Saturday, April 30, 2011

Air Travel and Self-Care

Eric Scalise recently wrote an article in Christian Counseling Today entitled “Compassion and Self-Care: Finding the Balance.” He begins the article with telling a story. He was flying to a different country on a way to speak at a conference about stress and burnout. After his international flights being switched around multiple times, he was happy to finally get on his final flight and grab a newspaper. Being one who travels frequently, he was accustomed to the flight attendants and their safety talk at the beginning of each flight and has learned to zone out whenever it began. Only this time he listened and felt the Holy Spirit begin to move in him.

The flight attendant stated, as she had multiple times before, “If we should experience the sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will deploy from the ceiling, above you. If you are traveling with small children, please put the mask on yourself first and then assist the child.” While it may seem more loving, humane, and compassionate to help the children first, the parents need to be in the position where they are able to help facilitate the vulnerable child which requires them to first be in a position where they are able to help.

The analogy to counseling is clear. Dr. Scalise states, “If we want to ensure that we are ‘available’ to the Lord and others, we must take care of ourselves first—appropriately and in a balanced way—or we risk becoming ineffective and, at times, even a hindrance to what God is trying to accomplish.”

If we are called to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1), then it is of utmost importance that we are purposefully taking time for our own self-care.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Case Showing Religious Faith, Emotion Regulation and Psychological Well-Being

Here is a story of outwardly looking like cursed person who overcame inner inferiority and built up identity with the positive psychological principle, called “think big.” His name is Ben Carson. I describe his story at the end of this post. Actually, I found his story through internet search after reading his book, “think big.”

When he was in elementary school, he was really bad at studying and relationship with classmates. It is natural for uneducated and untrained student to have a tendency to fail at everywhere. Fortunately, his wise mother let him start to read books and get challenged and encouraged by his teacher. With his education, he could build up the ability to regulate his emotion and control his inferiority. Education is one of the proved way to help people who are in struggle to find answers. The more he challenged for better life, the more he needed the energy and motivation which were enable him to deal his present obstacles with developed psychological ability.

These days, many atheists try to study about the comparison of effects between religious faith and atheistic belief and unreasonably conclude that there is no different effect between two. It means that they have already presupposition that religious beliefs are playing a pivotal role for psychological well-being.

With the strong belief that Christian faith is real, it could be not harmful to open door and have a space for discussing the meaningful relationship between religious faith, including other religion, and psychological well-being.

There are a lot of people who have achieved their academic and scientific pinnacles with healthy religious faith. Here is one of them.

Carson was born in Detroit, Michigan. His mother, Sonya, had dropped out of school in the third grade and married at the age of 13. Carson's father abandoned the family after Sonya discovered he had another wife and kids, leaving his mother to fend for him and his brother. However, his mother insisted that he and his brother Curtis Carson, who is now an engineer, read at least two books a week then proceed to write reports on these books for her. This early education and encouragement shaped Carson's future. After graduating with honors from his high school, he attended Yale University, where he earned a degree in Psychology. From Yale, he attended University of Michigan Medical School, where his interest shifted from psychiatry to neurosurgery. Carson's excellent hand-eye coordination and three-dimensional reasoning skills made him a gifted surgeon. After medical school he became a neurosurgery resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. At age 33, he became the hospital's youngest Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery.
In 1987, Carson made medical history by being the first surgeon in the world to successfully separate twins (the Binder twins) conjoined at the back of the head (craniopagus twins). Operations to separate twins joined in this way had always failed, resulting in the death of one or both of the infants. Carson agreed to undertake the operation. The 70-member surgical team, led by Carson, worked for 22 hours. At the end, the twins were successfully separated and can now survive independently. Carson's other surgical innovations have included the first intrauterine procedure to relieve pressure on the brain of a hydrocephalic fetal twin, and a hemispherectomy, in which a young girl suffering from uncontrollable seizures had one half of her brain removed.

