After reflecting further on my original post on CBT for personality, the New Paradigm for CBT I noticed some interesting parallels between my Christian faith and this therapy that may be relevant for both therapists and people seeking help for personality disorders that are also Christian.
In her new paradigm what I noted is that she explains old behaviour and beliefs that were held/used for “good reasons”. Instead of challenging the old system she introduced a “new paradigm” in a very experiential manner.
It made me think of how Jesus taught about being born again to Nicodemus and how he offers the gift of eternal life to the woman at Jacob’s well. He does not challenge the old system of sin, but acknowledged it openly and assumed that a person is already understood how the old system did not work and instead they are looking and seeking a new paradigm, this living water, or spirit life that is not based in place or a set of laws but “in spirit and in truth ” (John 4: 24). Jesus is continuously offering images, and stories to activate the imagination of people to create a “new paradigm” to enter the kingdom of God that is “here but not yet” (common term from Kingdom theology).
Some of the people Jesus encounters, like those with personality disorders have been suffering for many years, like the woman with continuous bleeding. Those with these physical ailments were also consequently excluded from relationships and the acceptance of society which is similar to the interpersonal difficulties and invalidation that those who have personality disorders experience.
However, unlike CBT personality that reconceptualizes the world Jesus challenges us to imagine a new kingdom of God that is loving, beautiful, and a place for the broken. This kingdom of God is not the world- the world is fallen- whereas the kingdom of God is good and allows people to live fully in love. Paul for example would likely not approve of imagining the world as a good and loving place, but challenges followers to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”.(Romans 12:2).
Jesus does not want us to idealize ourselves in positive terms but to hold a dialectic together of both sinner and a new creation in Christ. Loved deeply by God, though rejected by others.
We have an initial belief or experience as followers of Christ but that does not always mean that our old beliefs and habits die completely. We struggle between paradigms slowly through steps of faith and in acting out our faith in obedience (behavioural experiments of sorts) we learn to walk in this new way.
Ultimately what anchors us in this new life are not just the word and promises of the bible on a page (the challenging of our old system of belief through words and reason) but the discipline of living out faithfully this new life.
In this new system- or more accurately through a God that is who loves us, who is greater than ourselves – we gain the strength and new resources to cope in a new way with the struggles we face in this world. Our old ways are no longer necessary as we live more deeply into the new way of Christ.
So if I was to use the new paradigm for CBT for personality from a Christian perspective I might initially focus the old as she does on the view of self, others and the world but conceptualize the new through replacing a focus on the world to the Kingdom of God as the new realm to live in. This new kingdom paradigm could also be anchored through visualization, and experiential elements- encouraging one to actively enter God’s presence using imagery.
Then introducing interpersonal difficulties into this new kingdom/paradigm makes total sense because you are inviting someone to little by little start living in the kingdom of God (“let your kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven”). For example you could say “If you are living in this new kingdom of God where God loves you, you are forgiven, you have joy, and are special…what happens when someone insults you…?” .
This new Christian interpretation of Padesky’s paradigm doesn’t just apply to those with personality disorders but I can see how it would be useful for each one of us to conceptualize in our imagination what it is like to live more fully in the kingdom of God. It might also be helpful for those who struggle with deep shame, despite intellectually accepting that “God loves me” or “I am deeply loved”.
Kind of exciting!