Prayer As Therapy
by Rev. Dale Andrew Warren, Ph.D.
Presented by Saint Luke Evangelical School Of Biblical Studies
One of the first places that a troubled person might turn for help is to a minister. Recent surveys show that up to forty percent of people facing emotional difficulties will turn to their pastors when trials come. While many pastors today are questioning their ability to help troubled people, it is enlightening to know that most people have no lack of confidence in them. Many of the leading professionals in the mental health field are now recognizing that the family minister is a valuable resource for healing. In the past it was common for a pastor to acquire some paraprofessional competency in counseling and to frequently refer troubled people to the “specialist”. A real chasm developed between the roles of minister as counselor and as pastor. More recently the trend has been to integrate those resources brought from psychology and religion into the field of pastoral counseling. This trend began to develop momentum as long ago as the nineteen sixties when Howard Clinebell, in the book Basic Types of Pastoral Counseling, said,
"Pastoral counseling must come of age in both theory
and practice. It must find a new level of self-identity
and maturity, by deepening its theological roots,
broadening its methodology, and discovering its
unique contribution to the helping of troubled humanity,
with reference to its own heritage and the other helping
One of the most effective yet basic helping tools to come from the area of religion and which is usually ignored by the secular helping professional, is prayer.
The usefulness of prayer as therapy has been studied extensively by researchers at the University of Redlands. Begun by Dr. William R Parker, the inquiries have sought to measure the effectiveness of prayer as a helping tool for troubled people. The general conclusion of these studies has demonstrated that a proper Biblical understanding of the nature of prayer and a proper application of it in human experience has dramatic practical results. Standard scientific methodology has been applied and therapy groups formed. The typical study would divide the people to be counseled into three groups each having fifteen members. Group one would be treated using traditional psychological approaches. Group two would consist of practicing Christians who believe that by their praying they would be helped. They agreed to pray for resolutions to their problems every day for nine months, just prior to retiring. Group three would receive treatment using a therapeutic model called Prayer Therapy. In this model the members of the group would meet for one, two-hour group therapy session per week. At the sessions they would be taught the principles of Prayer Therapy and sent home to apply them in their daily lives. Prior to any therapy, all of the participants received comprehensive psychological testing. At the conclusion of nine months of therapy each group would be tested again. The data gathered and compared demonstrated that Prayer Therapy provided the greatest measure of help of the three. Typical results for each study have been:
It appears that a proper Biblical understanding and application of the principles of prayer as Prayer Therapy can be tremendously helpful in counseling troubled people.
One of the unique features of this model of therapy is the group session approach. Experts say that pastoral counseling can be an instrument of renewal by helping us build what is most difficult to achieve in our period of history...depth relationships. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed.” (Js 5: 16) Dr. Parker founded the school of Prayer Therapy on the premise that one must, in the words of Socrates, “Know thyself.” While physically produced psychological challenges are generally beyond the scope of the pastoral counselor and should be referred to the physician, Parker taught that the human personality has four basic dysfunctions which are found to a greater or lesser degree in most all people: Fear, Guilt, Inferiority and Hate. Virtually all human psychological problems, not having a physical source, emanate from one or more of these. The troubled person is out of control, out of balance. Their personality is enslaved to one or more of these wicked taskmasters. It is the job of the pastoral counselor to help the individual to uncover which of these dysfunctions are controlling their life and to teach them the specific Prayer Therapy steps to overcome them.
Two antecedent foundations are critical to the success of Prayer Therapy: Honesty and Love. Prayer must be practiced in honesty. This is more difficult than it first appears. The natural tendency of humankind is to support that viewpoint which best suits our own personal interest, Even when we talk to God the human tendency to manufacture our own brand of truth is strong. Then after we produce our own truth we are forced to defend it. Even to the death. A young man in a mental hospital was engaged in conversation with Dr. Earl Jabay, the author of The Kingdom Of Self. He tried to persuade Dr. Jabay about the virtues of neo-Nazism, anti-Semitism, and white supremacy. At a particularly heated moment, Jabay turned to the young man and asked, " 'What do you want... to be right or to get well so as to leave this hospital?' Without a moment's hesitation he exclaimed, "Be right! I don't care if I ever get out of this hospital!' " It is sad to note that this attitude often characterizes our conversation with God, as well. The first step towards healing is to admit, "Houston. We have a problem."
The second prerequisite necessary to making Prayer Therapy effective is Love. Love is the healing power. Why? Because God is Love. (I Jn 4: 8) We must recognize that and focus on Him as the unending, limitless Love that He is. He is Love in action. Love in motion. Love at work in us through us and on behalf of us. "For God so loved ME that He gave His only begotten Son." We must come to the acknowledgment that what God says about Himself is true. He is Love.
