A friend of mine, Jo Johnson, is an author, consultant Neuropyschologist and Christian (in no particular order). In this guest blog, she talks about her experience of work and faith and her new book. Thank you so much, Jo!
I grew up with a strong sense of not being good enough, believing love was a reward for acceptable behaviour or looking a certain way, conditional love. As a result, even as a young child I experienced high levels of anxiety, always worrying I’d done or said something wrong, apologising just in case.
I was fortunate to be told about God’s unconditional love in my mid teens. Whilst I didn’t have a dramatic conversion, I knew instantly what I was being told was the truth. I told people I’d become a Christian but didn’t fully understand God’s provision meant that all my wrongdoings, guilt and shame had been dealt with by Jesus’s death on the cross. I was still desperate for the approval of others which meant my behaviour at times, was far from godly. However, I continued to believe that God was real and I needed to trust him.
I stumbled upon psychology at A level, finding the first academic subject I enjoyed and a few years later started as an undergraduate in psychology at Surrey university. As part of that course I worked at Broadmoor special hospital. In the psychology department I worked much shorter days than in my previous jobs and I’m ashamed to say that was the initial reason I decided a career in clinical psychology would suit me! It was another story when I started working in the NHS.
I had no real idea what being a clinical psychologist entailed and so waltzed unprepared into an academic interview unable to answer any of the questions, I was rightly rejected. On my way out i saw a flyer to say my local health authority was offering one salaried place on the clinical psychology course in exchange for two years commitment. I was miraculously chosen and thus started the qualification course on lots more money than the other students. That is one of many miracles God has done in the life of a messed up, people pleaser.
Some people at the church I was attending were concerned I’d learn theories that would undermine my faith but in fact the more I learn about human beings and their flaws, the more I see the truth of the bible as the only total solution to the problem of the human heart.
The best kept secret in western society is we are all struggling, we all feel as if we are not good enough. We are all overwhelmed by our inner psychological experiences, negative thoughts, unwanted feelings, memories and regrets. Its just some people hide it better than others. We compare our insides with the outsides of other people.
In recent years, I’ve discovered a model of psychology called Acceptance and commitment therapy, ACT, it’s being described as a more up to date version of cognitive behavioural therapy. It’s helped me enormously with the struggles I continue to have as a flawed human living in a world that is messed up.
One of the key elements of ACT is to first decide what and who is important, this is entirely appropriate for Christians. There are many techniques contained within the ACT model that are easy to learn and help people relate differently to the thoughts and feelings that create the pain and struggles within them.
We wont get rid of this difficult internal stuff until we reach eternity but as a clinical psychologist, I help people make sense of their thoughts and feelings and find new ways of relating to their mind content, so they can get on with doing what’s really important.
As a Christian psychologist, I work with many different people but it’s especially rewarding to work with Christians as we can pray and use the bible as our guide to what’s of lasting value.
A few years ago I started writing a novel about a man called Tom, a regular bloke who had a tricky childhood. When life goes well for him, he is able to convince himself that all is well, he’s a success. When life started to crumble through no fault of his own, his mind follows and soon he is spiralling downwards feeling his only option is to relieve everyone of the burden that is him. Fortunately, he doesn’t achieve his aim and later discovers God’s wonderful Grace. The book is called ‘Surviving Me’ and you can pre-order it here or from your local bookshop. (Release date 14 November).