A Life of Reading: A Christian Perspective

Introduction

My pastor today made a point about how Christians should surround themselves with good books. I couldn’t agree more. Since my early twenties back in my college days, I have developed somewhat the good habit of reading. I say somewhat because one, I could read much more than I do. Two, I’ve fallen on the bad habit at times of reading works that I wish I hadn’t wasted my time pursuing.

This is the fourth of a series of articles in which I explore working as a counselor who holds a Christian worldview. In the first two articles I explored what a Christian worldview entails. In the third article, I discussed my preference for working with Christian clients although I work with clients who hold a variety of worldviews.

I end this series addressing a life of reading, and why I think it is important for Christians to be avid and good readers. With that in mind, I also offer a list of books I’ve read, mostly written by Christians that I think other believers might find useful in developing their thoughts about how we engage this world and what it throws at us everyday. Anytime we discuss reading various authors, it is important to note that our first attention must aim at reading God’s Word, the Scriptures, everyday. The Bible becomes our standard to which we measure and compare anything else we read and study.

Christians as Avid Readers and Thinkers

Why? Why should Christians become energetic readers and thinkers? Do not the Scriptures warn us not to succumb to the philosophies of the world? Did not the Apostle Paul claim that knowledge puffs up? Does not the Word of God challenge us that although we are in the world, we are not to be part of the world? The short answer to all these questions is yes. It is for this reason, however, that I believe it is important that believers become avid students and critical thinkers regarding the worldviews that surround them and can so easily capture them if they are not careful.

The Technological Age

As Christians we live in a world inundated by social media. We are all engaged on a daily basis not only with television, but also the Internet, alternative podcasts, and various websites that proffer readers and listeners to consider. We are surrounded by what is touted as Information Age. How are Christians to navigate the flowing rivers of information with which they face everyday?

I believe it is important that we engage this age of excess information with a well-honed critical eye. We take in information nearly every hour of everyday, whether or not we realize it. We surf the Web. We listen to various podcast lectures. We view a plethora of YouTube channels that flood us with a variety of worldviews, opinions, and sales pitches, touching on anything from for whom we should vote, what we should value, how we should spend our time, or what we should purchase. Our minds are constantly assaulted by the tons of airwave information bytes that flood over us like ocean waves.

Jesus Christ answered a young man’s question regarding what is the greatest commandment claiming we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our soul. Note in that statement, all our mind. God created our mind. We are supposed to use to his glory. That means we are supposed to use it in the best way we possibly can, not wasting it on things that are unimportant. A well-honed mind is a critical mind, meaning we should develop the ability to weigh things and discern rightly about them.

I would not make this a legalistic rule, but I personally believe that the less time we spend on social media and television, the better. Turn off the television, shut down the computer, and open a good book. Good books are ones that are going to make us think about how we should live in this fallen world, as Christians believe it to be. Well written essays, treatises, and other forms of non-fiction should lead us to reflect upon our worldviews, beliefs, and values. Simultaneously, we bring to those works our thoughts and beliefs that we have already worked out as Christians to see how an author’s thought aligns or misaligns with what we believe spiritually. This is not to say that the only works we should read are ones with which we are fairly certain that we already agree. For sure, take on challenging works, never forgetting who is our foundation. We should engage the thought of the day, while making sure of our principles so that we can face the ideas that might counter what we believe.

Sharpening our minds begins, I believe, by drastically reducing the time we spend on social media.

Centuries of Works at Our Fingertips

One of the things the Information Age has going for it is the cataloguing of works that have been written over several centuries. As believers in Christ, we have the early Church Fathers who wrote theological treatises, early Church histories, and Christian devotionals, all of which we can engage for our personal edification. We can read about how early Christian churches developed their ideas around the great creeds. We can plumb the histories regarding how early Christians dealt with heresies, theological error, and outright false teachings. We can learn about saints from early Church history and how they dealt with persecution and attacks due to their faith. We can study the philosophical battles that Church practitioners had to face across the centuries. We have a plethora of works we can read and study, beginning right after the time of Christ, moving on into the Middle Ages, and into our modern era regarding the history of the Church, doctrine, and specific individuals that have impacted our faith in various ways.

We have no excuses when it comes to what is available for us to ready and study. The issue becomes is what and how we prioritize our time.

Where We Spend Our Time

When it comes to the specific works we read, we will get various opinions from the many solid believers out there as to what should be the focus of our time and study. If I wanted, I could create another series of articles about all the things we could read that would edify us as believers, including works that would challenge us in many ways.

Instead what I will do is simply list some authors that I think any believer will find helpful in the development of his or her faith. In so doing, I am just dipping a toe in water that contains fathoms more that I could discuss.

The Early Church Fathers

The Apostolic Fathers could keep one busy for some time to come. One couldn’t do much better than picking up some works by Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, or Origen of Alexandria. All of these authors contribute a Mother Lode to the history of the Church. The one early writer that one does not want to miss, however, is Augustine of Hippo, who authored The City of God, and Confessions. Augustine is foundational to what would eventually take place in the Reformation, and saints of Christ still read his works to this day. There are numerous others besides these that one can explore.

Reformation Writers

When it comes to the Protestant Reformation, believers for sure want to engage the writings of both Martin Luther and John Calvin. I know of a set that comprises fifty-five volumes of Martin Luther’s works alone. Don’t let this fact overwhelm you. The editors of these Luther’s massive works are Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann. Anyone interested in reading some of Luther’s works can access this collection and choose the particular works one would like to read and study. His Freedom of the Christian is an excellent short work to read and a good solid beginning regarding his thought.

When it comes to John Calvin, the work in which to delve is his Institutes of the Christian Religion. One can find this work in a two-volume set, edited by John T. McNeill and published by Westminster Press. The Institutes is basically Calvin’s systematic theology, covering major theological subjects that are important to believers who want to be on sound footing regarding their theology.

Modern Writers

The theological treatises of the Early Church Fathers and the Reformation Fathers represent some intense reading indeed. I encourage any believer, however, not to shy away from delving into those works. You can glean from them if you put in the effort and time.

Works that reach back to the more modern era, say from the 17th to the present century are also available for our edification. Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, and B. B. Warfield come to mind. Hodge’s Systematic Theology is a wonderful work to study regarding Reformed theology.

When it comes to the 20th century, personally, I would begin with writers such as Francis Schaeffer, James Sire, and C. S. Lewis. Both Schaffer’s and Lewis’ works can now be obtained in Collected Works sets. They are worth owning, and readers can survey them in terms of what they want to read. Both Schaffer and Lewis shaped my thinking as a young believer, helping me understand that being a Christian is a thinking individual’s life. We don’t turn off our mind when we become Christians. Lewis’s fictional works too are fun to read.

James Sire is a Christian author who for most of his life has written for Intervarsity Press (IVP). As a Christian thinker he explores philosophical avenues that deal with various worldviews. His work The Universe Next Door was instrumental in shaping my thinking about worldviews and how to think about and critiques various philosophical frameworks to which people might hold and try to live out. Another work by Sire, Habits of the Mind, impacted my thinking heavily, especially as a believer who is interested in the place of scholarship in the Christian life. I have probably read just about everything Sire has written, so I highly recommend him for any believer who is interested in how we fulfill the Great Commandment to love the Lord our God with all our mind.

Os Guinness is another IVP writer who has branched out over the years who I highly recommend as well. His early work, The Dust of Death, is one I strongly suggest, even though it surveys the decade of the tumultuous 1960’s. I don’t think it’s dated, and it can be critically studied to think about what is happening today in our postmodern era. A work by Guinness that I passionately recommend is his book The Call. In this book, Guinness discusses how we come to understand our calling before God. It is not a work that sets out to answer specific questions, such as what my career should be as a Christian. It provides a framework, however, for us as believers to think and pray about such questions along with a host of other questions we may want to explore regarding our lives.

There are so many others I could list, but this short blog article cannot possibly cover them all. Garry Friesen, Mark A. Noll, John Lennox, Gene Edward Veith all come to mind. Readers can easily build a reading list, drawing from James Sire’s bibliography from his work, Habits of the Mind.

Conclusion

The main issue, believer, is that you should challenge yourself to read deeply, study thoroughly, and use your mind to God’s glory. This will look different for each believer, but the commandment to love the Lord our God with all our mind, is not a relative one. It is not one to be shirked.

For those believers, like myself, who are therapists, it is important that we engage our clients, particularly Christian clients, on a deep level that helps them build their Biblical knowledge, their theological study, and their personal relationship with God so as to navigate a postmodern world that is anything but friendly to a Christian worldview.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/September 14th, 2020

THEMATIC/WORLDVIEW

Counseling Christian Clients

Introduction

The last two articles on this blog focused on my worldview as a Christian, and how that worldview informs my work as a counselor. In this third article, I look at why I prefer to work with clients who are Christian. Although I enjoy working with anyone, helping individuals from all walks of life work through any concerns they may have, working with someone who holds the same or a similar worldview is highly satisfying work.

A Christian client and I stand on common ground when it comes to major core beliefs about life. We have a common view regarding morality and what is right and wrong, or good and evil. We have a common foundation as to who God is and what our need for a Savior entails. We have a common experience of the fact that we cannot set our lives right via our own will and power. Indeed, apart from Christ, we lack any power to change in ways that we would otherwise prefer. A Christian client and I will speak a common language. We have a common source for our understanding of God and his Son, which is Biblical Scripture. We share the necessity we have for prayer. Different and antithetical worldviews collide and in some cases do not mesh at all. Working with believers in Christ proves to be work that can be highly gratifying because a common worldview provides us with an approach to life that gives meaning to the struggles we face.

What are some of the struggles that Christians might bring into the counseling room?

Problems That Christian Clients Encounter

So what can a Christian client expect when he or she enters my office? One of the first things that I hope Christian clients experience is that they are stepping onto ground that is safe. Their Christian beliefs are not only welcomed in my counseling office, but they should know my office as a place where their faith in Christ can become front and center for our work. Unfortunately, many people hold Christianity and therapy to be antithetical. In many cases, no doubt the counseling field has placed itself at odds with a Judeo-Christian worldview. In my office, one’s Christian worldview and faith will form the foundation for our work together.

Struggling with Their Faith

For whatever reasons, right or wrong, some believers in Christ find it difficult to voice their doubts and struggles with their faith to other believers who make up their local church. My counseling office is a place where they can bring the doubts they might hold and open them up for exploration. Perhaps they have encountered some difficult times that have led them to question what they believe about God. Such doubts and questioning is not something to squelch, but an experience to explore so that things can be cleared up. As believers in Christ, we are children of God, members of the household, who can approach God as Abba Father, and enter into his rest (Hebrews 4:1).

