Thursday, January 10, 2013

On Counseling, Friendship, Church, and Larry Crabb's Transformation

At long last, I finally finished Larry Crabb's book Connecting: Healing for Ourselves and Our Relationships.

I've read two Crabb books this year, the other being Shattered Dreams, which I deeply resonated with and wrote about here. It turns out I love Crabb and his writing. I especially connect with his words on suffering and struggle in life. Reading Connecting was personal for that reason, but the book will stick with me in another way. It's essentially a counseling theory book, and in it Crabb blows out the water the very counseling theory that he originally became known for.

I'd always heard that Crabb was known for being a leading voice in the "Christian counseling" field. I didn't really know what that meant in the scheme of biblical counseling vs. integration vs. secular psychology. Crabb's own words on his website lay out his journey. He studied psychology and became a psychologist. After returning to Christianity and wrestling with how to be a Christian and a counselor, he moved strong towards doing Christian counseling, not just counseling as a Christian. He wrote books on this and taught strongly out of this perspective. And then, in his own words:

In my 10 years of private practice, I became persuaded that the community of God’s people was meant to be the place where the deepest healing takes place. I came to the conclusion that real healing has less to do with technical intervention and more to do with profound relational engagement. I realized that the context for this engagement needs to be in the community of God’s people—and that’s the church. I thought that if healing belongs in church, then I’d like to be involved in somehow strengthening churches.
This is the whole idea behind Connecting. What I love about it is that it all stems from the conviction that the doctrine of the Trinity is not some obscure complicated doctrine, but the foundational aspect of God that is immensely important for us as individuals and as a church. Everything is based around loving relationship and the giving of self to others. This was highly impactful for Isaac to study in Seminary, and I loved that it was this point is what partly drove Crabb's change of focus.

In a way, this is exactly what I have always believed and what has driven my own career choices. I love people and highly value relationships and really engaging in a deep connection with people. The life change that happened to me and to others through that deep connection brought me to believe that healing and growth primarily takes place through relationship. I wanted to grow in my ability to engage with people in a way that promoted healing and change, so I majored in counseling. And yet, I've always said that I didn't want an office and I didn't care about the degree itself. While I think growth and healing can come through a relationship with a counselor, they come more often and more easily through beautiful but everyday relationships. So, as I talk about my gifting and goals, I find myself using the words "discipleship" and "spiritual formation" interchangeably with "counseling", because I think they really should be the same thing. This is not formal counseling but it's also not "biblical counseling" it's growth through relationship.

Where Crabb really challenged me (especially since I was reading this in a year of deep discouragement over the state of my own heart) is in his beautiful balance between understanding that our pain often boils down to a heart of flesh, but anyone who follows Christ is filled with the Spirit, and that the power of the Spirit that is in us and transforming us is the same beauty that flows out of us to transform others.

Let me suggest a core principle. Whether our words reach through the bad dynamics in another's sinful heart and touch the holy appetites beneath depends largely on the answer to this: Are we so empowered by the gospel that we are disposed to continue believing in another's miraculously granted goodness, and to therefore find delight in the other, no matter what degree of ugliness we encounter?

In way, what Crabb is saying is what is implemented really well in my own church. "Connecting" may as well be "Community", and our church really works to develop small groups where this is exactly happening. The idea of truly walking in life together, opening our hearts to each other, being transparent with our "hurts, habits, and hangups", and pushing each other forward in growth and beauty and sometimes rebuke.... that IS happening in our church. I've seen it happen in our group. I can testify that it is not easy, but the idea that Crabb promotes has taken hold and is being implemented in my own circles.

I was challenged by Crabb's insistence that we usually spend too much time examining faults when we should be focused on the good and beautiful in those around us, and applauding and encouraging the growth in those things. It echoes something Tim Keller emphasized in his book on marriage. There is a need to develop a vision for what God is making this person to be. Crabb says to ask questions like:

  • How has God built this person?
  • What is He wanting to release through all the joys and heartaches of this person's life?
  • What strengths does this individual have that, if surrendered to God, could powerfully advance the kingdom?
  • What potential remain unrealized because of undealt-with weaknesses?
  • How does this person uniquely bless me?
  • What does that tell me about the character strengths that God is specially weaving into the fabric of this individual's soul?

In Crabb's appendix he addresses the counseling theory behind all of this. What does this mean? Is he saying all professional counseling is bad? No. He says psychological professional help is still needed in situations that have been empirically categorized. Crabb gives four categories, like issues that can be meaningfully relieved with chemical  or physiological intervention, issues with learning processes, and those that pose a significant threat to personal well-being or social order. 

When I read and interpreted his categories, it almost seems as though Crabb is legitimizing psychiatry, which is based on scientific testing and generally prescribes medication. On the other hand, most pure counseling (i.e. the "talking cure") is meant to improve well-being and thus Crabb said needs to address the true problem of well-being (disconnection from God and others) and encourage real growth (reconnection with God and others). This is done through the body of Christ.

Ultimately the book was really encouraging for me. I had sections that I copied and journaled as I cried out to God about my own life stuff, and then sections that I read over with Isaac as we discussed counseling theory and integration and what it means for my goals and giftings. When a book is good both professionally and spiritually, I recommend it.


Amy B said...

I first read "Inside Out' and then "Shattered Dreams" and LOVED both of them. But that was seriously 10 years ago. I think I need to read some more Crabb. ;)

Steve Finnell said...

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Erin said...

I had never heard of the book, but that sounds really good. I agree about the need for more meaningful relationships that turn us to God for true healing, something (in my experience) even Christian councelors don't always do.