Baseball, God and Therapy

photo_3203_20070905 Even though fantasy baseball has completely ruined my ability to be a true fan to my team, I still love the game.  Nothing beats the hope and anticipation spring holds, the constant number crunching and game management debates of the regular season and the over the top fan frenzy during the playoffs.  Baseball is a thinking person’s game – it involves patience and the ability to be aware of many moving parts.

Baseball is also the stuff of great movies because, even if you don’t like or get baseball, you can still learn something about life from it. One of my favorite lines comes from Pedro Cerrano’s conversation with his god/goddess/something Jobu (Major League)-

I’m pissed off now, Jobu. Look, I go to you. I stick up for you. You don’t help me now. I say “F*** you,” Jobu, I do it myself.

Just to add some context for those who may not be familiar with the movie, Pedro is the stereotypical power hitter.  He can kill a fastball but can’t hit a breaking ball to save his life. This is where Jobu comes in.

Bats, they are sick. I cannot hit curveball. Straightball I hit it very much. Curveball, bats are afraid. I ask Jobu to come, take fear from bats. I offer him cigar, rum. He will come.

I am by no means anti-faith,  my rear end is on a pew most Sundays and prayer is a part of my daily life.

My job isn’t to convert people to faith or make sure those who believe remain believers, I seldom bring up faith in sessions unless a client wants to discuss it or identifies it as an important part of the work.  In those situations, part of my job may be to help someone whose faith is a part of what they identify as the issue or potential solution, determine and stick to a fair, self-protective and reasonable decision making process.

A person who suffers from anxiety and views a harsh and jealous God as a necessary part of their lives may benefit from an examination of their understanding of God or their faith in therapy.

Analyzing a Gallup survey conducted in 2010, the researchers sought to determine how one’s perception of God — as punitive, benevolent, or indifferent — was associated with five different psychiatric symptoms: general anxiety, social anxiety, paranoia, obsession, and compulsion.

Respondents’ characterizations of God were gleaned from their opinions of how six adjectives — absolute, critical, just, punishing, severe, or wrathful — applied to God. A numbering system was used to gauge the degree to which the subject viewed the adjective as an accurate descriptor of God (very well = 4; somewhat well = 3, not very well = 2, etc.). In a similar fashion, respondents answered queries designed to measure the five aforementioned psychiatric symptoms.

The researchers found that belief in a punitive God was significantly associated with an increase in social anxiety, paranoia, obsession, and compulsion. Conversely, belief in a benevolent God was associated with reductions in those four symptoms. Belief in an indifferent God was not linked to any symptoms. link

The job can become more difficult for folks whose operational definition of God is punitive but do not necessarily think about God as punitive – it’s the kind of stuff compulsions are made of.

So how does a therapist handle a mean and vengeful God?

Build a kick-ass ninja robot with nuclear capabilities and a pumpkin spice latte maker.

or

Get some information from the client.

Who were the client’s first theologians (parents,family members, teachers, clergy) and are their teachings, behaviors and actions consistent with the client’s understanding of God

Does a client exhibit a pattern of distortion that molds everything, including God, in a negative and catastrophic light?

Does the client hold God responsible for traumatic events in some way and does this understanding influence future fears of what may occur to her if she doesn’t “play by the rules?”

If the client identifies with a specific religion, is his understanding of God consistent with the generally accepted view of God within his faith tradition?

Depending on the answers to these questions, therapy may not necessarily be about a person’s religion but more about how family of origin, history and their own thinking influences the theology driving their personal faith.  This is probably the best place to begin from as it is least intrusive – it does not seek to push a client away from their faith but rather seeks to understand in order to correct broader issues that may impact many areas of a client’s life – faith included.

If a client’s religion does posit an angry, vengeful or punitive God then things can get tricky as the actual theology gets thrown in the ring. We are well within our right to help clients examine how their faith impacts their functioning and understand that they have choices. If a client’s understanding of God is making him sick, we can’t sell the product or deliver the goods but that doesn’t mean the topic is off limits.

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