Nature of Personhood: Road to Integration

March 28, 2008

Personhood Class: Masteral in Christian Counseling

Written January 13, 2000

The Quandaries on the Road to Integration

The dilemma of integrating Social Sciences with Theology and biblical principles did not surface in my mind until recently. For years, I held on to the notion that theological doctrines and biblical principles are totally separate from the information discovered in the Social Sciences realm. They existed separately, and at times warred with each other, about issues that relate with the intellect, emotion and overall development of man, in relation to the world around him. The issue about integration only became a problem when I began to discover my helplessness in helping people.

What I discovered slowly was that – whether I cared to admit it easily or not, was that my worldview was largely shaped by the things I have discovered from Theology (readings, prayers, going to Church) and also from Psychology. What I think of the world, the nature of human beings, my hope for the people around me, and how I would be able to help them are all grounded on what I know theologically and psychologically. Knowledge from both fields of interests has been inextricably woven, albeit misunderstood personally at first. This fusion went on un-challenged, until now.

Resistance to integration was previously felt when the concept was first suggested. It would mean two or more clearly defined, and in this case clashing at times, fields would have to be fused to form an integrated version – the result of which can be seen in two ways:

[1] The variables are meshed to the point that, delineation of one from the other, would be a futile exercise, and that each integrated component would not stand on its own, if one were still to use each individual component to pursue its goals. The integration achieved here underscores the premise that in the integration process, an umbrella construct has been defined and its integrated parts and concepts support this.

[2] The fusion is literally forced in the sense that its variables are all sticking out. It would simply mean a hodge-podge of ideas whereby its sole purpose is integration for its own sake, regardless of its relevance and effectiveness in ushering wholeness. In this case, integration became the end in itself, not the means in achieving a strong and effective theoretical framework in leading people to their sought after wholeness.

Another reason for the felt resistance is because the process of integration is a more difficult endeavor to begin with. Reductionism seems to offer an easier path toward forming an individual’s framework. This would call for a deeper sense of expertise, (though some may argue with this) since there is a narrower focus and the dissonant concepts in different fields need not be reconciled, and at the most, amalgamated. On the contrary, integration challenges one to form one cohesive, integrated wholeness approach.

As a Christian counselor, it is imperative that my overall and overarching constructs be based in the biblical truths and principles. However, I cannot simply ignore the influence of social sciences in the formulation of my worldview, the filter through which I process the world around. The same filter, through which I would be able to minister to the broken-ness of the people around me, made possible through His grace.

The challenge of integration was the discovery that I have taken a lot of concepts for granted. Some of the constructs that form my worldview went un-questioned for so many years. The realization that some of those constructs may be based on faulty assumptions, which I strongly adhered to, could really undermine whatever confidence I could muster to help anyone. Needless to say, it was a confusing time as a counselor. And to have these questions staring directly at you like a mirror was indeed sobering. What took place soon afterwards was a close examination of my worldview and the non-negotiable constructs I adhere to. This examination is far from drawing to a close, but some of the foundational issues about God, Holy Spirit, death and after-life, sin, forgiveness and the like, are more concretized than others.

In the two interviews that I conducted, it gave clear indications that I am not alone in grappling with this question. One of my interviewees was a social worker with an MA Degree in Social Work from the University of the Philippines. She upholds the integrated model and feels that an eclectic approach is a more practical way in helping people. For her, the separation of the physical to the spiritual aspects of one’s personhood is not totally defined. Her approach would call for a more cautious and deliberately analyzed approach in helping people deal with issues that are not clearly delineated, as physical or spiritual. This is in stark contrast with the pastor, who answered that his counseling has been simplified, because of the differentiation of the physical from the spiritual concerns. Since he has only 3 units of undergraduate course in Adolescent Psychology, he considers Psychology as having something to offer in some respects, majority of which he considers bad and ugly. The irony of his response is that he feels competent in dealing with counseling situations, because of his ability to narrow down his counseling sessions on spiritual issues only. The physical concerns, which are outside his interests and expertise, may be referred to others whose expertise may be in those areas. Both however stipulated, that there will be measures of control first, before referring a person to a non-Christian psychotherapist.