Typically the fears and doubts a believer in Christ experiences are based on wrong information and understanding about God. I have a jaded past. Has God really forgiven me? The work we do can be about getting a right understanding of God and on what and whom forgiveness is based. A person who doubts whether or not God has forgiven him commonly is looking to himself to garner God’s forgiveness rather than God’s forgiveness standing on whom one believes. Our forgiveness is not based on what we do to get at God’s grace. It is based on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:9 tells us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. This passage indicates that if God doesn’t forgive those of us who confess their sins as believers in Christ, he would be unfaithful and unrighteous. This is a rock bottom foundational truth because forgiveness is not based on us but on Jesus Christ. Many believers have a difficult time embracing the richness of God’s love and grace that awaits those who have placed their faith in his Son. It is something we must step into and hold onto because it’s easy to want to earn something before God.

Hurtful acts toward others in the past prove to be a common weight that believers in Christ carry on their shoulders. Again the richness of God’s grace is something to which we cling in faith. There are also truths about life that God has built into existence. Although God readily forgives those who are in Christ, other people might not be so forgiving. We simply may have to live with the fact that our actions have an impact on others in ways that we may not ever in this lifetime experience their forgiveness. The question becomes whether or not we value God’s grace more than what others may think and feel about us. We can ask them to forgive us. Whether or not they do is up to them, not up to us. What we do know is that God has forgiven us.

The world today holds an antagonistic view toward our faith in Christ. Christianity and the world do not mix. We are told this in Scripture over and over. We are in the world, but we are not to be of the world (John 17). Sometimes Christians have to face how difficult and tough it is to live out their faith in a world that is an enemy of Christ. Some clients will enter the counseling room because they have found that they lack the courage at times to live as God would want them to live. The heaviest pressure that anyone faces, believer or otherwise, is the call to conform to other’s beliefs rather than our own. Simply put in many cases, we liked to be liked. We want people to accept us. Nothing feels worse than rejection from others. Christ knows what that rejection feels like. He came to his own and those who were his own did not receive him (John 1:11). There is neither a temptation nor a pain that we face that Jesus Christ did not face. We have God’s promise that he will give us the courage, and even the words to say, when we face the antagonisms of the world. When we do fall short in that battle, God’s forgiveness is still there. The battle is not easy at all; but we have the panoply (Ephesians 6:11) to carry it out.

Living Out Our Christian Faith

From my perspective, some of the most satisfying work as a counselor is helping clients tap into their local churches so as to jump start their sanctification. How does a believer grow in his or her faith? Although therapists and clients can touch on the beginnings of this process in the counseling room, sanctification must take shape via one’s relationship to God and the body of Christ. The counseling room can never replace the fellowship that believers need with other believers. Nor was it intended to do so. I inform my believing clients that if they are not plugged into a solid Bible-believing local church, their struggles will continue to weigh them down.

It is equally true that unless believers find time for prayer, their struggles will continue to come at them in ways they don’t understand. We have the right to approach God’s throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). We have the greatest gift of all in Christ to be considered children of God. That means we can talk to him, which is exactly what prayer is. Just as the counseling room is not meant to replace a local church, neither is it meant to replace one’s relationship to God as Father and the power of prayer that comes with that relationship. God gives us promises regarding prayers we place before him, promises that we need to understand on levels that come only in time of relating to him. It is easy to think of prayer as simply our wanting God to give us things to make us happy in the moment. I fall into that trap time and time again. Prayer, however, carries with it the power of knowing God on a deep level, which simply put, takes time. Although forgiveness is always there, and God is ready to take us places no matter what, we have to realize that if we’re not careful, we can waste the valuable resource of time that we can spend with God. Hours go by in flashes that turn into days that turn into years that turn into a lifetime. Don’t let the reality of being allowed to know God slip away.

The counseling office is not a replacement for fellowship with other believers within a local church. No form of therapy is a replacement for prayer and knowing God. Additionally, counseling though it can help us gain insight into our selves and struggles that we face, it is not a replacement for our study of the Word or God, or Scripture. In addition to prayer, one of the ways we come to know God and his will for our lives is through his Word. Just as I tell believing clients about the necessity of church as the Body of Christ and prayer, I also tell them that if they are not reading and studying the Word of God, their struggles will continue to kick them in the rear. It is interesting and fulfilling work in counseling to help a believer develop some understanding of how to read and study God’s word. However, such work only begins in the counseling room. It must be developed in a local church setting with other believers who are trained to teach others how to study God’s Word.

These three truths help ground our faith into an ever growing and strengthening foundation: the Body of Christ, prayer, and Scripture. They are the foundation to how we should live out our Christian faith. I firmly believe that many of the doubts and struggles that Christian clients bring into the counseling room stem from their lacking in or neglect of these three areas.

The Upper and Lower Stories

One of my favorite Christian authors to read is Francis Schaeffer. He penned several works that I like to review at different times. One in particular always hits home for me, How Should We Then Live? (In The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Vol. 5, Crossway Books, 1982) In this work and others, Schaeffer described some faulty Christian thinking that he calls living in two stories. What many Christians tend to do is think of their Christian lives in some kind of upper spiritual story, while other aspects of their lives, e.g. finances, work, family, etc., are experienced in some kind of earthy lower story. Such upper/lower story divisions lead Christians to separate their spiritual beliefs from what some might call real-world beliefs, as though the two have no connection whatsoever. The upper and lower story division is a false one, and it can lead Christians into some dynamics that weigh them down.

God’s Calling

All Christians are gifted and called to do various forms of work and labor in this life. The upper/lower story division tends to place those who are in what is considered full time Christian work on a pedestal. Obviously, we think, pastors, evangelists, and other full-time Christian ministers are doing more important work than the rest of us. But think about for a second. Perhaps it’s easy to think that way about bankers, accountants, business owners, and those that do similar work of service. But would we think that way about doctors, surgeons, airplane pilots, and engineers who build things?

Many times Christians enter counseling because they think that what they’re interested and skilled in doing is not important to God. They truly, perhaps secretly, don’t have an iota of interest or desire to enter seminary, do full-time evangelism, or become a pastor. For various reasons, they may desire to talk to a counselor because they feel guilty about the kind of work they want to do. I enjoy working with Christian clients who need to explore these thoughts. I like having the upper/lower story conversation with them. God has gifted us all to do and enjoy certain types of work, whether that entails pursuing the pastorate, becoming a teacher, working in a medical field, or training for certain types of business endeavors. Would anyone truly believe that a local church doesn’t need an accountant? The body of Christ should not disparage any of these fields of endeavor. The important task for all of us is to make sure of our calling before God, and then pursue that calling. As a believer in Christ, you should feel no guilt because you do not want to work in some full time ministerial capacity. Simultaneously, regardless of how we make a living, all believers are priests, and we’re called to serve the body of Christ in some capacity. Serving God can take place through any type of work we do, regardless of what it is.

As believers in Christ, we are also to pursue what Scripture calls the spiritual gifts. We utilize these gifts to serve the body of Christ. It is important to remember that we are all members of the body of Christ. That doesn’t mean we all do the same thing and serve the same way. Analogous to the physical body, Paul claims that the eye cannot say to the hand I have no need of you (I Corinthians 12:21). Every member of the body of Christ has a place in the church. It is not the same place as all other believers. Other forms of work I enjoy doing with Christian clients is exploring how they might fit into the body of Christ. It is important, however, for them to do this work in relation to their local church as well.

There are a lot of traps that believers can fall into when trying to decide what God has called them to do. It is not the purpose of this particular blog article to delve into that topic. It is, however, an important topic that believers need to explore. Such work is fulfilling work for me when I can help other believers work through these concerns.

Relationships

As believers in Christ, our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ are of the utmost importance. Although I’m not a pre-marital or marriage counselor, I can help individuals work through their concerns with various kinds of interpersonal relationships. I firmly believe that our understanding of how our relationships to others should work begins with our relationship with Triune God. If we are not developing our relationship with Christ who allows us to approach the throne of grace before the Father, then our interpersonal relationships can and will suffer.

As I stated above, forgiveness of and from others is one the main sources of personal pain we may suffer. Consequently, I work with believers to focus on what forgiveness means, and how it serves us. Others may withhold their forgiveness of us, but it is key to our wellbeing that we learn to forgive others, whether or not that leads to a restoration of friendships.

The ultimate foundation on which we all stand is grace. We must learn to develop and apply that notion to every area of our lives, including how we relate to others.

Conclusion

Sometimes believers can find it difficult to talk with others in their church about any concerns they are trying to navigate. The counseling room is a safe place where Christians can explore such navigations. My aim is not that counseling replace what they should find in the body of Christ. Instead I want to support what the body of Christ offers all its members. Working with other Christians who face the difficulties that life can and will throw at us is fulfilling work. I hope that any believer in Christ can enter my office and find the grace, safety, and encouragement to take on whatever challenges that life offers. 

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D, LPC-S/August 14th, 2020

THEMATIC/WORLDVIEW

Part II: A Christian Worldview Encounters the Counseling Profession

Introduction

This month’s blog article continues with the second part of a four-part series I am writing about how our worldview informs the way we work as counselors. In this series I explore worldview from a Christian perspective.

On last month’s blog post, I opened this series discussing James Sire’s definition of a worldview from his book, The Universe Next Door. I broke down the various components of his definition, and then highlighted how our worldview enters the counseling room, whether or not we are aware of its presence. Sire writes from an evangelical Christian perspective with which I’m in alignment. I practice my faith from a Reformed theological perspective. We should be aware of how our worldview shapes everything we approach in life. Moreover, as counselors, we do not check our worldview at the door as though we can detach ourselves from it or operate without it.

On this month’s blog I continue to explore what a worldview comprises, again drawing on Sire’s work, which he calls a catalogue of different worldviews. Sire proposes that a worldview, as he defines it, should answer seven foundational questions. I will discuss each question, and how he answers each one from a Christian theistic worldview, and how those answers might shape my counseling practice.

Sire’s 7 Questions

Let’s review James Sire’s definition of worldview:

A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which my be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being. [p. 17]

Building on his definition, Sire believes that a worldview should seek to answer seven basic questions, answers to which should provide a foundational understanding for why and how we live the way we do.

The seven questions are:

1) What is prime reality – the really real?

2) What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?

3) What is a human being?

4) What happens to a person at death?

5) Why is it possible to know anything at all?

6) How do we know what is right and wrong?

7) What is the meaning of human history?

Delineated as such, these seven questions are indeed mind-boggling. They are questions that theologians and philosophers have wrestled with for millennia. My responses here will necessarily be short, but in being so I don’t mean to trivialize the questions with over simplifications. My best response to the far-reaching effects of how we seek to answer these questions is to say simply, read Sire’s book.

Prime Reality

Sire explores various worldviews and how they might answer each of these questions.  I am drawing on his chapter where he examines the worldview of Christian theism. The answer to the first question regarding prime reality sets the boundaries for how we will answer the other six questions. Given this question’s foundational nature, I will explore Sire’s discussion of this question more in depth, and build on it to discuss the other six questions.

