My Position Statement On
Transformation Prayer Ministry (TPM)
|The following document is for colleagues, clergy, clients, students, and others who may be interested on why I use Transformation Prayer Ministry (TPM; formerly called Theophostic Prayer Ministry) in my Christian counseling practice for those who request it. When TPM is used in my professional practice, it is provided as a cognitive therapy procedure consistent with the cultural/religious beliefs of clients who share the Christian worldview, and as an adjunct, not a substitute, for clinical psychotherapy. Cognitive therapy, according to multicultural research; see Counseling and Psychotherapy: A Multicultural Perspective; Ivey, Ivey, and Simen-Morgan; 1993) is far more effective when the therapist shares and understands the worldview of the client, and when negative self-constructs (what psychologists call schemas) are are transformed within the context of the client’s personal worldview.
I have been incorporating TPM as part of my overall my Christian counseling approach since 2001. TPM was developed by Dr. Ed Smith in 1996 in his pastoral counseling work with traumatized individuals. You can visit his TPM website for more information on TPM. I have no personal or professional affiliation with Dr. Ed Smith or the TPM organization, and the comments and statements below are my own.
My Training in TPM
I first heard about TPM from a highly respected friend and colleague of mine, in about the year 2000, who described the approach as very effective and suggested that I receive the training. TPM seemed to present, in a systematized way, what I was already attempting to do in my practice, that is, helping my patients experience Jesus’ healing presence in the context of their distress. After receiving my basic TPM training in December 2001, presented by psychiatrist Dr. Karl Lehman in Chicago, I participated in a 4-day apprenticeship training by Dr. Smith at the Theophostic headquarters in Campbellsville, Kentucky August 2002. During my apprenticeship, I had the opportunity to observe Ed Smith provide TPM to about 10 volunteers, over about 20 hours or so, with about 30 other professional therapists and lay counseling ministers from across the United States. After having practiced what I learned and developing more experience and confidence in TPM, I led a basic TPM training seminar in December 2004 for 40 participants, which included clergy, clinicians, and lay ministers here in the Rockford, Illinois area.
A Brief Description of TPM
TPM focuses on invoking God’s help in exposing and expelling the false belief system (“lies”) assumed to be at the root of emotional distress, such as depressive and anxiety disorders, and maladaptive behaviors such as eating disorders and various addictions. The TPM minister is trained to pray aloud during the session according to very clear and specific TPM guidelines. During a TPM session, the TPM minister prays aloud to Jesus and and interacts with the client at the same time by asking questions (such as “What are you experiencing now?”). The presence of Jesus is always assumed, and a three way interaction takes place between the facilitator, the person receiving ministry, and the Lord Jesus. Specifically, the TPM minister asks Jesus to:
Working through obstacles. If the process gets “stuck,” as it often does, the TPM minister is trained to respond appropriately. For example, if the person reports experiencing nothing, then the TPM minister might ask Jesus to show the person why that might be. Often, the person might then report feeling resentment towards someone who has recently hurt them, or guilt for a recent wrongdoing. If so, then the TPM minister might ask, with the person’s consent, for Jesus to take the resentment or guilt upon Himself. After the person reports the guilt or resentment lifted, the TPM process can move forward towards getting the person free of any lies contributing to their emotional distress.
Experiential emphasis. The emphasis of TPM is on experiential truth, that is, a genuine experience of Jesus’ love, acceptance, and forgiveness during the TPM session, rather than a mere mental awareness of truth. TPM views “head knowledge” as important but not always sufficient in healing emotional wounds. The person is not considered free of the lie until he or she experiences a pleasant calmness in the painful memory as a result of a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ. The typical TPM session takes about 1-3 hours.
