Month: March 2018

St. Augustine’s Literary Praxis and The Beautiful

*This is not a “counseling” related paper, rather a reflective theological paper written when I was in seminary.


St. Augustine’s Literary Praxis and The Beautiful
In what ways does Augustine’s view of beauty influence his understanding of God in relation to the Christian life in his Confessions?


When talking about beauty we can easily fall prey to discussing beauty abstractly rather than making the spiritual heart-felt connections between beauty and God that Augustine frequently makes in his Confessions. The polarity Augustine seamlessly intertwines between reflecting on his past and confessing his sins of unbelief while at the same time commenting on what he believes, post-conversion, illustrates for the reader a heart deeply moved by God’s love.

When Augustine began his Confessions, ten years had passed since Augustine’s conversion to Christianity in the year of 386 A.D., which allowed for him to write a reflection on his past and at the same time process his thoughts and questions in regards to Christianity. One such example of this is at the beginning of book 1. Augustine is quick to inform his readers what his spiritual questions are:

You stir us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you. Grant me to know and understand, Lord, which comes first: to call upon you or to praise you? To know you or to call upon you? [1]

For modern day Christians whose language for speaking about their relationship with God includes intimate words and consider this way of speaking a reflection of their “personal relationship” with God, Augustine’s Confessions may be surprisingly refreshing. Augustine writes beautifully and even poetically at times, to such a degree that one wonders if Augustine considered his writing of the Confessions as an act of worship in of itself. I submit that the ability to confess sin while at the same time acknowledging the character and supremacy of who God is as well as why He deserves to be praised is an act of worship. This kind of worship is modeled by Augustine for the reader and as a result reflects particular theological underpinnings in the way Augustine approaches God and thinks about Him. The question I want to explore further in this paper is: in what ways does Augustine’s view of beauty influence his understanding of God in relation to the Christian life in his Confessions?

Augustine’s sincerity in his Confessions affords him the ability to express questions to God in such a way that his transparency gives the reader room to consider why and how he thought as he did and if we also think or feel as he did. Consequently, we are in a way, invited to participate in Augustine’s journey, which makes the answerability of the above question all the more important for us as Christians. We have an opportunity to learn from Augustine’s past and personal struggles. It might challenge us to ask of ourselves if we have been complicit with a secular way of thinking about beauty in relation to God. We might also learn from the kind of intimacy Augustine has with God which demonstrates that our confidence may rest in the free gift of salvation from the God who lovingly pursues his children. Augustine phrases it this way, “You, my God, you it was who dealt so with me; for our steps are directed by the Lord, and our way is of his choosing. What other provision is there for our salvation, but your hand that remakes what you have made?” [2]

Until Augustine’s conversion—which we are privileged to read about nearly halfway through his Confessions—Augustine develops three themes that he consistently wrestles with, which in turn causes the reader to ask the following questions. Firstly, Augustine is unsure of what the nature of a human being is. Is man good or evil? Can man save himself by living in a particular way? Secondly, Augustine’s sensual experience with creation and beauty manifests within him desires to experience as much as possible (i.e. carnal pleasure). What is the nature of creation? In what ways is man similar to or distinct from creation? Why are there things that are beautiful and does that beauty mean anything? Thirdly, Augustine is unsure of what to do with the idea of God. Through Neoplatontism he would be able to philosophically construct a being called God, yet whether that God is personal or Creator is something that he would not reach clarification on until he reads Scripture. This in turn causes the reader to ask: in what ways does God reveal himself in Scripture? In creation? In beauty? In man? These three themes fit into a larger struggle to which I will refer to as Augustine’s internal-external dilemma. Roy W. Battenhouse, editor of A Companion to the study of St. Augustine, offers the following explanation:

The philosophical path that Augustine himself wishes to follow is clearly modeled upon the Neoplatonic ascent from the multiplicities of the material world to particular instances of rationality, thence to a contemplation of Reason itself, and — beyond all — to a vision of the Source of all. […] When properly understood, however, the life of reason permeates all the arts of man. […] In one of its efforts to ascend from particular instances of beauty to the Beauty which they symbolize, reason begets poetry. [3]

