Do evangelical Christian therapists have something to teach their secular counterparts?Family Therapy Networker
It is just before dusk on a September evening in Nashville, at the Opryland Hotel, a colossal antebellum theme park of a hotel. The Presidential Ballroom is already packed with 3,300 professionals here for the four-day meeting, and latecomers like me are climbing over rows of knees to get to the few remaining seats. I study the glossy program, noting the sessions on trauma and abuse, children and adolescence, marriage, psychopharmacology, sexuality, managed care, psychological research and new techniques, spiritual issues in therapy and multicultural populations.
The standard crowd of professionals seems to be here--middle-class, young to middle-aged, mostly white with a sprinkling of blacks, Asians, Hispanics--though everyone is a bit better dressed than usual at conferences. Name badges refer to all parts of the country--though southern states predominate, and southern accents waft gently around my Yankee ears--and reveal the usual alphabet blizzard of credentials: mainly M.S.W.'s, M.A.'s, a scattering of Ph.D.'s and M.D.'s and M.Div.'s.
In short, this conference looks no different than any other of its type. Until, that is, the opening prayers and gospel music. Within a few moments, the whole assembly is standing, arms upraised, belting out "Oh, How I Love Jesus" and "Only God Can Heal." Everybody seems to know the songs by heart and sings them with body-swaying, toe-tapping, arms-outstretched exuberance--everybody, that is, save one self-conscious family-therapy magazine journalist who has never been to a therapy conference quite like this before.
"We live in a time of great darkness, but you are the light of the world!" the first speaker proclaims to the audience. While we will spend this meeting talking about standard therapeutic fare, he tells us the real problems our clients face are in essence spiritual, and so must be the cure. "You are a distinct type of people helper. You are the image bearers of Christ. What you are doing offers the greatest platform for evangelism."