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Inner Healing

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What It Is

Inner healing - also known as "healing of memories" - is a popular, but controversial, counseling technique which assumes that many current problems are rooted in past, hurtful experiences that have not been dealt with.

It is true that undealt issues from the past can affect people in the present. How others treated us, circumstances we lived through, and things we have (or have not) done have influenced us to one extend or another.

The basic idea behind inner healing is to help a person remember situations in which he was hurt, and then have him deal with those situations by a) acknowledging the hurt, b) expressing the hurt to the persons involved (e.g. parents), and c) forgiving those people. Sometimes forgiving himself is included as well.

There are various approaches to Inner Healing, ranging from teaching a counselee traditional coping techniques, to inviting the Holy Spirit to bring up memories and/or other issues. Some practitioners ask the counselee to picture Jesus as part of the situation and/or to imagine what He would have said to you had you consulted Him during the situation recalled.

Expressing hurt is usually not done face to face with the people involved. Rather, the counselee is told to pretend he or she is writing a letter (it may not be possible to contact the people involved directly because they have moved or died, or are unwilling to deal with the issue).

Sometimes psychiatrists or other counselors have the counselee express his anger by giving him a plastic baseball bat and telling him to hit a pillow with it.

After getting the hurt and anger out, the person is told to then forgive the people involved, and to express that forgiveness.

The thinking is that by dealing with such unresolved issues, you can understand and/or solve some of your current problems (depression, anger, criminal behavior, relationship issues, etc.). To a certain extend this is true, and I have seen some people benefit from this approach.

Extending forgiveness is part of this whole process. Even non-Christians acknowledge the "healing power" of forgiveness. Not surprisingly, inner healing is a New Age concept used in one way or another in many different New Age and Eastern religions. John and Paula Sanford are major proponents of a "Christianized" version, first introduced by Agnes Sanford. A newer approach, called TheoPhostic counseling, pioneered by Ed Smith, basically is inner healing in a new jacket.

Problems Associated With Inner Healing

I was in leadership at a Vineyard Christian Fellowship when Inner Healing was introduced to our church. As I was doing much counseling, I saw the problems associated with Inner Healing first-hand.

Failure to take responsibility

We soon noticed that the vast majority of people who came in for counseling immediately told us that their problem stemmed from "this or that" event in their childhood. No longer were they personally responsible for their sins and/or poor choices; it was the responsibility of, say, their parents. Mere circumstances, such as the loss of a job, ill health, or a traffic accident, were sometimes also believed to be rooted in past experiences.

In fact, many counselees came in with ready-made solutions, alleging a need for inner healing. Frequently, people requesting counseling were the same ones who had recently gone through inner healing for other issues. It has been suggested that this is somewhat like peeling an onion - one layer at a time, with one issue exposing another. However, that was not the case, as issues presented tended to be unrelated.

Demonization

In some movements, the inner healing process requires a world view that includes the possibility of Christians being "oppressed" or even possessed by demons. For instance, the former is taught in the Vineyard movement, while the latter is taught by Ed Smith in his TheoPhostic Counseling approach.

In the late John Wimber's Vineyard theology Christians could not be demon-possessed (owned by demons), but instead could very well be "demonized" - demon-oppressed (bothered by demons). According to this view, demons latch on to certain "hooks" in a person's life. Those hooks could be anything from sin, committed by or against the person afflicted, to circumstances (car accident, bad health, poverty, etcetera). Find the hook (through an inner healing process involving identification of the problem via a "word of knowledge"), deal with the issue, and cast out the demon - who now has nothing to hold on to. In the process, lesser demons, who are said to have been brought along for the ride by the big one, also leave.

Aside from the fact that Christians disagree in their views regarding demonology, here too, sins or circumstances are often attributed to outside influences.

Fishing expeditions

At the Vineyard, and elswhere that I have seen inner healing promoted, situations from the past often were brought to mind through the spiritual gift known as the "word of knowledge." (revealed knowledge). I believe these gifts are still available today, though not to the extend and in the way suggested by Charismatic Christians. (In short, I believe the ministries, effects, and manifestations mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11Off-site Link are distributed by the Holy Spirit "just as He determines."Off-site Link That means God can, at any time, for any reason, give any of His gifts to any person, for any purpose).

However, I have seen the "word of knowledge" misused a lot. Often it is used manipulatively, to bring up situations that really are not at issue and have no bearing on the problem - probing then here, then there, just to try and "hit upon" the one issue that is thought to cause problems in the present... Meanwhile, the person being counseled thinks (or is given to think) "If God brings this up, who am I to contradict Him?"

(In a somewhat related issue, recently, several psychiatrists have been prosecuted and have had their licenses taken away for the similar practice of implanting memories - which involves creating "memories" of events that never happened.)

Regression

In New Age circles, inner healing often includes the concept of regression. This is sometimes also practiced by Christians. It is the idea that you relive the past, repairing mistakes as you go. Often, the regression goes as far back as the time you were still in the womb. Just recently I saw another flyer for regression therapy, describing how one can have been hurt in the womb, and how the process of being born is very traumatic as well...

Visualization

Not all visualization is bad, but the visualization techniques that are part of inner healing almost always are un-Scriptural. They include trying to imagine what Jesus would have been saying to you had you consulted Him during the situation being visualized. Rather than listening to the Holy Spirit and checking everything in the Word of God, you're taught to follow and rely on your impressions. I can't even begin to count the number of Christians I know who bought into this and who landed in all kind of error as a result. (Many of the so-called "prophecies" from folks involved with the Toronto Blessing movement have a similar basis in fantasy.) People who rely on these subjective experiences and teachings, which do not pass the test of Scripture, can in so doing open themselves up to occult spirit guides.

Is Inner Healing Ever Helpful?

There are some situations (very, very few) in which certain aspects of inner healing are helpful in counseling. However, it has been promoted as a cure-all which it clearly is not.

Forgiving others is Biblical. Living in the past is not. If the Holy Spirit brings to mind a situation to be dealt with, it can be dealt with in the present. Like Paul, we should forget what lies behind:

Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, {14} I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14 NNASOff-site Link))
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