Augustine wants desperately for the world to make sense rationally, something that proves to be difficult as he works through the doctrines of Manichaeism, which claims that the material world is evil. However, pre-conversion Augustine is curious by what he sees; he delights in the beauty found in the material world, not realizing that carnal pleasure from these things were corrupting his thinking about God (see Book IV, chapters 15 and 24). It’s as if Augustine’s internal-external dilemma creates a kind of friction in his thinking about beauty. On the one hand beauty seems to point to something beyond itself. On the other, he is not able to fully grasp what beauty is. Consider Augustine’s reflection below:

[…] In Love with beautiful things below me, I was plunging unto the depths. To my friends I would say, “Do we love anything save what is beautiful? And what is beautiful, then? Indeed, what is beauty? What is it that entices and attracts us in the things we love? Surely if beauty and loveliness of form were not present in them, they could not possibly appeal to us.” [4]

In Book 5, Augustine parallels Romans 1 when he chides secular philosophers for distorting truth and worshiping creation rather than the Creator. I submit that Augustine’s theology of beauty begins to overshadow his introspective-reflection and eventually comes full circle as he thinks through his conversion. Commenting on Augustine’s earlier works Carol Harrison in her book, Beauty and Revelation In The Thought of Saint Augustine, makes the following observation:

The implications of these ideas on Augustine’s aesthetics cannot be overestimated: since beauty (forma/formosus) is thus inseparable from existence given by and orientated towards God, the whole of the Christian revelation—in God’s formation of Creation, His image or form in man, His forming and ordering of history and an aspect of beauty which is at once immanent within the temporal, mutable realm, but which yet belongs to and originates in transcendent Divine Beauty. […] The synonymity of existence, goodness, and beauty which Augustine’s idea of forma implies is obviously, in part, anti-Manichean. [5]

Divine beauty would haunt Augustine as he wrestled with man’s relationship to creation and in turn man’s relationship with God. As he reflects on his past, Augustine makes reference to a few books he wrote entitled The Beautiful and the Harmonious, dedicated to a man from an orator in Rome, named Hierius. Augustine’ desire to win the approval of Hierius was in part his motivation for writing these books, however Augustine also provides another reason, “But I continued to enjoy turning over in my mind the question of the beautiful and the harmonious about which I had written to him; I considered it with a contemplative eye and admired it, although no one shared my appreciation.” [6] As he continues his reflection he comments, “I did not yet see that the whole vast question hinged on your artistry, almighty God, who alone work wonders.” [7] Lastly in the same stream of thought he concludes:

I was about twenty-six or twenty-seven when I wrote those volumes. The materialistic images on which I was speculating set up a din in the ears of my heart, ears which were straining to catch your inner melody, O gentle Truth. I was thinking about the beautiful and the harmonious, and longing to stand and hear you, that my joy might be perfect at the sound of the Bridegroom’s voice, but I could not, because I was carried off outside myself by the clamor of my errors, and I fell low, dragged down by the weight of my pride. No joy and gladness from you reached my ears, nor did my bones exult, for they had not yet been humbled. [8]

There is something about the grandiose nature of creation that lends to thinking about it in ways that are greater than ourselves. In the above quotes Augustine readily admits that he was thinking about beauty incorrectly, not attributing to the God who created it and as a result trading joy in the Lord for the weight of pride. I submit that Augustine does not fault creation for his lack of inward resolution, rather he brings with himself a particular way of approaching creation, which hinders his ability to perceive God as Creator. After conversion Augustine would reconstruct how man should see beauty in relation to God. Carol Harrison phrases it this way, “Man’s attitude to Creation, Augustine observes, should therefore be dictated by the order he finds there; since it is divine ordained, it will lead him who follows it to God, its Creator and orderer.” [9]

Treating beauty as if it were a kind of road map to God or like a mirror that reflects God in some is not entirely unique to Augustine. It would be somewhat of an injustice to not mention that Augustine has read Plotinus, who claims that symmetry and harmony of material forms are a reflection, as Harrison points out in her chapter on Augustine’s earlier writings. [10] For Augustine this reflection is deeply personal and not just purely an abstraction. The significance of creation and God as Creator, lies in what He communicates in and through his creation. In book 5.1.1 Augustine claims that creation never tires of praising God. [11] Later, in book 10.6.8, Augustine says, “I love you, Lord, with no doubtful mind but with absolute certainty. You pierced my heart with your Word, and I fell in love with you. But the sky and the earth too, and everything in them —all these things around me are telling that I should love you […].” [12]

