Sunday, April 19, 2015

Forgiveness Quotes


Forgiveness repairs our internal damage and frees us to live in the present with hope for the future.

Forgiveness provides the groundwork for reconciliation but it cannot change the offender.

I am teaching about forgiveness in the next few weeks. In the process of preparation, I am looking for ways to explore the meaning of forgiveness in ordinary language rather than the often obtuse definitions found in psychology journals.

Forgiveness defined
Forgiveness is an action performed by a victim to no longer demand that the offender pay for the harm that was done. The victim takes control of the situation by assessing the damage and taking care of any repairs whether they be to oneself or one’s possessions.

We can forgive people for harmful acts that cost us real money such as damage to our home or auto. Other damages are difficulty to assess. Some harm our reputations. Others wound not only bodies but plant horrific images and condemning messages in our memories that don't easily go away. Repairing these internal hurts is also costly and often takes time. As with the repair of houses and cars, we are often in need of specialists to help repair our inner hurts.

Forgiveness as a way of living
Forgiving seventy times seven represents a personality trait—a pattern of quickly letting go of hurt feelings and dismissing thoughts of revenge. (My take on the term dispositional forgiveness and Matthew 18:22).

Some quotes from others

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Mahatma Gandhi, All Men are Brothers: Autobiographical Reflections

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Nelson Mandela

To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.  C.S. Lewis

“I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.” C.S. Lewis

I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive. Forgiveness ought to be like a canceled note - torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one. Henry Ward Beecher

If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive. Mother Theresa

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Mahatma Gandhi, All Men are Brothers: Autobiographical Reflections

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.” Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” Martin Luther King Jr.

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”  Mark Twain


Additional References

Sutton, G. W. (2014). Psychology of forgiveness: An overview of recent research linking psychological science and Christian spirituality. Encounter, 11.  Academia Link

Sutton, G. W. (2010). The Psychology of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Restoration: Integrating Traditional and Pentecostal Theological Perspectives with Psychology. In M. Mittelstadt & G. W. Sutton (eds). Forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration: Multidisciplinary studies from a Pentecostal perspective. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications. 

Sutton, G. W., & Thomas, E. K. (2005). Restoring Christian leaders: How conceptualizations of forgiveness and restoration can influence practice and research. American Journal of Pastoral Counseling8, 29-44. (The journal has been renamed, Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health.) Academia Link

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Controversial values of Christian Counselors & Psychotherapists

What Christian Counselors Believe, Value, and Practice
Part 2: Values

Should Christian counselors be exempt from providing premarital
counseling to same-sex couples if their group believes same-sex marriage is sin?

In this post I look at some values held by people in our sample of Christian Counselors. Last week I reported their Christian beliefs, which we (Chris Arnzen and me) thought important to understand key features of the type of Christianity held by the people completing the survey.
This week I look at some of their key values—values that polarize families, churches, and groups of Christians.

Why ask about values? Three Reasons

The first is disclosure. Counselors and psychotherapists (I will use a generic term, clinicians) often disclose personal information in the course of treatment. Odds are, if you went to a therapist, you learned something personal—research indicates 90% of clinicians disclose personal information. The effects on clients are mixed and context dependent as to appropriateness. At some point you have to wonder about the needs of the therapist (Verbeck et al., 2015). In any event, some clients want to know what their therapists believe about an issue.

The second reason is countertransference. People have argued about countertransference since Freud observed the phenomenon. In a more recent understanding of countertransference, clinicians respond emotionally to clients during treatment. Researchers have identified clinician experiences of loss and feelings of homophobia as examples of factors affecting the clinician and the relationship with the client (See Verbeck et al, 2015). Obviously, treatment sessions need to focus on the client’s concerns. And clinicians need not be distracted by personal issues that interfere with the treatment process.

A third reason is authenticity. Say all you want about the importance of clinicians being neutral, supportive, and empathic. But at some point, the clinician cannot deny so many personal values and beliefs without being obviously inauthentic. Do you really expect fundamentalist Christian clinicians to deny their core beliefs and values in order to:
Provide effective premarital counseling to a same-sex couple?
Help a gay couple resolve their sexual difficulties?
Prepare for divorce because one spouse fell out of love and wishes to be free?
Explore healthy ways to tell her boyfriend that she is having an abortion next week?

