Professional Christian Counseling
The Cause and Cure of Human Struggle
The Root of ALL Pathology
The Human Sin-Nature Causes Universal Problems
Because the human values system is formed subconsciously in the mind, this is the place where the first sign of trouble begins. As values become established, they influence our choosing. In-turn choosing and decision-making result in behaving. Watching a person’s behaviors then, give clues as to what their true values are. Jesus had significant things to say about recognizing what a person valued by examining the “fruit” of their actions (cf. Mat 7:20).
Before acting, virtually everything that a person chooses to do will pass through the subconscious mental Filter of their values system. When a person is able to choose outcomes that are favorable to their values, then they perceive a gain which results in happiness, congruence and self-validation for them. If a person is not able to choose a desirable outcome consistent with their values, then this is where psychological disturbances occur. Even worse, when these undesirable outcomes are forced upon a person by another, the result is some form of stress which ultimately shortens a person’s life—which the Scriptures say is sin worthy of death. The more acute or longer a person must remain under stress, the more pathological their condition can become. A prime example of one such stressful psychological disturbance is depression.
Values hold the understanding for depression, one thing that most people value highly is their opinion of themselves. We value ourselves so much that in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes in 5:29 (NIV), “After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.” Like Adam and Eve, people not only compare self with others, their amygdala causes them to compare past self with an ideal self. This is called self-judgment. When we act according to our values we feel good about self. If we have acted outside of those ideals, then we judge self negatively and may become so disappointed with self that we become depressed about our failures. A negative self judgment is where self-denigrating behaviors emanate from and where we find ourselves calling ourselves evil or bad which then results in condemnation of self and self-denigrating behaviors.
What most people do not know is that depression revolves around disappointments great and small. A small amount of depression may be termed dysthymia while more intense levels may be called major depressive episodes. Short term depression from the huge disappointment of a personal tragedy may be acute while cumulative or persistent long term disappointments may be described as chronic.
Contrary to common misconceptions, depression is not really an emotion at all but is in actuality, an emptying of the emotion that is normally present. For most of us, we generally experience feelings of contentment for the greater part of our lives. When disappointment comes, those feelings of contentment go away. In the case of depression, the brain neurochemicals that support the feelings of contentment have literally depleted and run-out which is why so many people appropriately describe their depression as an “emptiness” inside.
In thinking of our disappointments in terms of what we value, when we fail to get something we want or are unable to keep something we have, the resulting disappointment and subsequent depression can be said to have come from a life want. It is also noteworthy to point out here that disappointment is a second conclusion based on the primary conclusion of loss. Because not all losses are disappointing, depression can only become a possibility when a conclusion of disappointment is added to the loss. In other words, we depress when we cannot get or keep for ourselves what we have deemed to be “good” for us. Already you can probably see potential for distortions in a person’s value system that may affect whether or not they depress rightly or wrongly.
Only from our Christian Psychology could we have seen that there are two kinds of depression. Secular psychology and medicine recognize only one type with the goal of indiscriminately removing it, thus in effect, calling all depression bad. As you will discover, having one form of depression is legitimate while the other may not be.
Legitimate depression comes from losing or not being able to keep something that we should be able to. The person Job, who lost everything through no fault of his own but from having been a “righteous” man, may be one of our best examples. In cases like his, there is very little anyone can say to alleviate the depression, because experiencing the disappointment of a loss like his―is entirely justified. Job lost his children and herds of animals undeservedly. Job’s depression was normal for him to have. If, on the other hand, the Bible told us that he “jumped for joy” we would have seen his reaction as abnormal. Job’s type of depression is legitimate. While all depression is designed to elicit empathy, compassion and help from others, Job’s friends missed the mark by judging his loss as being the result of God’s retribution on him for breaking God’s Law somehow. Since Job’s depression was legitimate, it should have garnered support from his friends. Because they failed to understand what really happened to Job, they brought him judgment, insensitivity and condemnation instead. While Job’s depression was legitimate, there is another type that is illegitimate.
An illegitimate type of depression happens when we want things that we shouldn’t have, yet we are disappointed over not getting them. To rescue people from experiencing this type of depression, by giving them what they want, which would be harmful to them, would be considered enabling, placating or indulging. In this case, as the depressed person uses others for gain, it can be said from the fruit of their actions, that they overvalue self while undervaluing others. Their depression is wrongly trying to gain compassion and garner help from others in order to obtain something that person should not have or is unwilling to discipline self to get legitimately. Conversely, is another type of person who makes themselves a doormat for other people. They do so by allowing themselves to be used, thereby overvaluing others while undervaluing self.
The successful treatment of depression happens when we help someone rearrange distortions in their values systems of wants, or when we help them obtain legitimately what is appropriate for them to have. For the person who overvalues self, a time tested method of treatment is helping them to learn the benefits of taking focus off of self by ministering to others. For the one who undervalues self, we can help them see the benefits of valuing self more highly by teaching them how to assertively make their “yes” mean “yes” and their “no” really mean “no.” Treating depression and its associated dysfunctions is best done by focusing directly at the root of a values system and the missing want. While medications do have their place due to brain anomalies (which are rare), treating values often makes better sense than prescribing medications that may only perpetuate the problem or foster avoidance of issues. Another disorder of valuing is anxiety.
Just as depression arises from a life want, anxiety comes from a life threat. Anxiety develops from a fear of either getting something that a person does NOT want, or from losing something that they already have that they do not want to lose. The feeling of anxiety comes when we experience a threat to something important to us and to something that we value. The more important the thing we might lose, the more extreme the anxiety will be, even to the point of developing panic or some subconscious phobia. Instead of focusing on the disappointment of loss like depression does, anxiety focuses on dread of loss. Even though depression and anxiety focus on different things they do have something in common. They share the concepts of loss and of wanting. To distinguish depression from anxiety, someone might say “I want this (depression) but do not want that” (anxiety). Another type of pathology that can be understood along this same framework of values is Bipolar Disorder.
The person who exhibits Bipolar Disorder displays exactly what the title suggests, they vacillate between two poles of human mood and valuing. As a person fails to get what they want from life, they become disappointed—followed by a physical depression. At the opposite pole of mood is the person who experiences mania. Instead of not being disappointed, the manic person gets their expectations exceeded! The problem for the person with a bipolar disposition is that they alternate between being elated or euphoric and being depressed. A distinguishing feature of Bipolar Disorder is that it feeds on itself. This is a direct result of the synergy created between the two poles of good and bad that we discussed earlier.
The result is that as we experience each of the two poles of depression and mania—both get magnified! The problem with all of that is, that, while in a manic state, the manic person often believes they can conquer the world. And so, they go about doing—which can be very risky and highly dangerous for them. At the opposite end of mania, is the state of being clinically depressed, whereby prospects of just being able to get out of bed start looking pretty slim. The resulting behaviors of the manic-depressive person would then consist of an exaggerated elated behavior, followed by disappointment that results in exaggeratedly minimized behaviors. The fruit of the person with Bipolar Disorder then tends to look as though they are either “on” or “off.” These two behaviors, which are dictated by mood, are based on a person’s perceptions of what is happening to them or what may happen. The hallmark feature of Bipolar Disorder, from the context of valuing, determines not just whether a situation is good or bad but whether it is horrible or great.
The synergy created in Bipolar Disorder comes from being able to subjectively differentiate pain from pleasure, the experience of pain now makes “good” things seem much better while having experienced something “good” now makes uncomfortable things seem really “bad.” Bipolar Disorder is essentially existentialism in action. For who can appreciate life apart from the concept of death? As we said, any person who vacillates between good and bad perceptions of life creates a synergy inside of themselves that can propel them more voraciously to the opposing poles of thinking and to extremes in behavior. The example of winning the lottery may provide a good example. For the person who is depressed due to long term impoverishment, winning the lottery will certainly be much more meaningful to them than if a millionaire gained another small fortune. Conversely, a person who is poor may not be so wiped out about losing all they have as opposed to the millionaire. His/her impending depression will likely be more severe. Like Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder is quite similar. The difference between the two is that they merely focus on different aspects of detecting something good and evil.
Instead of vacillating in mood over life circumstances, the person who exhibits borderline characteristics vacillates between gain and loss in their relationships. To do so they display concrete, black and white kinds of thinking that cause them to alternate between seeing their relationship as either the most wonderful thing it could ever possibly be, to being the worst thing they have ever experienced. Many psychologists and counselors refuse to work with this population believing that it is impossible to change their self-destructive behaviors. Borderline disordered people are known for cutting and attempts at suicide. By focusing solely on changing the behaviors of this population, the conjectures of psychologists regarding this population are probably correct. By examining the root issue of value distortions that have resulted from the Fall of Man however, the borderline person may be helped by coming to understand how their values play such a prominent role in thinking and behaving. This may actually make Borderline treatment simpler than many have first thought. Instead of seeing relationships as completely terrible or as all wonderful, perhaps this group could be helped to see both good and bad simultaneously for a more realistic and balanced view of relationships so that they are not overjoyed or overly disappointed by a partner.