A Christian worldview can be understood in terms of basic Christian theism, or what is also called a theistic worldview, or simply theism. In response to the first question, prime reality is found in the nature of God. Sire states it in the following manner: God is infinite and personal (triune), transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign and good (p. 26). From a Christian theistic perspective, God is the only self-existent being. He is like no other. He is I Am That I Am.

God is personal, not some intangible force in the universe. He is someone ultimate who is there to ground our highest aspirations, our most precious possession – personality (p. 27). As a personal God, believers in Christ can relate to him on a personal level. Hence, I can pray to him, ask him for guidance, comfort, healing, and forgiveness. I can also petition him to guide, comfort, heal, and forgive others.

God’s communal nature is seen in that he is triune, personal but comprising the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Hence God is personal and communal, so we can relate to him in a personal way. When a Christian says he knows God, such a statement is not merely about God’s existence, but the believer knows God on a personal level, as our own father.

God is not merely a part of the world, like pantheism, but he is transcendent, beyond our world. Hence he is otherly. He is separate from us and his creation. Simultaneously, he is immanent, meaning he is present, with us, and with us now. Immanence doesn’t mean that God is in a rock or a tree as pantheism or primitivism might understand it. His presence is with us constantly in a way that we can depend on and rest in it. God actually holds the world together through his Son, Jesus Christ.

God is omniscient, sovereign, and good. For the Christian, this means we can rely on God’s sovereignty, even in, and especially in, situations where we don’t have a clue as to how and where our lives might be heading. This is the rest that Christians can find in a personal God who not only knows and controls all things, but who also is good, having our well being in hand. His goodness means that there is an absolute standard of what is right and wrong. It also means that human beings have hope in a world that at times may appear and feel chaotic, dangerous, and hopeless.

When we think of what is real and important to us, experiences such as love, friendship, joy, pain, dreams, aspiration, and a meaningful life, such experiences are of prime important to us because God exists as a personal, infinite, and loving God. These are not merely concepts. They are real.

External Reality

Given God’s omnipotent and omniscient nature, external reality, or what we call the universe or cosmos, is God’s ex nihilo creation, created to operate with uniformity of cause and effect in an open system.

External reality is there. It’s not a creation of human beings’ minds. We bump up against it. If you don’t buy that, then try closing your eyes and walking around your home for a few minutes. The old adage that toes exist to find things we didn’t know were there is a stark reminder to the fact that we do not create external reality as many subjectivists and radical postmodernists believe. The beauty of God’s creation can be observed, explored, studied, and learned in exquisite detail. God’s creation is not programmed, but open. God’s constantly involved in its operation. And so are we human beings. We can alter it for the good or the bad. Hence, we are stewards of its care. I reflect on the times I’ve driven to Colorado or Glacier National Park in Montana and the breathtaking beauty that unfolds right before one’s eyes. David’s Psalm 19 addresses how the heavens declare the glory of God.

Human Beings

The epithet Imago Dei explains the relationship of all human beings to the Creator God. Not only did he create the external universe, but also he created human beings in his image. Hence, the Image of God is stamped on our being. We are personal because God is personal. We are self-conscious because God is self-conscious. We act according to our own character as God created us to be. We are like God in a limited sense. We each possess a unique character and we can choose to act. We are not God’s robots. In as much as we are created in the image of God, we therefore have intrinsic value. Our lives hold sanctity. Hence we possess a unique personality, we aspire to self-transcendent values, and we are intelligent in that we are capable of reason, knowledge, and wisdom.

Life and Death

We are also fallen human beings. The Christian theistic message is one not welcomed so much in our culture today when it speaks to life and death. Naturalism teaches that death is a normal process in the life and death cycle. Christian theism teaches that physical death is abnormal, contrary to God’s purpose for us. It was not meant to be. The Fall brought death to humankind. Hence, death is a portal, either to a life with God, or a life separate from God. I get how difficult it is to embrace this notion. Sire quotes G. K. Chesterton as stating death is a monument to human freedom (p. 40). He didn’t mean that in a disparaging sense. It means that our decisions have eternal significance. People must answer individually whether or not they accept this Christian claim.

Knowledge

Sire states, the foundation of human knowledge is the character of God as Creator (p. 34). Because we are made in his image, we can know, reason, and pursue wisdom. To put it more succinctly, God created our minds. Hence he takes an active role in communicating with us via two channels, the natural universe or general revelation and through his Word or Scripture, special revelation. Human beings can explore, study, and come to know the external world around them, and they can come to know God himself. God’s omniscient knowledge is the foundation for our knowledge and intelligence. Because God is both Creator and personal, we can know him personally and what he created. Indeed he granted and gifted us with the stewardship we have over God’s creation. Christ addressing the Old Testament stated that the greatest commandment is You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). Hence, your mind matters, as John Stott’s pamphlet of the same title states. We were given a mind and we should not let it go to waste.

Good and Evil

From the perspective of Christian theism, human beings were created good, but through the Fall, the Imago Dei within us became defaced. Looking across cultures and societies, human beings for millennial have codified rules of law. Our nature as human beings leads us to search out ethics, morality, and an understanding of good and evil. The ultimate reason, however, for any understanding of right and wrong, is grounded in the nature of God himself. Moreover, we are not left alone in the Fall. God has provided redemption through the work of Christ. To get a clear picture of what is good, we look to Christ for that understanding. We listen to his words and we see his actions. Sire states, ethics is transcendent and is based on the character of God as good, holy, and loving (p. 41). Everyone lives according to some moral code, whether one realizes it or not. Theism says to us that there is an absolute standard for right and wrong, good and evil. Jesus Christ is the fullest embodiment of the good. He is the complete man, both man and God. We live in a postmodern world where the idea of an absolute moral standard is no longer acceptable. The problem comes when one tries to live consistently with the notion everything is relative. When evil comes people’s way, they tend to suddenly want what is right.

History

From a theistic perspective, history is linear. It is heading someplace. Sire states it this way: Human history can be summed up in four words – creation, Fall, redemption, and glorification (p. 37). Christian theism does not see history as cyclical, reversible, repeatable, and it is for sure not meaningless. In this sense, history is a form of revelation, especially when one looks at the history of the Jewish people and the history of the church. History is heading somewhere, the Kingdom of God. History is meaningful as seen in the Divine Logos, Jesus Christ. As a Christian this means even though I cannot know nor see the beginning from the end, I can rest in God’s sovereign and providential control. We’re not merely floating around in the river of history heading into nowhere. Because history has a direction and is meaningful, we can also live meaningful lives.  

Necessarily I had to give short space to these seven challenging but substantive questions. Again, one should read Sire to get at his fullest exposition of a Christian Theistic worldview. The question becomes now, what does this mean for the counselor who, like myself, is a Christian.

Christian Theism in the Counseling Room

I want to reiterate something I said on last month’s blog. I do not believe that anyone can check their worldview at the office door before sitting down with clients in the counseling room. In fact, it is incumbent upon all of us, counseling professional or otherwise, to become aware of the worldview we hold. Then we can ascertain whether it truly informs the way we live. Not only is it impossible to set aside or worldview, but also I don’t believe it’s ethical to try to do so. Neutrality refers to the absence of coercion, not the suspension of one’s beliefs. I stated last month that I do not seek to proselytize clients to my worldview. I want to meet them at the edge of their worldview the best I can do that. In that sense, counseling involves the coming together, and possibly clash of different worldviews.

My worldview does mean that I seek to take a certain stance toward my clients. Clients who enter the counseling room are seeking help. Many times they are hurting, both psychologically, and what I believe to be spiritually. Life may be swallowing them up in various ways. They come to me hoping that I can understand what they’re going through and how their experiences impact them. From a Christian perspective, I want to treat my clients as I want to be treated if I sought counseling. I want to empathize, hold a space for them with compassion, and be a solid ground for them from which they can navigate difficulties that life has thrown at them. I see them as human beings stamped with the Imago Dei; therefore, they deserve respect, dignity, and all the support that by God’s grace I can muster. I realize that they face the difficulties they do because they live in a fallen world that can bring pain into their lives. Their struggles are real, can be hard hitting, and indeed may be tearing at them inwardly. They seek counseling to find a way to make things clear, to embrace some form of knowledge and understanding that can guide them to what they hope is a better, more fulfilling, and meaningful life. Like all human beings, they are finite in their resources, capacities, and abilities to deal with the vagaries that life throws at them. Like all of us, they are finite, their choices lead to consequences, and their timeline has an end. As a Christian, I want to provide that space for them where they can enter and find the grace they need to face whatever life throws at them.

As a Christian I hold that as finite human beings we are armed with an incomplete panoply to deal with life’s difficulties without the Spirit of God and the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives. This is a truth that I fall back on, nonetheless, not seeking to proselytize any clients. I do, however, welcome any questions that clients may want to ask of me regarding my faith. I indeed hope they do so, and I relish the opportunity to have a discussion with them regarding my beliefs in Jesus Christ. Because the culture at large has a tainted view of Christianity, many times such discussions may be about what Christianity is and what it is not.

As I’ve described it here, Christian theism shapes who I am in the counseling room. My hope is that in my work, God is glorified in someway. My worldview comprises my personal beliefs in Jesus Christ and it enters the counseling room with me.

I would have it no other way, nor should anybody else.

Conclusion

As I stated on the last blog, the work I really enjoy doing entails working with those clients who hold the same worldview as mine. Next month’s blog article, the third of four blog posts in this series, will explore what Christian clients should expect if they want to engage a counseling relationship with me.

Until then.

References

Sire, J.W. (2004). The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog.(Originally published in 1973). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Stott, J. R. (1972). Your Mind Matters. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph. D., LPC-S/July 14th, 2020

THEMATIC/WORLDVIEW

Part I: A Christian Worldview Encounters the Counseling Profession

Introduction

Bringing my thoughts together about Christian counseling is no easy task; nor should it be. Of course, some of the obvious questions include: How does Christian counseling differ from any other type of professional counseling? Do Christian counselors work with clients only within the faith? If Christian counselors work with those outside of the faith, do counselors seek to proselytize their clients? What happens in the counseling room with Christian counselors?

What I’ve said here is simply a short introduction to the fact that over the next few blogs here at Contemplations, I’m going to explore what it means to work as a counselor who lives, walks in, and strives to align with a Christian worldview. What does it mean and not mean for me as a professional counselor? What does it mean and not mean for the clients who seek me out to work with me? I have laid out a plan for a series of four articles through which I will explore and present my thoughts on the topic of working as a counselor who holds an Orthodox and Reformed Christian worldview. Since this is a monthly blog, there is no telling what will change in four months, so my plans here may go the way of those so-called best laid plans that hopefully are flexible but not loosey-goosey, solidly structured but not rigid. And then again, I may decide one month to write about something totally different. After all, it is my blog.