An Example of TPM From My Practice
A brief example of the TPM process can be helpful in understanding the process. Here is an actual example of TPM in action, from my own practice:
Sally (not her real name) came to me with a a history of bulimia (binging and purging food), depression, and self-mutilation. After an initial evaluation, Sally, a church-going Christian, was able to see that her bulimia and cutting herself were unhealthy ways of escaping deep and unexpressed emotional pain. After introducing TPM to Sally, and giving her some literature on how it works, she expressed a willingness to try it. In her first TPM session, I asked her to close her eyes and describe the emotional distress she experienced right before her last cutting episode. She said “depressed . . . lonely . . . hopeless.” With her eyes still closed, I asked, with Sally’s permission, for Jesus to show her the real source and origin of her pain. Sally then reported an episode of verbal abuse by her older sister when Sally was 7 years old. Apparently, Sally was left alone with her sister, who had problems with anger. As I asked God to show her the lie imbedded in the memory, Sally cried out “I’m worthless!” I asked her then to rate the intensity to which she felt that this belief was true on scale of 0-10, with 10 being the highest. She cried out “10!” At that moment I asked Jesus to communicate to Sally whatever He wanted her to know in this memory, and in a way that would free Sally of the lie imbedded in this memory. Instantly Sally was calm and had a serene facial expression. When I asked her what she was now experiencing, Sally she said a voice was saying to her: “You’re My treasure.” However, I then noticed, as her eyes were still closed, that she looked puzzled and a bit distressed again. So I asked her what she was now experiencing. Sally responded: “I’m now thinking that maybe I’m just talking to myself. Maybe I’m making this up.” So I asked her to simply experience that thought, and then to evaluate it, as I prayed that God would help her experience truth. Suddenly, her serene facial expression returned, and Sally smiled, saying, “No, this voice is too familiar. I’m not making this up. I’ve heard the voice before. It’s definitely not me; this is Jesus!” By the time we closed the session, the belief “I’m worthless” was rated at a “0.” After this session, I showed Sally the Bible passage John 10:27 (“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me”), and asked her to read and meditate on it. This scripture helped her have scriptural confirmation of her experience. After a few more sessions, in which I monitored her symptoms closely, Sally no longer met the criteria for bulimia. After a few more sessions, she no longer met the criteria for depression. However, as part of relapse prevention and aftercare, she agreed to continue to see me every 6-12 weeks for in order for me to monitor her progress and provide ongoing support. That was over a year ago and the last I evaluated her (July 11, 2006), she was still free from symptoms of bulimia and depression and pursuing a career in the health field.
I have applied TPM to well over 100 clients since 2001, and I could report many stories similar to Sally’s. Clients with suicidal depression, panic attacks, eating disorders, self-mutilation behaviors, sexual addictions, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and severe anger problems consistently show improvement after 1-3 TPM sessions and are often discharged completely free of the symptoms they came in with. Unfortunately, I have not been able to follow up with all my other TPM clients as well as I have with Sally, probably because after they heal, they have no great need to return to therapy! Moreover, because of how busy my practice has been, I do not have time to follow up on them.
I have been using TPM in my clinical practice almost daily since 2001, and it has been a learning adventure. I am a far more effective therapist now than I was before I used TPM. Here are some clinical observations about my own experience with TPM that may be helpful for readers, especially other clinicians and TPM practitioners.
Six Words of Caution
TPM, of course, is not a cure-all and we must clearly understand and communicate its limitations. Here are six things I have learned through experience with TPM, that may be of benefit to others:
My Response to TPM as a Christian
As I describe in my website, I believe that Christian counseling worthy of that name is Scripture-based, Christ-centered, and Spirit-led. For the most part, my own personal theology and psychological perspectives harmonize quite well with those expressed at the TPM website and in the latest TPM manual (2007, New Creation Publishing).
TPM is Scripture-Based
According to the highly respected Christian Research Institute (CRI): “After an exhaustive evaluation, CRI detects nothing unbiblical about the core theory and practice of Theophostic Prayer Ministry (TPM)” (see the Christian Research Journal, 2006, v. 29, No. 2 ). I heartily agree. I especially appreciate the emphasis that TPM places upon experiential knowledge instead of cognitive knowledge; that is, heart-knowledge instead of head knowledge. Both experiential knowledge and head knowledge are important, but experiential knowledge — to know God in our hearts, which records actual experience, not data — is a more Biblical path to truth that seeking head knowledge only. (see Proverbs 3:4, 5). The latter breeds cold and dry intellectualism, the disease of the Pharisees. Moreover, the overly rational worldview of Reformation theology and of the Enlightment era, as important as it was for those times, has contributed to today’s ignorance of the profound role of the human heart and soul in understanding human nature and our heart-to-heart relationship with God. The heart, not the head, is more central to understanding man, according to a Biblical worldview. (Just check your Bible concordance for how many times the word “heart” is mentioned in the Bible). Of course, the emphasis on rationalism has created a hunger for mystical experience that can lead people to New Age practices and the postmodern rejection of logic and reason. Hence, the TPM movement is getting us back to a more balanced scriptural worldview that emphasizes experiential truth without tossing out scripture and logical thinking.
