Wilson’s (2001) Law of Relationships states, “Hurt people hurt people” often to feel better about themselves which results in causing shame, a sense that the individual is not good enough or worthless (pp. 15-16). Accordingly, Wilson’s primary goal of counseling is to help others find healing and hope from the power of God to overcomes hurt and shame. Furthermore, Wilson (2001) encourages counselees to have a perspective of process rather than a destination in reaching the goal of counseling as lives are continually transformed by the great Healer (p. 104).
Development of Problems and Personal Need
Wilson (2001) explains that humans have personal needs of safety, identity, and acceptance (pp.73-79). However, in unsafe families these needs are absent, and problems develop from the hurt and shame experienced in childhood. Wilson (2001) asserts that “most of our adult life problems are a result of childhood solutions” (p. 85). In a hurtful environment, children attempt to cope with problems by believing certain fantasies such as the ability to control events and people, change circumstances by performing well enough, eliminate their own needs, deaden feelings, or even take on new identities to maintain sanity (Wilson, 2001, pp. 61-86). Unfortunately, when adults continue to believe these childhood fantasies, problems occur.
Wilson utilizes a topical approach to integrating Scripture into her counseling methodology. The author provides Scripture verses at the end of each chapter to support her assertions as she combines psychological concepts with biblical principles. Wilson also utilizes Scripture more directly to support certain claims. For instance, Wilson (2001) supports overcoming childish coping mechanisms by quoting the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:11, which states, “Put away childish things” (2001, p. 88). Although suggesting the original context of Paul’s words directly align with childhood coping mechanisms goes too far, Wilson certainly appears to place a high priority on biblical integration.
Formula for Change
According to Johnny Baker (Liberty University, n.d.) Wilson’s theory of change is succinct; new choices plus consistent practices equals change. A three-step formula exists to support Wilson’s theory. Baker (Liberty University, n.d.) explains that the first step is to remove the weeds or recognize the lies of deception. Wilson (2001) explains that adults must identify the lies of perpetrators who took advantage of their needs, excused abuses, and exploited authority when they were children (pp. 54-58). Once the lies are identified, Baker (Liberty University, n.d.) continues the gardening metaphor by suggesting the soil must be loosened because in a safe environment the counselee can be completely honest with herself and others. Finally, the counselee must sow seeds by renewing the mind on God’s truth (Liberty University, n.d.).
Balance of Theology and Spirituality
Theologically, Wilson (2001) asserts that humanity is “utterly ruined by sin and completely guilty before God,” and nobody “can be more ruined than ‘utterly’ nor more guilty than ‘completely.'” (p. 17). Upon this theological foundation, Wilson (2001) concludes that no one can be “worth less” than any other person, and no one can be perfect (p. 16-17). Accordingly, the shame that binds and blinds mankind can only be resolved through discovering Jesus Christ (Wilson, 2001, pp. 18-22). For Wilson’s counseling methodology, theology must be hermeneutically sound, but sound theology does not eliminate the reality of spiritual experience. Wilson (2001) explains that God is “not only a rational and emotional being; God is also relational” (p. 29). In sum, God can be and should be experienced.
Like Larry Crabb and Jay Adams, Baker (Liberty University, n.d.) explains that for Wilson the structure of human personality is created in God’s image, but it fell into a state of depravity, and individuals cannot change sin nature, genetics, and other people’s attitudes. From a developmental perspective, Wilson is distinct. Wilson asserts that personality development hinges on the family of origin. When a child’s needs for safety, identity, and acceptance are suppressed or crushed, the development of the child is stifled (Wilson, 2001, pp. 74-78). However, humanity continues to have the ability to make right choices (Liberty University, n.d.).