There are two things we gain from Augustine’s view of beauty in creation so far. Firstly, beauty has a divine purpose, as it is divinely created. That purpose is to direct our gaze to God, the Creator and worship Him, not the creation itself. Additionally, creation celebrates the glory of God, by praising God intrinsically. Secondly, human beings were not created to worship the creation. We see this in book 5, as Augustine continues to chide the philosophers for they way they approach the creation:

This in turn leads them into an extreme of blind perversity, where they will even ascribe to you what is theirs, blaming you, who are Truth, for their own lies, and changing the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of corruptible humans, or birds or four-footed beasts or crawling things. They distort truth into a lie, and they worship and serve the creature instead of the creator. [13]

Augustine is evidently leaning on Romans 1:21, where Paul, in the prior two verses states, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20, ESV). There is no doubt from what has been covered so far that Augustine desires to communicate the dangers of looking at the world through a lens that does not account for a Creator. Augustine’s own testimony reaches into his internal-external dilemma, prior to conversion, and exposes his own blindness by recognizing that Truth itself had to replace his faulty thinking by rescuing him out of a self-made worldview. At the risk of being reductionistic, I submit that for all Augustine’s philosophical training and Manichean influences, his overall struggle was between worshiping the creation rather than the Creator.

As I near the end of this paper, I want to focus on what it looks like for Augustine to worship the Creator through the beauty of Creation. Augustine makes two profound statements regarding his conversion, which is contextualized around his need of strength and enjoyment of God. The first quote comes from book 7, at a point where Augustine is looking at creation. He makes the following statement:

And then my mind attained to That Which Is, in the flash of one tremulous glance. Then indeed did I perceive your invisible reality through created things, but to keep my gaze there was beyond my strength. I was forced back through weakness and returned to my familiar surroundings, bearing with me only a loving memory, one that yearned for something of which I had caught the fragrance, but could not yet feast upon. [14]

Seeing God through creation created “a loving memory” that he longed to find again, if only he had the strength to rest in that state. The second quote shortly thereafter follows the one above. Augustine says, “Accordingly I looked for a way to gain the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and humankind, the man Christ Jesus, who also is God, supreme over all things and blessed for ever.” [15] Notice that Augustine says he looked for “strength” in order that he might “enjoy” God.

When we link the “loving memory” of perceiving God through creation to his finding “strength” in Jesus Christ—his savior—to enjoying God we are given a glimpse into what it means for Augustine to look through creation, to its Creator and ultimately to his Redeemer. Keep in mind that we humans are a part of God’s creation and once redeemed there all kinds of new possibilities at hand when it comes to participating in creation, and in a sense, demonstrating through our actions who God is to others. Explaining Augustine’s response to beauty in creation, Carol Harrison makes the following comment:

It is in the praise, awe, jubilation, and love of the Psalmist that Augustine finds a suitable response to the beauty of Creation. The psalmist, he comments, thereby becomes the voice of a mute Creation praising its Creator, and this through the month of a fallen man, who is in turn brought to acknowledge his Creator. He expresses these ideas succinctly in Confessions, ‘Let your works praise You that we may love you, and let us love You that Your works may praise You.’ [16]

Augustine’s play on words near the end of the quote reveals something about Augustine’s inner change. The internal-external dilemma that he consistently reveals to us as he struggles with his identity before God no longer cultivates a barrier in relation to the purposes of creation. In this way, creation cannot be properly understood apart from God, nor beauty, nor our purpose for existing. Augustine came out of a kind of narcissistic pride, where he reveled in carnal pleasure and deeply struggled with how to discern what was truth. In was not until he was saved by Truth itself that his eyes were opened and freed from the pains of living for himself.

