Today's Topic



Doers of the Word

Natalia J. Garland

Print Version

Is psychotherapy demonic? There are some radical Christians who seem to think so. However, I will show that social work is compatible with the Bible and a natural expression of spirituality. I will start by defining social work, and then provide some simple biblical cross-referencing to prove that social work is a profession worthy of spiritual people.

Mount Mary College offers a crisp, precise definition of social work that I really like. I found this at their website.

If you have a strong interest in helping people deal effectively with their environments and others, as well as helping resolve personal problems of living, a degree in social work might be the best choice for you. Social work is a highly regarded field centered around enhancing coping skills, linking people to needed resources and empowering them to make changes in their lives.
[End of quote.]

That sure doesn't sound like the work of the devil to me. Here is another definition that gives more details on the types of services which social workers provide and the places where they work. I found this definition at the website of the Philadelphia Biblical University.

Social work focuses upon the relationships individuals have with each other, with their families, and with their communities. Social workers can be found in public organizations and private businesses, as well as medical and mental health settings. Social workers are the largest providers of mental health and therapy services in the nation. They are in every level of government, education, research, and a growing number are elected political leaders and legislators. Social workers counsel individuals, work with groups, administer organizations, and resolve conflict. They impact others' lives guided by their gifts of leadership, compassion, and mercy. Social work is the art of holistically helping people make willful decisions and assisting individuals as they navigate through difficult situations.
[End of quote.]

There are different theoretical and stylistic approaches to clinical social work. Some psychological theories of human behavior have been more friendly to the inclusion of spirituality than others. Nowadays, perhaps because of the influence of Twelve Step programs, there seems to be more openness to the benefits of spirituality on mental health.

Let us also keep in mind that it was psychotherapy, not the Church, that exposed the problems of incest, rape, wife battering, and child abuse. It was psychotherapy that made it possible for victims of abuse to be understood, believed, and helped. Church leaders have often unknowingly exacerbated these situations.

The Epistle of St. James perhaps most directly refers to the worthiness of the helping professions.

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
(James 1:27)

The widows and the orphans might be regarded at the patients of those days. They were the ones who needed practical assistance as well as emotional support. (I think it would be possible to give this passage both literal and symbolic interpretation in application to modern social work.) Notice that St. James regarded this kind of helping as "pure religion." He also seems to add the stipulation that the helper maintain a certain focus and identity appropriate to the work. St. James calls such helpers "doers of the word" (James 1:22). The word refers to the sayings of Christ, and also to the person of Christ.

Social work is not in competition with religion. Mental health should not be anti-salvation. Jesus Christ, who came to bring salvation, also valued and stressed the practical and emotional aspects of life.

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
(Matthew 25:35-37)

Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
(Matthew 25:40).

There is a promise of eternal life for those who apply their Christian beliefs to practical usefulness within society.

There seems to be no requirement that a helper provide specifically Christian-based services. A religious social worker, for example, is providing valid services within the realm of social work activities. I have nothing against Christian counselling or pastoral counselling. Faith-based programs provide important services for both those with and without a belief system. Working on secular jobs, however, also offers opportunity for a spiritual impact. The spiritual person will be known by their embodiment of Christ-like words and deeds. Without this embodiment, even Christian counselling would be hypocritical and ineffective.

Christ Himself is the example to be followed. This holds true for all people who profess to be Christians, no matter what their occupation. I will close this essay with a quotation from a statement on "Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church," from the Russian Orthodox Church of Three Saints.

The Saviour said about Himself: "I am among you as he that serveth," (Luke 22:27). Service for the salvation of the world and human beings cannot be limited to national and religious limits, as the Lord Himself states clearly in the parable of the merciful Samaritan. Moreover, the members of the Church encounter Christ as the One Who assumed all sins and suffering of the world when they welcome the hungry, homeless, sick or prisoners. Help to those who suffer is in the full sense help to Christ Himself, and the fulfillment of this commandment determines the eternal fate of every man (Matthew 25:31-41). Christ calls upon His disciples not to shun the world, but to be "the salt of the earth," and, "the light of the world."
[End of quote.]

To label psychotherapy as demonic is to discourage true Christians from choosing careers in the helping professions. Social work has brought much good into the world. People who turn to social workers for help are often people who have been failed by their families, schools, and churches. (Written 02/07/05: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

Find More Topics in the Table of Contents

Return to Homepage


Copyright 2005 Natalia J. Garland