Christians have a great privilege that they have the word of God to guide their lives. Bad things happen to everybody. Bad things happen to Christians too. Sometimes this can cause them to lose sight of the Rock on which they have built their lives. They suffer from anxiety, anger, fear, depression, etc., for which they may need to seek professional or pastoral counseling. The role of the counselor is to bring them back to the word of God, bring them back to their faith, and to a renewed thinking that aligns with the word of God.
The practice of REBT (Relational Emotive Behavior Therapy) and other forms of CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) for counseling the hurting people can easily be mixed with Biblical teachings to counsel Christians.
In this post, I will primarily be discussing REBT for counseling Christians for mental, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual health.
Albert Ellis’s ABC model of emotional disturbance
It is based on the line “People are not disturbed by things, but by the view, they take of them.” from the book Enchiridion by Epictetus. It has three components. It emphasizes that people’s beliefs about an event need to change for changing their resulting feelings.
A) Activating Event
B) Belief or Set of Beliefs about the event
C) Resulting Feeling and Action
I am feeling deeply hurt because of being asked to go home by force when others were permitted to stay.
A) Activating Event: Being asked to go home by force
B) Wrong Belief: Because I see myself as a special needs person, I felt discriminated against and mistreated. Everyone must see me as normal.
C) Resulting feeling: Anger, Discouragement, Sadness, Resulting Action: I shout at home, tell so many people without finding a healing
I should stop seeing myself as a special needs person. I cannot control what other people think of me. Therefore, I should not care how they think of me.
I was excluded from the group going on a long trip even though I was eligible.
A) Activating Event: Exclusion
B) Wrong Belief: I was discriminated against for being a special needs person. I believe the leader was capable of taking me with him. I believed the leader was mature.
C) Resulting Feeling: Low esteem, anger, hatred, strong desire. Resulting Action: Left the Church, Shout at Home, told so many people without finding any healing or deliverance, could not concentrate on my studies, unable to break free from that strong desire
I should not see myself as a special needs person because I can do many things like everybody else; nobody can do everything. I was wrong in believing that the leader was mature and capable. So, it is good, that he did not take me with him. Not everybody is alike. Age also matters.
1. Recognize irrational beliefs – The core demand of an irrational belief has words like: must, absolutely should, ought, need, have to. The derivatives of irrational belief are awfulizing, low frustration tolerance (LFT), self-downing, other downing.
2. Show that they are irrational
3. Replace them with rational alternatives – The core demand can be restated as: must is == replaced by ==> would like to. Irrational derivatives == replaced by ==> rational alternatives.
Demand and Derivatives of Irrational Beliefs
A meta-physical demand is an absolute demand, a necessity, nobody can do anything else. A moral demand is a choice demand. We can only place a moral demand on another person. REBT asserts that absolute metaphysical demands are irrational and problematic, but conditional (choice) moral demands are okay.
REBT asserts that an event can never be truly awful, Events are metaphysical realities. Evaluation of events is a mental act. It is rational to evaluate an event as very painful, tragic, undesirable, and unfortunate. But it is irrational to evaluate the event as awful, utterly devastating for all times and all people. It is irrational because
a) It makes an absolute prediction about an unknown future.
b) It is overgeneralization and exaggeration of the current data.
Romans 8:39 – Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Proverbs 3:25-26 – Do not be afraid of the sudden terror, when the wicked comes. For the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.
Isaiah 41:10 – Do not be afraid for I am with you.
Philippians 4:6-7 – Do not be anxious about anything, but with prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Matthew 6:34 – Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its things.
Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT)
gird one’s loins = prepare for something challenging
Life will have difficulties and challenges, and we are to do the difficult work of finding the solutions to those difficulties. God will not solve the problems for us, but he will surely help us to find the solutions. God expects that we do the work! We are to endure when we face hardships.
James 5:11 – Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
Self- and other-downing
There are three fundamental theological realities known to every Christian:
– Everyone is created in the image of God.
– Everyone has sinned.
– Everyone can be redeemed by Christ.
A Christian cannot deny any of these, else there would be theological and emotional problems.
Humans can sin, but we cannot say any human has become sin. This is because a rational Christian accepts that humans can come out of their sinful habits and do good through the grace of God.
The scripture, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” is not for putting ourselves or others down as sinners but to love and support one another when someone fails.
Five Principles of REBT
+ Irrational beliefs are the primary causes of feelings.
+ People are limited and fallible.
+ There is no valid way of evaluating the worth of people; hence there is no valid use for, or judge of, self-esteem.
+ There are no pure “needs” or “musts” in life beyond our physical survival needs.
+ People are best served when they function as long-range hedonists.
Traits of emotionally and mentally healthy individuals:
+ Is considerate and fair to others
+ Avoids needlessly harming others
+ Engages in collaborative and cooperative endeavors – doing work together
+ Is altruistic – is genuinely concerned for others’ well-being.