Counselor’s Function and Role
Wilson does not document a specific role or function of the counselor. However, several conclusions may be reached based on Wilson’s content. Using Wilson’s methodology, the counselor would provide a stabilizing and supportive role to the counselee. The functions of the counselor would include extending empathy, providing safety, and assisting the client in unraveling the deceptive lies procured during childhood. Furthermore, the counselor would validate the feelings of the client because for Wilson (2001), “Feeling are a fact, and feelings have a history” (p. 111). Finally, the counselor would help the counselee transfer their safety, identity, and acceptance to God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Major Contribution to Counseling
Wilson’s major contribution is the integration of a family of origin approach into the Christian counseling domain. In other words, Wilson helps the Christian counseling community recognize that it is not possible to understand individuals apart from their interconnected relationships. Additionally, Wilson contributes to counseling by highlighting the value of acknowledging feelings and showing vulnerability, as well as removing the mask that some deem necessary to support the misbelief that “Christians are wound proof” (Wilson, 2001, p. 15).
Limitations of This Counseling Theory
A few limitations exist within Wilson’s counseling theory. First, syncretism is always a potential risk when integrating secular psychology with theology. Second, although Wilson (2001) strongly asserts that dysfunctional family influences do not excuse unhealthy choices (p. 30), holding parents responsible for an individual’s current emotional state risks the counselee resenting and blaming their parents. Third, one wonders if the time and effort to explore and explain years of parental influence or abuse is necessary for the client to overcome the current belief system. Other forms of therapy, such as cognitive therapy, also address false belief systems without the need of deeply exploring the past, which may be more expedient.
Wilson’s methodology is classified as in integrative form of counseling. However, Wilson appears to lean more heavily on psychology than integrationists such as Larry Crabb. Wilson’s (2001) theory of counseling rests primarily on a family of origin approach to counseling and uses Scripture to support her assertions as opposed to beginning with Scripture and allowing the counseling methodology to evolve (see p. 88). Accordingly, Wilson’s theory likely borders on a form of Christian psychology, rather than a pure integrationist form of therapy.
Counseling Utility and Specific Potential Influence
Wilson’s counseling methodology provides an important utilitarian benefit to the overall discipline of Christian counseling. By acknowledging the importance of the family of origin in the development of the individual, the counselor may gain a deeper understanding of the client. This understanding may assist the counselor and the client in uncovering the false beliefs that continue to haunt the client from childhood. Furthermore, the new understanding may allow the counselor to more appropriately extend empathy and inquiry to facilitate the client’s healing. The use of Wilson’s approach may also help the Lives Transforming counselors understand the clients who are involved in my counseling ministry.
Personally, Wilson’s methodology is a reminder that my past can influence my present. For example, periodically I find myself experiencing inappropriate anxiety around the topic of death. My father was a policeman. When I was a child I experienced death in various scary situations when my father was called out on emergencies. Remembering that my fear may be originating from my past helps me recognize that an alternative adult view of death is possible.
Counseling Moment Example
Jason came to talk with me about feeling anxious and burned out. He explained that his wife had been complaining about how much he worked. She had threatened to divorce him the previous week. After spending a few more minutes discussing Jason’s situation, I asked him about his childhood home. Jason explained that his father was world-class athlete, and his brother was an all-American track star. Performance had been a way of life. Knowing that anxiety often stems from fear, I asked Jason if he could explain his fear. Jason said he was afraid to fail. I asked Jason why he was afraid to fail. Jason explained that failing would mean he was worthless and unlovable. I asked Jason where he thought that idea came from. Jason realized that he did not think his father would love him if he failed. I asked Jason if he felt that his heavenly Father would deem him unacceptable if he failed. Jason recognized that he was viewing God through the same lens as his dad. By recognizing that his acceptance was solidified in Christ’s love, Jason was confident that Christ’s love would assist in overcoming his fear of failure.
Liberty University (Producer). Presentation: Healing relationships [Video]. Available from http://www.apple.com/itunes/download.
Wilson, S. D. (2001). Hurt people hurt people: Hope and healing for yourself and your relationships. Grand Rapids: Discovery House.