"Theistic psychology and psychotherapy": A theological and scientific critique

Zygon 45 (1):47-74 (2010)
Abstract
I take the APA publication A Spiritual Strategy for Counseling and Psychotherapy (Richards and Bergin 2005), along with a devoted issue of Journal of Psychology and Theology (Nelson and Slife 2006), as a paradigmatic example of a trend. Other instances include the uncritical use of "Eastern" philosophy in Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology, almost normative appeal to the "Sacred" within the psychology of spirituality, talk of "God in the brain" within neurological research, the neologism entheogen referring to psychedelic drugs, and calls for new specializations such as neurotheology and theobiology. In response to the legitimate ethical requirements of respect and openness regarding clients' religious worldviews, the trend is to make God an essential component in psychological theory. The argument is that God is active in the universe and especially in human affairs to such an extent that any accurate account of strictly psychological matters, not just a comprehensive, interdisciplinary purview that could include a distinct theological dimension, must include God as an explanatory factor. Less nuanced than standard theological thought about divine intervention—including a range of opinions from supernaturalism, to occasionalism, to providential and deistic naturalism—this trend would blur the epistemological differences between religion and science by appeal to claimed knowledge sources such as inspiration and revelation and thus undermine the achievements of evidence-based science and establish particularistic religious beliefs as standard explanatory accounts. The concern to include a spiritual, in contrast to a religious or theist, dimension in psychological theory is welcome; but elaborated approaches, such as my own and those of Roberto Assagioli, Viktor Frankl, and Ken Wilber, open to varied theological applications, already exist.
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