I have had many clients come through the doors of my office during my career as a therapist. The reasons for someone seeking counseling are innumerable. Some are searching for relief from anxiety, depression, or addiction while others seek healing from past brokenness. Regardless of the motive for seeking therapy, every client is searching for one key element… GROWTH! With this blog, I intend to kick off a series of blogs that focus on psychological and spiritual growth in the context of two of my deepest passions: Jesus and psychology.
The revelation of Jesus comes to us in a powerful way through the Gospels which describe his interaction with different people. In these encounters, Jesus relates to people in a way that seems to always produces some type of spiritual and psychological growth. There are few people whom Jesus encountered who grew and changed as much and as quickly as a tax collector named Zacchaeus (Lk 19: 1-10). This story is of a man who climbs a tree to escape the crowds and make great effort to see Jesus for himself. To Zacchaeus’ surprise, Jesus not only sees him but says to him,
“Make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Lk 19: 6).
Zacchaeus did climb down the tree, received Jesus joyfully, and spent the day with him. It is insightful to note that the Gospel presents no details of the conversation they had together and no recollection of the contents of the meal they shared. Nevertheless, a deep change occurred in Zacchaeus during his special time with Our Lord. This growth is articulated when Zacchaeus commits to giving half of everything he owns to the poor and returning four times the amount of money to anyone he may have cheated during his years as a tax collector (Lk 19: 8). What provoked this shocking growth? First and foremost, Jesus’ divinity touched some deep hidden recesses of Zacchaeus’ soul which moved him to generosity. But how did Jesus go about doing this? No miraculous healing occurred, no dramatic scene of a demon being released happened, no bread was multiplied, and not even a discourse was given. The healing agent which incited implausible growth was simply the time spent in relationship between Zacchaeus and Jesus. It was that simple!
Since the time of Freud’s first psychological concepts over one hundred years ago, possibly hundreds of different modalities of therapy have come to fruition. The array of theories address realities such as thoughts, emotions, beliefs, family of origin, personality, one’s personal story, and even art. Amidst the variety of theories, one aspect remains the same: the relationship between the therapist and the client. Some research has indicated that, independently of the type of therapy one is engaged in, it is the relationship between the therapist and the client that facilitates an important component of growth and positive change. For example, Interpersonal Therapy espouses ideas such as “the relationship is the therapy.” My experience has confirmed this theory. Much more appears to happen in therapy than simply the content of what is discussed in a session. Whether you are in therapy or not, the story of Zacchaeus and the psychological concepts mentioned attest to the fundamental importance of relationship in one’s path towards spiritual and psychological growth.