Road towards Definition

The road towards definition of my integrated approach to counseling calls for two pre-requisites:

1. Mastery of the disciplines espoused by each field.

2. My progressive cognitive assent to the idea of always looking for more possibilities for change involved in each.

For the theological side, this means diligently applying myself to the Word and tenaciously submitting myself to the rigid discipline of hermeneutics. It is imperative that I become strongly and fully grounded on the discipline of bible interpretation, it being one of my non-negotiable constructs in my process of integration, however un-refined and incomplete it is at the moment. I believe mastery of the theological concepts and biblical preaching is very foundational and fundamentally essential before I can be freed to make assumptions about other concepts outside this framework. Though one may argue about the relevance of the biblical passages in terms of its historical and cultural context, I believe that the Bible can be specific in some of the situations, but also remain universal in its themes.

This road to integration also behooves amateur counselors like myself, to diligently pour over psychological theories, abstracts including research and new approaches. The goal for this is the acquisition of relevant and truly-people helping therapeutic skills, and to further equip clients to pursue their own road to recovery and well ness, physically and emotionally.

This brings to mind an analogy about one person who observed an artist at work, who was lost in the creation of an art form. The artist was seen moving freely from one medium to the next, applying different colors to achieve different textures and feel. And soon, images started to appear, crudely at first and perhaps grotesque-like in its appearance. But soon the images transformed themselves into one harmonious visual representation. What was once a dissonance of non-sensical images, became one breathing visual representation of an art form. The artist in this analogy was only able to dabble from one medium to the next, from one art form to another, only after supreme mastery of all the components involved. Mastery of his art has already freed him from the rigid and intrinsic parameters called for such as anatomical representations, colors, balance, harmony and the like.

In this case, have I been freed from the parameters of all the psychological theories that I can move from one to the next? Have I been freed through mastery of biblical truths that I can freely move outside its circles without being lost in my foundational set of beliefs?

The second objective is what I would call my progressive cognitive assent to the development in the aforementioned fields of concern. On the theological side, this means I dedicate myself to the process of mental open-ness to new interpretation of biblical passages that may alter perhaps my worldview, as one of its ramifications. This commitment to open-ness is not merely on the cognitive aspect but on the affective as well. Here, growth is not measured necessarily through those books I have read and digested, or through those theories and approaches that are meticulously weighed and applied. Growth on the theological framework, could also mean obeisance to what the Holy Spirit does through the equipping that has been done previously, and progressively being done right now.

Where am I now on the issue of integration?

Given all that is important to me as a maturing Christian, I see myself adhering to the ‘Spoiling The Egyptian’ concept of integration. This is where I want to be. The biblical truth is my umbrella construct. To know it, to live it and to breathe it would be my ultimate goal, and the integrated aspects of psychology along with other discovered truths, will help give specific tools and vehicles to fulfill this goal. In this stance, the psychological worldview of man, God and others are filtered by the universal and absolute revealed biblical truths.

A pastor recently told of an example on this need for integration in our approach to helping people solve their marital problems. He expressed disappointment when he heard on one occasion, that a couple seeking advice was given an admonition to simply surrender their lives to Christ. While the advice may really sound deep and spiritual, it was also vague and somewhat condescending in its implicit assumption that the couple seeking marital counseling had not surrendered their lives to Christ.

Obviously, the couple needs some guidelines on communication and listening skills to connect and amend the breach in the relationship. Here is where some of the counseling theories can immensely help without departing from how marriages have been designed by the Creator. That is, it is within this context, that a loving relationship between a husband and a wife should mirror the love of Christ for the Church.

Another clear example where integration can really help is in the process of grief therapy. The Bible talks about death and the hope that is in Christ, yet, it is important that the bereaved understand the process of grief and the psychological ramifications of each stage. This is one area where an integrated psychology and theology can come alive to a struggling Christian. In this case, the theological and psychological constructs will make more sense than just plain platitudes that seem to offer much little help.

Clearly, Spoiling the Egyptians is where I want to be. However, upon looking at my recent counseling experiences, I realized that much of the counseling I have done would fall under the Tossed Salad model of integration. Part of the reason for this is because the nature of the problems presented did not call for a longer session. One of the reasons for this is the fast-food mentality that has also crept into the minds of the people seeking help. They want the solution now and they want them fast. They seem like very disinterested in giving a commitment to at least see a counselor for about 4 weeks. As a result of which, I would fall into the trap of just looking at what will work in their given situation in the shortest possible time allotted in seeking the solution. Here what works becomes the measure of integration.

The road to a defined personal integration lies long ahead of me. But I am willing to step back every now and then, analyze, calculate, evaluate and re-track my paradigms so that I could get there someday. I owe this to myself and to the people who call on me for help.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

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

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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 )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: