Christ Centered Therapy: The practical integration of theology and psychology

  • Neil T. Anderson, Terry E. Zuehlke, Julainne S. Zuehlke
  • Jan 1, 2001
  • Series: Volume 4 - 2001

Anderson, Neil T., Terry E. Zuehlke, and Julainne S. Zuehlke. Christ Centered Therapy: The practical integration of theology and psychology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000. 431 pages. Hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 0-310-23113-2.

This work by Anderson, Zuehlke, and Zuehlke boldly proclaims a particular way of integrating theology into psychological practice for Christian counselors. The Zuehlkes, in their acknowledgments, state, “We realized that withholding the Truth from clients would stunt their lifelong healing and reveal a double-mindedness on our part. How could we worship and pray to the true and living God who heals, comforts, gives peace, and forgives our sins through the death of Jesus Christ, and not integrate those truths into our counseling with clients?” (p.8). These statements point us to the thesis of the book. Underlying all of the principles and practical suggestions seems to be the belief that the only effective path to healing for any Christian suffering from any problem except “organic malfunction” (p.36) is undertaking the work of Neil Anderson’s 7 Steps to Freedom in Christ.

We do not take issue with the relevance of the content of the 7 steps to personal wholeness and spiritual maturity. We, however, object to any rigidly prescribed path to these desirable goals. The approach of these authors may have some merit for working with reasonably healthy individuals who are struggling with life adjustment issues. Yet we would advocate a mutual, less formulated journey between client and therapist which seeks to carefully integrate the teachings of scripture into the unique fabric of the client’s life experiences and cultural context. The approach of these authors seems highly directive, with an exclusive preference for a cognitive/behavioral approach to therapy.

Our greatest concern lies in the apparent belief of the authors that the 7 steps are appropriate for even the most serious of maladies including some “Critical Impairments” listed on page 202 such as “psychotic thought, perception, and behavior, suicidal thought/behavior, dissociative states, homicidal thought/behavior.” The authors advocate putting any given presenting diagnosis with a framework called “Impairments in the Wholistic Realm,” all of which are then subject to “Spiritual Interventions: The ‘Steps to Freedom in Christ’ as a treatment intervention” (p. 209). From a clinical standpoint this approach could easily be dangerous to client or therapist if some of the serious mental illness conditions were dealt with in this way. Eating disorders, for example, can be life-threatening and cannot be simplistically regarded as problems of bondage or idolatry. The long-term, trust-building work of therapy that characterizes treatment of most severe disorders, for example those related to prolonged sexual abuse, cannot proceed along prescriptive lines.

Our second objection to the book lies with the authors’ truncated conception of the task of integration. The authors do draw in several great themes of scripture in setting forth the foundation for their counseling approach, such as the imago dei and the centrality of repentance and forgiveness. Do not look to this book, however, for a careful nuanced discussion of the complexity of these core scriptural themes, or the often painstaking manner in which both client and therapist might come to a deeper incarnational understanding of the hermeneutical applications embedded in the client’s unique life circumstances. Margaret Alter, in Resurrection Psychology, gives a far more expanded treatment of the challenges of this endeavor.

Several components of Christ Centered Therapy can be appreciated. The reality of the impact of sin and evil in the world, and in the life of Christians must be recognized. Many Christian counselors, however, will no doubt regard the practice of guiding every client through a process that resembles one of deliverance as excessive and unnecessary.

The authors offer a number of good suggestions for navigating the murky waters of managed care. We applaud their courage in reinforcing the fact that pluralism includes Christianity, and that insurance companies should not get away with discriminating against those who explicitly practice within a Christian world view.

Finally, we appreciate the high view of scripture taken by the authors, the importance placed on personal wholeness and recognition of the significance of the power of the Holy Spirit in the healing process. Christ Centered Therapy provides many helpful suggestions, but the integration approach seems lock-step, narrow in its cognitive/behavioral focus and therefore limited. A more full-bodied discussion of other psychotherapy approaches, pressed through the grid of Biblical truth would be useful.

Dianne McReynolds, M.A.
Denver Seminary

Joan Winfrey, Ph.D.
Associate Professor in Counseling
Denver Seminary