Working towards coming to grips with honesty and love is critical. It is what allows us to move to the next four stages of the therapeutic model. They are: Regular, Surrender, Positive and Receptive. Prayer must become a regular feature of your life. For many this is not easy. It requires the creation of a new routine, a new pattern of activity. Its been said that the only one who likes a change is ... a baby. Change can be difficult. But two concepts can help. The first is to routinely make prayer the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. It takes twenty-one days to create a new habit. So begin. "Casting all your care upon Him: for He careth for you." (I Pet 5:7) The second is to cultivate, to desire to have a relationship with the Lord Jesus that is close and personal. He cares about you and wants this relationship even more than you do. Talk to Him all day. Take Him with you wherever you go and whatever you do and discuss all the details of your moment-by-moment activities with Him. Now, it might be best to use a little discretion about when, how and how loudly you do this if unbelievers are within hearing distance, but do it. Paul the Apostle said, "Pray without ceasing". (I Thess 5: 17) Andrew Murray in his book, "With Christ In The School Of Prayer", said that a man should become saturated in the Spirit of prayer. Dr. Parker says, "Accustom yourself gradually to carry prayer into all your daily occupations. Speak, move, work, in peace as if you were in prayer." In your life make prayer regular.
The next stage is to make prayer an act of surrender. This means the surrender of everything to God. True prayer means releasing ourselves under the compulsion of the Highest, not in dreary resignation but in joy and trust. This includes releasing to God all problems, feelings, attitudes, and excuses, making of one's self a vacuum and allowing God to fill the void. Dr. Jabay calls this the "death of our egoism." Two principles must be applied here. First, surrender is not a single act, which is accomplished one time and is ever after unnecessary to do again. Surrender is rather, an attitude, a process, a continuum of behavior. Second, surrender must be audible. Your own ears need to hear
your own voice speaking to God and announcing your submission to Him. As in the act of salvation, "for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth
confession is made unto salvation" (Rm.8: 10). There is power in the words we speak. Speak yourself into submission to God.
The third stage is to take upon yourself the cloak of a positive attitude at all times. Our surrender has created a void. How can we be sure this void will not fill up with the same murky thoughts and fears that we found were habitual to us? The solution lies in positive prayer. Affirming about ourselves what God says about us. "As a man thinks in his heart so is he...It is done unto us as we believe... When you pray believe that you have received and you shall receive." The very words of Jesus demonstrate that we are what we affirm. We have what we affirm. Negative affirmations reap a negative harvest. Positive affirmations reap a positive one. "Thou art snared by the words of thy mouth thou art taken by the words of thy mouth." (Pr 6:2) This is not a Christianizing of the modern positive mental attitude approach to life that secular speakers and authors propound today. This is the truth of God's Holy Word and it is they who have appropriated these Godly principles and applied them to their secular ends. The popularity of these ideas is testimony to their effectiveness and even more so when the power of the Almighty is working with you to effect healing.
Finally, the fourth stage is to make prayer receptive. The act of receiving that for which we have just prayed is vital to the process of prayer and hence healing. If all of the stages of Prayer Therapy are followed, but this stage is left out the process is incomplete and ineffective. The ability to receive is closely related to making prayer positive. When your prayers are in harmony with what you know to be the will of God, the will of Love in your life, then those can be prayed about with a fully receptive heart. The Redlands study demonstrated that:
"Over and over we proved that whatever we had need
of, whether it was harmony, forgiveness, courage, abundance,
friendship, health, if we would affirm it and accept it
within, it would become a part of our outward experience,
This was both the secret and the miracle."
Americans are a lonely people. Christians are a lonely people. Too many of our brothers and sisters in the Lord wander through their lives just "strugglin' to hang on." "I'm' doin' okay, Pastor, under the circumstances." My question is,' Why are you under the circumstances?" God has called us to be overcomers, victors, the head and not the tail. We, the pastors of our flocks have a divine obligation, an ordination from the God of all creation to teach the people how. To lead by example and bid our congregations as Jesus bid His, "follow me." Start to plan today how you will do it. Create nonjudgmental prayer groups. Help people identify their fears, guilt, inferiorities and hatred. Create an atmosphere where honesty and love is the predominant environment. Lead people into the four stages of Prayer Therapy: regular prayer, surrendered prayer, positive prayer, and receptive prayer. Let us, as pastoral counselors, help those troubled people whom God sends our way to find the secret and miracle of Prayer Therapy.