TPM is Christ-Centered
I do not know what could be more Christ-centered than TPM. In TPM, Jesus Christ, not the counselor, is acknowledged as the healer. Indeed, TPM sessions are highly structured around the continued practice of Jesus’ presence during the session. (Technically speaking, Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, and it is the Holy Spirit we are interacting with in TPM sessions. However, where the Holy Spirit is, Jesus and our Father-God are present.)
TPM is Spirit-Led
Of course, there is no chapter in the Bible that spells out the TPM procedure, verse by verse. However, as Dallas Willard writes in his book Hearing God (1999; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarisity Press), “Our reverence for and faith in the Bible must not be allowed to blind us to the need for divine instructions within the principles of the Bible yet beyond the details of what it explicitly says” (p. 59). In other words, reading the Bible without the Holy Spirit is like telling God what to do, using His Word to command and hence confine Him to our little boxes. It is scripturally consistent to actually expect the Holy Spirit to use new forms and vehicles for conveying the unchanging Gospel truth. Indeed, we can expect the Holy Spirit advance God’s kingdom and bring the healing Word of God to the brokenness in His people (Psalm 147:3) in our particular day and age, consistent with true and sound psychological knowledge that we have learned in the 20th century. Although neither our psychological methods nor TPM itself is specifically described in the Bible, let us remember that the Bible is not a psychology textbook, but “a lamp unto our feet and a light to our path” (Psalm 119:105). Moreover, as we see in the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit works in 100% harmony with the written Word of God in applying its truth to particular times, cultures, circumstances, and even to particular (or perhaps more accurately, peculiar) personalities.
Seven Ways that TPM Harmonizes With Bible
There are at least seven ways that I see in which TPM clearly harmonizes with the Bible:
My Response To Religious Critics of TPM
I am well aware that TPM is controversial, and this is understandable, because TPM is new to the scene. But most criticism of TPM that I have read or encountered is based on ignorance or misunderstandings of TPM, and can be often be defused by educating a genuinely inquiring person who wants to know the truth about TPM, as to what TPM really is and what TPM is not.
However, not everyone approaches TPM with an open mind, willing to seriously consider the possibility that God is working through TPM. Interestingly, the strongest opponents of TPM are often “religious” people who seem to have a vested interest not in learning anything new about what God is doing, but in simply attacking what does not fit with their current understanding of things, based on a rigid, inflexible theological system. As I read in the gospels how Jesus was attacked by the religious leaders of His day, then I am no longer surprised by some of the attacks on TPM. Indeed, these attacks are clearly what we should expect if TPM it is exactly what it proclaims to be: God’s light in the darkness.
At the time of this writing, a Google search of the word “theophostic” will generate over 100,000 hits (and its new name “Transformational Prayer Ministry,” only about 500). I have not even begun to read them all, but I have noticed that the vast majority of things that I have read about TPM are very positive, especially from those who have received or administered TPM. The few negative evaluations I have read are, interestingly, out of balance and extremely negative and therefore, clearly biased in their appraisals, and are typically from people who have no experience with TPM whatsoever. Moreover, the sharpest criticisms of TPM appear to come from “religious” people, and the the tone of their attacks clearly suggests that they perceive TPM as a powerful threat to their own belief systems, build not do much upon grace and empowerment from God through Christ as upon good works, mental reasoning, and a lack of belief in the Holy Spirit’s work in healing in the modern age.
Religious attacks on TPM easily fit into one of the following three camps, which, interestingly enough, are the same three arguments used by the Pharisees against Jesus two thousand years ago. Therefore, when reading the attacks from TPM critics, it might be illuminating to ask “Which one of these attacks is any different from those hurled at Jesus Himself by the Pharisees as recorded in the gospels?” If these attacks were launched against Jesus two thousand years ago, then why would these arguments not be used against Him now, especially if He is indeed manifesting Himself to hurting people in our day and age through TPM?
Here are the three primary arguments against of TPM used by so-called “religious” people which, in my judgment, helps provide even more evidence of God’s fingerprints all over TPM:
The “TPM is Satanic” Argument
As recorded in the New Testament, the Jewish leaders attacked Jesus with this statement: “Are we not right in saying that you . . . have a demon?” (John 8:48, RSV). If the religious people said Jesus was Satanic back in the first century, then, if Jesus is in TPM today, we can expect this crowd to use the same accusation argument against Him today. And indeed, we do: today, there is a camp of TPM critics that acknowledges that TPM does have power and effectiveness, but they attribute this power to the devil! They argue that the light of Christ described by TPM is actually Satanic, in that “Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14). This argument is easily refuted by Jesus’ test of a true and false prophet: by the fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). So what is the fruit of TPM? Love, joy, peace, exactly what we would expect if the Holy Spirit working through TPM (see Galatians 5:22).