Augustine knew he needed to covert when he read the following passage, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:13-14, ESV). He was in a garden wrestling with questions and doubt, but when he read this verse it struck him at the core of his heart. The translator, Maria Boulding, in the Kindle Edition of the Confessions, makes the following statement, “Since Book VII the central issue for Augustine has been acceptance of Christ; this now crystallizes into the “putting on” of Christ in baptism, sacramentally symbolized by the clothing in the new robe.” [17] I submit that this revelation from Scripture functioned as the keystone for an entirely new modus operandi for Augustine. By “putting on” Christ, Augustine was able to understand his need for salvation what it meant to live in a way that reflected this redeemed life. He would never encounter beauty the same way, as if looking through a window he will be able to see the Creator as the one that creates and sustains life.

I have presented evidence to show that Augustine had three primary areas of struggle: man, creation, and God. Throughout his Confessions, Augustine intertwines these thematically, each with their own sets of concerns and frustrations, hindered by a stubborn heart fueled by lusts and carnal desires. Augustine was in love with creation and created things, he looked for hope in Manichaeism, solidarity in the company of philosophy, and joy in his own intellectual endeavors. Yet, he was not at peace until he surrendered himself to Christ. It was only then that he could delight in the Lord and discover the pleasure of God’s presence echoed by creation and manifested in Scripture.

Augustine’s Confessions offer to us a glimpse into a man who has been radically changed, renewed, and re-directed. His love of Christ permeates his writing and is a tribute to the personal and loving God we worship. We learn from Augustine that beauty should inspire us to worship the Lord and recognize it as something God created to echo his glory on earth. This means we have no room for complacency. We are missing something that is deep, true, and wonderful if we fail to see that the Creator of the universe has made us in his image, yet sinful, but also saved, having “put on” Christ. This means the Redeemer and the light of truth is able to shine through us to others and then back to himself, making us walking and talking beacons of God’s love and mercy. Because of Christ, we have the opportunity to participate in God’s creation in such a way that when we obey Christ, worship Christ, and delight in Christ we demonstrate the beauty of Christ to the world. Living in this way is an act of worship.

Endnotes

  1. Saint Augustine, The Confessions (New York: Vintage, 1998), 3.
  2. Ibid, 84.
  3. Roy W. Battenhouse, Companion to the Study of St. Augustine (Cambridge: Baker Book House, 1979), 105.
  4. Saint Augustine, The Confessions (New York: Vintage, 1998), 67.
  5. Carol Harrison, Beauty and Revelation in the Thought of Saint Augustine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 1992), 39. There appears to be a typo in the quote. The continuity of the text seems to flow better once the word “yet” is removed.
  6. Saint Augustine, The Confessions (New York: Vintage, 1998), 69. And the previous paragraph.
  7. Ibid, 69.
  8. Ibid, 71.
  9. Carol Harrison, Beauty and Revelation in the Thought of Saint Augustine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 1992), 23.
  10. Ibid. 5.
  11. Saint Augustine, The Confessions (New York: Vintage, 1998), 75.
  12. Ibid. 201.
  13. Ibid. 78-79.
  14. Ibid. 139.
  15. Ibid. 139.
  16. Carol Harrison, Beauty and Revelation in the Thought of Saint Augustine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 1992), 132.
  17. St. Augustine (2007-04-01). The Confessions (1st Edition; Study Edition) (Kindle Locations 4789-4790). New City Press. Kindle Edition

Bibliography

Augustine, Saint The Confessions. New York: Vintage, 1998.

Battenhouse, Roy W. Companion to the Study of St. Augustine. Cambridge: Baker Book House, 1979.

Harrison, Carol. Beauty and Revelation in the Thought of Saint Augustine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 1992.

St. Augustine (2007-04-01). The Confessions (1st Edition; Study Edition) (Kindle Location 20). New City Press. Kindle Edition.

40 Techniques Every Counselor Should Know, A Book Review

This is a Review of the book: 40 Techniques Every Counselor Should Know by Bradley T. Erford (2015).

What I appreciate about this book is its simplistic layout, clarity, and practical descriptions of each of the techniques listed in the book.  For a full list of the techniques covered in the book see the end of this post.  The techniques are grouped together according to their theoretical origins and each theoretical origin has a description of its primary founders and the contextual framework for it’s psychological perspective.