What did we ask?

As before, I will give you the questions so you can see what was asked. We asked the clinicians to indicate their level of agreement on a 5-point scale from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree. We grouped Strongly Agree and Agree together and did the same for Strongly Disagree and Disagree. The middle choice was neither agree or disagree.

Birth control- remember the Hobby Lobby- Supreme Court case from 2014?

  • All forms of birth control are sinful.
  • Birth control methods are acceptable if they do not cause an abortion.

Abortion items- an ongoing debate about limits in the U.S. and some other nations.

  • Abortion is always sinful.
  • Abortion is acceptable when a woman’s life is at risk.
  • Abortion is acceptable when a woman is pregnant as a result of incest or rape.

Premarital sex- although most Christian couples have sex before they marry, you probably know the official position of most churches is that sex is only acceptable within marriage.

  • Premarital sex is always sinful.
  • Cohabitation is always sinful.

Marriage, Same-Sex Marriage, and Sexual orientation. These are obviously hot topics in many countries and divisive within families and churches—let alone local communities.

  • A biblical marriage is between one man and one woman.
  • Same-sex marriage is sinful.
  • Sexual orientation is a choice.

Divorce—an old topic to be sure. Even evangelicals in the U.S. have softened on this value and welcomed divorced persons into the church. But we asked just to see if any held to traditional church beliefs.

  • Divorce is sinful.

The role of women. Women have fought long and hard for rights in western cultures where there is a measure of success. But within most Christian churches they cannot hold high office. Some groups give lip service to the importance of wives but view men and women having complementary rather than equal roles. And even in a secular agency I once received an email advising counselors to refer women to female psychologists for services.

  • In a Christian marriage, a man and a woman submit to each other but the man is always the head of the marriage.
  • Women have a vital role in Christian ministry but they should not be priests or pastors.
  • Women have an important role in churches and Christian organizations but they should not have authority over a man.
  • Women should seek counseling from women and men should seek counseling from men.

What did we find out?

Essentially, a substantial portion of our sample hold some values that are consistent with those of Christian fundamentalists. Depending on how you measure fundamentalism or Christians who hold conservative beliefs you will find a number in the 20% range for the U.S. I suspect many of the clinicians in our sample would feel quite comfortable with fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. Biblically, they are on the same pages. But, many fundamentalists prefer to see a pastor or talk to a Christian friend. 

I do not know the numbers but I suspect they would rather see a biblical counselor—someone who relies heavily on the Bible and not scientifically-based interventions even when framed to accommodate Christian beliefs.

As you look through the list, I think you will see some potential sources of spiritual struggle for clinicians when it comes to treating many in the U.S., if a value-conflict become relevant to the treatment issues.

Social issue
Birth control: Always sinful
Birth control: ok if not abortifacient

Abortion: Always sinful
Abortion: ok risk harm
Abortion: ok rape/incest

Premarital sex: Always sinful
Cohabitation: Always sinful
Marriage: 1 man, 1 woman
Marriage: Man is head
Divorce is sin

Sex orientation is a choice
Same sex marriage sinful

Women should not be clergy
Women- no authority over men
Women counsel women & men
counsel men

Table note. The n represents the number of people responding to the item. The numbers in the other three columns represent the percentage of people reporting agreement-disagreement.
If you see mistakes, do let me know.
Some bottom line questions might be:

If a client knew what a clinician believed and valued would that make a difference in seeing the person for therapy? After all, psychotherapy involves many hours in a relationship unlike 7.5 minutes with a physician.

Are their certain types of issues that are reasonably beyond the ability of most counselors to set aside their values to help clients achieve goals contrary to their religious faith?

Are their some religious or spiritual values (or beliefs from the previous week) that appear so irrational that a supervisor should confront the clinician before the clinician graduates from a degree program?

