I Do Exist to be retired

Can’t think of a better place to announce that the documentary I Do Exist will be no longer be available as of February 1, 2007. I am nearly out of them and I do not intend to reproduce another batch. I enjoyed every aspect of making the video, including the music and design of the DVD materials. My current work does not emphasize changing sexual orientation as much as it does achieving congruence with chosen beliefs and values (which may or may not lead to change of attractions). I think the theme of developing a valued and congruent sexual identity is an aspect of the documentary but may be overwhelmed at times by other narratives woven throughout the video. And so my incentive to incur the expense of another duplication run is not great even though I believe the documentary has enduring value.

Given the historical and documentary value of the video, the VHS and short version will continue to be available for awhile. See the FAQs for more information.

UPDATE: Since I still have stock of I Do Exist, I will continue to make it available as supplies last. I do not intend to promote or advertise it.

Seduced by the Narrative

As a practicing psychotherapist of nearly 25 years I have had a close up view of how people suffer, how they come to understand that suffering and how they change. Much of my early practice was organized around helping people construct a historically grounded narrative to understand their suffering and to free them up to behave in a way that would not recreate more suffering and actually improve wellbeing.

Sometime in the late 1990’s it became obvious to me that this intervention was at least not very efficient and at times distracting from the urgent work at hand for my clients. Clients and others had developed a compelling narrative for why they were being destructive, but they they showed little drive toward transforming that insight into action. Sally Satel, M.D. wrote in last month’s New York times (read it here) how she sees this everyday in her methadone clinic. She writes well and thoughtfully on this topic.

Currently, I still describe myself as a psychodynamic psychotherapist, but with an edge and an energy that focuses on quality of life in the now. I view people’s struggles as having their roots in developmental errors, injuries and neglect. But my focus is “how does that lead to you taking less responsibility or seeing that you have less choices for your wellbeing in the now?” I think I concluded somewhere in 2000 that people were finding ways to change their lives years before psychology was created and they were doing it will very little insight in some circumstances. It is that power that I am interested in harnessing for my clients.

That brings me to the topic of Same-Sex Attraction. It seems to me we have two compelling narratives which have, at best, incomplete scientific support: a) that SSA is biologically determined and b) that it is caused by a wound in the child’s relationship with their same sex parent.

So the questions for my readers today is:

How do these narratives interfere with our conversation about Same-Sex Attraction? and, in a related question,

How do these narratives limit our client’s ability to see themselves as fully formed persons able to choose their actions in the now?

Thanks for checking in on the blog today.

Religious Practice, Scientific Inquiry and Human Suffering

I thought I would make my first post on this blog an introduction in how I approach scientific material as a practicing Christian. I think it is always best to acknowledge worldviews at the beginning of any scientific discussion. I have argued that the social sciences in particular are negligent in this regard, implying that they are value free and scientific in their collection, organization and interpretation of data. I understand that this is a worthy goal, but I think the very nature of the things under study make this goal very elusive and implying objectivity in the social sciences ultimately misleads the public.

So I hope to be brief here but sufficiently illuminating so that further posts are placed in the frame of my worldview. I further hope that this will help readers ferret through the material presented and extract useful bits even if they are in conflict with my worldview.

Scientific Inquiry and Scripture:

There are many verses in scripture which guide and reinforce thoughtful scientific inquiry. The earliest and the first is part of God’s first command to Adam and Eve:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Genesis 1:26

I think it is self-evident that you cannot be responsible for the supervision of creation and not understand it at the same time. Simply put, for the scientific Christian, curiosity is an act of worship. It is expressing wonder, admiration and respect for what God has created and the scientific Christian can worship better when he sees the intricacies and nuances of God’s creation.

The obligation is to have fidelity to the truth. Scientific inquiry for the Christian demands that the truth be sought like a workman, or a craftsman. Lazy scientific inquiry is implied as shameful (e.g., picking and choosing my research not to reveal the truth, but to reinforce my biases).

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15.

Being eager to teach, or enter the foray of blogging on faith, culture and science, is not a virtue in itself. Rather it implies a great responsibility that has eternal consequences:

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. James 3:1

Scientific inquiry should be guided by humility and collaboration. It is unlikely that pure anger or outrage will guide us to the truth:

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1: 19, 20

Beware the scientific discovery that makes you feel morally superior. This encourages a two-fold deception: I magnify the moral inferiority of the one I study and I minimize my own moral failings.