Each of the techniques listed has a section devoted to the origins of that technique, how to implement the technique, an example of the technique (usually in a mock-dialogue format), which is then followed by a section devoted to the usefulness and evaluation of the technique.

In terms of resourcefulness, the book provides a fantastic overview of counseling techniques that would help any counselor be aware of the kinds of techniques counselors may be engaging in.  Whether or not one agrees with the psychological model that provides the contextual framework for a particular technique, it would be helpful to understand the historical and theoretical framework for the techniques counselors use in order that clients who may have experienced some of these techniques with a counselor in the past, feel understood by their present counselor.

The following is the table of contents for this book:

Section 1: Techniques Based on Solution-Focused Brief Counseling

  • Scaling
  • Exceptions
  • Problem-Free Talk
  • Miracle Question
  • Flagging the Minefield

Section 2: Techniques Based on Adlerian or Psychodynamic Approaches

  • I-Messages
  • Acting As If
  • Spitting in the Soup
  • Mutual Storytelling
  • Paradoxical Intention

Section 3: Techniques Based on Gestalt and Psychodrama

  • Empty Chair
  • Body Movement and Exaggeration
  • Role Reversal

Section 4: Techniques Based on Mindfulness Approaches

  • Visual/Guided Imagery
  • Deep Breathing
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation Training (PMRT)

Section 5: Techniques Based on Humanistic-Phenomenological Approaches

  • Self-Disclosure
  • Confrontation
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Strength Bombardment

Section 6: Techniques Based on Cognitive-Behavioral Approaches

  • Self-Talk
  • Reframing
  • Thought Stopping
  • Cognitive Restructuring
  • Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT): The ABCDEF Model and Rational-Emotive Imagery
  • Bibliotherapy
  • Journaling
  • Systematic Desensitization
  • Stress Inoculation Training

Section 7: Techniques Based on Social Learning Approaches Using Positive Reinforcement

  • Premack Principle
  • Behavior Chart
  • Token Economy
  • Behavior Contract

Section 9: Techniques Based on Behavioral Approaches Using Punishment

  • Extinction
  • Time Out
  • Response Cost
  • Overcorrection

 

In order to really understand, we need to listen, not reply. We need to listen long and attentively. In order to help anybody to open his heart we have to give him time, asking only a few questions, as carefully as possible in order to help him better explain his experience. – Paul Tournier

Running With Scissors, A Review

“Running With Scissors”, an adaptation of the memoir with the same title by Augusten Burrough is a film that begins with the separation of Burrough’s parents and his mother’s quasi-narcissistic and psychotic dysfunction. Burroughs’ mother sends him off to live with her psychiatrist, whose life and practice is personified by psyco-analytic psychology. The film is a weird combination of Wes Anderson (though he’s not the director) and barbiturates, literally and figuratively. The narrative flows and is functional, but the reality of the characters only really makes sense when one applies the intrinsic determinism of radical psycho-analytic psychology and its tenacious demand for interpreting everything to find “new meaning”.  What results is a strange tale of brokenness, loss, and the need for tangible and meaningful connections in the world in which we live.

Deirdre, Augusten’s mother, fantasizes about becoming a famous poet throughout the film, which reveals a greater neurosis and narcissism in her blending reality with fiction.  Rarely if ever, does she appear fully grounded in the present or able to identify the needs of others above and beyond her own aspirations.  The film hits its climatic arc when Deidre and her husband, Norman, get a divorce and Augusten is sent off to live with Deidre’s eccentric psychiatrist, Dr. Finch.

Dr. Finch fully embodies an extreme version of psyco-analytic psychology as a kind of life philosophy and consequently those around him seem to have adopted it as well.  Dr. Finch treats Deirdre’s fantasy as a real or true extension of her “reality.”  He tells her, for example, that she is a very talented poet and needs to work on her art.  Deirdre soaks it in, integrating Dr. Finch’s encouragement into a full fledged pursuit towards her fantasy, which at the same time means letting go of the “guardianship” of her son.  There are several other important characters to the film’s plot, however for the sake of brevity this post will remain focused on the four characters already mentioned: Augusten, his mother (Deidre), his father (Norman) and the psychiatrist, Dr Finch.

