“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
There is no law against such things.”
Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)
If the Spirit can produce all the above, why do not we rely on the spirit instead of counseling to have joy, peace, self-control, etc.? The Bible does not claim to be the only source for dealing with the problems of our soul (psyche, in Greek). In other words, spirituality is a great source, but not the only source, to help us deal with our mental and emotional issues. In light of that, what is the relationship between psychology and theology?
This has been an ongoing conversation for a long time. Early fathers of the church tried in different ways to engage the two disciplines with each other. Some Saints established monasteries, similar to hospitals today, to care for patients with mental illnesses. This includes St. Basil (329–380), and St. Jerome (343–420), and St. Benedict (480-543).
Psychology and theology differ in most of their source materials and methodologies. Many theologians consider scripture as their primary reference, while philosophy, history, archeology doctrines, and others as secondary sources.
“Psychology utilizes reason, observation of nature” and experiment, and also relies on sources especially philosophy (Entwistle, 2010, pp. 37, 137).
I believe that psychology plays a significant role in analyzing theology. Psychology offers explanations and definitions for behaviors in connection to Christian ethics. Psychology verbalizes our theological feelings and behavior. Psychology helps to understand our theological narratives and the reasons behind them.
Theology can be a good source for psychology for meaning-making as part of the process of recovery. Theology offers a reflection to psychology so that it can have a better understanding of certain things in life such as justice, rights, and equality.
Since theology is a human need for some people, theology offers to psychology an understanding of human need condition and the philosophy behind it. Spirituality or faith “may enhance the ability to cope with negative life events” (Beohnlein, 2007, p. 264). Thus, spirituality or religion can be an excellent source for courage and strength which contribute to the personality of resiliency. Spiritual imagination can have a positive impact on the victim’s healing.
Psychological studies suggest that perhaps religious belief and spirituality (some call it neuro-theology) can reduce amygdala activation in the brain which reduces stress and increases motivation. Spirituality may offer the opportunity to process and establish a ground for forgiveness in different ways.
The conversation regarding psychology and theology is certain to continue for years to come. It is important to remember that both have great value and much to offer those who struggle with mental health issues in today’s complex world.
Beohnlein, J. K. (2007). Religion and spirituality after trauma. In L. J. Kirmayer, R. Lemelson, & M. Barad (Eds.), Understanding trauma: Integrating biological, clinical, and cultural perspectives (pp. 259-274). Cambridge University Press: New York, NY
Entwistle, D. N. (2010). Integrative approaches to psychology and Christianity (2nd Ed.). Cascade Books: Eugene, OR
Jonah Waseberg PhD., LPC, is a therapist at Timberline Knolls, a leading residential treatment center for women and adolescent girls (ages 12 to 65+) with eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma, mood and co-occurring disorders. Located in suburban Chicago, residents receive excellent clinical care from a highly trained professional staff on a picturesque 43-acre wooded campus. Timberline Knolls offers a specialized Christian program.