Monday, December 21, 2020

December 21 The New Testament’s Uncanny Pioneering of Our Most Effective Psychological Therapy

Reason #21 The New Testament Roots of Our Most Effective Psychological Method (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)

The Christian faith deserves to be revered for anticipating and pioneering the most effective psychological treatment method of modern times.

Even though psychology is considered a “soft science,” it is still significant to realize that what is arguably the most effective therapy technique in that field today is actually a therapy with New Testament Christian roots.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been described as the “gold standard of psychotherapy” (Frontiers in Psychiatry) a therapy that “works as well or better than medication to treat depression. […] The best-proven form of psychotherapy” (WebMD); “as effective as, or more effective than, other forms of psychological therapy or psychiatric medications” (American Psychological Association); “recommended as the first line of treatment for the majority of psychological disorders in children and adolescents,” (Wikipedia); “well-established, highly effective, and lasting,” (Anxiety and Depression Association of America); having a “considerable amount of scientific data supporting its use,” (National Alliance on Mental Illness); a therapy that “works about as well as Prozac and similar drugs for relieving the symptoms of anxiety disorders and mild to moderate depression, and it does so with longer-lasting benefits and without negative side-effects […] The therapy with the strongest evidence that it is both safe and effective,” (Coddling of the American Mind, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt).

CBT is based on the idea that since one’s feelings seem to be deeply influenced by one’s thoughts and behaviors, a person may overcome his feelings of anxiety and depression by changing his thoughts and behaviors. It is common, for example, for depressed or anxious individuals to unintentionally habituate a focus on unpleasant prospects (e.g. “I’ll probably flunk out of college”) while overlooking the more pleasant realities of their situations (e.g. “I can pass this course,” or “Pleasant jobs don’t always require college,” etc.). CBT therapy coaches people with negative patterns of thought to recognize their unhelpful thought-patterns, and then intentionally turn their focus towards more realistic and pleasant possibilities. This also usually involves encouraging the depressed or anxious person to do what emotionally healthy people do in order to experience for themselves the pleasant outcomes these activities tend to produce (e.g. perhaps going ahead and signing up for a college course, getting a little private tutoring along the way, and seeing how it goes).

But all of this is very familiar territory for anyone acquainted with the New Testament. The followers of Jesus are actually commanded to practice this kind of self-therapy at all times in their Christian journey. Perhaps the most striking example of what we now call CBT is found in Paul’s instructions to Christians: “Whatever things are true….and lovely…think always on these things,” and “those things which you have learned…now do, and the God of peace shall be with you.” 1 This much-loved passage of scripture succinctly addresses both the cognitive aspects of CBT (redirecting your focus to thoughts that are true/realistic and lovely/positive) as well as the behavioral aspects of it (doing wise things in order to experience peace).

Besides being implied in Scripture too many times to count, these CBT concepts are explicitly stated on a number of occasions. Jesus commanded his followers, for example, to “take no thought” about tomorrow’s troubles2, and other passages appeal to believers to find “peace” through thoughts of gratitude3, to direct their thoughts to joyful things “always” 4, even in times of great hardship 5, to redirect the focus of their thoughts (“meditate”) on the things that are true and good “day and night”6, and even to directly confront and change their destructive thought patterns as a way of life (the word “repent” actually means to change one’s mind about a matter). 

Readers of the Psalms are also familiar with the positive self-talk, as we now term it, which dominates the cherished 103rd Psalm, for example, in which the author tells his own “soul” to “bless the Lord” and to “remember all his benefits.” This same kind of positive self-talk is actually found many times in the Psalms7, and throughout the Christian scriptures.

In spite of the strong anti-Christian sentiment in our culture today, the “soft sciences” strongly indicate that devoted Christians are indeed more emotionally well than other people. They are more kind and generous than others (see Reasons #7-10, 12, and 24), they are better at family relationships than others (see Reason #11), and they have fewer symptoms of psychological disorders than their neighbors (suicides, addictions, criminal activities, domestic violence, broken families, etc.). The Christian faith deserves credit for bringing about all these realities.

The Christian faith deserves to be revered for anticipating and pioneering the most effective psychological treatment method of modern times.


1 Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever things are true…honest…just… pure…lovely…of good news, if anything is a virtue, if anything is a praise, think on these things.  9 Those things which you have learned…do. And the God of peace shall be with you.

2Matthew 6:34 Therefore, take no thought for tomorrow: for tomorrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil of it.

3Philippians 4:6 Be worried for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

4Philippians 3:1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.1 Thessalonians 5:16 Rejoice always.

5James 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various temptations.

6Joshua 1:8 This book of the law…you shall meditate in day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it: for then you shall make your way prosperous, and…have good success. 1 Timothy 4:15 Meditate upon these things; give yourself entirely to them.

7 Psalm 42: 5 Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disquieted in me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance….11 Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. 43: 5 Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. Psalm 103: 1 Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:3 Who forgives all your iniquities; who heals all your diseases; 4 Who redeems your life from destruction; who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies; 5 Who satisfies your mouth with good things; so that your  youth is renewed like the eagle's. 6 The Lord executes righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.  8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. 10 He has not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 13 Like a father pities his children, so the Lord pities them that fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 22 Bless the Lord…bless the Lord, O my soul. Psalm 104:1 Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with honor and majesty….33 I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. 34 My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord. 35…Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord. Psalm 116:7 Return unto your rest, O my soul; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. Psalm 146:1 Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul.


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