The client is ultimately Deidra, however her son Augusten receives a kind of passive therapy indirectly imposed by Dr. Finch.  As Deidra delves deeper into her work as a poet she develops another relationship with a fellow poet from a women’s poetry group that Deidre leads.  This group seems less of a supportive system and more of a place for Deidra to share her “expertise”.   We, the audience are not given many clues about the kinds of specific counsel or tools that Dr. Finch is offering Deidre in their counseling sessions.  But we can infer from the clear indicators throughout the film that Deidre is presently in therapy and Dr. Finch is aware of whatever progress or digressions that are taking place.  What is puzzling is the somewhat ironic abstract commentary the film conveys about the utter uselessness of psycho-analytic psychology.  The viewer may find his or her head cocked to one side while asking the question: what the hell is going on?  This question is less of an obvious consequence of a narrative hobbling it’s way through Freudian symbolism and more of a poignant bullet-to-the-heart shot at how meaningless life is without boundaries, rules, and meaning.

Because of this, the number of crossed boundaries and ethical violations on behalf of Dr. Finch are numerous.  The norm seems to be whatever works goes, which means the social pragmatism of Dr. Finch doesn’t even acknowledge the need for rules or ethics.  The question with this film is not where did Dr. Finch cross the line?  The question is, does Dr. Finch have any sort of ethical system to which he subscribes?  The only time we see Dr. Finch contradict Deidre is early in the film.  Deidre as was complaining about her ex-husband and speaking harshly about him in front of Augusten.  Dr. Finch bluntly and directly confronted her and told her to not instill fear in her son. She listened and responded by stopping what she was doing.  Unfortunately this particular scene does not give us much as to what exactly Dr. Finch wants in the moment.  Perhaps keeping the situation calm and preventing anxiety was his main concern or maybe he believed Deidre was truly harming her son in that moment.

Despite our culture’s cynicism for rules, truth, and boundaries, this movie demonstrates why these things are important.  Relationships are built on more than random isolated connections with people.  Something else is needed for true connection to take place.  People need an inner sense of where they begin and end, a kind of inner solidarity with who they are in the world.  This need is intrinsic to relationship building, trust, and honesty.  Take these things away and we enter a slippery slope of not challenging the false constructs of reality that are sometimes created in our minds and hearts.  Take these things away from the counselor-client relationship and the very foundation for improvement, change, and inner growth becomes slippery and indiscernible.  I am reminded by this film’s message that relationships require work, sacrifice, selflessness, and solidarity.

In conclusion, a perfunctory glance at the film reveals a biographical story which is jolting to our sensibilities.  However, one only need to watch Augusten to see if his living situation is truly conducive to meaningful relationships and sustainable connections with others.  What is helpful about the film is its contrast to what the audience would identify as stability, rest, and contentment.   Yet, it cannot be assumed that clients come from backgrounds where stability, rules, and boundaries function by the same standards as the counselor.   However, the film indirectly suggests that one of the greatest questions that a therapist can ask a client is: “What is your story”?

The Body Keeps the Score, A Review

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body In The Healing of Trauma written by Bessel van der Kolk systematically demonstrates for the reader why trauma research is valuable, particularly as it relates to the client-counselor relationship.  Van der Kolk begins his book with a historical perspective: As a budding psychologist he recalls his experiences working with Vietnam veterans and their struggles with PTSD.  His observations about the veterans and his curiosity about what causes the symptoms to manifest in the particular ways led him towards a career of helping trauma victims through research, applied neuroscience, and investigating modern psychological approaches to healing those with trauma.

Van der Kolk writes with surprising clarity and humility as he honestly shares his thoughts and concerns regarding his approach to counseling models.  Providing a careful exploration into the science of trauma, Van der Kolk shares many stories and conversations he’s had with clients regarding their trauma which helps to underscore the credibility of each part in his book.  The book is divided into 5 parts: (1) The Rediscovery of Trauma. (2) This is Your Brain on Trauma. (3) The Minds of Children. (4). The Imprint of Trauma. (5) Paths to Recovery.  Additionally, the book has an Appendix entitled: Consensus Proposed Criteria For Developmental Trauma Disorder, which is then followed by a section devoted to resources and further reading.

