A new popular health consciousness seems to be emerging constantly in the United States. We are a self-conscious nation. Since the late 1800s American has been exploring the Science of Heath and Happiness. 1 Phineas Quimby was a pioneer in this field, writing the book that sparked so many people’s interest. American’s interest grew, but it was not until that late 1960s and 1970s that the interest developed into a full blown obsession.
During this time there was a surge of interest in personal health and wellbeing, expressed in a wide variety of health-related social movements: vegetarianism, the natural health movement, the self-esteem movement. This was also a time when consumer fads like grapefruit juice, aerobics, and workout videos were rapid. A devotion to psychological health and emotional problems dominates our culture today. We see it in talk shows like Geraldo, Oprah, and Ricki Lake; in self help books such as Atkins for life, Self Matters, Before You Say, I QUIT. If talk shows and self-help books were all we saw the obsession manifested in, it would be significant, but still partial. Actually, it has reached far beyond the bookshelf and the media. American’s world view has been deeply shaped by its obsession with therapy. It is not just our personal lives, but every part of our culture.
In our society, “from sports to geopolitics, America has reduce virtually everything to psychological terms. “3 This even shows up in our national security news. A Wall Street Journal article, “praised the Gulf War for helping us recover from our Vietnam War inferiority complex. 4 America is so obsessed with therapy that we psychologize even our nation in relation to war. Problems that were at one time considered political, economic, or educational, are now are said to be psychological. Albert Gilgen, in his book, American psychology since WWII, gave the following example in relation to the educational field: English teacher evaluation: Grammatical or punctuation errors within sentences, poor paragraph organization, multiple spelling errors, and poor handwriting.
Math teacher evaluation: Difficulty understanding or naming mathematical terms, operations, or concepts, and decoding written problems into mathematical symbols. 5 After reading this one would naturally think that this explanation is some sort of report about the progress, or lack of progress, of a student. This is not the case at all; the above description is a clinical diagnosis for two specific disorders; written expression disorder and mathematics disorder. The psychological obsession seems to be endless. It stretches from our everyday lives to our criminal justice system: America’s answer is therapy.
In the courtrooms, psychological defenses are rapid. There are defenses such as: adopted-child syndrome, the battered-wife syndrome, the distant-father syndrome, the American dream syndrome, and even the Super Bowl Sunday syndrome. 6 No matter what the social problem, Americans think it can be solved by some sort of psychology. Our culture is permeated with the idea that the answers to all our problems are that of a psychological nature. We see it on commercials, movies, news, talk shows, reality shows, and all other venues of media.
The obsession is so wide spread that four in ten American become members of support groups for problems ranging from codependency Anonymous to Adult Children of Alcoholics. 7 Perhaps the most impacting avenue for pschycotherapy is through education. Therapy is not just limited to students who are disturbed. All students are now in “need” of psychological help. This has been evident in the educational push for self-esteem incorporated into curriculum. The obsession has become so enormous that is seems almost everyone in American is in need of therapy.
In 1999 a report by Dr. David Satcher, United States Surgeon General, he estimated that’s one in five Americans suffer from some form of emotional disorder-such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety or panic disorder. 8 It seems that no part of our society is exempt from American’s obsession with psychotherapy. Causes of American’s Obsession with Therapy We may be able to clearly see the influence that therapy has had in our culture, but it is not as clear how we came to this point. We as a nation have not always been caught up in “scientific” studies of the mind as we are today.
Our culture today nearly stands alone in this obsession with 75% of all therapists being American. There are fewer psychological professionals in China, Israel, and Korea combined than there are sex therapists in America. America’s trust in psychology did not happen “overnight with a twelve-step program or The Oprah Winfrey Show. ” 9 We are living in a postmodernist society. One that claims as it set of truth-no truth. At the heart of the Postmodern movement is that truth is not absolute, but rather relative to each. 0 This era has affected every aspect of our culture-in particular psychology. Jim Fidelibus says in “Being of Many Minds: The Postmodern Impact on Psychotherapy,” Operating within these diverse realities–and regarding each as valid within its own frame of reference–is all within a day’s work for today’s therapist. Consequently, therapists are taught how to suspend their own view, and be of “many minds. ” To be of many minds means to make room within oneself for diverse ways of thinking in an effort to relate to each.
It means to regard truth as plural and relative, rather than singular and absolute. Contemporary therapists would say that what is “true” for me in my cultural context may not be what is “true” for you in yours. To be of many minds is to regard each individual’s “reality” as valid within its own context and on equal footing with all other realities. 11 Another words, when you want someone to agree with you, or you want to take the blame off yourself, or ease your conscience, or have a professional affirm your beliefs, then today’s therapist is the place to go.
