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A Journey to Biblical Counseling

Truth in Love 188

When I grasped the gospel as relevant to my everyday life, I realized biblical counseling was completely different from other therapies.

Jan 7, 2019

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I am so excited for you all to hear the testimony of Dr. Jenn Chen. Dr. Chen is a trained marriage and family therapist and a clinical psychologist. She’s currently pursuing her Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling at The Master’s University. Today, she’s going to share a bit of her testimony about how she came to the conviction of biblical counseling. I’m so excited for you to hear her story. Jenn, I want to ask you several questions. First, tell us about your training, how you came about your training, and how you pursued the degrees that you sought after?

Jenn Chen: As a teenager, I dealt with some different issues and ended up in therapy. When I was in undergraduate school, I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, and it wasn’t until then that my actual “mental health” symptoms got better. I was more able to function. I thought, “Oh, this is because of my newfound faith.” Because I was in southern California, where there were at least three Christian institutions that had graduate studies in psychology, I thought nothing of it. I thought that it was probably the best field for me to go into, and so I pursued my master’s degree in marriage and family.

When I finished the program, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing still. I thought, “Well, okay, I’m going to pursue my doctorate in clinical psychology.” I went to Fuller, did four years of classes there, and that also included practicums. For example, I did a practicum and neuro-psych at the West Los Angeles VA, and I did a lot of my work in community mental health centers. At Fuller, as an idealistic young woman, I was into issues of oppression and social justice. My time at Fuller fed into that, and so I wanted to be the best psychologist I could be.

I also did a post-doctorate for Harbor UCLA, receiving training in some cutting-edge therapies, like dialectical behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy, which were some of the latest, most progressive therapies that there were. I did this thinking that that was the best way that I could serve people. Part of my goal was to eliminate suffering and especially to “the least of these.”

Dale Johnson: That’s always a noble pursuit. As I hear you talking about and describing that, there is great intrigue because in the secular world, pursuing psychology is an opportunity for us to think about helping people. To hear you talk about wanting to help people as a new believer and to pursue that area and that degree of study was intriguing. Walk us through why pursuing a degree in psychology as a new believer might have intrigued you.

Jenn Chen: I saw people hurting, I saw myself hurting, and I saw how this secular therapist had walked me through some of my hurting. But when I became a Christian, that’s where I started to have more hope, and so, I thought it must be a combination of that and my faith. I didn’t come from any background that told me that there was any reason to question psychology whatsoever. I thought I was equipping myself in the best way possible.

Dale Johnson: After your education, you got married and you now have a son. The Lord has transitioned you in some ways, relative to your education, and now you attend The Master’s University and are pursuing a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling, and that’s quite a transition as I think about that. What I’d like for you to do is describe some of that transition and your change in thinking relative to biblical counseling and a different paradigm for how to help people.

Jenn Chen: Working in the inner city is tough, and initially, I thought, “Oh, I don’t have enough training. I don’t have enough experience.” Then, as the experience came and my theology of suffering was not very robust, I started to take on the burdens and not necessarily see a lot of fruit from walking beside people, and then I hit my own suffering.

First of all, my husband and I struggled with infertility for five years, and I didn’t know how to deal with that theologically. It almost came to the point where I questioned my faith, I questioned God’s existence, and then I was ashamed of that because I was a seminary student, I should be able to handle something like this. I knew my faith was broken. At the same time, I didn’t know what to do, and so it fell by the wayside. We were blessed with Garrett; that was such a blessing. I still knew my faith was broken, but I didn’t quite know what to do.

At the church we were attending, we weren’t seeing a lot of spiritual growth, so we made the decision to change churches. We go to Lighthouse Community Church, and when we saw one of the brochures that said, “We believe in biblical counseling,” one of the things that shot through my head was my first Intro to Integration class. They talked about biblical counseling, and they mentioned Jay Adams, and it took all of about two minutes to explain that it’s very simplistic, it hurts people, and it blames the client or the patient for their own problems. That was the extent of it, so a little red flag went off. It was ironic because one of my friends that I spoke to said, “Well, you should give it a try because it sounds like you’re enjoying the sermons there.” The longer we were there and the more sermons we heard, we were more convicted to stay there.

Six months into it, we didn’t know what was going on, but I was having panic attacks, I was losing excessive weight, and the doctors didn’t know what was going on. The ironic thing with psychology is that there is a lot of postmodernism of, “Well, let’s get the truth from here, and their piece of the truth, and their piece of the truth.” So, I thought, “Everything I’m doing from psychology and medical isn’t working. I’ll throw in biblical counseling too.”

At first, when I was getting in biblical counseling, I thought, “Oh, he’s doing CBT.” But when I truly grasped the gospel as more than a ticket to heaven and as relevant to my everyday life, that’s when I realized it was something completely different. Early into it, I ended up taking CCEF’s Dynamics of Biblical Change. I began to understand what the sanctification process is versus what is getting rid of suffering, trying to prevent oppression, or trying to stop somebody from being anxious. Instead of only treating symptoms, asking, where is their heart? Where is their heart before God?

Dale Johnson: It’s always so interesting to me to hear stories like yours. The Lord has introduced you to some of the ideas in biblical counseling, particular aspects of Scripture, and theological truths about the gospel. From your training at Master’s and what the Lord has done through your past experiences, what are the ways that you see that biblical counseling is necessary and is most helpful for providing hope, true care, true understanding, and, as you mentioned, a theology of suffering? How do you think, now that you’ve studied biblical counseling, that biblical counseling is the way we should think about alleviating human problems and human suffering?

Jenn Chen: Most of all is the sufficiency of Scripture. Talking about biblical anthropology and talking about epistemology. When I took the Intro to Hermeneutics class with Dr. John Street, I wept because I saw all the proof-texting I had been doing my whole life, how little I understood the Word, how insufficient I had made it, and how sufficient I had made psychology. Then, with Dr. Ernie Baker, I was comprehending more about how superior worship pushes out inferior worship and how every moment is a worship moment. I’m worshipping God, or I’m worshipping something else. Also, how do I not only cognitively think, but also how does my heart gain affection for God?

Dale Johnson: Jenn, this has been wonderful and very informative. It’s been great to hear your story. I want to conclude with an example or case study so that we can contrast, see, and hear the benefit of your training in the past. If we were to think through a young lady who was the victim of sexual abuse, could you contrast for us some basic ideas of the way you might approach her based on your old training? How would you think now with different paradigms, biblical ideas, and key tenants from Scripture to guide how you would help her with the residual effects of sexual abuse?

Jenn Chen: With sexual abuse, in my old l training, first, I would build rapport with them and then help them to get skills like cognitive skills, how to deal with their thoughts, and behavioral skills, when they have urges to hurt themselves; a lot of skill building and being able to tolerate those emotions. Then, getting to a point where we would process through some of those things, as well as teach them that it’s not their fault and normalize a lot of their experiences or reactions to that trauma, and then help them to build a life worth living.

From a biblical perspective, first of all, I would weep with them. Then, I would work toward helping them see sexual abuse biblically and helping them to build a robust theology of suffering. Most of all, to get them to see how big God is, that God can use this for their good and His glory, and help them to find their identity in Christ and not as an abuse-victim survivor and not as a therapy patient for the rest of their lives. In the midst of that, can they grow in their ability to trust God? Can they grow and their ability to worship God and find Him and know Him in the midst of their struggle and know His nearness regardless of circumstances?