Faith is important. It is vital to find a treatment modality that is congruent with your spiritual beliefs. There are TONS of methods of treatment for mental health problems, but many will pose a challenge to people who hold to the Christian faith. There is a highly effective form of treatment that works extremely well and has biblical principles behind it.
The basic idea behind cognitive behavioral therapy is that an antecedent (situation) happens that triggers a belief. A consequence happens as a result (an emotional trigger followed by a behavioral response) of the belief. To address unhealthy emotional or behavioral patterns, you must discover the thoughts and beliefs driving the problems. When you replace a negative thought with a positive thought, you will have a better emotional and behavioral response to the situation.
Thoughts, behaviors, and emotions are all tied together. If you can fix a problem in one area, the others will improve as well. However, there is an order in which things happen: first a thought, then an emotional response, then a behavior. Consider temptation for example. You see a cookie and think “I’d like to eat that cookie.” Your body has an emotional response of desire or longing for the cookie. Your body then responds by getting up, grabbing the cookie, then eating it. It always starts as a thought. You may engage in an internal dialogue that says, “The cookie looks good, but I need to watch my sugar. I think I’ll eat some nuts instead.” This self-talk can stop you from engaging in behavior you are trying to avoid.
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From a biblical standpoint, we are instructed to take control of our thoughts and be aware of our self-talk. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says “We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.” Rebellious thoughts? It’s true. All sorts of weird thoughts pop into our heads. We must learn how to be aware of them and get rid of thoughts that are harmful or misleading. We then focus our thoughts on what we know to be true from the scriptures. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).
Philippians 4:7 talks about how we can choose what we focus our thoughts on. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” We are to be the gatekeepers of our minds. To do this, we must be aware of what we are thinking and why we are thinking it.
We know that the devil is the father of lies. He comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. His primary tool is deception. 1 Peter 5:8 says he prowls like a roaring lion seeking whom he will devour, but we are to be sober-minded and watchful. If we resist him he will flee from us. This is exactly how he approached Jesus in the wilderness. He appealed to his desires and weakness to tempt him to do wrong. He had to use the same skills we can use to overcome temptation.
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Mark 7:20-22 lays this out clearly: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of a man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.” Similarly, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). What is in your heart (your belief system) will come out of you in your emotions and behaviors.
Beliefs are formed over time in response to our thoughts. When we think the same thing over and over, it becomes a belief. If you have a thought that pops in your head that says “No one likes me,” you may avoid social interactions and withdraw from others. Negative experiences with people may reinforce these thoughts. Over time, if not challenged, it will become a belief. To correct this way of thinking, you must learn skills to challenge the thought and rescript the way you think.
Fortunately, God has given us the tools we need to overcome negative thoughts and beliefs. Ephesians 6 tells about the weapons of our warfare, which correspond with cognitive behavioral therapy. First, you have your helmet of salvation. It is making yourself aware of your redemption and relationship with Christ. There will be times you feel like you have missed the mark and don’t deserve salvation, but the scriptures are clear that salvation is a gift and not earned by our own good deeds.
The breastplate of righteousness is a reminder that we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. We can boldly approach the throne of God knowing that we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus and that we have been adopted as his sons and daughters. When we align our thoughts and beliefs with scripture, we are no longer bound by the pull of sin. We have been set free from the old way of living and thinking.
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The shield of faith protects us against the fiery arrows of the enemy. We will go through hard times and heartache, but it is hope in the promises of God that carry us through the difficulties. Faith keeps our minds focused on what we believe more than what we see. This alignment of our thought life with our spiritual beliefs changes the way we feel and behave.
The sword of the spirit is using scripture to overcome negative thoughts and beliefs. When you are facing a difficult situation, having big emotions, or struggling with intrusive thoughts, the best thing you can do is find a verse to meditate on. The truth of the word of God will help you to defeat the lies of the enemy. These weapons of warfare require us to focus our thoughts on God and not on what we see and experience.
Cognitive behavioral counseling is full of techniques and skills to help defeat negative thoughts and beliefs. If you are looking for a therapist, be sure to ask about their experience and the techniques that are used. While many therapeutic modalities are benign, some will conflict with Christian beliefs. CBT is an evidenced-based model that you can feel confident about pursuing.