Content to treat symptoms rather than root values issues, clinicians are now experimenting with some controversial methods in order to treat the depression, anxiety and personality disorders that people develop from being physically, emotionally, socially and psychologically harmed by others. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one such example.
In an experimental treatment for PTSD, called MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy, participants are given a dose of 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). While researchers using this type of therapy admit that they do not fully understand how it works, through trial and error, MDMA has been shown to decrease activity in the left amygdala which alters a person’s ability to recognize negative facial expressions without inhibiting the right amygdala’s ability to read positive expressions. Researchers have also found that patients taking MDMA, who read only positive feedback from others, develop a greater trust and rapport with therapists, while also reducing fears and defensiveness. &  The MDMA drug demonstrates similar results to the study previously mentioned, whereby Monkeys had their amygdalae removed.
In this way, it appears that MDMA essentially counteracts the psychological consequences that Adam and Eve gained through eating the fruit because it returns patients to a state of Ignorant Bliss. Ignorant Bliss is the same intent that Paul informed Timothy of in 1Timothy 6:17, where Paul states that “God created everything for man’s enjoyment.” Hence, the street name of MDMA, known as “Ecstasy”—seems quite apropos. Those who have taken this drug may actually have some inkling of the paradise that God had originally intended for mankind to live. Please note that this street drug is in no way being condoned or recommended for use as it has severe and potentially fatal side-effects.
The basic justification for using MDMA (in prescription format), is that without fear, it makes it easier to face hurtful memories without feeling overwhelmed. This lack of fear (or perhaps medically induced false courage?) enables patients to be able to confront painful remembrances of their past without the associated re-traumatizing emotions. People who have received the treatment often say that being able to think back to the experience changes their relationship to those painful events.” In the past, clinicians have utilized Electro Convulsive Shock Therapy (ECT) to do something similar.
Though ECT has worked for some people, clinicians have been at a loss as to explain why. One of the noted side effects of ECT is that it results in lapses of memory. Perhaps when the hippocampus has been emptied of its storehouse of bad and hurtful memories, the amygdala has trouble sounding an alarm?
Similar to the depression alleviating results of ECT, clinical trials of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy are showing dramatic results in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Patient self-reports show more pronounced gains in the reduction of symptoms after only two months of treatment than what traditional psychotherapy has typically been able to accomplish in nearly four years of talk therapy. Concerns about MDMA arise for the Christian practitioner however.
Since MDMA therapy is based on Hindu beliefs that the answers to a person’s problems are found entirely in themselves (and not Christ), very little counselor interaction is encouraged with the patient thus giving a near sole reliance on the drug to facilitate internal sources of healing. Without direction, patient conclusions may be drawn that may actually make the condition worse. Like ECT, gains are based on illusions and self-deceit. For MDMA, the illusion of facing a painful memory (which failed to create pain again) must mean that the injury is gone. For ECT because the painful event cannot be remembered does not mean that it never happened. Furthermore both ECT and MDMA may defer the prognosis of lifetime benefit by not helping people change patterns of poor interpersonal skills, that will result in future injuries unless substantive changes in mindset have been made. Even though MDMA initial results seem promising, there may be other hidden dangers to using it in a pill-popping culture who values the removal of all pain indiscriminately through medications.
Even though secular science has amassed mountains of written works regarding all of the dysfunctions that are common to man, they fall short in describing the root problem which is a broken value system regarding sin against self and others. Theoretically, if no one experienced the hurt and pain of being sinned against from detection by the left amygdala, disorders like depression, anxiety and PTSD would not exist. Instead of attempting to explain the activation of the left amygdala from an evolutionary perspective, explaining its activation from a Biblical perspective will be what truly helps us to understand why it exists. The Church must not only catch up in its knowledge and understanding of the plight of mankind, but surpass the knowledge of the world in order to regain its relevance and ministry thus shaping and performing mental health care in more ethical ways. Science alone fails to describe man’s problem in any way other than through natural selection, mutation or adaptation. Only Christianity offers answers as to how man became like he is. Historically, rather than rearranging his value system to match God’s, secular man has simply reacted to his suffering by developing ways of shaping his environment to accommodate his own wants, of which, medication is one example.