The first and second blog articles explore the notion of worldview and why I work the way I do. The third article in this series will address working specifically with Christian clients. The fourth and concluding blog on this topic will explore various books by Christian authors I’ve read that other Christians might find helpful as they search out how to live out their faith in today’s tumultuous world.

A Christian in the Counseling Field

I have sought to conceptualize how I work and how I see my work in various ways over the years. I have tried to answer such questions as those above, as well as others. For example, do I call myself a Christian counselor? Or am I a counselor who happens to be a Christian? Or am I a Christian who happens to be a counselor?

For me, I have finally landed on the latter conceptualization. My life as a Christian includes my professional life as a counselor, not vice versa. This framework for thinking, or what I call my worldview, allows me to understand both my approach to living as well as the professional role I embody. My worldview without contradiction enables me to work with both believers and those who do not embrace the faith. What it does not mean, however, is that at one time I put on my Christian counseling hat, while at other times, I conveniently take off that hat for those who do not embrace Christianity as their faith. No, I don’t seek to proselytize clients who are not Christians; however, I’m sure not adverse to the possibility that such clients might want to discuss with me what I believe and why, thereby exploring the faith for themselves.

There is no Christian counselor hat anymore than there is simply a Christian hat that I put on and take off as it suits me or fits the people with whom I work. I have and seek to live by my worldview that I cannot help but, and purposely will, bring into the counseling room. I don’t check my worldview and values at the entrance to the building where my office is located. As a professional counselor, I also do not view counseling as proselytizing clients. Although if for whatever reason clients want explore and to know more about Christianity, not only am I not adverse to that, but also I welcome it. It is the worldview by which I seek to live and have my being.

Worldview

In an blog article sometime back, (here), I discussed several themes that at various times on this blog I will explore, seeking to develop a fuller understanding of the human experience or human condition as Hanna Arendt describes it. Those themes include, mind, meaning-making, thought and action, finitude and humility, values, and worldview. Since I am writing about my worldview today, an obvious question is, what is a worldview? No doubt, there are tons of philosophical works out there people can read and study to get at how different thinkers conceptualize the notion of worldview. One particular Christian author I like reading along these lines is James W. Sire. His well-known work, at least among Christians, regarding various worldviews is titled The Universe Next Door.

In his exploration, Sire provides a working framework for understanding what comprises one’s worldview. He proffers the following definition:

A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of propositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.  (p.17)

Recognize then through Sire’s definition that people can be more or less aware of what their worldviews are, how they guide them through life, and why people may act as they do. Hence, if one desires to live in full awareness of how his beliefs align with his actions, then one should desire to become aware, as best as possible, of one’s worldview. Otherwise, we are walking blindly through the universe, not fully aware, or perhaps for the most part unaware, of why we live and act as we do. Moreover, to become more fully aware of our worldview not only allows us to bring it into our consciousness, but such awareness also allows us to live out our worldview more consistently. To come to grips with our worldview allows us then to take significant steps toward self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-understanding. If we are clear in our minds as to what we believe and why, then we will better have the ability to live in alignment with what we believe. Hence, worldview as a one of the themes that seek to describe the human condition also encompasses the theme of thought and action.

Let’s break down and explore the various components of Sire’s definition.

Worldview: As a Commitment

If we understand our worldview as a commitment of the heart, then it emerges from our deepest core that defines who we are, how we live, and the ways we desire to engage the world and other individuals. Clarifying our worldview allows us to bring together in unison our deepest and most impassioned emotions, core beliefs, spiritual experiences, and our willful actions. From a Biblical perspective, the heart is the driving force of a human being. We understand our worldview as a commitment into which we plunge so that we engage the world around us and all that populates it.

Worldview: As a Story or Set of Propositions

As we gain clarity of our worldview, then we can better articulate to others what we believe, why we believe it, and how we want to carry out our beliefs in day-to-day action. We can declare a set of propositional beliefs that conceptualize how we view the world and how we hope to navigate its existence. As a narrative, the more we understand our worldview, the more clearly we can tell our story as to how and why we exist in the world as we do. Propositional truths about the world and ourselves help us create meaning about our existence so that we know not only what we believe, but also why we believe it, and how we should then live (Francis Schaeffer). 

Worldview: Held Consciously or Unconsciously

If we are to possess all this clarity around our worldview, then we must do the exploration that brings what we believe, feel, and hope to accomplish from a position of unawareness to awareness. We all struggle to become aware of our core beliefs and values. This is an exploration we will never complete on this side of life. It is a struggle, however, about which we can continually gain clarity if we strive to do so. It is a struggle we must engage if we are find meaning in our lives.

Worldview: True, Partially True, or Totally False

Worldviews can be false. This is where the friction sets in, particularly for those of us who are Christians. We simply believe that some worldviews are false and will not lead to lives of fulfillment. Additionally, simply because we are Christians does not mean we get everything right about life at one moment and have no more clarity to gain or mistakes to correct. As Christians, the more we understand and gain clarity around our worldview the main struggle then becomes how we apply what we understand to our day-to-day living. This is a constant struggle that never lets up in this life. Although not so popular in our culture today, Christians believe in a reality that is outside of us to which we must align. Hence beliefs and actions have consequences. Galatians 6:7 warns us: God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. From a Christian perspective there is objective truth that lies outside of us that we don’t create in the way that postmodernism depicts today. Although there are subjective aspects to our engaging the world, the struggle is to know reality and align with how it calls us to live. As Christians we search for truth in all things.

Worldview: Lived Consistently or Inconsistently

The more clearly our worldview shapes up for us, the more we become aware of those areas in our life where we are and are not living in alignment with what we understand to be the case. This too is a struggle. How many of us have acted in ways that we thought aligned with what we believed only to realize later due to consequences that we misstated, misunderstood, and misjudged how we went about things? The clarion call to live consistent with our worldview is one of those nagging experiences that continually haunts us to get things right. Inconsistency leaves us open to all sorts of charges, both from our own consciences and from others who observe how we live. Living our worldview consistently is not about being perfect. It is about a continual and gracious search for what is true.

Worldview: As a Foundation on Which We Live     

Our worldview forms a foundation on which we stand toward life. Everything we believe and thereby do forms either a rock or shifting sand on which we stand. If our worldview is compromised, only partially true, or largely false, then rather than a rock, we stand on shifting sand. For the believer, Jesus Christ is the rock. Again, living in a fallen world means that Christians do not have everything right, but we hold a certain worldview that we believe to be true. Our lives on this side of eternity involve living out what we believe and continually correcting where we need to our understanding of what life is made of and how we are to navigate it. From a Christian perspective constantly sharpening our worldview must entail developing our relationship with a personal God who is real, and who works in our lives on a continuous basis. We can choose to know him deeply, or like any relationship, we can choose to let it wane. If we do not fully live according to our beliefs we will face consequences of that choice.

In the Counseling Room

As I stated in the introduction, there is not Christian hat to put on and take off for the sake of some conveniences we may feel or face. Given Sire’s definition of worldview with its various components, why that is the case should be clear now. Since my worldview provides the foundation on which I stand for understanding right and wrong, morality and immorality, and the various ways I go about interacting and treating others, then the idea of changing that foundation for the sake of changing contexts makes no sense at all. Although our worldview provides us with flexibility in a multifarious world, it is not something along the lines of Proteus in Greek mythology who could change into various creatures depending on where he finds himself at the moment. Consequently, as stated, I don’t check my worldview at the office entrance. I bring it into the counseling office because it is with me everywhere I go. If it’s not, then it’s not my worldview. I think it’s only fair that clients know and understand that about me.

Additionally, clients should know that I don’t view counseling as proselytizing them to my worldview. The work of counseling entails working together with people who have different and even conflicting worldviews. Where such differences may severely impede the therapeutic relationship then therapist and client should broach that conversation. Clients should know, however, that whereas I do not ask them to desert their worldview in working with me, neither will I desert mine as I work with them. First, such desertion cannot be done unless one becomes a hypocrite. Second, people cannot become something they truly are not. The world comprises experiences of people holding various takes on the world. The counseling room is the same, sort of a microcosm of a larger reality. What’s more important is that clients wouldn’t want me to chuck my worldview in the counseling room because then they would be working with someone who is not a complete human being.

What my worldview does mean, however, is that I can work more easily with those who hold a similar worldview to mine, that is other believers. Indeed, that is one form of counseling work that I enjoy, and in this series of articles on working as a Christian who happens to be a counselor, I will explore what Christians may expect in working with me, as well as Christian Interns whom I might supervise. Suffice it to say here that given the various components of Sire’s explication of worldview, it is something serious that forms the ground on which we stand and have our being as he says. It is the lens through which I look at and understand the world, all those who populate it, and all the actions that people generate within it. It is not something I take lightly that I can put on now and then as suits me.

Conclusion

Sire goes on to say that if we want clarity regarding our worldview, then we must profoundly reflect upon how we actually behave. This truth touches on one of the themes regarding the human condition that I explore in this blog, namely thought and action. If we have questions about what our worldview entails, then we need to check how we actually live. Then we need to decide if we truly want to accept or change the way we live.

Sire goes on to explore seven questions about the universe and living in it that a worldview should answer. I will explore those questions and apply my Christian worldview to them in the second blog article of this series that delves into working as a professional counselor who is first a Christian.

Our worldview shapes how we engage life, understand ourselves, and interact with others. It forms our values and dictates how we act in the world if we are to be consistent with its precepts. My worldview is who I am. I state clearly I am in Christ, identified with him, and live and have my being in him. Hence, that reality is what I seek to bring, not only into the counseling room, but also into my entire way of living. 

Do I fall short of how my worldview calls for me to live? Suffice it to say: that’s a blog article for another day.

References:

Sire, J.W. (2004). The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog.(Originally published in 1973). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/June 14th, 2020

THEMATIC/WORLDVIEW

Anxiety, Faith, & State

Introduction

Two Forms of Anxiety

Several decades ago (1950/1977), the existential psychologist and writer, Rollo May, authored The Meaning of Anxiety. In that book, he distinguished between two types of anxiety. He designated one type as pathological anxiety; he described a second type as existential anxiety. May believed that how we respond to the latter has much to do with whether or not we will experience the former. In his conceptualization, if we repress existential anxiety, we might very well develop pathological anxiety, along with other impairments that come with a denial of existential realities. Anxiety in all is forms leads to some restriction in the way one approaches life. The existential givens of life are limitations. We cannot be who and what we are not. When we deny or try to escape who we are, then anxiety can become more pronounced, and strictures of living can become more powerful impediments to our way of life.