Should states and provinces refuse to grant licenses to clinicians unable to serve all members of the public? Are some Christian clinicians most suited to function as pastoral counselors with clergy privileges rather than licensed by a government body to serve all citizens?

Are a clinician's spiritual/religious values irrelevant to most treatment concerns? For example, who cares what clinicians believe if they are competent to treat depression, anxiety, ADHD, and so forth?

Do you have other constructive thoughts?

Do you know of other relevant research?

Related Posts


Sutton, G. W., Arnzen, C. A. (2015, April). Evidenced-Based religious accommodative psychotherapy: Practice and belief. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies, International Conference, Denver, Colorado.

Verbeck et al. (2015). Religion, spirituality, and the working alliance with trauma survivors. In D. Walker, C. Courtois, and J. Aten (eds.). Spirituality oriented psychotherapy for trauma (pp 103-126). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Monday, April 13, 2015

9 Beliefs of Christian Counselors

What Christian Counselors Believe, Value, and Practice

Part I: Beliefs

I once asked a conservative evangelical Christian Chaplain how he handled counseling when he was pretty sure a dying patient was not a Christian and would soon spend eternity in hell? He sincerely said he would have to think about that question.

A female health care provider told me she switched to work with children from elder care because she believed that unlike the elderly, children would go to heaven if they died. In this case, her Christian beliefs appeared to have a causal effect on her career.

Counselors normally focus on the needs of clients and help clients find solutions in a supportive setting. Theoretically, rapport ought to be enhanced when counselors and clients share common values and beliefs. 

Why ask what Christian Counselors Believe?

The primary reason is to address the rapport factor. As noted in a previous post, many Christians prefer counseling from someone who shares their Christian beliefs and values. When it comes to lifestyles, conservative Christians hold beliefs at variance with the general culture. And some believe that certain ways of living are linked to personal distress.

A secondary reason is the observation that many people draw strength from their faith; thus, it makes sense for a therapist to help clients draw on their faith when applicable. For example, such concepts as forgiveness, hope, gratitude, love, and reconciliation are of interest to psychologists and people of faith. 

A third reason is to explore how beliefs related to the practice of counseling and psychotherapy.

What is a Christian?

The idea of Christian counseling suggests we ought to know what we mean by the concept, Christian. Some people will define Christian by quoting a portion of the Bible. Over the years, theologians have argued about core beliefs. Arguments over refined points of doctrine often result in a leader creating a new religious movement in societies that have freedom of religion. There are creeds and statements of faith online. In short, some people identify as Christian based on the faith of their family or their baptism in a particular faith group. Others come to faith later in life, which may involve a confession of faith and a verbal expression of some set of beliefs about God and Jesus. Some just say “I’m a follower of Jesus,” as if to distance themselves from the arguments over doctrines.

In this survey, we asked about the religious identity of the counselors and we asked about beliefs. You will see the items are similar to themes asked of the public in other surveys.


How do your beliefs compare to Christian Counselors in the US?

Last year, my colleague Chris Arnzen and I conducted a survey of Christian Counselors and Psychotherapists from organizations based in the United States but which might include some members from Canada. Overall we obtained responses from about 250 people. Some clinicians did not respond to every item.

I’ll list the questions so you can record your answers. We asked people to respond on a five-point scale from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree” with the answers. Following the questions, I’ll show you how the counselors responded.

1. I believe Jesus is the son of God.
2. I have had a born again experience.
3. God heals some people without human intervention.
4. All Christians are called to share their faith with others
5. Clients who do not accept Jesus as their personal savior will spend eternity in hell.

And some questions about the Bible

In prior posts about Christian fundamentalism, I reported that fundamentalists focus on the Bible (or the sacred texts in other religious traditions) in a close to literal fashion. And when they make statements about social values and behavior, they rely heavily upon the Bible with little to no regard for the findings from science or other disciplines. In short, God’s Word trumps man’s wisdom. This is the context that led us to include questions about the Bible. I’ll give you the questions before revealing how the counselors responded.
Four questions about the Bible as the Sacred Writing for Christians. As before, we asked for ratings on a five-point scale from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree.”