The people of our society are so desperately seeking to be relieved of their pain, their guilt, and responsibility. For this reason, it is little wonder that in our postmodern society we are so taken by psychology. This psychotherapeutic philosophy is not just a means for American’s to understand people and their problems by putting labels upon it, “but it is a program for individual and social development. “12 At the heart of it is for American’s to be successful, happy individuals. Eva Moskowitz calls it the “therapeutic gospel. 13 The main trust being that happiness should be our utmost goal. This is directly reflected in the tests that are used to measure psychological problems-loneliness, depression, anxiety, fear, inferiority. American’s seeks therapy because it seeks happiness and release of their pain. Not only have we been culturally condition to believe so deeply in therapy, but our finances have been a driving force as well. American has historically been driven by its pocket book. The movement of psychology was no different.
In the United States today there are 40,000 psychiatrist, 65,000 family therapist, 125,000 psychologist, 10,000 psychoanalysts, and 150,000 social worker therapists. Aside from these there are numerous other types of therapy. 14 American contains 75 percent of all psychological professions. The reason goes back to basic economics-supply and demand. American is craving this therapy and it is being supplied to them in epic proportions. According a recent APA study, the average base income for a therapist is $150,000. 15 This financial benefit is producing an unprecedented market for psychology.
The Consequences of American’s Obsession with Therapy The effects of this obsession are directly reflected in virtually every aspect of our culture. Therapy produces dependency on all levels. On the surface, therapy attempts to convince people that they have the power to change and solve their problems through self-esteem or a 12 step program. On the other hand, psychology has impressed upon America that there is no help within themselves. America is told to look to professionals and drugs to overcome their problems. The result of this is a dependency for our happiness and our self worth.
We are encouraged to become dependant to solve our problems. We have become dependant on “science,” doctors, therapist, and government. Even the school of thought to depend on ourselves causes a circle of dependency. They tell patients to depend on themselves, but to do this they must to depend on the therapist to depend on themselves. Therapy has created a co-dependant America. No longer is American encouraged to pull themselves up “by the boot straps” or even to depend on family or our religion; we are told to depend on government, therapists, and psychologists to produce our happiness and wellbeing.
Another consequence of American’s passion with therapy is that it produces a chaotic society. With the influence of postmodernism on psychology we have seen that the emphasis is not on the healing of the individual for a life of normalcy, but rather on whether the person is changed in the way that they think is right. Dr. Holzman clarifies this in his book. There is a new criterion for evaluating research and psychotherapy. No longer should we ask of research: Does it conform to rigorous scientific methods? But rather we should ask: Does it generate a new environment?
Does it create change? Similarly, no longer should we ask in evaluating the effectiveness of psychotherapy: Does the client conform more closely to societal standards of normality? But rather we should ask: Is the client more capable of creating his or her own reality? Is the client more powerful? 16 This kind of thought which is permeating our society today is calling for “for everyone to do what is right in their own eyes,” and in so doing they are told they will find happiness and contentment. Right and wrong is not left of up to a set standard of truth, but by majority public opinion.
The result of this thought is a society filled with chaos. The final result of America’s obsession with therapy is a loss of hope. When a person is made to believe that his problems, defined by psychological labels, are “what he is” and that it can’t be changed, a loss of hope occurs. In a recent NANC article, Dr. Mack stated, A person becomes discouraged because these psychological labels subtly or overtly encourage him to think that his primary solution to his difficulties is humanistic in nature: he must do it on his own (the idea that he must change himself), or he can only be helped by an expert.
People know that other human beings cannot provide power to break the slavery of their old ways of thinking, feeling, and acting to enable them to think, feel, and live differently. In this context where problems are viewed as primarily psychological in nature, I have encountered numerous people whose hope as dissipated and whose doubts that change could really occur were increasing. 17 The end result of relying on ourselves or the expertise of others is a loss of hope to ever have long-lasting permanent change. America is craving hope, but in all of it therapeutic desire, all they are left with is sense of failure and despair.
The Cure for America’s Obsession with Therapy Simply reflecting on the vastness of America’s obsession and all it produces can be overwhelming and discouraging. There must be a solution that is no based on theory, man’s expertise, or man’s experience. The solution must be found in something that gives hope and long-lasting change. The answer must come from a source that is complete, eternal, and absolute. A person must possess the right attitude before producing a change in thought, whether in his mind or in the mind of another. Timothy 2:24-25 says, “And the Lord’s bondservant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct… ” We must have an attitude of mercy with authority all the while possessing humility. We are to avoid arrogance, understanding who and what our authority lies in. We must see our hope in recognizing the sufficiency of Christ. Col. 2:2-4 says, “… in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
I tell you this so no One may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. We are not going to find wisdom and knowledge in our self-help book or in Oprah; however we know that we can find it in Christ. We cannot allow ourselves to be deceived by arguments made by the therapies of our world, we must recognize the sufficiency of Christ to change and grow us. In Christ we can find grace to provide hope in our weaknesses and “psychological labels” 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ‘” We must be aware that Scripture is where all Truth about our lives is derived from.