The “Scripture-only” Argument Against TPM
If TPM is indeed used by Jesus in our modern times to heal people, then we can expect religious people to attack TPM in the same way they attacked Jesus in the first century. And that is exactly what we find. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day attacked Him by saying that His works, such as healing on the Sabbath, were against the scriptures of their time, that is, the Law of Moses. But Jesus told them that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. He also told the religious leaders, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me” (John 5:39). The Bible is so central to TPM that the scriptures themselves come alive for clients in powerful and dramatic ways. Yet some religious people attack TPM along these lines: “God does not speak directly to people like TPM describes! It can’t be that simple! God speaks only through His written Word!” It is true that God speaks through the Bible, but the Bible itself says that Jesus speaks to His sheep, and His sheep hear His voice (see John 10: 4, 16, & 27). So their own argument testifies against them, in that their statement refutes the very scriptures that they say they believe. Jesus is still speaking to His sheep today, and when He speaks to His sheep through TPM, it is in such as way that is 100% fully consistent with the written Word. In TPM, scriptural truth becomes strongly personalized for the client, often through imagery and word-pictures so meaningful and powerful to the client that non-scriptural beliefs (such as “God abandoned me during my sexual abuse”) completely lose their hold and their effect.
The Legalist’s Argument Against TPM
A legalist can be defined as someone who is too focused good works. Legalists are like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, clinging to their human efforts and works, betraying that their faith is really in human merit for salvation, not the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Legalists attack TPM along these lines: “Our efforts and good works must be more important than TPM describes! It can’t be as easy as simply consenting to receiving a healing experience from God!” But Jesus said “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:29). TPM does not preach against good works, as some TPM attackers claim. TPM, in my experience, causes inspired obedience and good works that these critics can neither rebuke or explain. Many of my former TPM clients are doing good works they were not doing before their TPM sessions: loving their family members, serving in ministry, drawing others to Christ, and being more genuine in worship. I would like to ask TPM critics, how can you argue with such fruit? As Jesus Himself said, “For which of My good works do you stone Me?” (see John 10:32).
In sum, the content of attacks on TPM by many Christians is highly consistent with the attacks of the Pharisees and other “religious” people upon Jesus during the first century. This remarkable consistency in itself offers much support to the idea that TPM is indeed what it professes to be, an instrument of God’s light for outshining darkness.
TPM and the “False Memories” Debate
TPM is also under attack by a number of people who passionately believe that it is either impossible or highly improbable that mental health patients can experience “repressed memories,” that is, memories that do not occur except years later, after a childhood trauma. An organization called the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, was started back in the early 1990s by family members of mental health patients who claim that they were falsely accused by their children of abuse, often sexual abuse. Although it is true that there have indeed been false accusations of sexual abuse by patients who lie or have some secondary gain to their symptoms, and traumatic memories can indeed be distorted, it is equally true that repression of traumatic memories is a well-established psychological phenomenon, observed and described for over a century by psychologists and researchers. Moreover, scientific evidence in support for the existence of repressed memories is quite substantial (for example, visit RecoveredMemory.org). In addition, it makes a lot of sense to me that God would, in His grace, and as part of the psychological defense system that arose after the Fall described in Genesis 3, would let us bury memories of events that we cannot psychologically assimilate. It also seems reasonable to me that buried memories would surface about the time when sufficient spiritual, psychological, and social support allowed the memories to surface, such as in the climate of professional counseling. Repression is a form of denial — that is, lying to ourselves — that has enabled many of my patients to emotionally and psychologically survive their childhoods and function throughout the while carrying with them the horror of incest. We all practice repression of memories is some form. For example, at this moment, you may have forgotten the memory of how much you owe your credit card, because it is too overwhelming to think about. But if you suddenly won the lottery, or received a large inheritance, that memory of the amount of debt might suddenly surface, because now that knowledge would be suddenly manageable.