Religious Prayer and Faith

A poor black handicapped baby was born in 1940. She is Wilma Rudolph. I want to introduce her in order to link relationship between Christian prayer and religious doubt.
Wilma was born prematurely and weighed only 4.5 pounds. Again, because of racial segregation, she and her mother were not permitted to be cared for at the local hospital. It was for whites only. There was only one black doctor in Clarksville, and the Rudolph's budget was tight, so Wilma's mother spent the next several years nursing Wilma through one illness after another: measles, mumps, scarlet fever, chicken pox and double pneumonia. But, she had to be taken to the doctor when it was discovered that her left leg and foot were becoming weak and deformed. She was told she had polio, a crippling disease that had no cure. The doctor told Mrs. Rudolph that Wilma would never walk.
Even in severe circumstances, she confessed that she could overcome with prayer and encouragement from devoted parents. Even though her parents were poor, they were able to build up religious faith, with faith they could influence her to contain the religious coping mechanism psychologically, spiritually, and religiously. It helped her to enter national athletes team and get three gold medals in 1960, Rome Olympic.
I am thinking that there are many valuable researches to find the academic meaning about prayer and faith. Sometimes we encounter a lot of facts and testimony about unaccountable things. Psychologically, we need to be careful not only to prove their saying, but also have a space of acceptance.

Can Prayer Make a Difference?

The tornado that struck Tuscaloosa, Alabama earlier this week left a wreckage in its wake. As I watched videos of the tornado's devastation, I was left thinking about the people that were killed and those who survived. The death toll from the twister has risen to 318. This picture's caption caught my attention, "pray for us."

Yesterday in class, we discussed the effect of prayer on psychological health. From our discussion, it became apparent that conflicting research existed on the effects of personal prayer and intercessory prayer. Some studies report the benefits of prayer while others show no effect. So, where does this leave us?

I turn back to the Bible's accounts of how prayer did change things and how prayer did effect healing. From the old testament accounts of Abraham to the New Testament accounts of Revelation, the effects of prayer. James 5 specifically addresses the power of prayer. Yet, there still remains a mystery to prayer and whether God answers it in a way that is easily understandable. Yet, Jesus himself prayed and commanded us, as followers to pray.

In response to such devastation that occurred earlier this week and continues to occur across the world, I suggest we not only help whenever possible but also to pray.

Got Sleep?

I don’t know how other graduate students do in regard to sleep, but I don’t get as much as I would like. Between working two jobs and keeping up on my school work, I don’t always have the time to get my eight hours per night. That is a shame too because I really like to sleep. I know that when I do not sleep well I can’t function as well the next day. I feel groggy, slow, and maybe even a little irritable. So when I came across this article in the NY Times, I could not help but become intrigued.

Researchers studied how people responded to various tasks during a period of two weeks when groups were allowed to sleep four, six, and eight hours per night. As expected, those who did not get their eight hours hardly had any attention lapses and no cognitive declines over the 14 day period. Those in the four and six hour groups declined each day. By the end of the study, those who slept six hours per night were just as impaired as those who were sleep deprived for 24 hours. They were the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.

With most Americans getting 6.9 hours of sleep per night, we’re not thinking as clearly as we potentially could be.

In Dr. Hart’s book, The Anxiety Cure, he talks about sleep and tells us that not getting enough of it diminishes our natural tranquilizers. With sleep producing our natural tranquilizers, no wonder we get grumpy after not getting enough sleep.

So what does this have to do with anything? As most you are probably aware of, finals are coming up. If you want to do well, don’t spend the nights before cramming. Relax. Get some sleep. You’ll be glad you did.

Good and Bad Choices

One of my favorite singer is Sara Groves, I would not be surprised if you didn't know who is, she isn't well known. In fact, I only now who she is because she came to my college several years back and did a concert, and I fell in love with her music right there. Her song Genreations (which is hyperlinked under her name) is one of my favorite songs. It rememinds me of Sanda Wilson's book Hurt People Hurt People

The song is about the choice we make, and how they don't just affect us, but those around us, and the generation after that. In Wilson's book, she discuss the problem of sin caused by years of hurt on parents, and spouses and how they can affect children and other's who might depend on you. It is the bad choice we make, that temper that you lose at your kids, or that violent tendency, or snide remarks that are half joking, but a little bit true that you made to your friend, that hurts those around you, teaches children how to react, and how to behave in bad ways, and those ways will be handed down generation to generation.
kinda like that story about cutting the woman who cuts the ends off of a pot roast (I cut the ends off because my mom did that, who's mom did that, who's mom did that only because the pan was too small to hold the whole entire pot roast).

But if we turn it around and make those good choices in our lives, it will still affect those around us, but it will be a blessing, as Sara Groves Sings, rather than a curse. Because the choices we make to day will one day affect our children, our children's children and their children even after we are gone.