According to Mac Author, “The conflict today isn’t over the inspiration of Scripture or inerrancy, but the sufficiency of Scripture. “18 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “For every good work” 2 Peter 1:3-4 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. ” John Broger said it this way,
The only complete source that identifies causes and provide solutions to all life’s problems is the Bible. Written over a period of 16 centuries, it has endured another 1,900 years. The promises and authority of God in the Old and New Testaments offer the basis for a vital, abundant life. The Bible contains solutions to every problem of attitude, relationships, communication, and behavior. 19 Don Matzat’s said in his article “A Better Way: Christ is My Worth,” “Jesus Christ does not merely give better answers to psychological questions, He gives the only answers to questions psychology does not even ask, much less answer. 20 We cannot simply believe in the sufficiency of God’s Word to overcome our reliance on therapy, but we must teach and practice solid doctrine. We must know and teach the doctrine of God. “Man never achieves a clear knowledge of him self unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself. “21 Psychology today begins with man and then attempts to make God in our image according to our preference. Without a correct understanding of God’s nature and character, the worship of ourselves and others is to be expected.
In his book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, D. A. Carson begins by asking the following question, “What is the most urgent need in the church of the Western world today? ” Piper said it best, People are starving for the greatness of God. But most of them would not give this diagnosis of their troubled lives. The majesty of God is an unknown cure. There are far more popular prescriptions on the market, but the benefit of any other remedy is brief and shallow… It does not matter if surveys turn up a list of perceived needs that does not include the supreme greatness of the sovereign God of grace.
That is the deepest need. 22 We must also teach a correct doctrine of sin. “We learn to appreciate the access to God which Christ has won for us only after we have first seen God’s inaccessibility to sinners. We can cry ‘Hallelujah’ with authenticity only after we have first cried, ‘Woe is me, for I am lost. ‘”23 When we are fully aware of the Holiness of God and His wrath and judgment on sin, we can fully appreciate His grace. In appreciating that grace a person must understand the seriousness of sin and be convinced of his powerlessness to change his condition without faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
Our society’s teaching on self-esteem has replaced the doctrine of sin today. The result is that one is misled into thinking that Christ’s death is mainly a demonstration of our value to God. We are worthy, but only of His judgment and His wrath. “The cross reveals the depth of our sin, not the height of our worth before God. “24 The threat and effect of therapy is to turn a person from understanding and appreciating “the death of Jesus Christ for our sins to satisfy the wrath of God and the purpose of God to conform us to the image of His son through the sanctification process. 25 We must also teach and fully understand the doctrine of sanctification. A mainstream thought today is that our problems are a result of who we are, of our past, or of our unmet needs. The Bible clearly says that the root problem is man’s sin against God.
The Bible lays out for us categories to define our problems. Pride, Selfishness, Rebellion, Unbelief, Bitterness, and Idolatry are several categories of our sin-all of which can be directly linked to our view of God. Psychology so often uses non-invasive words to explain our actions, attitudes and behavior. Nowhere is the triumph of the therapeutic more surprising and more hollow, for nothing about the therapeutic is more deficient than its pathology of human evil. We may take it as certain: Without the realism inherent in the biblical diagnosis of sin, the therapeutic condemns it to explanations that are too shallow and solutions that dazzle only to disappoint. “26 Understanding sanctification gives us the tools to determine our problems and it provides the biblical solution for our problems. Col. 3:1-17 gives us a clear understanding of the true nature of sanctification.
Verse 5 says, “Put to death therefore… ” We are to daily put sin to death. We do this by “… rid yourselves” and “Clothe yourselves… ” We must not only rid ourselves, we must also clothe ourselves. We must not only put off, but put on. Ephesians 6:11-12 says, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. In order to counteract America’s obsession with therapy, a decision must be made by Christians to put off the popular system of our society and put on a solution that carries with it a guaranteed promise to stand firm against spiritual forces of evil, and gain the victory. America is craving hope and peace both in mind and in heart. Christian’s must possess such a confidence in God and His Word that America sees the hope, peace, and fulfillment that flows from a life transformed by the Spirit of God living in and through us.