Psychology for Missionaries

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Psychology for Missionaries

Ronald L. Koteskey

Member Care Consultant

GO InterNational

© 2014

(Revised January 2014)

Ronald L. Koteskey

122 Lowry Lane

Wilmore, KY 40390


Permission is granted to copy and distribute this book unchanged and in its entirety without charge.

Send it to anyone you believe may benefit from reading it.

Please do NOT post this book anywhere else on the Internet.


Preface 4

Introduction to This Book 6

Prologue: Psychology, Religion, and Missions 9

1. Psychology from a Christian Perspective 35

2. The Person: Physical and Spiritual 60

3. Development 93

4. Awareness 129

5. Intellect 161

6. Motivation 198

7. Emotion 236

8. Stress and Health 266

9. Personality and Mental Health 299

10. Social Psychology 336

About the Author 373


During the 1990s I set out to write a series of brochures about mental health and missionaries and posted them on the Asbury College website. I wrote the brochures basically in response to the questions missionaries asked and the problems they discussed as they talked with Bonnie (my wife) and me.

I had no intention of writing a book when I started writing the brochures because I was just writing in response to issues missionaries raised. About the turn of the century Friedhilde Stricker requested permission to translate the 25 available brochures into German and publish them as Was Missionare Wissen Sollten…:Ein Handbuch fur Legen und Dienst. Soon after that I also gathered the available brochures and posted them on-line as an E-book by the same title in English, What Missionaries Ought to Know: A Handbook for Life and Service. Although the brochures are gathered into several sections, that book has no “logical” outline, just groups of “related” chapters.

I taught psychology in Christian colleges for 35 years, and during that time I wrote two books about psychology, both published by Abingdon Press. The first was Psychology from a Christian Perspective in 1980, an academic book consisting primarily of journal articles I had written. This was soon followed by General Psychology for Christian Counselors in 1983, a book written to supplement textbooks used by undergraduate students in general psychology.

Near the end of the first decade of the 21st century I realized that many of the brochures logically fit into the Christian perspective I had used three decades before while teaching psychology. Therefore, writing a book about psychology for missionaries seemed like a “natural” for me.

This is an E-book, different from any other book I have written. Please read “Introduction to This Book” on the pages that follow. They will orient you to differences from ordinary printed books.

I want to acknowledge the invaluable help of two people editing this book. Art Nonneman gave excellent suggestions chapter by chapter related to the content of the book and Yvonne Moulton did the final editing making sure that my grammar, punctuation, and so forth were corrected.

Introduction to This Book

This E-book differs from printed books is several ways. First, this book has few references to printed material. It is an E-book with links to added materials on the Internet, ones which may be accessed by the click of a mouse. Few people actually look up the references cited in printed books, to some extent because of the effort involved. However, if people can access additional material instantly with little effort, perhaps more will actually do so.

I realize that some of the websites to which I link may no longer exist. This is analogous to printed books being out of print and not available in the library. Because some of the links may not lead to the websites I intended, I give both the link (URL) and the name of the organization/website so that the reader can use a search engine in an attempt to find the website if the organization has moved it to a new URL.

For cases in which the referenced material is not available on-line, I have links to references in the database on This database gives complete reference to the printed material as well as a summary, an outline, and a brief quotation from the printed material

Second, this book is under constant revision and expansion like What Missionaries Ought to Know… and Missionary Marriage Issues which are also on this website. Thus the book is never “completed” because new material is added as it is written, virtually every year.

Third, this book has no index because none is needed. The book is in a digital format, so readers can use a search/find option to locate any topic or topics in the text. In Microsoft Word the “find” option is located under the edit tab.

Fifth, this book is not intended to be a general psychology textbook. It is written for missionaries about psychology. It may be used as a supplement to a general psychology textbook since the chapters are parallel to those found in most introductory psychology books. Following are two suggestions for readers who would like to read about the same material in a general psychology text.

Currently the most complete introductory text on-line is the one by Russell Dewey at If you compare the table of contents in Dewey’s book to the table of contents in this book, you will find many of the same topics covered. You will find a link to the most relevant page of Dewey’s book at the beginning and end of each chapter as well as at the end of each major chapter section. When reading Dewey’s book, remember that it is from a secular perspective so you are likely to find sections with which you disagree.