Throughout his book, van der Kolk frequently references his experience in the medical field which is quite extensive.  He is the founder and director of the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University, and director of the National Complex Trauma Treatment Network.  In The Body Keeps The Score, van der Kolk shares his life’s work with his readers and it is a worthwhile read for lay readers, students, and professors interested in the subject of trauma and psychology.

Personal Reflection 

I read this book quickly, bouncing between reading the text and listening to the audio version (on occasion doing both), yet taking time to highlight and create notes.  It’s such a dense book that I think I will have to go back and re-read it as some point.  I found the content insightful and certainly feel that I know much more about the symptoms of trauma victims than I did before reading this book.  However, I did find that content of the book disturbing at times, particularly as Van der Kolk recounts, at times, detailed accounts of trauma stories.  Though the stories provide a contextual framework for the book, I think the next time I read it, I will take breaks between the sections to allow myself some breathing space.

My point is that books like The Body Keeps The Score have a great deal to offer the Christianity community, and visa-versa, but until the scientific community is willing to lift the prevailing weapon of relativism it wields against religion, there will remain a gap between religion and science that creates a vacuum and division between the two worlds of counseling practice (pastoral and professional).

However, I have been forever altered in the way I see trauma by reading The Body Keeps the Score, but it makes me sad to think that professional counseling claims science for it’s evidence and in the same breath also claims philosophy (social constructionism) for its explanation for religious diversity.  It seems there must be a middle ground, a way to bring the two groups together without scandalizing truth in the process.

Reading the book has inspired me to continue my studies in trauma treatments, particularly EMDR, yet it has also inspired me to do research into why there seems to be such skepticism amongst Christians regarding psychological and mental health problems and solutions.  As mentioned above, Christians are being told (culturally) that their faith is relative, which may explain some of the push-back Christians have when it comes to psychological explanations for things like anxiety and trauma.  However, there also may be other things at play, such as a lack of education in modern psychology which differs quite a bit from Freudian psycho-analysis.

Conclusion

In The Body Keeps the Score, the reader is invited into a history of how trauma has been viewed and treated over the last fifty years, how trauma impacts the brain and mind, and is provided with a variety of treatments backed by scientific evidence for treating trauma.  The book is filled with many helpful illustrations including brain scans, which are helpful to understand the author’s perspective and well thought-out conclusions about trauma and the inner working functions of the brain.  It is textbook worthy and I look forward to returning to it for further insight and guidance as I move through my professional journey as a counselor and researcher.

References

Van Der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. NY: Penguin Books.

A Brief Compare and Contrast Analysis of the ACA and APA Codes of Ethics

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) code of ethics focus on the medical model and the American Counseling Association’s (ACA) code of ethics has its focus on mental health in relation to the client’s wellbeing.  Both ethical codes contain a preamble, a general description of  the organization’s ethical principles, and ethical standards.  However, there are subtle and blatant differences between these two documents.  What follows in this paper is a comparison and contrast between the APA and ACA codes of ethics with a guided focus on answering the following question: How do these ethical codes address the significance of the client-counselor relationship?

Critical Analysis 

“The APA Code of Ethics” (2010) is a document with a five part ethical principles section, lettered A – E, and are as follows: “Beneficence and nonmaleficence, fidelity and responsibility, integrity, justice, and respect for people’s rights and dignity” (p. 2).  Notably in the APA these ethical principles are declared as unenforceable rules, but rather they are to serve as a guide “to guide psychologists toward the highest ideals of psychology” (p. 3).  In contrast, the “ACA Code of Ethics” (2014) lists six ethical principles which are as follows: “autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, justice, fidelity, and veracity” (p. 3).  However, these ethical principles are provided after a list of five values creating a “conceptual basis” for the ethical principles (p.3).  The ACA code (2014) derives its ethical standards on its values and principles, stating: “These principles are the foundation for ethical behavior and decision making” (p. 3).  While it may be a subtle distinction, it remains noteworthy that the APA utilizes the word “guide” while the ACA code uses the word “foundation” to describe the function of the ethical principles in relation to ethical decision making; as a way to approach the ethical standards themselves.