1. Everything in the Sacred Writing is absolutely true without question.
2. The words of the Sacred Writing have at least some contradictions and/or errors.
3. The Sacred Writing should never be doubted, even when scientific or historical evidence outright disagrees with it.
4. If what the Sacred Writing says disagrees with the findings or discoveries of science, then what science says is probably closer to what is really true


How did the Christian Counselors respond?

Core faith: Here’s a summary of their answers to questions about basic beliefs. Scroll up to see the actual questions.

Belief (n = 251)
Strongly Agree/Agree
Neither or Disagree
1 Jesus is the Son of God
2 Born again experience
3 God heals w/o human
4 Christians called to share faith
5 Clients hell-bound w/o salvation

Bible: Here’s how they responded to questions about the Bible (the generic term is, Sacred Writing). Scroll up to see the four questions.
Belief (n = 251)
Strongly Agree/Agree
Neither or Disagree
No Response
1 SW absolutely true
2 SW some contradictions/ errors
3 SW  never doubt
4 If SW disagrees w/ findings then science probably true


Anyone who identifies as a Christian counselor or psychotherapist likely holds conservative beliefs. That’s a hypothesis. Even though mental health clinicians might identify as a Christian they may not offer explicitly Christian interventions. But a clinician whose professional identity is portrayed as a Christian Counselor has claimed something unique. I want to discover that unique quality and how it impacts their services.

You can see that our sample is quite conservative overall but a significant group of Christian clinicians do not hew to traditional Christian beliefs. The question about evangelism (sharing faith) and hell were important to identifying the level of conservatism within our sample.

Although heaven and hell are long-standing teachings of the church, nearly half of the sample did not endorse the belief about salvation and hell as often phrased by U.S. evangelicals. Of course, I made it personal by referring to clients even as I did when asking the evangelical Chaplain about his beliefs regarding the dying patient. It seems to me, that highly committed Christians who really believe in evangelism and the reality of hell would feel very uncomfortable suppressing the urge to witness in some situations.

Remember my story above about the woman who changed her job to work with children? In case you are unaware, the Bible says nothing explicitly about the age criteria for entering heaven or hell at the end of earthly life unless certain belief criteria are met. 

My point is, beliefs matter. And a counselor's beliefs might influence what happens in a counseling session.

When it comes to the Bible, the counselors are also fairly conservative, although about one-third did not see the biblical text as absolutely true. The wording of the items can be debated endlessly but I think you can get the sense that the counselors in the survey were divided in terms of doubt. You also see a general unwillingness to accord scientific findings more weight that the Bible when a perceived conflict occurs.

Findings like these lead to more questions and a wish that we had asked a question in a slightly different way. We did permit open answers on many items so the counselors could explain a nuanced view.

In future posts, I will report more about the values of counselors and what they include as interventions.

Related Posts


Sutton, G. W., Arnzen, C. A. (2015, April). Evidenced-Based religious accommodative psychotherapy: Practice and belief. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies, International Conference, Denver, Colorado.

Sunday, April 5, 2015


Like most Christians, my wife and I participated in services this holy week, which spans Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. As usual, the media rise to the occasion with Bible stories, comments from various religious leaders and a few atheists—just to keep things balanced. Other religions are on the back burner until Monday.

So many statements of beliefs come from the Easter events. Later in the week I’m presenting the results of a survey of Christian Counselors. My colleague, Chris Arnzen, and I were interested in what Christian Counselors do. But we also asked about their Christian beliefs so we could understand what it meant to be a Christian counselor. I’ll take a look at those in another post.
For now, here’s a sample of some core beliefs from various sources.

God: 75% U S (depends)
Belief in God is obviously a core belief. U.S. belief has declined to 58% having no doubt God exists and another 17% have doubts but feel they believe—added together = 75% (GSS, 2014).
Details matter. Overall, Pew researchers found 92% in the U S believe in God or a universal spirit but the figure dropped to 60% if you ask about a “personal God.” I think Christians forget Jesus was a Jew. Anyway, what about Jewish belief in God? Overall, 83% but only 25% see God as “personal.” (Pew)

Australians are split—52% endorse the view of a “classical creator God” compared to 48% who do not (Bible society, 2015).

