The second half of the program explores community leadership formation, including demonstrating healthy communication and conflict resolution within a community, how to lead a diverse and multicultural team and leading team members through crises. It also focuses on mental health challenges that may arise in your leadership context. For those with an academic focus, this program has also recently been accredited by the Australian College of Theology and is now available for credit or audit at the Melbourne School of Theology.
You may have heard the phrase, ‘We don’t know what we don’t know.’ We may feel that we know how to sit in this space with clients with our current level of theological understanding.
At CTP, we propose that you approach mental health with the curiosity that integration brings and gain the ability to glean new insights in order to be better equipped to support and improve the mental well-being of your Christian clients. At CTP, we see ourselves as explorers of integration, and we hope that you will join us and bring something important to this conversation. To find out more about CTP and the opportunities that are available to you, visit our website, https://ctp.mst.edu.au.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Lisa Miller is Head of Training at the Centre for Theology and Psychology and is a clinical psychologist working in private practice. Lisa has been involved with the Christian church throughout her life and is passionate about integrating theology and psychology to improve mental health outcomes for people through and for the glory of God.