Clearly psychological pathology is not strictly due to the premise of a person’s own personal sin that Nouthetic counselors have attempted to work from. Much pathology arises from an exaggerated right amygdala that causes people to take what they want from others. In reality, psychological pathology arises from underlying biological constructs based in brain structures that create a platform from which sin is able to be played out and recognized in both self and other’s. Detecting the sin of others results in primarily anxiety and depression. Behaving sinfully causes people to detect sin in self that results in guilt and shame. God never wanted mankind to experience any of these pathologies. Christian Psychologist Jesse Gill summarizes it this way: “Adam and Eve were originally naked and unashamed with one another as God intended. They had no defenses, but instead they walked in unbroken fellowship together and with their Creator. After The Fall humans developed fear responses, along with a very real need to protect themselves and their children from harm.”
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 Mood state and brain electric activity in ecstasy users, A. Gamma, et al., NeuroReport,
2000. 11(1): (pp. 157-162). In Michael C. Mithoefer, (Ed.) A Manual for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Version 7: 19 August 2015, Santa Cruz: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), (p. 4). Retrieved 02/10/2016 from: http://www.maps.org/research-archive/mdma/MDMA-Assisted-Psychotherapy-Treatment-Manual-Version7-19Aug15-FINAL.pdf.
 A Manual for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Michael C. Mithoefer, Version 7: 19 August 2015, Santa Cruz: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), (pp. 4-5). Retrieved 02/10/2016 from: http://www.maps.org/research-archive/mdma/MDMA-Assisted-Psychotherapy-Treatment-Manual-Version7-19Aug15-FINAL.pdf.
 Effects of MDMA on sociability and neural response to social threat and social reward. G. Bedi, et al., Psychopharmacology (Berl) 207(1), 2009 (pp. 73-83). In Michael C. Mithoefer, (Ed.) A Manual for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Version 7: 19 August 2015, Santa Cruz: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), (pp. 4-5). Retrieved 02/10/2016 from: http://www.maps.org/research-archive/mdma/MDMA-Assisted-Psychotherapy-Treatment-Manual-Version7-19Aug15-FINAL.pdf.
 MDMA enhances "mind reading" of positive emotions and impairs "mind reading" of negative emotions. C. M. Hysek, G. Domes, and M.E. Liechti, Psychopharmacology (Berl), 222(2), 2012. (pp. 293-302). In Michael C. Mithoefer, (Ed.) A Manual for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Version 7: 19 August 2015, Santa Cruz: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), (pp. 4-5). Retrieved 02/10/2016 from: http://www.maps.org/research-archive/mdma/MDMA-Assisted-Psychotherapy-Treatment-Manual-Version7-19Aug15-FINAL.pdf.
 A Manual for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Michael C. Mithoefer, Version 7: 19 August 2015, Santa Cruz: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), (p. 28). Retrieved 02/10/2016 from: http://www.maps.org/research-archive/mdma/MDMA-Assisted-Psychotherapy-Treatment-Manual-Version7-19Aug15-FINAL.pdf.
 A Manual for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Michael C. Mithoefer, Version 7: 19 August 2015, Santa Cruz: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), (p. 48). Retrieved 02/10/2016 from: http://www.maps.org/research-archive/mdma/MDMA-Assisted-Psychotherapy-Treatment-Manual-Version7-19Aug15-FINAL.pdf.
 Why are we still using electroconvulsive therapy? Jim Reed, BBC Newsnight, 2013. Retrieved 03/03/2016 from: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-23414888.
 Treating PTSD with MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy, Mithoefer et al., 2012. Retrieved 02/10/2016 from: http://www.mdmaptsd.org/research-category.html.
 Naked and Unashamed: Embracing God’s Attachment Design for Covenant Marriage, Jesse Gill, October 10, 2011, American Association of Christian Counselors, Retrieved 01/20/2017 from: http://www.aacc.net/2016/10/11/naked-and-unashamed-embracing-gods-attachment-design-for-covenant-marriage/
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Mikel Kelly, MA, LMHC
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 Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh, 2000, United States, Wadsworth. (p. 18).