The reason the word “foundation” is of significance, especially in contrast to the word “guide” is the overall importance being established for the ethical standards themselves.  The implication being, that the word “foundation” offers a concrete recognition that they values and ethical principles within the “ACA Code of Ethics” permeate the standards in such a way that their existence can in no way be separated from their intended social pragmatism.  It is not that the ends justify the means, rather it is the means that inform the ends.  The emphases on a foundational system of values and principles in the “ACA Code of Ethics” communicates an overarching theme of protecting the client and making sure the counselor is clear on how, as well as why, he or she should do so.

Thematic Differences 

The emphases on the client in the “ACA Code of Ethics” is substantially greater than the “APA Code of Ethics.”  For example, in the ACA ethical code the words client or clients is used 293 times, as opposed to the 67 times the same words are used in the “APA Code of Ethics”.  The ethical standards of the “APA Code of Ethics” are truncated by a lack of particular values (as opposed to ethical principles) that center around the client.  For example, when a search is conducted for the word “counseling” in the “APA Code of Ethics” the word is used 4 times, as opposed to the 157 times the “ACA Code of Ethics” refers to it.

The terminology differences are significant because they highlight two particular paths that in some regards parallel each-other, yet have differing ultimate purposes.  The APA is focused primarily on Psychology (it’s study and implications), whereas the ACA is focused on counseling (the client-counselor relationship) with an added emphases on the client’s rights.  To be more specific the APA is based on a medical model, whereas the ACA is based on a wellness model. This is important for recognizing the way each of the codes approach the client-counselor relationship.  The “ACA Code of Ethics” (2010) deals with “the counseling relationship” in the first section of its code, which introduces the subject as priority, upfront (p. 4).  The “APA Code of Ethics” places “ethical standards” as the first section of its code (p. 5).  The obvious conceptual difference is the ACA code has a cohesive platform directing the counselor in its formatting of the codes towards a client-centered approach.

Contrasting Views on “Values”   

A blatant difference between the codes of the APA and the ACA regards the role of values in the counseling or therapy relationship.  Section A.4.b. of the “ACA Code of Ethics” (2010) states the following:

Counselors are aware of—and avoid imposing—their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Counselors respect the diversity of clients, trainees, and research participants and seek training in areas in which they are at risk of imposing their values onto clients, especially when the counselor’s values are inconsistent with the client’s goals or are discriminatory in nature (p. 5).

Additionally, in section A.11.b in the “ACA Code of Ethics” (2010) counselors are directed to only give give a referral if their lack of knowledge in a particular subject warrants the client to see someone with more expertise on the subject.  The same section also deals with values in the following: “Counselors refrain from referring prospective and current clients based solely on the counselor’s personally held values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors” (p. 6).   The “APA Code of Ethics” is silent on the issue of “imposing values” and simply does not address the issue of making a referral based on values that are inconsistent with the client’s values.  The restrictive nature of imposing values in the counseling relationship as in the “APA Code of Ethics” once again reiterates and solidifies its position on safeguarding the client from harm, neglect, and discrimination.

In the “APA Code of Ethics” referrals, (Section 1.04, b) are appropriate when there is a lack of expertise.  Both the ACA and the APA codes have non-discrimination clauses, however the “ACA Code of Ethics” presents the concept that if one were to do a referral simply because of a difference in values with the client, the act of the referral itself is discriminatory.

Conclusion 

In conclusion, both the APA and the ACA have thorough codes of ethics, however they differ with respect to the kind of emphasis given on values and the degree to which the centricity of the client’s welfare should receive.   They are similar with regards to protecting the process of therapy / counseling, however the strategic formatting differences in the codes themselves reveal a visionary difference.  It may be observed that the ACA code reveals a relational approach to ethical values, principals, and standards whereas the APA code particularizes its focus on the role, function, and purposes of the psychologist.

References

American Counseling Association. (2014). ACA code of ethics. Retrieved from https://www.counseling.org/resources/aca-code-of-ethics.pdf

American Psychological Association (2010). APA Code of Ethics. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ethics/code/principles.pdf

*This post has yet to be updated for APA formatting.  It’s on my long list of improvements for this site.