Our True Nature and All Things Political

I rarely allow my libertarian spirit loose on this blog and write about things political. As a libertarian, I despise most things political. Rollo May’s conceptualization, however, of existential and pathological anxiety provides a good framework for how we can understand what has transpired over the last couple of months with COVID-19 government mandates, the rapacious hammering of an economy and people’s rights to earn a living for themselves and their families, and the wholesale giving over of Natural Rights to the State. I will speak to this cowardly act on the part of citizens, not only as a libertarian, but also as a Christian who understands life’s limitations from a Biblical perspective as to our finite and fallen nature. In our response to COVID-19 we chose to place strictures on our living due to our neurotic anxieties in the face of life’s limitations.

Our Enemy the State

It may well be that COVID-19 is even more dangerous and deadly than once imagined and predicted; however, presently that doesn’t appear to be the case. Even if COVID-19 turns out to be something akin to the Black Plague, that reality would furnish no excuse for the giving over of Natural Rights to the State. Indeed, any emergency situation where people are called to work together to deal with exigent situations is the very time to become more vigilant in safeguarding Natural Rights. Emergencies are food for the State to seize Natural Rights for the stated reason that it knows what is better for everyone concerned. The siren call one hears from the State singing it benevolent protection is one that should chill, not warm, the soul of people who truly value liberty.

Existential Anxiety: Risks Inherent in Living

Existentialists of various conceptualizations have described the tensions, struggles, and risks that comprise our journeys called life. Kirkegaard spoke of the dizziness of freedom, that weight we feel when we realize that we are responsible for our choices. Nietzsche spoke of the pressure that man faces in reevaluating his own values so as to avoid sacrificing himself to a herd mentality. Satre addressed man’s being condemned to freedom. Camus challenges man to live as a rebel, even in the face of what he felt to be an absurd existence.

Existential psychologists and psychotherapists expounded upon existential philosophical conceptualizations, such as those stated above, to describe certain forms of anxiety that are inherent in facing the many crossroads of decisions that make up our day-to-day existence. Irvin Yalom described four givens or themes of existence that we face in our human struggle: death, freedom and responsibility, meaning, and existential isolation. Others built on these to explicate their own view of existential approaches to therapy. Viktor Frankl explored the human need to search for meaning. Rollo May explored the notion of anxiety in depth to help us understand the dilemmas that are inherent in our struggle to carve out lives for ourselves. Although all these various conceptualizations contain food for thought, I believe they additionally must be understood through the truths of Biblical revelation,

Existential Anxiety and Pathological Anxiety

Rollo May described the normal challenges of life that we face as mechanisms that generate normal or existential anxiety. Inherent in living are threats to our various forms of existence. Can I provide for myself and my family? In such provision, can I also place myself and family in a safe environment where they not only have food on the table and a roof over their head, but they also have their health concerns provided? Can I keep safe so as to maintain safety for my family? And then, what about the day-to-day decisions I make? Will they be choices that continue the care I’m responsible for in terms of my own existence, as well as those I love? What if I make a bad decision? A wrong decision? What if I lose my job and income? What if I become ill and cannot take care of myself or family?

Inherent in all these questions are the normal anxieties of daily living. If we deny the struggle we are thinking more like an adolescent or child than an adult. The struggles and dangers are real. Facing the challenges that life throws at us is what Rollo May and others call the courage to exist. Rather than denying existential threats, we face up to them and fight to carve out and protect our livelihoods. When we deny these existential threats, then we can be swept away into neurotic anxiety. This happens to people because the challenges of living do not simply go away because we don’t want them to be present. If we don’t face up to them, then they manifest themselves in other ways in our being. We are responsible for the choices we make. We cannot escape that reality. Likewise, individually we must search out what is truly meaningful in our lives. In that sense, we make or at least come to discover how we can make meaning in and for our lives. We are all finite and must face the fact that one day we will die and cease to be. Individually, no one else can live our lives for us or make decisions for us. To cast this responsibility onto others is to act irresponsibly and cowardly.

Casting our Fate to the State

I have to admit that one of the most disappointing failures I’ve witnessed is our wholesale giving over of Natural Rights to the State due to the fear generated by COVID-19. First, let me say so that no caricatures or false narratives are applied to this blog, the threat of COVID-19 is real. I don’t believe it reaches the magnitude proclaimed by those in power, but it is real. Even if it does reach the predicted magnitude, the failure on our part as a free people is unsettling. We have cast upon the State the responsibility to take care of us, giving over to their dictates as to how we should live, what she should deem as essential, and the ways we should conduct our daily affairs, from the way we relate to our family and friends to the way we go about providing for our basic needs.

Note the devolution of Natural Rights that occurred over a period of just a few weeks. First, we engaged having to take precautions as we navigated our daily lives. Then precautions turned into dictates as to what kind of work is considered essential and what kinds of livelihood are non-essential. These designations determined by the State basically labeled people’s ways of living as important and not important. The devolution did not stop there. In some states, mandates equated to house arrests. Citizens were asked to spy on other citizens and report them if they violated certain mandates. The shock came at how easily citizens aligned with this role. Certain products in stores became designated as essential or non-essential. Activities, like mowing one’s yard, were criminalized or so near-criminalized that individuals feared being reported, shamed, or both if they engaged such activities. Certain governors of particular states took it upon themselves to determine whether people could even go for a drive. Police officers appeared at a mother’s house because she allowed her daughter to play outside. One governor went so far as trying to shut down an Interstate and an entire community because people disagreed and did not align with her mandates as to when and how they could resume their daily business.

One silver lining is that politicians who implemented these Draconian measures are beginning to experience some push back. Although that is a good sign, a deeper question exists as to how we so easily let things get to the point they did in the first place. Historically we have witnessed one of the major mechanisms the State uses to restrict people’s liberty, to proffer something that threatens their existence on some level. We have seen this over the years from the Cold War to the War on Terror, and now to the War on COVID-19. I do not wish to continue offering this qualifier, but again, I do not deny the threat of the COVID-19 virus. What I deny is that we as a people should have in a wholesale manner handed over to the State without thought and without hesitance our Natural Rights. If there is a more blatant example of pathological anxiety than our response to COVID-19 with our acquiescence to the State, I can’t for the life of me think of what it would be.

My Response as a Christian

Actions by the State in response to COVID-19 that bothered me the most entailed the blatant violation of freedom of worship and religion manifested in the closing down of churches and preventing people from coming together to worship. When a pastor is arrested for conducting church services, when people are fined and subjected to legal sanctions because they attend a worship whereby they stayed in their automobiles, and when the UN, WHO, and CDC desire to dictate to churches what they can and cannot do, then we have to ask what is going on here besides some concern for a virus.

I know many Christians will point to Romans 13 here as a proper Christian response. I agree but not to the point of acquiescence that some interpret that passage to mean. But that’s another discussion and blog article all together. As believers, we know via God’s word that life has been, is, and will continue to be full of existential threats. Although easier said than done, we are not be anxious. These exigent times of COVID-19 are prime times for the church to step forward and demonstrate what it can do and what it offers during such emergencies. The last thing we should do is hand all of our power to act over to the State.

Via God’s providence, we supposedly have created a government, not of men but of laws. My ultimate authority is God. Our ultimate legal authority here is the Constitution. We sold out the Constitution. We indicated by our actions that Natural Rights are not important when we embrace the Statist belief that those in political power know better how we should conduct our affairs than we do. I claim no omniscience at knowing how to navigate all the vicissitudes and vagaries associated with COVID-19. Such navigating would entail positive and negative experiences, getting some things right and other things wrong. Moreover, however, I recognize no omniscience on the part of the State to dictate to people how they should conduct their affairs, to know what ways of living are essential and non-essential, and to grant that it has the right to shutdown and annihilate an economy in the name of protecting people. Wilhelm Reich’s Mass Psychology of Fascism and Eric Fromm’s Escape from Freedom come to mind here. In mass hysteria, we ran into the arms of the State offering it everything we supposedly value to our core. In our neurotic anxieties, we traded liberty for security, and have gained neither. We restricted our way of living for a utopian promise.

Conclusion

I used the concept of Natural Rights throughout this blog. Suffice it to say without having to go into too much detail, as a Christian, I believe Natural Rights are endowed by a Creator. These times are scary, more than just for the reason of a virus. But in scary times, we as Christians have to look to our response to God and Christ our High Priest to understand, as Francis Schaeffer put it, how should we then live. Again, easier said than done, but our living should not be in fear. Our response to the State indicates that the mind of fear has ruled the way we see life. The way we see life has led us to acquiesce to the State. We have fled from the challenges inherent in life to live behind a mask that hides who we have become in our core. When this crisis passes, and it will pass, the question will be what masks remain on our souls that we sold to the State. We exchanged living fully for a utopian promise that no human being can, or has the right, to make and dictate.

To believe such promises from politicians is idolatry at its worse.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/May 14th, 2020

GENERAL ESSAY

Yes and No

Introduction

Life is a constant series of decisions. In our journeys we encounter crossroads at every turn, having to choose which way to go. Many of these crossroads leave little impact on our lives. Others are major crossroads that are life altering. With each decision, we have to say yes to something, which in turn means we say no to something else. Major crossroads are angst provoking for many people, especially when the choice of one road means they may never know what the other road might have held.

Major Crossroads: The Risks of Life

Life entails a series of risks that we must face. Every crossroad we come to entails risks that we must weigh because the way we go might set a path for our lives for some time to come. Time is the resource that we know is limited. We realize that we can never come back to the original starting point to make a different decision. No doubt, we can change our minds and make different decisions, but the time we’ve taken in the process is set in stone. We cannot reclaim it. A common experience I encounter is that I, people I know, and clients with whom I work desire someone to tell us everything is going to work out okay. We look for that person who can give us the picture that tells us the end from the beginning. Getting advice and feedback from people we trust is one thing. Wanting a guarantee is another thing all together. We desire guarantees because we don’t want to face the risks. The reality is that risks are inherent in life, especially if we want to pursue a life that is meaningful on some level.

So two things combine to make crossroads weighty things indeed. We say yes to something, meaning we have to say no to something else. Add to that we want to know that we’re making the right decision. I don’t believe that life is so arbitrary that we’re simply flipping a coin as we make our way through our existence. There are legitimate and good ways by which to make decisions. We can research, learn, and embrace those tried and true ways of making choices. What those may entail are another blog article. Nonetheless, even good decision-making practices cannot provide us with guarantees. There is truth in the notion that we simply have to use all that is available to us to make the best decisions we can, and then go with it. We have to let our decisions rest and see where they take us. We can neither get caught up in overthink or searching for ironclad guarantees. Overthinking and the search for absolute certainty will keep us stuck at the crossroads where we will never decide.

