Faith and Life: Emotional wholeness

I cannot help but ponder how creative God is in his plan for humans. He designed us as physical, spiritual and emotional beings. We are not made of merely spirit and transformed into perfection just because we have a relationship with God.

It saddens me that my entire life I have heard people make comments along the lines of, "Oh, but s/he's not a Christian." As if Christianity is the answer for all human troubles.

As I approached adulthood, it became clear to me that being a "Christian" was not enough for a person to be healthy enough to be in relationship with. It just takes more than religion for people to be emotionally whole.

I will always defend that Christ is sufficient for salvation. But being a Christian is not the sufficient answer for all of life's problems. One can have faith and still be emotionally unhealthy or emotionally immature, lacking insight. They can still be destructive to themselves and others.

It is for this reason that I studied psychotherapy, to integrate the behavioral sciences with the power and salvation Christ provides. Once we understand that we may be in an emotional, mental or developmental crisis, or have personality issues or addictions, we need concrete help to assist us in getting through and growing. To be healthy, we need to have the image of God living and active in our lives.

As a Christian therapist, I have two theories that I employ in the therapy room that I believe integrate beautifully with scripture. The two theories are narrative theory and attachment theory. From a theological perspective, it is my hope to use these two theories to effectively integrate the idea of restoring the "imago Dei," or image of God, in people's lives.

In reflecting on how people come into therapy in their broken states, whether from early childhood trauma, clinical disorders, external life stressors and the like, I see my job as using the hope God instills in us as Christian therapists to extend this hope, restoration and the ability to reshape people's thoughts, memories, wounds and life stressors. I have seen these theories integrate successfully with the idea of restoring the imago Dei in people's lives — thus, bringing emotional health.

Narrative therapy shows the importance stories have in our lives. Michael White's approach shows that reversing the destructive effects of problems and their dismembering impact on individuals can be life-giving. Narrative theory externalizes the problem from the client and helps them to integrate and co-author with the therapist, and God, a new and life giving story. Shame and isolation separate us from nurturing communities, and the ability to acknowledge our identities, skills and abilities.

With attachment theory, we see a parallel in how we are created by God for reciprocating relationships. God intended for our emotional well-being to be realized in having a relationship with the other. Attachment wounds formed in early childhood create negative ways of attaching that are often insecure, preoccupied or anxious. When individuals suffer at the hands of others in the formative years, they often develop coping mechanisms to relate in the world.

These mechanisms can be useful in protecting them from that which is unsafe. However, they often cause people to isolate themselves and feel they cannot trust others — and healing cannot take place in an isolated state. Healing comes from being in relationships with others. Attachment theory has the ability to lead individuals to attain the aptitude to securely attach to others.

We are shaped both by nature and by nurture. Experience itself shapes the grooves that make up our brains. Therapy has the ability to lay new neuropathways and remap our minds to healthier emotions and thought patterns.

We cannot escape the physical limitations of humans. We are synapses. Through attachment theory, therapy is able to reshape the neuropathways and create a new attachment style.

The Rev. KIMBERLIE ZAKARIAN can be reached by e-mail at or by mail at La Vie Counseling Center c/o the Rev. Kimberlie Zakarian, 650 Sierra Madre Villa, Suite 110, Pasadena, CA 91107.

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