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:2-5

This is in no way a comprehensive list of useful scriptures to guide scientific inquiry, you may know and recommend others.

Christ and Culture:

I read Niebuhr’s book (Christ and Culture) while in college and again in graduate school and quickly fit myself into the “conversion” model of Christ Transforming Culture. In this model, culture is corrupt (inherently sinful) and needs to be converted to Christian thought. This inherently antagonistic model became less useful to me over the years for two reasons. The first is my exposure to non-Christians who were working deeply and morally in the culture to have a positive impact in their marriages, with their kids, at their work and with their friends. The second was my exposure to some Christians who were so preoccupied with transformation that they had become interpersonally irrelevant to the culture or so offensive (morally superior) that there was no hope that they would ever interact honestly with the culture.

In the years that have followed I have changed my view and see myself working more synthetically with the culture and my Christian faith (Christ Above Culture). In this model I view culture as part of God’s creation, a necessary social structure meant to provide a sense of connection with other people and a sense of purpose and place in the world. In that regard, a healthy culture provides for the safety, wellbeing, purpose and place for it’s people. This has tremendous overlap with Christian faith, but is not, in and of itself, Christian faith. Christian faith is always a “subculture” of every culture. For me, ideally, my goal is to create a safer, healthier culture for all of its members and in so doing model Christian charity. If I am successful as a Christian, I model Christ in such a way that my neighbors benefit from my faith even without converting to my faith (see here).

Sin and Mental Illness:

This is where this discussion gets a little fun. I view mental illness as a consequence of the fall of Adam and Eve: part of living in a broken world. It deserves as much compassion, curiosity and care as any other consequence of the fall (pain in childbirth, for example).

However, I do not share, with many of my humanist colleagues, a view that mental illness is morally neutral. Compassion and curiousity about mental illness does not require that I abandon a moral compass or obscure personal responsibility. In 1959 Mowrer wrote of this difficulty, and tried, in vain, to resurrect a tried and true moral compass within psychology:

…Hell is still very much with us in those states of mind and being we call neurosis and psychosis: and I have come increasingly, at least in my own mind, to identify anything that carries us toward these forms of perdition as sin (Mowrer 301).

You can find a brief article in Time Magazine summarizing this issue as it was raised in 1959 and quoting both Mowrer and Ellis here .

How does this impact scientific inquiry for me? First, I should not expect that every moral behavior will lead to positive mental health. Neither should I seek to distort the scientific literature to “demonstrate” that sinful behavior results in mental illness, or is mental illness. The most obvious result for this blog is to not get caught up in “proving” that homosexual behavior is a mental illness as a means of emphasizing it’s sinfulness.

The Christian, in following the moral imperative to be holy, may endure suffering. In fact it is expected. Suffering is part of being conformed to the person of Christ. It is part of the theological doctrine of sanctification. Some mental health professionals may considering this suffering a manifestation of mental illness. They may seek to alleviate it by arguing for the irrational nature of spiritual practice.

So an odd set of circumstances arises around morality and mental illness:

1. Science may demonstrate that certain immoral behaviors result in mental illness.

2. Science may demonstrate that certain immoral behaviors do not result in mental illness.

3. Science may demonstrate that certain moral behaviors improve adaptive functioning.

4. Science may demonstrate that certain moral behaviors decrease adaptive functioning and may indeed create mental illness.

There is much more to say here, but that is another topic altogether. I hope this is a good beginning for those who share my faith and those who disagree with it to discuss how our worldviews effect how we look at Scientific Inquiry and Human Suffering.

Mowrer, O. Hobart (1960). Sin, the Lesser of Two Evils. American Psychologist 15: 301-304.

Music video of the week: Switchfoot – Dirty Second Hands

Well, I have decided, after listening to Switchfoot’s new CD, Oh Gravity!, the band is the official rock band of this blog. Here is a YouTube user made video of the song, Dirty Second Hands. Musically it is one of my favorites from the CD but lyrically, it is a bit harder to grasp. Gladly, Jon Foreman provides his thumbnail program to the meaning behind the tunes.