The Sinuous Paths of Life

Saying yes to things we hope to pursue can indeed be exciting. Saying no to pathways in which we’re also interested can produce both angst and sadness. There are many decisions we face that are not made up of cut-and-dry either-or decisions. There are nuances of interests and desires we have. The thought of saying no to some of those desires is truly painful. We simply don’t want to let them go even if we know we want to pursue a certain pathway. One thing I discovered in talking with so many clients and other people I know over the years is that when we choose a path, it is not necessarily one to which we are glued for our entire lives. In terms of career, many people have found ways to have more than one and even several careers that they have followed. Usually these decisions come about for them when one pathway runs its course, and they know it is time for a change. Likewise, once people choose to follow a path, they find ways then to work back into their journeys other things that interest them. Although it may take time, they find a way to bring back into their lives some of those things they said no to earlier. The common denominator here, however, is that these individuals first said yes to something and no to other things. The paths they ended up following would not have transpired for them had they not taken that first step toward one path at their crossroads. While we can’t be sure that we can work things back into our lives we once said no to, one thing is for sure. If we don’t say yes to something at the beginning, we will stay stuck at the crossroad. Staying stuck is simply saying no to everything. Again, we don’t know the end from the beginning. It may well be that when we say no to some things, they will never return to our life’s journey. There is nothing worse, however, than never getting started. All one has to do is listen to some stories that people tell about having wasted that resource of time to the point that they believe they have wasted their lives. If there is a guarantee I can give, then it would be that it is much better to choose a path, even if we have to reverse it later than to never have chosen at all. One can think in terms of romance. If I love a woman and wonder if I should tell her, one thing is for sure. If I never take the risk to tell her, I’ll never know what would have transpired. If I do tell her, and she says she doesn’t feel the same way, then painful as that may be, at least I gave it shot. I believe it is that way with every crossroad we face.

God’s Providence

I write this blog from a Christian worldview. As Christians, we believe in God’s providential care over our lives. That means we don’t need to know the end from the beginning. What God’s providence doesn’t mean is that we should make decisions in haphazard ways. In fact, as Christians we should be the ones who put the meaning into due diligence. We do the best we can, and we leave it in God’s hands. Does that mean we never make mistakes? I wish! Like anyone’s life, we can choose to learn from the choices we made that didn’t turn out or we can grow bitter and disappointed. From a Christian perspective, we can look to the lessons that God has for us. One of the things we all must learn is that the rare resource of time is limited. We don’t have the time to make life decisions in a haphazard manner. We equally don’t have the time to grow bitter and disappointed when decisions we make don’t turn out the way we desired. Life is indeed a learning process. It has hard knocks, pitfalls, and traps into which we fall. It also has its rewards that come with wisdom that we gain if we look for it in the experiences life offers us.

Conclusion

Life is a series of yes’s and no‘s. We are finite creatures who cannot know the beginning from the end. We have the rare resource of time to navigate the winding rivers and roads of our lives. The sad fact is that we can waste our lives if we are not careful. We encounter crossroads of one kind or another everyday. The major ones can be angst producing. The worst thing we can do at major crossroads is stay stuck as in quicksand because we want some form of guarantee that everything will work out the way we hope. No human being can offer us that. The one thing I do believe is that through faith and due diligence things will work out. Perhaps not in the way we hoped or desired, but they will work out, providing us with lessons that we can hopefully and joyfully call wisdom.

There’s nothing richer than that kind of wisdom.  

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/April 14th, 2020

GENERAL ESSAY

Thought and Action

Introduction

I would guess that most of us have experienced that sense of fulfillment that comes when our actions in life and on the world truly align with our declared beliefs and values. Such fulfillment is especially true when the actions we had to take were difficult ones, where we knew we had to do what was right.

In this month’s blog, I want to explore the necessity of how our actions should align with what we believe, particularly those beliefs that we hold at our core, ones we believe that define pretty much who we are. Our core beliefs should dictate and frame our actions. Although we’ll never be perfect in such an alignment on this side of life (speaking as a Christian here), to the extent that our actions align with our core beliefs, we will much more likely find fulfillment in the way we live. Such a way of living can be called many things. Honesty, ethical, dependable, and most of all a life filled with integrity come to mind as apt descriptors.

To seek to act – to live out fully as much as possible – in alignment with our beliefs is a difficult undertaking. To the extent that we do so, we can possibly experience, in addition to a sense of fulfillment, lives of empowerment, efficacy, and the sense that we have pursued well-lived and meaningful lives.

Core Values

I have written about counseling and valuation more than once on this blog. Suffice it say, what we call our core beliefs, those that define and describe who we are or who we would like to be, can also be called our core values. Core beliefs make up how we would choose to live and act regardless of what life throws at us. That is a tall order. What can sting us to the core, or sink like a sharp blade deep into our soul, are our realizations that in the midst of tough times that life sends our way, we abandoned what we held to be foundational beliefs about how we understand ourselves, the ways in which we hope to act toward others, and how we desire to live in the world. In a word, we have abandoned our worldview.

Now one could offer the legitimate critique that if time after time we abandoned what we claim to hold as true deep in our soul during life’s challenges that test our claims, then we really don’t value what we claim to value. No doubt, we may find at times that we have inculcated values that we claim to hold without really critiquing for ourselves whether or not we truly value what we claim. That’s another concern all together.

I want to take a different angle at possibly understanding what occurs when we fail in the face of life’s difficulties. Yes, we have claimed to have believed something that we deserted when tough times came at us. Welcome to life and its mix of successes and failures. Rather than totally giving up on what we claim to value when such failures occur, perhaps the truth is that what we value entails difficult ways of standing toward life. I know that is true for my own take on things. Why hold a value that doesn’t help me through difficult times? I don’t want to live by the value that hard times require our always backing out and not facing what life throws at us. That is, in fact, a value. It’s simply one with which I don’t want to align. That means when I say I want to live with courage, honesty, and integrity, I most likely will fail at living those values out many times in my life because they are difficult values by which to live. Would we have it any other way?

So the question becomes what do you hold as your core values and beliefs? What do you believe to be true? On what foundations does your view of truth stand? How do you see yourself living in alignment with what you claim to hold at your core? If your beliefs are difficult to hold during the cold, hard, and dry circumstances of life, you should not automatically assume that you don’t really believe what you claim to believe. Instead, such experiences may mean that what you believe and value are difficult paths to tread. Don’t automatically shun your beliefs because they are hard ones by which to live when life’s demands come at you.

A quote by Viktor Frankl has stuck with me over the years. In his work, Man’s Search for Meaning, he stated: It’s not what we demand of life that counts, but what life demands of us. That’s a difficult belief by which to live. But do you believe that it is true?

Faith and Life

I would be lying through my teeth if I said I believe that the power to live in alignment with what I value rests totally in me. I have written more than once on this blog that I am born-again Christian. No doubt that epithet raises many questions for people who might read this blog along with a ton of caricatures that readily pop into their mind.

The Christian life is a tough one by which to live if one truly chooses to live as God would have one live. But there is also a promise that God has made to those of us who have trusted him through Christ for our salvation. That promise is that he will grant us the power to live the way he wants us to live. The last thing that means, however, is that life will be made of easy pathways through which we can skip and play without any trip ups. For the fallen in life, moral failures are facts of life. They occur everyday for me. If I had to believe that every time I failed, then I really didn’t believe what I claim to believe, then I would have given up on my faith a long time ago.

Scriptures, the witness of the apostles and the saints throughout history, and many believers whom I personally know today tell another story. To live as a Christian is a tough battle. I’ve failed at it many times. I’ve even given up on it at times, always to be called back as God promised. Rather than shucking my beliefs, my failures indicate how much more I need the grace of God to live as I should live. Courage, honesty, and integrity are wonderful core values, along with a host of others. Think of what scripture calls the fruits of the Spirit: peace, love, joy, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. If every time I fell short at living out any one of those, I gave up on them, then those nine words would carry no meaning at all and no target toward which to set one’s sights. The truth is that I can’t live by them by my own power. The promise is that by God’s grace via sanctification, I will grow into them. But I do not have to choose that path. There are more times in my life than I wish were true that I didn’t choose that path. Nonetheless, God’s grace abounds anyway.

Conclusion: Foundations

For the reader who is a Christian, the message is that God’s grace can and will help you live out what you claim to believe and know to be true. In the midst of failures, don’t toss your beliefs to the side of the road because they are difficult ones by which to live. Those difficult times are the ones that God uses to hone who and what we are at our core.

For the one who is not a Christian, then you must choose to live as you will. Still, solid values that people want to live out are difficult. It is easy to believe that because they are difficult, they cannot or should not be held. Everyone has to decide what they hold at their foundation. Then they have to decide if that foundation has any other deeper foundations to it. In this postmodern age where rhetoric rules over the idea of rationality, reason and truth, foundational truths are hard to hold forth. They are mocked, laughed at, and disparaged as backward ways of thinking and living.

Each individual must decide if there are reasons to hold foundational truths. And then he or she must decide if the battles to live in alignment with those truths are worth the struggle.

What people decide will frame, shape, and canalize the way they move through life.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/March 14th, 2020

THEMATIC: THOUGHT/ACTION

Group Therapy for Social Anxiety

Introduction

Anxiety disorders are common among the population. When the various types of anxiety disorders are taken all together, they represent one of the largest reasons that people enter therapy. For those counselors who work in a private practice or agency setting, they will most likely deal with clients who experience various types of anxiety disorders, better described as phobias.

Although there are a variety of strategies for treating anxiety disorders, the primary way in which phobias are treated in counseling situations is through what is called exposure treatments. Individuals are directly exposed to, that is must encounter, the phobic situation that leads to their severe anxious responses, responses that can and often do entail panic attacks. For example, if a person has a severe phobia regarding dogs, then therapy will involve helping the individual be in the close proximity of a dog, even to the point of developing the ability to pet a dog. The best way for individuals to conquer severe phobias of elevators is simply to get on an elevator and ride it up and down over and over again.

Because therapy entails supporting individuals to physically engage that which causes their phobic reactions, such treatments are called exposure. Individuals expose themselves to that which they fear the most. The basic premise of exposure treatment is that once people are in the presence of the feared phobic object or situation, they can learn to stay in its presence, seeing that what they fear the most will not occur. While being exposed to phobic stimuli, individuals who experience anxiety disorders will be asked not to utilize compensatory and avoidance strategies that they normally use to curb their anxiety. The longer they can stay in the presence of the object or contexts that lead to their phobic reactions, they will see that their anxiety will begin to dissipate because what they catastrophize about the phobic situation does not come true.

Research results indicate that exposure treatments for phobias are highly effective. In fact, in most cases, unless people engage such exposure treatments, they rarely will overcome their phobias to the point that they can better function in the presence of what leads to their fears. It is not that some people cannot overcome their anxieties apart from exposure treatment. It is just highly doubtful that they can. Even if they do, it takes a much longer time to overcome such fears, and the relapses tend to be quicker and more numerous where exposure treatment is not used.