+ Enjoys some measure of interpersonal and group relationships.
Special Problems of Christian Counselees
1. Guilt – Many Christians confuse Godly grief (remorse) with guilt. Remorse is good because it leads us to repentance, but guilt makes us feel no good and worthless.
I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting: for you felt godly grief so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief [guilt] produces death (II Corinthians 7: 9-10).
Guilt comes because Christians make moral demands as absolute metaphysical demands for themselves and apostle Paul has said this.
“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.” – (1 Corinthians 6:12).
The way we come out of guilt is not to condemn ourselves. Instead, we should make proper moral judgments of our actions, confess our trespass, and accept forgiveness and restoration.
(See Ephesians 2: 1,4-5, Psalm 103:2-5).
2. Self Rating – Many Christians believe that because we are sinners, we cannot unconditionally accept ourselves. Therefore, they rate themselves all the time. Self-rating brings guilt when we rate ourselves low and it brings pride when we rate ourselves too high. We are not supposed to rate ourselves. Instead, we are to unconditionally accept ourselves without worrying about rating ourselves every moment. We should be merciful to ourselves because Christ has been merciful to us despite us being sinners.
When we sin, we evaluate our actions against God’s word and co-operate with the Holy Spirit to do the necessary work to change our behavior.
3. Seeing suffering as God’s will for us – It is not uncommon for Christians to say that their life crisis is God’s will. Some Christians may find comfort with this but others may presume that they will never get delivered from their situation because it is God’s will. They awfulize the situation.
We need to realize that the event may have been caused by God, but being miserable and hopeless over it is our choice. We need to change our thinking regarding the event.
4. Perfection – Some Christians use the verse, “Be ye therefore perfect as your father who is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) as a good reason for putting down ourselves and others.
This particular verse (Matthew 5:48) is the final verse of a long chapter. The chapter discusses the human action of loving and forgiving others, even loving and blessing those who hurt us. This chapter does not discuss God’s perfection. So, through this verse, Lord Jesus is only asking us to look at God and His loving and kind character and to take inspiration from it. He is not asking us to match God’s perfection.
Using Christianity to counsel people
There are two ways in which people can heal from their irrational beliefs
1. Direct Way – One simply replaces irrational beliefs with rational beliefs
2. Indirect Way – One tries the rational belief for some time and observes the benefit before getting rid of their irrational belief.
There is a third way which is between direct way and indirect way for Christian clients – using their faith and religion to gently dispute their irrational beliefs. Below are some uses of religion for counseling within REBT.
1. Prayer – Prayer is a part and parcel of every Christian’s life. It can be used as a counseling tool with
Christians. However, what we pray for needs to be changed. It is Ok to ask God to change the circumstance, and also give us strength to cope with the situation. This is not enough. We also need to ask God to help us replace our irrational beliefs with rational beliefs and healthier and negative emotions.
2. Meditation – Meditation is nothing but guided imagery. A counselor can advise the Christian to find and meditate on a scripture or a Bible story that counters their irrational belief. If a Christian views the scripture as a myth, then a different strategy has to be used. A counselor should not get into arguing about this view of the people.
3. Confession to God – Confessing our sins to God can be a big relief from guilt and shame. This helps Christians to come out from self-downing and awfulizing.
4. Fasting – Fasting can be advised to people with low-frustration tolerance because they will want to give up fasting midway. If they can fast, then they can also face other frustrating situations in life and not run from them.
5. Religious Self Talk – Instead of repeating negative phrases like, “I cannot stand it anymore,” “I am a miserable sinner,” “I am no good,” a Christian should be repeating, “I am loved by God when I act unlovingly,” “I am loved simply because I am,” “Hate the sin,” “Love the sinner,” etc.
6. “Christian Hope Box” – This is a tool to help Christians to come out of guilt when they have sinned.
|Husband misbehaved with wife||Wife got hurt
Wife wanted to leave her husband
Children got scared
The husband was filled with guilt
|Husband honor your wives… that your prayers may not be
hindered…(1 Peter 3:7)Husband goes and asks forgiveness from his wife and
children.Husband asks God to overcome his low frustration tolerance.
|Ignoring Traffic Rules||Somebody may have got hit.
I may have got into an accident and hurt myself.
|Obey the rules, they are for our safety.|
7. Witnessing as Shame Attack –
Doing something that you normally will feel ashamed to do. Christians who struggle with discussing sensitive issues with people can take up the activity of witnessing their faith to people. If they feel ashamed, they will be able to find out the irrational belief behind it and change it.
In Christian counseling, REBT can be a great therapy tool. REBT does not go against Christian values. It only attacks the irrational belief a Christian may have. Religious beliefs and practices can easily be incorporated into REBT. There may be other ways of giving therapy to a Christian client.