11 August 2009

Crisis of Faith in Psychology

When I was in college, I don't think I asked the right questions about what it meant to be a clinical psychologist. I pursued psychology for a host of reasons, I suppose. The desire to figure myself out, insightful and caring faculty, or perhaps a draw to understand people may have been the genesis of the decision. Whatever the reasons, I found myself proceeding in a stepwise fashion from bachelor's to master's to doctorate, all with the intended goal of helping people, but without the needed exercise of introspection. I think I lacked the reasoning required for such self-examination at the time. In particular, I prematurely concluded that the goals of psychology and faith were similar. What I failed to process was that although they both deal with soul care on some level, their methods may be diametrically opposed.

So now I sit, ensconced in my career as a neuropsychologist, pondering. The methods of neuropsychology are different from psychotherapy and are, in many ways, easier to reconcile with faith. Yet, when I work with patients where there is not a clear organic process, spiritual issues often surface. How I deal with those issues as a psychologist is frequently quite different from how I would deal with them as a Christian and therein lies the rub.

I contacted 2 former advisors, Christian psychologists themselves, to seek guidance. The first, my dissertation advisor, directed me to a web resource, which essentially said, the goals of cognitive therapy and Christianity are not contradictory, yet failed to address the issues I struggle with. Next, I sought counsel from my undergraduate mentor as well, and the conversation was much more cerebral and esoteric, as might be expected from someone who studies the psychology of wisdom. I think his perspective is that of an evangelical (I'm not sure he would still describe himself that way) whose systems of thought have morphed over time, such that he is both more reserved and more confident about both his theology and his psychology. In other words, he seems confident in not knowing. He cautioned me against accepting counsel from people who are sure of the truth.
Needless to say, that leaves me in a place of uncertainty regarding the intersection between my faith and my career. I pray for truth. I pray that regardless of the counsel I receive from others, God reveals Himself. I pray for His patience with me and patience with myself. I pray that God provides wisdom to my unsettled soul. I pray that God helps me to ask the right questions even if, for the rest of my life, I never come to know the answers to them.

Proverbs 2:3-7
if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;

1 comment:

Genevieve Thul said...

I realize I might be opening Pandora's box for you by asking these questions. But I think you are on the right path here, and want to offer encouragement that God will be faithful, in this as in all things, to direct and protect you as you navigate dark waters where career and faith may both oppose and intersect.

1) where is your treasure? If it is truly in heaven, and not with material things or pride in being able to provide, doesn't that free you, in a sense, from worry over losing your career if you step out in faith to act as a Christian?
2) are you motivated by fear as you make decisions about how much to share of your faith? Fear about job security, offending a patient, or being uncertain of what you're talking about? I would suggest most of those fears may come from Satan.
3) can you find any guidance from people in secular careers in the Bible? Paul, Luke, Jonah, Noah, David, Daniel all come to mind.

I know your struggle in a visceral way. I had the same struggle as a nurse caring for dying patients and their wounded families. I eventually concluded that to leave Christ out of such a situation was the epitome of foolishness. However, walking the tightrope of proffering the hope of the One in a compassionate and sensitive and timely manner never lost it's mystique.