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety, also called social phobia, has at its roots the fear of negative evaluation by others. To some extent, most of us have experienced the fear of negative evaluation in social settings, but for individuals who struggle with social anxiety, the fear of negative evaluation reaches the extent that their functioning becomes severely impaired. For example, individuals will avoid and cease attending situations that involve social gatherings, especially social situations in which they do not know most of the people present. They may enter a social situation but stay close to a friend or friends whom they know, and then hang out on the perimeters of the social context so as to avoid interacting with people whom they don’t know. Such avoidance strategies are called compensatory strategies because they allow individuals to find ways to curtail their anxieties. While curtailing anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing, compensatory strategies prevent individuals from engaging experiences that they would prefer to engage. The ultimate compensatory strategy for social anxiety is when individuals consistently turn down social invitations, thereby avoiding social interaction all together.

The problem with such strategies is that many people do not feel good about turning down social invitations. It is something that they would actually prefer to do if they weren’t so anxious about the social contexts they must engage. The aim of therapy for social anxiety is not to turn people into party animals where they are the life of the party. The goal of such work is simply to help clients reach their own comfort levels, deciding to what degree they want to become more relaxed in social outings.

Many times social anxiety is cast in the discussion of introversion and extraversion. Nothing could be further from the truth. Introversion and extraversion have nothing to do with social anxiety. There is nothing wrong with being an introvert, irrespective of how our society highly regards extraversion. The aim of therapy is not to help one evolve from being an introvert to and extravert. Introverts as well as extraverts can function comfortably in social situations. The aim of therapy is to help individuals become more comfortable in social gatherings where their anxiety and compensatory strategies have become pronounced. Socially anxious people simply want to develop the ability to walk into social gatherings without being hampered by anxiety. They want to experience the comfort of meeting people they don’t know in social contexts. They may want to introduce themselves to people, network at parties and other social contexts, or carry on simple conversations at social gatherings.

Fear of Negative Evaluation

As stated above, the root fear of those who experience social anxiety is the fear of negative evaluation. From a cognitive behavioral perspective, people hold beliefs about what they fear will occur in social contexts. Socially anxious people state their fears in several ways, which help therapists get at their thinking related to social contexts. One client may say, people will think I’m weird somehow. Another client might say, people will think I’m unattractive. Still others believe such things as people will think I look funny – sound funny – dress funny – etc. Therapists hear clients say things like I will feel like a fool trying to carry on a conversation, especially with someone I don’t know. Others might say: I don’t like meeting people; I don’t like parties; I don’t enjoy introducing myself to people I don’t know.  Again, there is nothing wrong with these statements and actions in-and-of-themselves. If people prefer not to meet others, if they don’t like parties, and if they don’t care about turning down invitations to social events, then that’s fine. Individuals, however, come to therapy because they believe their anxiety regarding social situations is over the top. Due to their fears, they can’t do the things they would prefer to engage. They may desire to make new friends, date different people, and talk more to individuals they don’t know that well at social gatherings. Hence, they want to make some changes that can help them become more comfortable in social contexts.

Researchers have developed several Fear of Negative Evaluation (FNE) scales that therapists can use with clients who experience social anxiety. Most of these scales contain statements that clients can rate on a Likert-like measurement. For example, clients can rate from 1 to 5 with one meaning not at all and 5 meaning highly true, the statement I am extremely sensitive to what people think about me. Rather than creating some major quantitative data, these scales can be used qualitatively to generate conversations between therapists and clients. Through these conversations, therapists can obtain a good grasp of how their clients function in social settings. Additionally therapists can learn how their clients utilize avoidance and compensatory strategies when it comes to social engagements.

Clients’ beliefs about social contexts and the compensatory strategies they use  to avoid such settings are the very things that must be challenged via exposure treatment. The question becomes: how is exposure treatment best done for those who experience social anxiety?

Group Therapy for Social Anxiety

Group Design for Working with Clients Who Experience Social Anxiety

There are several pathways to help clients face their anxieties about social situations. As part of their therapy counselors can ask them to attend meet-up groups, social gatherings, office parties, and any social context where there will be people clients do not know. Therapists and clients can agree on homework assignments in which clients take on the tasks of introducing themselves to people they don’t know. If clients are in classroom situations, they can agree to speak up in class a specified number of times. Such social arrangements are useful but can be difficult to control, monitor, and structure so that the client gets optimal benefit from taking on the task.

One of the major tools used in working with individuals who experience social anxiety is group therapy. The group setting itself creates a built-in form of exposure for clients. Groups can be structured along several lines. They can be non-specific encounter groups that comprise some members who experience social anxiety and other members who do not have such concerns. Such a group is representative of most social settings clients will enter.

Group settings where all members experience social anxiety is another form of group therapy. I believe that for those clients who have never experienced group work, these specified groups are a good entrance point into this kind of work. Group meetings should be weekly for a specified period of time, for example six weeks. Groups should be limited to no more than eight members. Groups comprise people that each member does not know. Hence, each week members must enter the group room where people exist with whom they have not made contact. This act alone exposes clients to one form of fear they experience about social situations. Additionally, group activities will provide each client with opportunities to act and speak in front of the other group members. Such activities expose group members to some of their worse fears: speaking in front of people, being observed by others, and then getting feedback from all the participants. Moreover, the very act of giving feedback provides exposure for group members who can learn that feedback is neither negative evaluation nor being overtly judgmental.

Role of the Group Therapist(s)

Therapists know that socially anxious individuals excessively fear such social engagements where they must talk, interact, and in some way be observed by others. Therapists must hold a space for each participant so that all group members can feel safe, respected, attended to, and not judged. Therapists should prevent personal attacks among members, which is a cardinal rule for all group therapy, but it is especially important for social anxiety groups because such personal attacks come across as judgmental, which is the very thing group members fear. Personal attacks, however, are not the same as personal disagreements. Group members can learn that disagreements among members are neither negative evaluations nor judgmental acts on the part of others. Therapists should guide and channel any disagreements that arise in constructive ways, perhaps teaching people how to voice disagreements in ways that do not sound or look like personal attacks. Group process will allow group members to give honest but non-judgmental feedback to other members in the group. Group participants will hopefully emulate the therapists’ ways of holding a safe space for clients, and begin doing the same for each other as they interact during group activities.

Therapists should take on the role of screening group members. Although not all group dynamics include screening, I think for a specified type of group, such as one designed for social anxiety, therapists should screen clients with a one-on-one interview before admitting them into the group. The primary focus of the group, and the primary concern of each group member should be social anxiety. Therapists should also administer a short FNE scale for each group member. Therapists should also create some type of qualitative feedback form for group members to complete so as to ascertain how clients believe the group therapy setting worked for them.  

Individuals in a therapeutic group eventually get to know one another and thereby become more comfortable with one another. Although for most process groups, such comfort is a good thing that can lead to group cohesion, this presents a problem for groups designed to treat social anxiety. As members become comfortable with one another, the group setting begins to lose its exposure power. Once a social anxiety group loses its exposure edge, then how does therapy proceed so that clients can continue to work on their socially anxious concerns?

Social Gatherings of Various Groups

If therapists are working with more than one group designed to treat social anxiety, then they have a built-in mechanism for creating social gatherings. Following the six-week group therapy session, clients can be asked to attend social gatherings comprising members of other groups who have sought to deal with their social anxiety. In these social gatherings, members can introduce themselves to people they don’t know, and then talk to, and interact with individuals they don’t know. The caution for designing and setting up these social gatherings entails the logistics that must be navigated so that members will feel safe in the social gatherings. Informed consents should be developed, and therapists should work with their specific groups, discussing expectations for the social gatherings. Should they be totally voluntary or required? As therapists work with numerous groups, past group members can attend the social gatherings to provide a good mix of individuals present at the gatherings. Perhaps past members can take a couple of minutes to speak in front of the attendees at the social gathering, demonstrating how they have come to manage their social anxiety. As social gatherings continue, they will grow in number, and clients can continue to follow up by attending the gatherings as long as they feel it necessary to attend. Such social gatherings can be treated as booster sessions for past group members.

Conclusion

Existential concerns exist with social anxiety just as they exist with practically any struggle through which human beings undergo. As stated above, those who experience social anxiety have as their greatest fear that other people will somehow negatively evaluate them. The simple fact is the world comprises people who do negatively evaluate others, whether or not those who are doing the evaluating know anything at all about the people on whom they are dumping. Given that negative evaluators do exist in the world, the question becomes is how much power does one want to grant such evaluators. This is an existential question. Another existential concern revolves around the question why should individuals care if people negatively evaluate them. Therapy for those who experience social anxiety does not include a promise that they will not experience negative evaluation from someone. Helping clients manage their social anxiety and become more realistic about their catastrophic beliefs and ensuing fears can have the added benefit of helping clients adjust to a world where there are some ugly things that happen out there.

At Contemplations, I hope to begin a series of group counseling experiences for those struggling with social anxiety. Be sure to check out this website for more information regarding my practice.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/February 14th, 2020

PROFESSIONAL COUNSELING

Counseling & Valuation II

Introduction

Back in October, I wrote a blog regarding counseling and valuation, and the kind of work that transpires with clients who pursue goals of valuation. In that blog I focused on clientele who are fairly certain of what their core beliefs and values are, but they have come to realize that they are not really living their lives in alignment with their purported values. That blog focused specifically on helping clients establish the means by which they pursue their valued ends. Many times clients have clear ideas as to the values they hold, but they are not sure of the means by which to live out those values. I called that type of valuation work Level I because the counseling process does not delve into the search for clients’ values. Level I work is important work for counseling and most likely fits the needs for the majority of clients entering counseling for life transition work.

Counseling and valuation, however, can involve another level of work, a type of work that is more difficult and time consuming than Level I work. Counseling and valuation, Level II work, entails working with clients who simply are unclear as to what their core values in fact are. It’s tantamount to being in a fog regarding to where life is heading. Individuals are so unsure as to what their core values might be, they need some in-depth clarification work. What this type of counseling work will look like will be highly diversified, depending on each client. Counselors may hear clients say such things as: I’m not sure what I believe about important decisions in my life. I’m at a loss as to what my core beliefs and values are. I’ve never truly considered what my core values are and how to live out my life according to what they are. I have a difficult time making major decisions in my life because I simply do not know what it is that I believe. I know I want to do something meaningful with my life, but I’m just not sure what that is.

Unlike Level I work in valuation, Level II work cannot begin with exploring the means by which to pursue and accomplish valued ends. Rather this level of work must begin with exploration of what in fact an individual’s valued ends might be. Level II valuation work in counseling is what is typically designated as values clarification. Before clients can engage means to pursue the ends they value, they must first clarify the ends they hope to accomplish with their lives.

