“The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty.” -Ann Lamott

Many years ago I supervised a young doctoral student. He was in his first semester of practicum. That means he was seeing his first clients under the supervision of someone else, me.

A few weeks into our work, we were talking about his clinical hunches about a client, and I asked him about how these hunches might influence his approach to this particular person. He launched into a plan he had, not about this client, but about psychotherapy in general.

chartHis plan was to use his coming years of study to develop a chart that combined all the diagnoses and problems a person might present. On the chart he would also compile a list of all the known therapeutic approaches. With sufficient research and thought, he would eventually be able to match every problem with an approach that would provide a solution.

Early in my training I had similar thoughts, though not as elaborate as his. I frequently thought that if I were just smarter, more experienced, more trained, knew more theories and strategies, I would know what to do in any situation to alleviate the distress of the person I was talking to. (That thought never completely disappeared).

I had the same thoughts during my seminary training. If I just learned enough about the Bible and church doctrine, I would know what to do and say in all situations.

That’s the way we humans think and work. Early on, we want certainty. We want answers. The world is unwieldy and we want tools to make it more manageable and understandable.

Think of a child’s incessant questions. They are not intended to annoy, they are the child’s attempt to put some structure to their world. When a loved one dies, we ask “Why?” The question is not for information. The question is an attempt to make something overwhelming into something we can understand or manage.

I am immediately wary of the person who quotes scriptures to explain, defend, or promote a personal belief. Having seen it often and done it often, I quickly assume they are misusing the Bible to provide their “answers” to issues that do not have simple answers.  They are using their Biblical “chart” of questions and answers.

Back to clinical theory. The longer I worked with people, the more I learned from them and about them, the more effective I became. It was not a matter of plugging in the right strategy to the right problem. The process included learning a broad range of possible approaches, being patient and trustworthy enough to allow the person to open up, and being courageous enough to acknowledge my own limitations and biases. I had to give up my certainty (arrogance?) and have faith in the mutual discovery process.