Many of these people are passionate believers in “false memory syndrome” (FMS), which is not a recognized psychiatric syndrome. You will not find it listed in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the mental health professionals standard guide to psychological syndromes. FMS is a hypothetical construct assuming that therapists can create artificial traumatic memories in their offices. It is probably true that psychologically unhealthy people can be led to believe that an image that comes into there mind is a historical fact (remember the “spectral evidence” Salem witch trials?). It is also true that well-meaning therapists can, at times, cause clients to misinterpret their internal experience, such as images and dreams, by framing them as “memories.” We therapists must be accountable and vigilant as to what we are doing in response to patients’ reports of images of sexual abuse in their mind by family members or others. For example, in my practice, I do not place myself in the position of a judge as to the precise historical accuracy of what my clients report to me, and use the term “experience” or “images” instead of the term “memory.” However, all of this evidence in support of FMS does not negate the psychological phenomenon of repression, nor does it so easily cause me to dismiss the sinful nature of human beings who still abuse children and do not want anyone to know about it.
A word about the science of memory. It is true that “historical truth” and “remembered truth” can differ, and that memory can be distorted. Indeed, as the science of memory evolves, the human mind emerges not so much as a robotic videotape recorder of factual events, but rather as an editor or narrator of events and raw facts. Certainly emotions, unconscious motivations, and, to use a biblical term, sin, can influence what we remember and how we remember. As we recall events in out lives, we continuously re-interpret and summarize them in ways that have an impact on us now and in the future. Therefore, it can be greatly helpful to have information which validates experiences we consider as possible memories, such as when a sexual abuser admits to the crime, or when someone comes forward as a witness who can validate the details of the client’s experience in some way.
In the absence of such supporting evidence, clients who think that they may have been sexually abused by a family member may try to recruit a therapist into validating them in their belief that they were abused. This is dangerous territory, especially for inexperienced therapists who may feel compelled support a client by conveying the belief — whether they have it or not — that the client was indeed abused. There have been a number malpractice suits against psychotherapists who were sued because it was determined that they contributed or caused a false determination of childhood sexual abuse leading to wrongful blame of family members as sexual offenders.
Therefore, the task of Christian counseling and psychotherapy should not be in interpreting memories, but rather in helping our clients learn how to interpret their internal experience, including memories, as part of the ongoing sanctification process, which includes understanding more about themselves as they grow in grace and the knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Hence, I do not feel compelled to believe, or convey in any way, that what my patients report in their minds as memories are historically accurate down to every detail.
However, we counselors can be very helpful by validating the reality of a patient’s internal actual experience, such as images of sexual abuse in childhood, without making any interpretations on its accuracy whatsoever. A therapist can also be helpful by educating the patient on the the dynamics of memory, and how memory can be colored or distorted by our emotions and unconscious processes. In my view, it is doing the client a disservice by interpreting a memory for them, whether it is by saying that the memory is historically accurate or historically inaccurate, the latter of which the false memory syndrome people seem to want all therapists to do.
TPM and FMS. To Dr. Ed Smith’s credit, TPM training does not involve detective work in determining what actually happened in regard objective factual truth; rather, it focuses on helping suffering individuals experience freedom from unhealthy beliefs that they have about themselves or God in the context of the disturbing experiences they report. Are all those experiences actual memories, precise in every detail? I do not know, nor do I as a therapist have to know. I am not a police detective, but a healer. As A Christian counselor, I have helped many patients experience love, joy, and peace in place of their depression, anxiety, and anger, without making any interpretation whatsoever as to the historical accuracy of the experiences they report.
How Dr. Ed Smith has responded to critics. Dr. Ed Smith’s response to attacks on TPM have been, in my opinion, exemplary, and demonstrative of Christian character. He has never claimed infallibility and has welcomed others to read and respond his writings, especially his updated materials. He invites his Christian brothers and sisters to correct him if they see anything wrong in TPM or the theology it is based upon. He has responded to his critics graciously and has used their criticism as an opportunity to clarify his positions, educate people on what they do not yet understand, and, when appropriate, to modify the TPM procedure and revise the TPM training material. Based upon feedback he has received from people over the last decade or so, and through his own experiences with TPM, he has clarified his position on a number of issues and has refined his theology. As a result, the latest edition of the TPM manual (2007) is updated and the TPM procedure itself is more refined. Indeed, TPM is now more effective and more efficient in application than ten years ago, and its psychology and theology more robust. Therefore, I confidently predict that TPM will become bolder and brighter in the years ahead, as more and more people are being brought into the healing light of the Lord Jesus Christ through this biblically sound, Spirit-led, and Christ-centered approach.
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