Bingaman (2015) explored the mechanism of action that underlies the effectiveness of embodied mindfulness practices from a pastoral counseling vantage point. The third wave utilizes acceptance, distress tolerance, commitment, and presence to facilitate healing. MBCT and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) both focus on reducing experiential avoidance. This reduces the stress regions of the brain by calming the amygdala in contemplative -meditational practice. There are quite a few biblical references and psychotherapeutic frames that promote non-judgment. The less we resist and control anxiety, the more it can be used adaptively. Calming limbic circuitry is of utmost importance to a neuro-contemplative practitioner. ACT is proving effective in addressing trauma and mental-health symptomology. The hallmark of the contemplative sciences is the use of a non-judgmental third party to simply observe unfolding reality. Letting things go is a mechanism of action that can allow neurobiology to shift and is more than simple navel-gazing. It is about being fully awake and alive to life’s experiences. The goal of contemplative practice is to shift our relationship with our thoughts, feelings, and sensations. This differs from self-absorption, and instead allows one to become more aware of how one shows up in relationships with others and God. It also avoids leaving changeable situations unchanged.
Bingaman (2015) posed a shift from the previous waves of behavioral therapy. Instead of slowly working one’s way through attachment issues, these issues can be changed quicker by addressing the faulty neuropathways that need rewiring. Decoupling automaticity, awakening the mind, and increasing social and emotional intelligence are natural byproducts of sustained daily contemplative practice. Creating intimacy with the present moment and God mirrors Jesus’ command to be less anxious about tomorrow. One can stop attempting to think their way out of problems. These insights allow freedom for pastoral counselors to shift their perspective from doing mode to being mode.
Bingaman (2011) asserted that Christian spirituality begins with experience and practice instead of belief and doctrine. This is a shift from strict attention to doctrine only. Although credal accuracy is important, it is a means to the end of having a direct experience of God. Neuroplasticity is the term used to describe the brain’s ability to heal itself through a shift in the neuron’s connections and responsibilities. Failure to address chronic hyperactivity of the brain can result in a system designed to protect a person from becoming a threat. The implications for pastoral theology could not be more profound. Neuroimaging reveals that contemplative and mindfulness practices catalyzed the development of a new neural creation. These practices heal our relationship with ourselves and God.
Bingaman (2011) described mindfulness meditation as therefore no longer the only optional intervention for pastoral practitioners. It has become the essence of the spiritual life in light of the emerging neuroscientific findings. It impacts our relationships with others and God in positive ways. Overwhelming and conclusive evidence points to the need for a daily contemplative spiritual practice to transform the brain. Neuroimaging scans reveal improvement in the limbic center in Centering prayer. This reduces the damage of a hyper-stimulated lifestyle. It brings us into the presence of God by reducing the alarm system of the brain. Practices such as yoga also aid in the cultivation of mindfulness. Why are these findings not more central in pastoral counseling then? The process involves becoming aware of awareness. Contemplative and mindfulness practices should make up the building blocks of contemporary Christian spirituality. Human relationships experience positive benefits in the context of marriage and family life by helping the brain overcome the negativity bias. Mindfulness helps one swim against the ancient current of the nervous system toward the path of awakening. It helps us overcome the idea that something is inherently wrong with us that needs fixing. Although Buddhism appears to offer an ideal approach to mindfulness, a variety of other religions leverage mindfulness. Practices such as yoga, tai chi, and contemplative prayer all catalyze our ability to increase metacognition. Christianity has a long history of contemplative practices. Centering prayer is the modality that most resembles mindfulness. Brain scans revealed similarities in brain structures among Buddhist and Christina mindfulness practitioners. These discoveries call into question the entire future and direction of pastoral care and direction.
According to Kanegan and Worley (2018), evidence suggests that CAM can improve symptoms associated with SUD. The focus of CAM in treating SUD centers around restoring balance to biofields described as chakras and meridians. Treatment with allopathy involves a
40% to 60% relapse rate. SUD poses a unique challenge due to the co-morbidity of mental health disorders. Healing energy refers to the process of rebalancing the body’s subtle energy. Meridians are the lines of the energy that flows through the body from one energy center to the next. Acupuncture involves the manipulation of these energy fields with small needles. The idea of chakras originated in India and is considered the center of the human spirit that can be interacted with to catalyze healing.
Hoover (2018), Jones et al. (2021), Knabb (2012), Knabb and Bates (2020), Knabb and Emerson (2013), Knabb et al. (2019), and Rosales and Tan (2017) presented a consensus that surrender to God’s will and restored relationship through an enlightened recognition of our identity as being made in the image of God are primary mechanisms of actions present in meditation that catalyze healing. Furthermore, the rewiring of the brain through neuroplasticity is the hallmark of contemplative Christian and Christian-adapted mindfulness practices. It is clinically advised that Christian-adapted complementary practices be incorporated into third-wave treatments due to the growing body of empirical efficacy. Furthermore, religiously accommodating the practices does seem to allow the benefits of the practice to outweigh potential theological risks. That said, the literature on incorporating Christian-adapted CTs into third-wave therapies is in its infancy. Although there is enough evidence available to suggest efficacy, additional quantitative studies specifically focused on Christian-sensitive treatments are indicated. Furthermore, care still needs to be taken to delineate what and how to adapt these embodied mindfulness practices with Christian integrity.
