christian counseling

Critical theory and mental health

Critical theory (from which critical race theory was derived) has been a popular buzz term this year. However, it a theory that has been developed for over 40 years. In my honest and humble assessment of the theory, I’m sure the creators and those who believe in the theory, rather or not they even know it is a theory or not, likely want to help oppressed groups. However, I would ask that the considerations be given that this may not be the best way to free the oppressed.

As a mental health therapist, one of my concerns with critical theory and in particular critical race theory is the attempt to categorize people. One of the main tenants to the theory is that individual identity is inseparable from group identity. I’ve been blessed to meet many people in an individual setting over the years and I can tell you that in my experience, it is extremely difficult and arguably impossible to fit each individual perfectly within a group. Personally, I believe God designed us all in a unique way and we are to seek our identity in being the unique creation he intended. You can’t honestly say all hispanics are the same, all black people are the same, all white people are the same, all gay people are the same, etc. Specific to oppressed groups, you can’t say they all have the same experiences or even are ok with being considered oppressed. I can’t effectively treat individuals struggling with mental illness, family concerns, etc. by using critical theory and grouping people. It just doesn’t work. I have to treat people as individuals. I may use some of the same techniques from time to time, but I seek to tailor these to the individual. Consider being a parent, sibling, or friend. Are all of you the same? Trust me, my siblings are I are definitely different even coming from the same home. As a parent, even the same discipline strategies as times don’t work the same for each child of mine.

Another concern I have with the theory is that tends to focus more on emotion than thought. Emotions are powerful parts of human beings but we must be aware of using emotions only to make choices outside of thoughtful analysis. We have amazing control centers in our bodies called our brains. We should be teaching others to use their brains to filter emotions. We have pushed agendas on others way too often these days instead of asking questions that make one another think. Daily, I have conversations with parents and young adults who can’t even talk about differences without fighting. Could it be that the young adults have been taught to go off of emotion in critical theory which is embedded within our educational systems? Could it be that parents have taught their children the value of thinking instead of just doing what they say? Do we teach them why we believe a certain tenant, etc? I see families splitting generationally, a lack of respect for the elder generation, and people only expecting to be heard instead of also taking the time to listen. It is truly heartbreaking, but I know it is a spiritual war and not so much a cultural one. The devil is the father of lies and he has planted lies that are causing division not unity and these lies certainly will not lead to freedom.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are oppressed people in our world, there are poor people, there are racist individuals, etc. We are sinful people who fall short of God’s design and plan. However, the way back to true freedom isn’t found in a theory (which is a word that in definition means that it hasn’t been proven to be true). The way to truth is simple. I’ll agree it is narrow and against the grain of the world. However, I speak truth in love by stating, the way is Jesus.

If we have a relationship with God through his son Jesus, we won’t dwell on the past, we will learn from it. We won’t worry about tomorrow, we will plan for it. Personally, my parents didn’t need critical race theory to teach us to fight for those who are less fortunate. The Bible teaches me that we are all individual, amazing beings created in the image of God who out of his love for us will care for the poor, speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves (Prov 31), and will preach the path to true life. True oppression is seeking to find identity and be grouped into something outside of God’s plan. By the way, Jesus is the one who said, “If you abide in my word (his character, who he is, his life, his law), you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” People love to quote the latter part of this verse, but we need to know who said and what it really means…John 8:31-32

Praying you will “…be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”

Dr. Atwell

PS. This year while sharing some fun stories at the beach, I learned that one of my sister’s, wrote her senior high school paper on “Revelation and The End Times”, while her husband wrote his on “Why we should legalize marijuana.” Could they be any different?! Now, my brother in law doesn’t believe this anymore, but it is funny now and yet again proves my point that we are all different and maybe that we don’t know everything at 17 or 18 years of age…

By Natalie Atwell Counseling

Dr. Natalie Atwell is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Supervisor in NC and a Board Certified Professional Christian Counselor. She values being transparent, honest, knowing when to be silly and when not to be silly (which isn't that often) and thinks laughter is a gift from God.

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