The NORC (2012) report from 2008 includes results from many countries. Their statement was: “I believe in God now and I always have.” Some examples: U S 80.8%, Australia 39.1%, Great Britain 36.7% and the low was Germany (East) at 13.2%. When they asked about belief in a personal God the numbers drop: US 67.5%, Australia 28.5% and Great Britain 26.9%.

Jesus is God’s Son: 68% (depends)
Another core teaching of Christianity is the belief that Jesus is God’s Son. According to a Harris U S Poll (2013), 68% endorse that belief.
A 2011 survey in the UK asked the question a bit differently by adding some details. For those reporting they are Christians.
“Less than half (48%) of those who ticked ‘Christian’ said they believed that Jesus Christ was a real person who died and came back to life and was the son of God.” (BHA, 2015)

Resurrection: 65% (US)
Now we get to the resurrection. How many believe Jesus was raised from the dead? That figure was recently at 65% in the U S (Harris, 2013).

Bible—is it God’s Word? 27% (U S Fundamentalist perspective)
In recent decades, psychologists and sociologists have focused on understanding fundamentalists. The more I study the research, the more I agree with the views of Williamson and others that the key to understanding fundamentalism in any religion lies in understanding their view of their scriptures.

It turns out that Gallup (2014) has examined perspectives on the Bible using four nuanced questions. And they split their U S sample into Christian and non-Christian groups. I’ll just consider the Christians. Literal beliefs in the Bible as God’s word is at 27%—close to the all-time low of 27%. If you ask if the Bible is God’s word but multiple interpretations are possible, you get another 31%. Ask if the Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything should be taken literally you get 31%. Finally, if you ask if the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends and the like you get 7% (4% had no opinion).

Lifeway approached the subject a little differently: 43% affirm the Bible is 100% accurate.

Angels: 88% (U S Christians)
Angels figure in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim stories. And they are a part of the Easter story. A few years ago the AP found that 77 of U S adults believe in the reality of angels. The belief is higher among U S Christians (88%) and at 95% of evangelicals (CBS, 2011).

Heaven and Hell (varies)
The devil is in the details. In surveys, it always matters how you ask the question. Lifeway (2014) asked a U S sample about beliefs in heaven and hell.

Belief in heaven as a real place = 67%. As you might guess, different groups hold different beliefs. Evangelicals were at 90% but even non-Christians reported a 37% belief. About 45% believe there are many ways to heaven.

Hell is real for most people in the U S too— 61%.

Pew also asked about heaven and hell. Overall, heaven wins at 74% and hell is low at 59%.  Christians vary a lot but most are believers in heaven with lower percentages affirm hell. Jews weight in at 38% for heaven and 33% for hell. The Pew figures carry the dates of 2007.

Given the variations in belief about the Bible, we should now wonder how people view God, Jesus, the resurrection, heaven and hell. That is, do nonliteral interpretations of the Bible, allow for nonliteral interpretations of Jesus nature and his relationship with God, the resurrection, heaven and hell? We won’t know until someone asks questions in nuanced ways. Seeing Jesus as God and a personal friend is quite different than viewing God as a distant spirit or force. 

As a psychological scientist I wonder about the connection between a group's view of God and their behavior. 

As a clinician I wonder how a person's view of God influences their thoughts, feelings, behavior patterns, health, and relationships. (See link to multidimensional model of human nature).

The variations in data reveal the importance of caution when reading survey results. Different samples yield different results. And different questions yield slightly different responses. Attention to the details is important.

Tracking polls can be a problem when you do not ask the same people. When the numbers change, you cannot assume people have changed their minds over the years. You just find that as a society or subculture, more people believe this or that compared to a similar group some years ago.

Happy Easter  5 April, 2015

Joyous Festival for Passover 3 to 11 April, 2015

Happy holidays to all.

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