One of the most widely used general psychology textbooks is Psychology by David G. Myers, published by Worth Publishers. It is an excellent, comprehensive text written for all audiences. Dave has taught at Hope College in Holland, MI for many years and is an evangelical Christian. The text is now in the ninth edition so used copies of the eighth edition (2007) are now widely available. The following websites search the Internet to find the best prices. I will give chapters and sections in Myers’ book at the beginning and end of each chapter and section as well. Though Dave is a Christian, you still may find sections with which you disagree.

Finally, remember that this book places psychology in “A” Christian Perspective, not “The” Christian Perspective. Different Christians have slightly different world-views and different theological positions, so you will probably find sections in this book with which you will disagree.

Blessings on you as you read!

History of Psychology, Religion, and Missions

Early History of Psychology



Systems of Psychology



Humanistic Psychology

International Roots of Psychology

Psychology and Religion

Second Half of the 19th Century: Coexistence

First Half of the 20th Century: Conflict

Second Half of the 20th Century: Integration & Backlash

Psychology and Missions





Personal Member Care

Graduate Education


(Part Two of Chapter 1 in Dewey’s introductory text is relevant.

  • Chapter 01: Psychology and Science

(Prologue: The Story of Psychology in Myers 8th edition is also relevant)

Someone has said that psychology is the discipline that began as the study of the soul, lost its soul and became the study of the mind, and finally lost its mind and became the study of behavior. Though this statement is oversimplified, it does contain a grain of truth about the history of psychology.

The word “psychology” comes from the Greek words psuche (sometimes written as psyche) and logos. Both of these words appear frequently in the New Testament, and both are translated in several different ways. However, pusche is most often translated as soul, life, or mind; and logos is most often translated as “word.” Thus psychology is literally “words about the soul, life or mind.” Psychology never did study an immaterial soul, but it did study life and the mind.

Early History of Psychology
Though it is difficult to specify exactly when modern psychology began, most people agree that it was in December of 1879. One day Wilhelm Wundt and a couple graduate students conducted and experiment in a small room on the University of Leipzig in Germany and called the room a psychology laboratory. (
Wundt and his followers attempted to experimentally study the structure of consciousness, immediate experience. Since they were interested in studying the structure of the mind, they came to be called “structuralists.” Chemistry had made great advances by reducing compounds to their elements, so Wundt and his followers attempted to reduce consciousness to its elements. To do this they had the mind observe itself in a method called introspection and concluded that there were three elements of consciousness, (1) sensations, (2) images, and (3) affective states (emotions). This approach to psychology was taken to America in by E. B. Titchner who had left England to study under Wundt. Within 15 years psychology had spread from Europe to North America.

During his lifetime Wundt published 53,735 pages, enough to keep a person reading nearly three years at the rate of 50 pages per day. Titchner translated much of it into English and added more research. However, structuralists soon disagreed over how many elements were in the mind, people questioned the objectivity of introspection, and pragmatic Americans could see little application in knowing what consciousness “is.”


American William James was more interested in what consciousness “is for” than in what it “is.” He and his followers wanted to find out how the mind functioned to help people adapt to the world around them. Our minds allow us to remember our past, adjust to our present and plan for our future. Since these psychologists were interested in the function of the mind, they came to be called functionalists.

James was an excellent writer and published The Principles of Psychology in 1890, (

about a decade after Wundt had established the first psychology laboratory. James began this book saying, “Psychology is the Science of Mental Life,” so he did not change what psychologists were to study. However, he emphasized that people were also irrational at times, that they may respond to biological needs and be emotional at times.

Both functionalism and structuralism were to “disappear” from psychology in the first half of the twentieth century, but for different reasons. As other systems of psychology developed Structuralism passed from the scene. It was totally gone soon after Titchener died in 1927, but had been gradually abandoned over the previous 15 years. Functionalism, on the other hand, was gradually absorbed by those new systems that developed. Psychology as a whole became functional.