A Quick Review: Level I Work – Means and Ends

In the blog, Counseling as the Science of Human Action, I wrote about the use of means and ends in working with clients. Many times clients enter counseling with a fair to clear idea of the ends they hope to accomplish in life, but they are unclear as to the means to accomplish their desired ends. Counseling with such clients involves anything from behavioral plans to assessing what they have already tried, focusing on what things worked and what didn’t. Helping clients establish means to accomplish their valued goals also entails helping them look at how risk aversive they might be, and assessing what level of risks they would be willing to undergo. Clients can know what it actually takes to make changes in their lives, but they may balk at taking the risks to make the necessary changes that can propel them onto more fulfilling lives. Counseling can help them establish action plans that they can engage at a pace that is comfortable for them individually. Then the counseling work involves troubleshooting any obstacles that continue to prevent clients from making desired changes. The use of the language means and ends helps clients distinguish between their valued goals (ends) and the actions (means) they embrace to reach those goals. Once an individual begins working towards certain ends, he or she can begin to make any nuanced changes along the way in terms of both means and ends. When clients hit a wall in their pursuits, therapists may need to assess whether the issue is not only means that clients are utilizing to make changes in their lives, but also may entail making changes in the ends clients are pursuing. In other words, clients may be unclear and unsure as to the valued ends they truly want to pursue. At that point, counseling work has shifted from Level I to Level II work.

Valuation Counseling: Level II

There are no easy formulas or step-by-step cookbook approaches that seamlessly guide counselors in working with clients who need to engage in Level II work of values clarification. This kind of counseling work is truly a pure form of exploratory work. This work is foundational in the sense that what clients discover at this stage provides the ground on which Level I work will build. Level II work involves clients’ radical acceptance that they are at a starting point on a journey that at the moment has an uncertain finish. Clients who truly accept that they are unsure of their core values must place everything on hold for the purpose of critical inquiry. All clients believe something by which they are making their way through life. It may be that they simply have not clarified what that something is. That is a starting point for values clarification. Individuals do not like to admit that they are uncertain as to what their core values are. It’s a difficult thing to admit about oneself. Like any other work in counseling, clients need to feel safe and not judged when admitting such truths about themselves. Clients have to perceive the counseling setting as a safe place to open up to certain truths they perhaps would not admit to most people they know.

One of the first things to take place in Level II valuation work in counseling is that clients agree with and establish a commitment to take on such work. Clients must be honest with themselves that they need to engage the counseling process involved in clarification of values. In respect to time commitment, although no time limit can be set for Level II work, it will most likely take at least a few weeks and possibly longer. The counseling process will be replete with inroads into clarity, setbacks into lack of clarity, rethinking ground covered, and reassessing what clients believe they have accomplished. It is that feeling of taking three steps forward and one or two steps back. Value clarification can be a slow process, while simultaneously can involve punctuated accelerated gains that come with insights that clients gain along the way. Patience is indeed a virtue for this kind of work, for therapists as well as clients. More than once, therapists and clients will have to discuss whether or not all the effort is worth the outcome hoped for.

The Card Sort

William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick in their work, Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change, provide a list of 100 values along with definitions of what each value entails. Although using card sorts can feel mechanical I think the approach Miller and Rollnick provide is highly useful, and it at least establishes a beginning point for clients to engage value clarification. More importantly, it provides a way that therapists and clients can begin a discussion and exploration about values, what they mean, and how they inform people as to how they should live. Clients read through the list of 100 values and sort them along a Likert-like scale of five ratings ranging from Very Important to Not Important [Very Important – Most Important – Important – Somewhat Important – Not Important]. Exploratory discussions in counseling begin with what clients rate as Very Important. Many times this exploratory process allows clients to compare, rethink, and reevaluate among those values they rated in the top three categories. Clients find it difficult to distinguish these levels of importance at times. They will tend to move back and forth, placing and replacing various values into their card sorts. This process is important work for clients, helping them become aware of how difficult and important it is for them to nuance their decisions.

If clients place a large number of the values listed into the first two categories, then the next step in this process is to ask clients to rate their top five or ten values, leaving the others aside for the moment. Once clients establish their top five or ten values, then their choices become the focus of exploration in counseling.

Alignment of Thought and Action

Card sorts and lists are fine tools that therapists and clients can utilize that help them delve into important discussions around clarifying values. However, they are just that, a tool. The nitty-gritty work in this exploratory process are the discussions in which therapists and clients engage. Therapeutic discussions help clients nuance, refine, and clarify the tough decision points they face as they seek to determine their core values.

Talking about values clarification during the session is one thing. Acting on decisions about values is another thing all together. Although people can choose from a list of values the ones they think represent their core beliefs, unless they act on those beliefs, they remain stagnate instead of moving forward. At this point, important discussions around taking risks emerge. Clients have to try things that perhaps they’ve never tried before. After all, they are searching out their core values. If for example they claim Art as one of their core values, described by Miller and Rollnick as to appreciate or express myself in art, then clients must seek out ways to live out this value. For many clients that would most likely mean studying, creating, and producing art in some form. If they claim to possess such a value but don’t act on it, then their purported beliefs do not align with their actions. This misalignment of beliefs and actions becomes the focus of discussion in counseling. The old adage where the rubber meets the road is supreme here. Clients not acting on purported values must confront that they in fact do not value what they claim to value. Even if the lack of action is due to fear of failure or aversion to risks, clients who do not act on stated values must face the reality that they do not in fact value what they claim. Such discussions can be the most challenging, fearful, and even painful ones that clients engage.

Another adage, talk is cheap reigns supreme here as well. If I say I believe something at my core, that I truly value it beyond all other beliefs I might hold, but my life shows no evidence that I in fact value what I claim, then something is off. I may have fears I need to overcome. I perhaps need to explore risks assessment, helping me understand what level of risk I’m willing to take on. I might fear what others would think of me if I lived truly in alignment with what I believe. Or, it may be that I don’t truly value what I claim. If the case is the latter, then it’s back to the drawing board of values clarification. These are the reasons that when dealing with values clarification actions must become the focus in counseling or it’s all mere talk. Actions help clients clarify and nuance what they claim to believe and value. There’s nothing more powerful than taking an action based on a purported belief and letting the consequences of that action provide a feedback loop regarding that belief. When the rubber meets the road, the road can be a hard and harsh teacher. It also helps clients clarify and nuance what they purport to believe. Without action, words about values are just that, mere words.

Conclusion

Clients engage Level II work of values clarification when they lack certainty about what they truly value at their core. The process of this work will involve movements back and forth between stated values and testing those values with action. Moreover actions help clients nuance their choices so as to better refine them so that they indeed become clearer guides to a better way of living, which is a goal we all seek on one level or another.

Speaking of nuance, future blog articles will delve more into the process of values clarification in terms of the major themes I’ve written about in other blog articles, which include meaning, thought/action, humility/finitude, and worldview.

John V. Jones, Jr, Ph.D, LPC-S/January 14th, 2020

GENERAL ESSAY

Meanderings 2019

Introduction

Time for the final blog for 2019 has arrived. It’s at this time of year that I proffer my meanderings for the year, reflect upon what the future of this blog might hold, and take time to prepare for the holidays. Like most twelve-month spans, this past year has brought about some experiences that has made life interesting, to say the least.

Reawakened Interests

Back in September, I posted a blog about returning to some themes I had written about in the past. Indeed they reawakened some interests that I have held for quite some time, and they represent areas of exploration that will form and shape this blog across the next year of 2020. The importance and impact of these themes also remind me of the humility I have to embrace, given that I’m anything but an expert in any of these areas of exploration. The interests that have been rekindled within me will include research into the areas of mind, meaning-making, thought/action, finitude/humility, worldview, and valuation. I’m not sure which one of these areas of exploration will become primary data for next year’s blog writing, but at least one or two of them will be at front and center stage. The idea that all of them will be tapped out over the next twelve months is unrealistic. Each theme could become an in-depth study for quite some time to come.

Counseling as Human Action

Another major focus that had its inchoate appearance in 2019 on this blog involved a notion that I borrowed from the economist Ludwig von Mises. And that is counseling as human action. I hold a strong belief that as human beings we are all in the quest of making our lives better in some way. That is, each of us seeks to carve out a life that we personally believe entails a life of fulfillment. As such, we hold values that make up and define the kind of life we want and hope for. Action entails our discovering the means by which we can obtain the kind of life for which we long. Our valuations are the ends at which we aim, and our actions entail the means by which we hope to obtain our valued ends. Counseling as human action is a theme I hope to explore more in depth over the next year. Obviously this theme dovetails nicely with the six areas of exploration that I delineated above.

A Specific Topic and Quest

Over a year ago, I published a blog article on the dynamic and power of group counseling. I am specifically interested in forming group experiences for individuals who experience social anxiety. This particular idea is one I will explore more in 2020, both by proffering ideas on this blog, and by developing these ideas in my private practice.

Life Experiences

Our meanderings over time are always abetted by the various experiences that life throws at us. For sure, this came true for me during 2019. I found myself by quite surprise in the position of becoming Power of Attorney for some relatives that had experienced and were going through some difficult times. Because they are elderly, physical health concerns have taken center stage in their day-to-day struggles. I never knew what stepping into the role of a Power of Attorney entailed, especially for elderly individuals whose lives were pretty much in shambles in terms of finances, daily care, and possessing the support they needed to simply carry on their personal functioning. At first, the task overwhelmed me, and it appeared much larger than me, and anything I could bring to it. I also became aware of the experience of two people’s lives and well being having been thrust into my hands. As a person of faith, I found that I was in a situation that challenged things I believed, about myself, about God, and about my faith in general. I have written several times on this blog about my personal beliefs and how they inform my work. At this point, I can say thankfully that I have reached a plateau of understanding, but there are sill many miles to cover with this specific situation. Basically, I’m watching two people near the end of their lives who did not have anyone to take care of them. The beliefs that have carried me through this situation thus far entail my coming to the knowledge and understanding of what God would have me do, and that I do it right. Thus these experiences forced me to embrace my faith and truly come to know God on a more personal level. No doubt, I will explore these ideas more over the next year on this blog. More importantly, however, the place that these experiences have brought me thus far will simply inform much of what I have to say, both as a counselor and an individual who is a Christian.

Holidays

Several times on this blog, I have written about the holidays, special days, and celebrations we engage, ranging from Valentines Day to Christmas Day. The holidays are special times for me, so I will continue to write about their meaningful significance in my life as we go forward into 2020. As I noted on last month’s blog, the holidays, while special times for most people, are difficult times for many people. As practitioners in the counseling field, we might experience clients during this time of year as they undergo both highs and lows.

Conclusion: Counseling and Beyond

Counseling is a field of which it is a both a privilege and honor to be a part. Those who are familiar with this blog, however, know that many topics about which I write only tangentially may intersect with the field of counseling. The subtitle of my Contemplations website is: Exploring the Life of the Mind, the Arts, Sciences, and Critical Inquiry. I hope over the next year to explore several areas that are important to people, not just from a counseling standpoint, but also from the point of being those who like all of us have to engage daily the human condition.

Here’s to 2020. Hope you come along for the ride.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/December 14th, 2019

GENERAL ESSAY