The religious and spiritual make up of the therapist

Dr. Steven C. Hayes is a professor of Psychology at the University of Nevada and is renown for his implementation of Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) in psychological maladjustment. There is more information about him and the type of therapy he does in the link below. It also is important to recognize that he is not a believer of any sort, in other words he is an atheist.

In one of the therapy sessions that he conducted he works with an African American woman who experiences a great sense of guilt from the expectations she perceives as coming from her mother. In that therapy session, which we watched in Counseling 506, Dr. Hayes uses an ACT approach and also displays sensitivity to the client's religious beliefs. For me that raises the question of how can God use an atheist therapist in helping a woman of faith? In class we briefly touched on how the Holy Spirit is present to minister healing to the client in the therapy session. More precisely that in many ways the therapist, in some situations facilitates or can even lead an individual to experience God.

As a Christian who is preparing to enter in the field of counseling and therapy, and desiring to do an honest and effective integration of spirituality, theology and psychology, I wrestle with many questions. I understand that the presence of the therapist and particularly his or her relationship with God has a strong influence on the therapy process. However, in Dr. Hayes' case, he is an atheist and still very capable of helping a religious woman. What this does to me, it opens my mind more to God's ability to use anyone to help His children. Also it allows me to see that psychological intervention without implicit or explicit Christian values can be somewhat helpful.

Conversion Experiences

Before you read the following paragraphs please watch the two videos listed below:
Derren Brown - Religious Beliefs Pt.1
Derren Brown - Religious Beliefs Pt. 2

Derren Brown is a British illusionist, mentalist, writer, painter, artist and is most well known for his ability to perform intricate mind tricks. In the videos listed above Mr. Brown pretends to be a minister who claims to have the power to convert people to a belief system by his touch. His experiments are interesting and certainly raise some questions.

In class we talked about the importance of knowing and discerning truth from from error. Particularly related to spirituality, we discussed how just because one may have a real experience or spiritual awakening, it does not mean that they have also have an encounter with what we as Christians firmly believe to be the true God, triune in nature, eternally existing in the person of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Also in class we talked about the immaterial part of the man, and established that although one may know some aspects of the immaterial dimension of a person, it is a difficult task to strictly conceptualize within clear-cut parameters the differences between dimensions of the immaterial man. Specifically related to that, one may ask whether the experiences people have in the videos listed above are emotional, or spiritual in nature, or both, or is the distinction between the two even important?

So far, the people that I know and have watched the Darren Brown videos expressed different opinions. Some have said that he is operating by the power of the evil one, others have said that people in the videos are just having an emotional experience and there is nothing spiritual about what they experienced. I will briefly discuss the latter opinion. I found it common among some Christian circles to play down the importance of emotions when it comes to experiencing the presence of God. Maybe they find even more evidence in videos like this, or others that show evangelists exploiting the emotional nature of people's experiences. It seems, that some are more comfortable to define true spirituality within a purely rational or cognitive framework. I wonder if such a conceptualization is too reductionistic. I understand the reason for caution, and videos like Darren Brown's, where one can see how emotions can be manipulated into deceiving one into a religious or spiritual experience re-emphasize the necessity for caution. But I wonder if maybe it might be more helpful to conceptualize spiritual experiences from multiple perspectives such as cognitive, affective and even physiological and ultimately even supernatural

What's in a Word?

Journaling is noted by many in the medical profession to be a helpful tool for soul care and healing. This is beyond the simple "dear diary" entries that are associated with teenage girls. The journaling that is proposed as being especially helpful is done with a specific purpose in mind.

Backus and Chapian suggest in their book, Telling Yourself the Truth, that journaling can be used for the specific purpose of identifying and correcting misbeliefs. It is a way to identify and apply truth to one's life. The first step they suggest is to locate and identify the misbelief. This might be something as like this, "People really don't change." The second step in the journaling is to argue against the misbelief. The counter to the belief above might be, "People may not always change in the way I'd like them to, but they do really change. I know I have changed, so it is possible for others to change as well." Thirdly, the key to the journaling is to replace the misbelief with truth. Sometimes the argument incorporates the truth. However, to expand on the first two examples, the third might look something like this, "People do change and are changing. I have been changed. Sometimes it's been slow and painful but I have seen change in myself. I know that God can change anybody. My responsibility is to love this person.

