Emotion Coaching is a big deal in the world. Should it be a big deal in a Christian family? Join us today to discuss Dr. Gottman’s work and compare it to the work of godly parents.
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There’s a good possibility that many of you have never heard of a practice called, “Emotion Coaching.” If that’s you, you need to listen. And likely, some of you have heard of Emotion Coaching, and you’re going to need to stick around as well.
As Christian parents, before we can accept or reject a parenting system, we need to understand what it is, it’s pros, it’s cons, and whether or not it adheres to God’s Truth.
So, what is Emotion Coaching?
Dr. John Gottman, founder of The Gottman Institute, has a long list of accolades in the field of psychology, specifically for his work with families. By the way, all the information I’m about to cite comes from The Gottman Institute’s website.
Over his decades of work, Dr. Gotten came to the conclusion that good parenting lies in understanding the emotional source of problematic behavior. And he identified four types of parents and categorized them by how they respond to their children’s emotions: Let me read for you his thoughts on these parents.
Okay, that was a lot to digest, but I want to go back and break it down into more manageable chunks. However, before we can continue in our critique of Emotion Coaching and whether or not Christian parents should embrace it, we need to really grasp my two very important realities. Now, please listen carefully to what I say next so that there’s no misunderstanding.
Let’s work through these two statements first, and then we’ll be able to address Dr. Gottman’s theory.
The word psychology actually means “study of the soul.” Biblically speaking, the human soul is an organic and spiritual unity between the human body and the human spirit. This is explained for us in Genesis 2:7, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Here we see two parts of man’s being -- his body, formed from the dust of the ground and his spirit (“the breath of life”), breathed into him by God. And the final clause says that when these two parts joined, man became a “living soul.” For those of you who know what a dichotomist and a trichotomist are, I would simply say I believe the Bible teaches we have two parts, the body and spirit, and the word soul simply refers to the entity that is created when those two combine. We don’t refer to a body without a spirit as a soul, and we don’t refer to a spirit without a body as a soul.
All of this to say, since modern psychology denies the existence of the biblical spirit, it cannot fully comprehend the magnificent unity that is the soul and is therefore incapable of providing genuine answers to soul-care. In regard to the study of the soul, it’s only half a science because it disregards the spiritual realities of life.
So, with that, we need to understand that to the degree that Dr. Gottman (or any other psychologist or psychiatrist) ignores the teachings of Scripture, his system becomes more and more untrustworthy. And, unfortunately, there is nothing about Dr. Gottman or his studies that leads me to believe he knows the Lord.
My blanket response to the question “should Christians utilize secular psychology” is “in part.” As I mentioned before, psychology provides fantastic observations. People respond to various incentives, stimuli, pressures, and pleasures in observable ways and modern psychology is a wealth of information in that vein.
But the moment I break from psychology is when they try to provide answers for the soul’s problems. This is due to the fact they only see half the problem. The secular psychiatrist rightly sees that their patient wants to commit suicide. They’re able to hear their patient blame his parents, his boss, his wife, and the world for being against him. They hear his woes about depression and anxiety. They observe all of this, but then they start coming to conclusions. And those conclusions are informed by a worldview that denies God. They believe their patient shouldn’t commit suicide, and they agree with the patient that it definitely seems like he has a lot of stressors in his life, but since neither the doctor nor the patient are in a place to drastically affect all the stressors in his life, the average doctor is left with a couple options. 1. Try to convince his patient to respond to life’s stresses differently. This tract involves emotional exercises and world-view discussions. 2. Medicate the patient against the emotional turmoil in the world so they can focus on surviving. But neither of these can guarantee any lasting success because they both deny God’s Truth on the subject.
However, the biblical counselor observes all the same issues and hears all the same explanations. But the biblical counselor also has God’s perfect insight into the heart issue that’s inherent in the spirit of every man and woman. This adds a supernaturally dynamic level of power, hope, and answers the secular psychologist lacks.
And this is exactly the same tension I see in Dr. Gottman’s work. I find it to be very beneficial in some regards, but hazard in others.
So, let’s start our critique of Emotion Coaching by working through the steps to being what Dr. Gotten calls a “good parent,” the Emotion Coach.
Unfortunately, this contradicts Scripture as well. We, as parents, are commanded to teach our children, love them, nurture, and admonish them, but we’re also called to rebuke and correct. The most loving thing we can do is tell them they are sinning against God, but that there’s hope for forgiveness and change.
So, should Christian parents advocate Emotion Coaching? I suppose the answer isn’t an easy one. Some of you may say, "There are a lot of good ideas. With just the right tweaks, the system almost sounds biblical." And I would give you that. Unfortunately, if you tell everyone: “I really like Emotion Coaching my child.” They’re left to assume you accept and advocate the system. So, unless you’re going to explain the faults in the system every time, I believe you’re doing more harm than good. You may inadvertently encourage a young parent to research Emotion Coaching and take it at face value simply because you said you do it. And then they’d be reinforcing very unbiblical ideas in their home.
So, here’s my official answer. I’ve never been one with a deep-desire to be hip and trendy. God’s Word is enough for me; it provides everything I need to parent for life and godliness. Therefore, in discussions like these, I wouldn’t find it valuable to say that I’m an Emotion Coach just because there are a number of similarities. However, being knowledgable about the system makes me a better apologist as I encounter people who subscribe to the system.
I’d much rather be an intentional, premeditated, disciple-making parent. It may be a little wordy, but it’s biblical.
Don’t forget to swing by TakingBackTheBible.com for today’s Episode Notes.
I’m very excited about our next episode. Beloved Christian author and Parent, Tim Challies will join me to discuss Parental Blindspots. It’ll be a very valuable discussion, and I hope you’ll join us and tell all your friends -- especially those who share all Tim’s stuff on Facebook.
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God created us as emotional beings. But He also sets limits on those emotions. Our children really do need us to coach them through those feelings, and I hope today’s discussion has equipped you for the task.
See you next time.
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