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Evangel professors publish results of counseling research

Published on Dec 21, 2016 by Paul K. Logsdon

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Three Evangel University counseling and psychology professors have had the results of their latest research published in the current issue of the Journal of Psychology and Christianity (Dec. 2016).

The article, “Christian counseling and psychotherapy: Components of clinician spirituality that predict type of Christian intervention,” was written by Geoff Sutton, Ph.D.; Christine Arnzen, Ph.D.; and Heather Kelly, Psy.D.

“The purpose of our research was to better understand the practice of Christian counseling and psychotherapy from the perspective of clinicians,” said Dr. Sutton, professor emeritus of psychology at Evangel, who conducts research on spirituality, forgiveness and other virtues.

A total of 220 professional psychologists, counselors, marriage and family therapists, school counselors, pastors and social workers participated in the research (120 women, 87 men, 13 not identified).

The Journal of Psychology and Christianity is a peer-reviewed quarterly publication of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS).

Founded in 1956, CAPS is comprised of more than 2,000 members in the U.S., Canada and more than 25 other countries. Their primary purpose is to encourage understanding of the relationship between Christianity and the behavioral sciences at both the clinical/counseling and the theoretical/research levels.

Their findings

“Recent evidence supports the value of religious interventions in psychology, such as forgiveness therapy and a Christian approach to cognitive-behavioral therapy for depression,” said Sutton.

“In our research, we found that the spirituality of clinicians determined the extent to which they included specifically Christian interventions in treatment,” he added.

Dr. Kelly elaborated, “When it comes to predicting the use of prayer or scriptures, spiritual interventions, or recommending faith-related activities during counseling — the most valuable predictors were clinicians’ personal bible study, prayer and experiences with healing.”

Kelly is a professor of psychology at Evangel with a specialty in undergraduate research.

Practical applications

This research has implications for those involved in clinical education, as well as those who are in clinical practice.

“These findings suggest that the spiritual practices of the counselor are relevant to how they carry out the practice of Christian counseling,” said Sutton.

“It may suggest that educators include opportunities for spiritual growth as an integral part of graduate programs such as in regularly scheduled chapels, semester retreats and sharing of prayer needs,” he said. “To the extent that professors are role models, their spiritual practices may aide or impair the degree to which students emulate personal spirituality.”

The implications for clinical practice would appear to be similar to those for students.

“To the extent that clients are perceptive of a Christian counselor’s authentic spirituality, clinicians offering Christian counseling will need to nurture their own spirituality,” said Sutton.

“We suggest the effectiveness of counseling may be enhanced when a clinician’s spirituality is compatible with counseling interventions,” he continued.

“For example, forgiveness interventions may be presented in ways compatible with Christian teaching about forgiveness. The effectiveness of a Christian accommodative forgiveness intervention may be enhanced if clinicians find the forgiveness intervention personally meaningful.”

Dr. Arnzen also contributed to the article.  She is an assistant professor of psychology and counseling at Evangel and serves as coordinator of the University’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program.

The complete reference for the article is:

Sutton, G. W., Arnzen, C., & Kelly, H. (2016). Christian counseling and psychotherapy: Components of clinician spirituality that predict type of Christian intervention. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 35, 204-214.

The Journal of Psychology and Christianity is designed to provide scholarly interchange among Christian professionals in the psychological and pastoral professions. Journal articles focus on clinical topics, research, theoretical issues and special theme areas.

A board of referees evaluates and selects articles for publication.

Psychology at Evangel

The study of psychology allows students to gain knowledge and skills to help diverse people groups, to include children through adults, in all manner of social problems. It promotes understanding of human behavior through the scientific method and clinical practice. It provides skills and knowledge that enables one to effectively prepare for graduate studies such as Clinical/Counseling Psychology, School Counseling, and Marriage & Family Counseling.

Evangel also offers a Masters of Science in Counseling, which allows students to choose one of two tracks — either Clinical Mental Health Counseling or School Counseling.

For more information about Evangel University’s Counseling and Psychology programs, contact Dr. Donna Washburn at .


PUBLISHED: Springfield News-Leader on Jan. 3, 2017, (complete except for “practical applications”) —