The concept of journaling is not a new one. It is found in many forms of therapy, especially Individual therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and many more. It is not unreasonable to think that it would be just as useful in the Christian counseling session. I know I personally don't do enough journaling, but when I do this type of focused journaling, I am able to acknowledge my own errors in thinking and replace it with truth.

Recovery. It is Different for Everybody

What does recovery mean? In an article in the NY Times, Dr. Suzanne Dooley-Hash asks this question. She became anorexic when she was 15. Now at 45, she isn’t sure if she can accurately describe what recovery means.

In various classes I have taken, I have learned that a person’s level of functionality should be taken into account when determining if there is a problem present. Is that acceptable and accurate? I don’t believe so. Dr. Dooley-Hash states, “I’m a physician at a really high-powered institution, and I’ve published in well-respected journals — I’m functional. I don’t think functionality is necessarily a good measure.”

There is some disagreement among medical professionals what recovery essentially means. As far as anorexia is concerned, medical professions tend to agree that a third of anorexics will remain chronically ill, a third will die of their disorder, and a third will “recover,” whatever it is that that means.

The article states that when looking at research concerning recovery in anorexia, how recovery is defined needs to be taken into account and weighted accordingly. For example, if a patient reaches their normal weight and begins menstruating again, most studies would consider her to be recovered. However other studies examine habits (daily weighing self, calorie counting, etc.) would have a different opinion.

I believe that many mental disorders that we will face will have an unclear line between normality and illness. Honestly, that scares me. I prefer things that are black and white, cut and dry. Unfortunately, even though the DSM-IV looks like a series of checklists, isn’t quite that simple. Being normal and abnormal can mean different things to different people in different situations.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


It appears that the the last two books we have been reading and all my classes have been talking about those silly ANTS you know, those automatic negative thoughts that seem to bring us down. William Backus' and Marie Chapian's (2000) book, Telling Yourself the Truth, says that our thoughts can change our biochemistry (chemical composition in our brain cells and the rest of our central nervous system) which can change the way we feel. This is not a new concept despite what psychologists are saying. The Bible talks about it too. "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7, KJV). So, not only does our thoughts determine how we feel, but also our behavior too.

When speaking about the peace and calmness that spirituality provides, the father of modern psychology, William James, said that the "greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives."

"The Cognitive Model, which is the foundation of Cognitive Therapy, proposes that our emotions and behavior are the product of our perceptions of situations" (J.S. Beck, 1995). Beck (1976) also says that we are usually more aware of the emotion associated with the thought rather than the automatic thought itself.

So what do we do with this information? Do we just simply think happy thoughts? One of the Cognitive Therapy techniques is to write down all your ANTs and replace them with healthy thoughts.

Jesus tells us that we should believe and have faith. Faith is a noun that refers to the act of believing (Backus & Chapian, 2000). If we believe and have faith, then certain things can happen in our lives (Matthew 9:29). Jesus said we can move mountains if we have faith as small as a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20).

Backus and Chapian (2000) in their book state that "we must systematically discover, analyze, argue against and replace with truths the misbeliefs in our lives" (p. 27).

Let's start moving some mountains!

Ordinary People

I recently watched a movie called Ordinary People. It's focus is on the family dynamics after the death of a son. The relationship between the surviving family members captured my attention. I began thinking of a concept presented in my class. No matter a person does, even if married for 50 years, there will still be an aspect of that person that is alone, isolated from any other person. This was showed poignantly in the movie's depiction of the family.

In class we were talking about the tenents of existentialism. Existentialism rests on four concepts/fears that a person has to face at some point in life: isolation, meaning or purpose in life, freedom, and death. In class, we discussed how these premises are a perfect set up for the gospel. I think it's neat to see the comparison and how the gospel is the completion and restoration for these fears.

Isolation ->Christ's restoration and perfect intimacy

Meaning ->There is no meaning apart from the cross.

Freedom -> True freedom is achieved because of the Christ's power to overcome death by his death on the cross and resurrection.

Death -> There is no need to fear death as Christ offers eternal life.

This is the message that needs to be proclaimed to bring true healing to the soul. It is the foundation and can revolutionize a person's life. There is hope in the gospel. And hope is what needs to be conveyed to the client. Thankfully, hope can be conveyed not only by Christian counselors and by pastors, but also by ordinary people.