Systems of Psychology
Missionaries want to tell people about the Good News that God loves them and He sent His Son to die for their sins that they might have eternal life. Why would they want to study the systems of psychology? The reason is because the missionary’s basic assumptions about the people they are working with, what is thought to be wrong with those people, the goal of missions, and the method of reaching that goal are all determined by the “system” the missionaries hold. Although there have been half a dozen or more schools or systems of psychology during psychology's century of existence, we will consider only three of them here, because they have been major forces in American psychology. Behaviorism and psychoanalysis dominated the American psychological scene during the first half of the twentieth century, and humanistic psychology emerged as a third force during the second half.
Although psychoanalysis was not developed as a part of psychology, it has influenced psychology greatly, especially the parts of psychology most relevant to missions. Therefore, we will consider it here as a system of psychology, realizing that it was developed in the context of medical practice. Psychoanalysis was developed by Sigmund Freud in Vienna, Austria, in his attempts to treat people he called neurotics. As Freud worked with his patients, he gradually developed a theory of personality and a method of treating such disorders. (

Assumptions. Any system of psychology must begin with a set of assumptions: unproven, plausible, noncontradictory statements taken at face value. They are the starting point for building a system. What assumptions did Sigmund Freud make about people? First, let us look at his assumption about good and evil. For Freud the most basic structure of personality is the id; in fact, it is the only structure present at birth. The id essentially urges people to take what they want without being concerned about the consequences to self or others. If we are to talk in terms of good and evil, the id would have to be considered as basically evil. Furthermore, the id is unchangeable. We must simply learn to rechannel its expression so that we can live with it.

Second, Freud saw human actions as being completely determined by forces deep within each person. In this psychic determinism, nothing happened by chance. Every "mistake'' was really an expression of the deepest motives of the person. For example, a boy wrote to a girl, "I would like to kill you tonight.'' Even if he meant to write "kiss'' instead of "kill, '' Freud would say that boy really did want to kill the girl. Usually such deep desires are kept in check, but occasionally they slip through as "accidents'' (but they are not really accidents).

Third, Freud saw humans as basically irrational. Although the ego does exist as the rational part of the personality, it always remains subservient to the irrational id. The ego strives to control the impulsive, self-centered id, but it has no energy of its own, depending on the id for all of its psychic energy. The ego tries to allow the id to express itself in such a way that the safety of the person and others will not be endangered.

Finally, Freud saw the unconscious part of the mind as being much more important than the conscious. Although he talked about three levels of consciousness, the unconscious was by far the largest, most important part of the mind. Freud likened the mind to an iceberg in that most of it is below the surface. Events in the unconscious are of utmost importance in determining the behavior of the individual. "Neurotic'' behavior is caused by unconscious conflicts, and such people are totally unaware of the causes of their irrational behavior.

Missionaries who see the people with whom they interact (both nationals and expats) as being basically evil, determined, irrational, and unaware of why they behave as they do, will engage in a very different type of ministry than missionaries who see those people as basically good, free to choose, rational, and aware of themselves.

Definition and Goals. Freud never wrote a systematic psychology, so we need to gather his psychology from the twenty-four volume set of The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud (1886-1939). Freud's major goal was to find some method of treating his patients who suffered from a variety of neurotic symptoms. Although Freud was educated as a physician and practiced as a clinical neurologist, he gradually came to adopt nonmedical methods of treating his patients. He was always trying to develop a treatment for neurosis and did not feel bound by existing methods.

Psychoanalysis became both a method of treatment and a system of personality. It can best be defined as the study of unconscious motivations, conflicts between them, and the effects of such conflicts on behavior. Freud gradually became convinced that the causes of his patients' problems were to be found in the unconscious, so he spent much of his time attempting to find out what was happening there.

Methods. Although Freud did not originate the concept of the unconscious, he did emphasize it to a greater extent than anyone had done previously. No methods existed for its systematic study, so Freud gradually adopted the "talking cure'' or "catharsis,'' what has come to be called the technique of free association. In this method patients lie on a couch and talk freely about every thought they have, no matter how socially unacceptable, unimportant, embarrassing, or foolish it is. Freud believed that as patients do this, they gradually reveal what is in their unconscious. In the relaxed state and with the analyst's encouragement, the ego gradually lowers its guard, so that more and more unconscious material enters consciousness, is spoken, and can be interpreted by the analyst.

