The Taser's Edge


Personal Growth, Christian Friendship, and One Perfectionist’s Problems With Therapy


“Any effort to improve life, whether by education or religion or philosophy or therapy, seldom makes life simpler.  In fact, it makes it more complex.  Just as labor-saving devices have caused us more labor and complicated our lives, so counseling has further burdened our marriages by asking us to live up to what we know to be our best relationship that is achievable only under the special circumstances of the psychotherapeutic hour…Perhaps most serious, counseling gives a person the feeling–much more than is probably true–that he is in charge of his own life, that his problems are basically of his own making, and that their solutions are within his control…Constant attention to our problems as personal rather than as universal (which happens in counseling) has given us a highly distorted picture of what we can do about the problems we find in marriage.”  (Richard Farson, quoted in Beyond Companionship: Christians in Marriage by Diana S. Richmond Garland and David E. Garland, pp. 153-154)

Garland and Garland are writing specifically about marriage, but this sentiment can just easily be applied to all counseling.  To be clear, their context is a pastoral care text.  As such, it is talking all about psychology.  Diana is a social worker and both authors are trained academics.  They are not at all saying that there is not a need for couples’ therapy or for personal therapy, and from my own experience of counseling, I truly believe that a few sessions would be helpful for almost all people in terms of self-discovery and human growth.  With that said, these authors are pointing to a particular mindset that we can begin to take when we seek help for ourselves or for our marriages (or any other relationships we have).  We can begin to think that we are working toward perfection and can become more discontented than before we began counseling.  We can dig up new problems, and old problems can be renewed.  We can make progress in the big problems, but then small problems take their place.  I know this is true, because I do it.

My question, and I ask this especially of myself, is how we avoid this mindset of seeking perfection.  As we grow (sometimes through counseling and often through other means), how do we also see ourselves and our lives and our relationships with love and grace?  Although I have prized my own self awareness and have consciously cultivated it, and although I would never want to give it up (even if I could), self awareness has plenty of its own problems, especially when our quest for self-awareness takes on the character of our neuroses.  For myself, the quest becomes a form of obsessive completism.  I must know myself fully.  I must turn over every rock.  I must fix every problem, no matter how small.

But for me as a Christian, and, I think, for me as a human being, there must ultimately come a resting point, a place of contentment.  I might name that point Sabbath.  How does contentment with my circumstances work together with the quest for self betterment?  Much of the time, the quest for personal growth wins and I make myself discontented, no matter what the circumstances, because wherever I am, I am just passing through on the way to somewhere bigger and better.

One of the theological reasons (perhaps the only theological reason) why I left the United Methodist Church is that Wesleyan “Christian perfection” is harmful to me psychologically and spiritually (and I would argue that it is harmful to plenty of other people and to the church for plenty of other reasons).  Should Christians seek to grow in holiness?  Of course.  Should we be striving for perfection (at least in any terms that are not totally foreign to the English language)?  Absolutely not.

In light of the courses I have been taking this semester with Dr. Hauerwas (Happiness, Virtue, and the Life of Friendship) and Dr. Acolatse (Christian Marriage and Family Across Cultures), I have begun to wonder if counseling has at some point co-opted a territory which should belong to authentic Christian community, and specifically Christian friendship.  People I live with (and one person with whom I really live, named Holly) all know that I am not perfect.  They also know that I should seek growth and that I do seek growth.  But, unlike me, they can offer the valuable perspective of the other.  They can mirror back to me the real faults which I legitimately do need to work on, and what’s more, they can offer me encouragement.  Because they love me well, they can offer both of those (critique and encouragement) at the same time and with the same words.  These are things I cannot offer myself.  They are also things that it is difficult to see how a counseling relationship can offer.

A metaphor: The Church and psychology have had a relationship of mutual distrust at least since Freud.  At some point, however, Christians who realized the worth of psychology began likening mental illness to any form of ailment.  Broken leg?  Go to a doctor, of course.  Aching memories of your past causing you to hobble through your life?  Go to a therapist.  The problem occurs when we try to make the therapy relationship more than that.  Not a little more than that, but much more than that.  My relationship with any therapist is always going to give her a limited, and even inaccurate assessment of me.  I talk to her because I have problems, therefore what I talk about are my problems.  And that is the nature of our relationship.

Go to the doctor when you’re sick, and even if you have a chronic condition (and my head does), there is no way the doctor would ever think that you are always sick, even though the relationship is one in which you are always sick and in need of a healer.  But go to a therapist, and you can (no, not necessarily) begin to describe, see, and experience your life as if all it is made of is your problems.

I have problems but I am not my problems.  I can have a good relationship with a therapist, but it cannot satisfy my need for intimate relationships in which I offer my whole self and meet another’s whole self (to whatever appropriate level), nor should it seek to be.  Therapy is there to help me better form real relationships, not to stand in for them.  And it is certainly not there to make me perfect.  I knew that when I first walked in.  Now all I have to do is remember.

Advertisements

6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

[…] unknown posted a noteworthy aricle today onHere’s a small snippetIn light of the courses I have been taking this semester with Dr. Hauerwas (Happiness, Virtue, and the Life of Friendship) and Dr. Acolatse (Christian Marriage and Family Across Cultures), I have begun to wonder if counseling has at … […]

Pingback by Ask the leadership coach » Personal Growth, Christian Friendship, and One Perfectionist’s …

[…] SLUniverse Forums placed an observative post today on Personal Growth, Christian Friendship, and One Perfectionist’s…Here’s a quick excerpt“Any effort to improve life, whether by education or religion or philosophy or therapy, seldom makes life simpler.  In fact, it makes it more […]

Pingback by Topics about Religion » Personal Growth, Christian Friendship, and One Perfectionist’s…

This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

Comment by matt

[…] Daily Record added an interesting post on Personal Growth, Christian Friendship, and One Perfectionist’sHere’s a small excerpt“Any effort to improve life, whether by education or religion or philosophy or therapy, seldom makes life simpler.  In fact, it makes it more […]

Pingback by Topics about Religion » Personal Growth, Christian Friendship, and One Perfectionist’s

Hi Dear.
i am Pastor Patras Dewan From Pakistan.its nice to see your website.we want you to pray for us.we are specially working in Rurual Areas of Pakistan to Preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Regards.
Pastor Patras Dewan.

Comment by Patras Dewan

[…] 7,399 hits A Message Worth Passing On… March 9, 2010, 10:40 pm Filed under: Life, Ministry, Politics, Religion, Social Justice | Tags: blog supporters, coincidence, patras dewan, taseketeers Even though I have no real idea who this person is, I received this comment recently on a year old blog post: […]

Pingback by A Message Worth Passing On… « The Taser’s Edge




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: