“But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.” – James 4:16
Continuing with The Yeast of the Pharisees: Spiritual Abuse by Pastors and Counselors (part 4)
• Moral rigidity vs. grace and unconditional love
• Isolation and secrecy vs. a sense of belonging and ability to be authentic with others
• Addictions/compulsions vs. healthy boundaries and coping skills
• Confusion vs. clear understanding of the Gospel and nature of God
• Hopelessness vs. a sense of meaning, purpose, and direction
Regardless of spiritual abuse history, spiritual interventions are contraindicated when clients don’t want them, are psychotic or delusional. If spiritual interventions are warranted, inform clients at treatment inception that you may use spiritual interventions and obtain informed consent. Spiritual interventions are most effective once trusting therapeutic relationships have developed. However, Christian counselors should express a commonly understood Gospel truth, including Christ’s atoning sacrifice, forgiveness rather than punishment, and God’s unconditional, unmerited grace and love rather than legalism, performance, or the need for perfection.
Primary spiritual interventions include: teaching spiritual concepts; bibliotherapy; prayer; spiritual imagery and meditation; forgiveness; counsel from pastors or spiritual directors; encouraging involvement in a healthy faith community; cognitive restructuring focusing on the nature of God; a mature understanding of suffering, self hatred and perfectionism as obstacles to receiving God’s love; and an application of clients’ values to their own lives to reduce cognitive dissonance. Self-help groups, such as Christian Recovery International, may be recommended.
It may be necessary to guide clients toward finding a healthy faith community. The four F’s suggest that healthy faith communities offer:
• Food: sound Biblical messages promoting personal growth and maturity
• Fellowship: supportive relationships
• Fit: commonality with other members
• Fruit: service to community and one another
It is a sad commentary about the modern church that abusive Christian leaders are so pervasive that we must write articles like this and give them prominence in order to warn the faithful. Yet it is also true that perverted pastors, false prophets, and evil leaders have always existed in the history of Israel and the Church. And most importantly, if we cling to God and stay vigilant, He promises to make the way straight for us.
Copyright © 2006 Christian Counseling Today. (Originally Published in Christian Counseling Today 2005 Vol. 13 No. 1:35)
Edward J. Cumella, Ph.D., a Licensed Psychologist, is Director of Research and Education at Remuda Ranch Programs for Anorexia and Bulimia, Inc., the nation’s largest inpatient eating disorder facility. He presents frequently at national and international conferences and has published at least 50 papers on mental health topics, including spiritual abuse.
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