A second method of getting at the unconscious is dream analysis. Freud's reasoning was similar here. While people are asleep, their rational egos are less on guard so material from the unconscious id gets into their dreams. Since the ego is still somewhat on guard, the material remembered in the conscious recall of the dream will be disguised. However, the analyst then interprets what the patient has recalled to get at the deeper meanings of what is happening at the unconscious level.

As patients went through several years of such treatment, most would gradually improve. Freud believed that as he was getting at the unconscious causes of their problems and bringing them to consciousness, he was effecting a cure.

Notice how Freud's methods follow from his assumptions about people. If people are evil, determined, irrational, and not conscious of their problems, then some methods must be found for getting at the unconscious aspects of personality. You will find A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud, translated by G. Stanley hall (1920) at (

Although psychoanalysis has been very influential in psychology, let us now consider an approach to psychology that begins with a different set of assumptions.

Behaviorism is that system of psychology founded by American John B. Watson while teaching at Johns Hopkins University. It emphasizes an objective, experimental, scientific approach to behavior. Watson's behaviorism was a psychology in which all behaviors, no matter how complex, could be reduced to a series of stimulus-response connections. The behaviorists were reacting against the subjectivity found in the psychology of the early twentieth century. They set out to study only what can be observed. Behaviorists view human beings as essentially complex machines or complex animals. People are quantitatively different (more complex) from animals and machines, but not qualitatively different.

Assumptions. With this mechanistic view of people, many of the assumptions psychoanalysts made about persons become irrelevant. First, since humans are not qualitatively different from animals and machines, they are neither good nor evil. The whole question of good and evil is quite irrelevant here, because machines are neither good nor evil. From the behavioristic perspective, human beings may learn actions that result in good or bad for others, but they are intrinsically neither good nor evil.

Second, behaviorists see human action as being deter- mined. Humans are stimulus-response mechanisms who behave in response to some input or stimulus. Human beings do not have the power to make actual choices, since they just respond to stimuli present in the environment. Theirs is an environmental determinism in which behavior is determined by external factors; as contrasted to Freud's psychic determinism in which internal, unconscious factors determine behavior.

Third, behaviorists see people as being neither rational nor irrational. This whole dimension does not really apply to a behaviorist's approach to people, because behavior is seen as a function of past rewards or of stimulus-response relationships. Finally, the conscious-unconscious dimension is also not relevant to a behavioristic approach. In a mechanistic approach, it does not make sense to talk about humans as being conscious or not conscious of themselves.

Again, consider the difference it makes if missionares assume this mechanistic view of the individuals with whom they interact. If the behavior of nationals is seen as determined and the other three dimensions (good-evil, rational-irrational, and conscious-unconscious) are seen as irrelevant, the whole emphasis will be on changing the environment in an effort to change the behavior of those to whom they minister, rather than attempting to make some change inside them.

Definition and Goals. Watson defined psychology as the ''science of behavior," and said that he would never have to go back on his definition, never use terms like consciousness. mind, mental state, imagery, and so forth. Psychology was to be the science of overt, objectively observable responses; only those that could be observed and recorded by someone else. It was to be a purely objective branch of natural science.

The goal of behavioristic psychology was the prediction and control of behavior. Watson wanted to reach the point where he had completely worked out all stimulus-response connections so that given the response, he could tell what the stimulus had been; and given the stimulus, he could predict what the response would be; and controlling the environment would result in controlling behavior.

Methods. Watson would allow only objective methods to be used in the investigation of behavior. He specifically stated that observation, conditioned reflexes, verbal reports, and testing methods could be used. Although it sounds like he was allowing subjectivity into behaviorism, one must understand that in verbal report, words were to be regarded like any other responses, such as a knee jerk or an eye blink. Verbal responses were simply overt responses, and did not indicate anything in one's ''mind'' or ''thoughts.'' Tests did not measure intelligence or personality, but simply were a series of stimuli that elicited responses from people.

