A Peaceable Psychology: Christian Therapy in a World of Many Cultures

Written by Alvin Dueck and Kevin Reimer Reviewed By Robert K. Cheong

Alvin Dueck is a licensed psychologist and professor of the Integration of Psychology and Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. Kevin Reimer is professor of psychology at Azusa Pacific University.

In A Peaceable Psychology, Dueck and Reimer offer a bold and compelling critique of how the Western psychologies often overrun and dismiss the cultural, ethnic, and religious uniqueness of its clients in a manner reflective of the violent intrusions of Constantine’s crusades or imperial colonialism. The authors exhibit deep compassion and sensitivity as they illustrate their points through the suffering of men and women around the world who find healing more through engaging their deep pain with their own values, language, and traditions, than through the foreign ideologies and practices associated with the Western psychologies. As Dueck and Reimer “bring [their] theological convictions to bear on contemporary psychology/psychotherapy” (p. 10), they undermine the field of psychology’s presuppositions of being foundational, scientific, transcultural, amoral, and thus, universal. They hope “to generate conversation emerging from a theologically, culturally, and politically sensitive psychotherapy” since “the hegemony of Western psychology is rapidly eroding the remnants of indigenous Christian understanding of the self, community, politics, and tradition” (pp. 10, 13). Why do the authors feel compelled to develop a cross-cultural psychology? In their own words, “our conviction [is] that to uncritically employ generalized psychological constructs risks imposing a psychology that is practically atheistic, undertaken as if God doesn’t exist” (p. 13). Dueck and Reimer examine a therapeutic model “appropriate for sacral cultures that seek to live by the love and grace of God” (p. 14).

One will find much helpful insight in Dueck and Reimer’s significant work, but one must carefully navigate through their persuasive arguments and indistinct proposals. In their desire to reach a broad audience (p. 15) while offering a psychology and practice characterized by an indigenous framework, one can walk away confused. For example,

A peaceable psychology does not impose a religious or political ideology. It begins with the particular web of beliefs the client brings to therapy and elicits the religious resources the client may possess. . . . Given the experience of Guatemalan Indians, Iraqi Sunnis, Tibetan Buddhists, Ukrainian Catholics, Ethiopian Christians, and other persecuted minority and religious ethnic groups . . . a peaceable psychology advocates for the voiceless and recognizes the gifts that they possess. (pp. 73–74).

However, the authors do not clearly show how their therapeutic framework might avoid a syncretistic and self-referential approach when interacting with other religions. If left to our own wisdom, we would all do “what is right in our own eyes” (cf. Judges 21:24–25). A psychology that flows from the gospel recognizes and addresses the differences in individuals, culture, language, traditions, and religion, yet is determined and driven by the God of the gospel.

After masterfully arguing against the colonializing machine of Western psychologies and arguing for a foundation built on the cross and resurrection of Jesus (pp. 18, 163, 182, 213, 226), the authors state that they “begin with the incarnate Word who is the source of life. It is not the abstract universal word or symbol that is absolute or peaceable, but the concrete particular Word made flesh” (p. 75). But the reader can be confused by the following ambiguous assertions:

When the church reflects the Pentecost community, we will embrace plurality. We will have the freedom to use many languages. (p. 75)

Why not encourage multiple psychologies? To live in a highly pluralist, global community in which we recognize ethnic diversity, why might there not be multiple psychologies that undergird local identities? (p. 190)

Why not consider methodological pluralism . . . ? (p. 191)

These statements can be interpreted in a number of ways, but unfortunately the authors do not connect these assertions with their stated foundation of Jesus Christ. A psychology that flows from the gospel shows how the finished and enduring work of Christ brings order, clarity, and direction in a pluralistic world.

As the authors critique psychological practices, it is not clear if they are calling for a Christian uprising against the imperialist reign of contemporary psychology or if they are calling for the respect of the particular values of all indigenous clients and clinicians at any cost. On the one hand, they propose,

The alternative to empire is the political presence of the body of Christ, the church in society. . . . The church can be an alternative society in the midst of the empire. . . . We suggest two implications for Christian mental health practitioners: ecclesial identity and, when appropriate, subversive clinical practice. (pp. 54–55)

Unfortunately, on the other hand, they confess,

We admit we have no detailed blueprint for how a peaceable psychology should be conducted. . . . we have no manual. Though we think therapists might take more seriously their own thick religious heritage, we are tentative in our therapeutic strategies for the sake of our clients. (p. 202)

The authors, who identify gaping holes in Western psychotherapies, do not show how the written and living word of Jesus Christ serves as the corrective and cohesive ingredient for their proposed indigenous psychology. A psychology that flows from the gospel utilizes the spiritual disciplines of faith and repentance in relationship with the living Redeemer.

Overall, A Peaceable Psychology is an insightful and thought-provoking work that shows how the Western psychologies have mistreated their clients by dismissing their religious and cultural moorings. Even though Dueck and Reimer offer glimpses of how their peaceable psychology would differ, the reader will ultimately be left with more questions than answers regarding their therapeutic model.

Robert K. Cheong

Robert K. Cheong
Sojourn Community Church
Louisville, Kentucky, USA

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