“Behold, I give you a new paradigm!”
I think that’s probably somewhere in the Bible.
Anyway, based on my experiences with Celebrate Recovery (CR), and things I’ve been reading–and ideas I’ve been hearing from Pastor Joel Hunter at Northland Church–and hearing from my art teacher friend Ted Simmering, I feel like the Holy Spirit is nudging me toward a somewhat fresh paradigm for Christian counseling.
And that is that most counseling should be done in groups.
I’m thinking that the Christian clients of a Christian counselor should have no more than a few individual sessions—perhaps three or four at most. These would be more for the counselor to get an understanding of the client’s history and issues, than for therapeutic work. After a few individual sessions the client would then go into a group of folks of the same gender–and to the degree possible, having the same issues.
For me, the models for efficacy in Christian counseling are found in James 5:16 and in the story of Lazarus (John 11).
“Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” James 5:16
I’ve been a member of Celebrate Recovery (CR) for over six years. I started attending CR in April, 2010. I went the first time mostly out of curiosity. I knew it had something to do with addictions and I thought it might be a good resource for clients. However, I quickly became captured by the program. I enjoyed the fellowship and worship, and I could see that I still had issues with anger and codependency. CR addresses all “hurts, habits and hangups” and not just addictions.
Most CR meetings begin with a time of food and socialization. And then during the first hour of the formal program attendees worship and hear either a testimony or a lesson on the 8-Principles of CR. In the second hour the attendees break into small groups that are gender specific and focused on particular issues. Small CR programs may have just addictions and codependency groups. However, the program at Northland, A Church Distributed, was large enough to have groups for women who were over-eaters, had depression or anxiety, were addicts, or were victims of abuse. The men had an addiction group, plus groups for codependency, sexual addiction and anger.
The CR small group ground rules forbid anyone playing therapist including the facilitator. Participants can only listen and then talk about their experiences and their issues. I gradually became convinced of the efficacy of this format based on James 5:16, and over time I saw considerable progress and healing. In effect, this format was group confession and supernatural healing.
Also, in John 11, Jesus gives us a model for how I believe Christian counseling should work. It is the story of the death of his friend Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary. The healing is a collaboration of the Holy Spirit and Lazarus’s friends. Jesus does the healing but He engages the others to help in the process. They roll away the stone and help unbind Lazarus from his burial shrouds. So too, in James 5:16 our fellow men take part when we confess our sins to one another. We are one together in our sinfulness. God provides the forgiveness but allows others to be a part of the healing process. We aid in the unbinding of wounds and the rolling away of issues.
So why? God, the Ruler and Creator of the universe, obviously doesn’t need our help. Just as He doesn’t need the money we put into the collection plate. But we need to give and likewise we need to be part of the healing process. It is because of the way were are made. It is because of our need for connected-ness.
“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.” ~ Johann Hari
In his book Chasing the Scream Hari cites a study in which rats in an enriched environment that includes other rats show little interest in water laced with cocaine, whereas rats raised in isolation sucked down the numbing cocaine water with alacrity.
Also, the neurotransmitter serotonin, so important to mood, is increased via human interaction and connection. Studies show a higher incidence of depression in people with little connection with others. Primary relationships are vitally important to healthy mood.
Pastor Joel Hunter always emphasizes that God, the Elohim, is a relationship. The Lord says in Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image.” Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a relationship from the very beginning. And we being made in the Lord’s image should likewise exist in relationship with others.
Similarly, my artist/teacher friend Ted emphasizes that great art is something which should connect us. He disagrees with the “lonely genius” model for creation. Great art is not created by the isolated genius creating undecipherable works apart from the rest of humanity. True genius creates things which bring us together—creations apprehended in a shared sense of awe and beauty. We all gasp in unison when we see Michelangelo’s Pieta, Van Gogh’s Starry Night or hear Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto.
It is because we are made to be connected with one another that I believe Christian counseling and healing takes place most efficiently in groups. Some healing obviously takes place in one-to-one counseling, but I believe that connected-ness and relationship is enhanced when others are added to the process. I’ve seen far too much healing happen in CR’s small sharing groups without myself or some other therapist making brilliant interventions to discount the power of the Holy Spirit made manifest thru other listening (and praying) Christians.
“The only sane people in an insane world are those controlled by God.” Frank Buchman
Dr. Frank Buchman was the founder of the Oxford Group early in the past century. Alcoholics Anonymous founded in the 1930s drew much of their philosophical underpinning from Buchman and the work of the Oxford group. The Oxford group was a loose fellowship of believers committed to four absolutes: (1) absolute honesty (2) absolute purity (3) absolute unselfishness (4) absolute love. The Oxford fellowship believed that these represented the essence of Christ’s teachings.
The sharing of ones sin was considered essential for healing. Hearing of others struggles with sin helped people open up and share their own heart. The testimony of God in one’s life inspired others, and AA adopted much of the philosophy of the Oxford Group. Likewise, CR has built on the framework of AA’s original 12-steps. One of the important features of a CR meeting is that every other week someone shares their testimony–and that testimony is usually confessional to some degree. It is plainly stunning to see a 45-y.o. man standing in front of a mixed group of 50 or more “Christians” and admitting that they suffer from a porn addiction–or struggle with heroin abuse.
I’ll go even further and say that Christian Counseling needs to move away from the traditional one-to-one psychotherapeutic model. We need to grow together into a family—into the Body of Christ, and that can only happen when two or more (preferably more) are gathered. In the one-to-one setting the parent/child relationship is reenacted. In some sense the therapist re-parents the client, and in some very emotionally damaged clients that may be valuable. But Jesus-following is a present/future vector, not present/past. Healing needs to transcend reworking the past and move toward wholeness in Jesus.
Counseling needs to allow for confession within the Body and for supernatural healing within the Body. Moreover, only in the group setting we are going to see the Body of Christ come alive. Each member has their own specific spiritual gifts and by listening to their struggles and efforts at problem solving we will learn things that cannot possibly be taught by even a very gifted counselor with perhaps only one or two of the gifts of the Spirit.