You can find his original 1913 article “Psychology as the behaviorist views it” in Psychological Review at ( his 1919 book, Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist at (

Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic psychology is a relatively recent development that is more of a movement than a well-developed system. Humanistic psychologists generally focus on the experiencing person, emphasizing distinctively human qualities, such as choice and creativity. They are concerned with the dignity and worth of individuals and want to develop human potential. Thus they are more concerned with studying meaningful problems than with using "correct'' research procedures. Although there was no clearly defined founder, Americans Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow were major early leaders in this movement during the 1940s and the 1095s.

Assumptions. With their emphasis on human freedom and dignity, humanistic psychologists begin with a different set of assumptions about people. First, rather than seeing humans as being basically evil or neither good nor evil, humanistic psychologists see them as being basically good. Although human beings can be very cruel, destructive, and antisocial, humanistic psychologists contend that (at the deepest levels) each person strives for a positive, healthy, creative fulfilling of the person's potential. Culture may suppress this inherent goodness in people, but this positive potential will reveal itself in the life of the individual if given the opportunity. This goodness may be relatively weak compared to the cultural forces that make people bad, but the goodness can never be obliterated.

Second, humanistic psychologists see human beings as fundamentally free to make their own decisions, and thus as responsible for their own behavior. Of course, people do not have absolute freedom to do anything, but they can actually see different paths open to them and really make a choice of which one to take. Most humanistic psychologists would say that as individuals mature, they become more free to actualize the potential they have as human beings. This assumption that people are free and responsible is quite different from Freud's or Watson’s deterministic assumptions.

Third, although humanistic psychologists agree that humans are somewhat irrational, they believe most human behavior is governed by rational forces. Humanistic psychologists place little emphasis on animal research because they see people as being quite different from animals, rational rather than irrational. When given the chance, most individuals can give valid reasons for their behavior.

Finally, although humanistic psychologists agree that the unconscious does exist, they see people as being primarily aware of themselves. The unconscious has relatively little influence on behavior as compared to that of the conscious.

Most people are aware of why they behave the way they do. In contrast to Freud, humanistic psychologists see the unconscious as having good as well as bad aspects. Buried in the unconscious are creativity, love, tenderness, self-acceptance, and understanding.

Think of the difference it makes if missionaries view the people with whom they interact as basically good, free, rational, and conscious, rather than as basically evil, determined, irrational, and unconscious. Of course, such missionaries may decide to assume that those people have all of these characteristics to some degree.

Definition and Goals. Like Freud, the humanistic psychologists have no systematic psychology, so we must gather their psychology from the pages of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology and some of the "official" statements of the Association for Humanistic Psychology ( The general goal of humanistic psychologists is the development of the potential in every person. They want to develop a complete description of what it means to live as a human being. They study all aspects of human experience to the end of helping people become all that they can become. Rather than trying to make "sick" people "normal,'' humanistic psychologists are interested in taking "normal'' or "average" people and helping them to become "actualized" or " fully functioning.''

Although no specific definition of humanistic psychology is agreed upon, humanistic psychology usually is the study of normal or gifted human beings. If we want to know how fast humans can run, we do not study crippled runners. If we want to know the intellectual feats humans can perform, we do not study the mentally retarded. Likewise, humanistic psychologists would say that if we want to know human potential psychologically, we should not study the mentally ill. They would contend that the study of the sick, crippled, and immature will lead to a sick, crippled, and immature psychology.

Methods. Humanistic psychologists place little emphasis on method. They believe that the goal is the important thing and that they should use any method that enables them to reach the goal. Rather than stating how psychologists should "do psychology,'' they emphasize the goal of helping people reach their potential, using any method available. Of course, the methods emphasize conscious, rational, verbal interchange with the person. The psychologist may use anything from directive counseling to allowing the client to decide what should be talked about.

Articles and books and Rogers and Maslow are not yet in the public domain to be posted on-line but lists of their writings are found at at, and Many of the books are available on-line used at reasonable prices.

Now that we have examined two systems which take extreme positions on the issues as well as one which does not, let us place them in a table which makes comparisons and contrasts more apparent.

Figure 1:1 A comparison of the major assumptions, goals, and methods of three major forces in psychology.





Assumptions about














Goals of psychology

Therapy for neurotics

Realize potential

Control behavior

Methods of psychology

Free association

Dream analysis

All methods

Objective methods

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