Blanton (2011) explored the efficacy of integrating Centering Prayer into the psychotherapeutic process. Mindfulness practices have been an integral part of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Taoism for thousands of years in various forms including mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, qui quong, and Centering Prayer. MBSR is the most cited mindfulness program empirically studied in the past decade. MBCT focused on integrated MBSR into therapy as a third-wave integration. These third-wave practices show efficacy in treating depression, anxiety, personality disorders, substance abuse, and eating disorders. Centering Prayer is a synthesis of a variety of Christian contemplative practices developed in the 1970s during a movement of Eastern religions that came to the West which focused on meditation. Noticing the breath is a primary goal of Centering Prayer.
Blanton (2011) defined Ruach (Hebrew) and pneuma (Greek) as spirit which refers to the breath. Centering Prayer differs in intention from Buddhist mindfulness because the goal is to develop one’s bond with God. This stands in contrast to humanity’s condition of separation from God as a remedy to this disease. One practice silence to open to the image of God awakened in us as a reflection of God’s divine presence. We come to better know ourselves through the eyes of the one who loves us perfectly. Meditating is therefore likened to lifting weights. One must cultivate a daily practice to strengthen muscles of mindfulness through hatha yoga, body scan, and sitting meditation. The goal is to become mindful of the other 23 hours a day one does not spend in meditation. This also activates one’s ability to sense God in the ordinary experiences of daily life. Centering Prayer aims to help one focus on one’s union with God and overcome obstacles to waking up to the reality of God’s presence. In a therapeutic context, one now includes the transcendent as a prominent part of the healing process. Yet, those who struggle with dissociation, grandiosity, or delusion, along with those prone to fragmentation and repressed memories, should avoid long periods of Centering Prayer. In couple’s therapy, Centering Prayer can help the couple stop reactivity and focus on their respective boundaries and attachments to God outside the relationship chaos.
Per Rubinart et al. (2017), science and spirituality are embarking on a long-awaited dialogue. They advised the implementation of a daily contemplative spiritual practice to rewire neural pathways of high reactivity and dysfunction. Most studies have focused on Buddhist mindfulness, but a meta-analysis found stronger effects in healing from different forms of meditation. Mindfulness was most efficacious in healing personality disorders whereas transcendental meditation was helpful in reducing neuroticism. Again, Centering Prayer is based on the teachings of the Desert Fathers and has been practiced for centuries. This prayer offers healing for one’s personality through the art and science of the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer presented preliminary support for healing mental health symptomology. This quantitative study found supporting data that praying the Jesus Prayer for 25 minutes a day may deeply help reduce mental health concerns. This was different than the impact of petitionary prayer. A decrease in parasympathetic activity promoted relaxation. The Jesus Prayer showed promising effects in regulating the autonomic nervous system. Qualitative data in this study found participants reporting increased feelings of connection with God.
Rubinart at al. (2017) found an increase in interpersonal relationship skills by developing mindfulness through meditational practices that superseded simply trusting in God. The prefrontal regions of the brain impact interpersonal neurobiology in relationship to one’s mechanisms of attachment. Thus, a correlation was noted between mindfulness practice and increasing a sense of secure attachment patterns in healing the middle prefrontal cortex responsible for self-regulatory emotional balancing and interpersonal attunement. Mindfulness trained intrapersonal attunement as well which helped support conscious development of better interpersonal relationship interactions. The Jesus Prayer provided something different for participants than Zen Buddhism meditation. There was a feeling of being protected and deeply comforted which was unique to theistic meditation techniques. Both techniques engage similar brain regions, but attunement with God may merit further study.
Lombard (2017) implored pastoral psychologists to consider the use of psychosynthesis in the counseling process. Psychosynthesis is a transpersonal psychology approach to therapy that includes the client’s relationship with the divine. The year 1976 marked the initial call for science and religion to begin uniting through the process of psychosynthesis. It was developed by Robert Assagioli who was a contemporary of Freud, Jung, and Maslow. The process involves the cultivation of a mystical state which goes beyond Jung’s understanding of the Self. The goal is a connection with an ultimate transcendent reality accessible by all people. Spiritual psychosynthesis moves beyond personal aims into integrating material from the higher unconscious realm into the personality. A primary goal of transpersonal work involves the establishment of a fully realized sense of connection with all of life. By working on the I-Self connection, the client will overcome earlier attachment wounds by also healing one’s relationship with God and others. Jesus is an exemplification of the I-Self connection actualized in humanity as a totally realized embodiment of being fully human and fully divine. Finally, she emphasized that in a Christian worldview, the transpersonal concept of the I-Self can be understood as one’s relationship with God. The self is made in the image of God.
The study also pointed to an overarching lack of voice from evangelical pastors and pastoral counselors within the transpersonal psychology field. Yet, Christian spirituality does appear relevant to a large portion of Americans. Furthermore, neither side seems to fully embrace the complexity of how evangelicals fit into the fourth wave of behavioral therapy. Transpersonal psychology does seem to have respect and appreciation for Christian spirituality, although its tenants do not appear readily translatable for evangelicals due to different understandings between the self and God. It appears that the research might have an emerging place for Christian spiritualist thought leaders such as Knabb and Bingaman within the fourth wave of conversation regarding spiritual psychology. It appears that transpersonal psychology and pastoral counseling might benefit from a shared conversation regarding the place of Christian spirituality in the fourth wave of healing methods. The following tables will be presented with highlighted portions that seek to demonstrate the data set’s findings in a more objective fashion. Transpersonal psychology seems uniquely equipped for pastoral counseling.
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Brees, Amanda Lynne, “The New Age of Christian Healing Ministry and Spirituality: A Meta-Synthesis Exploring the Efficacy of Christian-Adapted Complementary Therapies for Adult Survivors of Familial Trauma” (2021). Doctoral Dissertations and Projects. 3168.