Book Review: Healing Troubled Hearts by Dr. William Day

Dr. William Dayhth has an impressive set of credentials.  He is a licensed clinical social worker who holds a variety of advanced degrees – a Master of Theology from Marquette University, a Master of Social Work from San Diego State University, and a PhD in Clinical Psychology from The Union Institute and University. 

Yet, his book, Healing Troubled Hearts Through Exchanges with the Master, seems at some level less informed by these formal educational experiences and more by his own life’s journey and the informal training he received through a variety of “inner healing” ministries.

It’s hard to know exactly whom his book is written for, as it reads as part autobiography, part training manual, and part apologetics lesson in defense of his theological and ministerial viewpoints.  All are valuable in understanding the particular perspective from which he operates, but they make the book read as though it is one large work with several incompatible aims.

In chapters one through eight, Day embarks upon an interesting (even if lengthy) discussion of his journey from birth all the way to the formation of his vocational life and ministerial calling in adulthood.  He was given a “special destiny” (p.3) as an infant when his maternal grandmother claimed to have a revelatory dream about him.  Being from an Irish Catholic family, it was naturally assumed this meant he would be a priest and he was subsequently dedicated to the Virgin Mary by his maternal uncle, a Catholic priest himself, at the tender age of two weeks old. Fast forward all the way to his time in seminary and eventual rejection of the priesthood, as well as his Catholic underpinnings and ultimately his faith, and Day’s original “destiny” is understood as a well-aimed wound that would mark him for the rest of his life.

nietzscheTrying to contextualize the ways that impacted him, Day then lengthily winds through his dark night of the soul, portraying his experiments with various ways of viewing the world, including his wanderings through Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Rogers, Albert Ellis, Abraham Maslow, Aldous Huxley, drug use and the “radical underground” (p.31), New Age and the Higher Self, Jungian and Transpersonal Psychology, and Spiritual Science, all of which he found compelling on some level but ultimately insufficient to address his felt spiritual and psychological needs. 

In his forties, Day wound up attending worship service at an Assembly of God church at the invitation of a babysitter, much to his own surprise.  This marked a turning point for him back toward faith, as he somehow knew that the pastor’s words were “coming from his heart” (p.21, emphasis his), as opposed to his “head,” a notable difference from Catholic homilies of his youth.

From this point forward in the book, Day’s terminology switches rather abruptly to Charismatic Evangelical-speak, forging by personal testimony then prescription a model of working with others (Chapters 12-22 literally lay out a “how to” for his ministry style).  He uses odd language like “soul surgery” (p.28), appeals to his membership in an “Isaiah 61 ministry” (p.67), discusses a model he experienced called the “Immanuel approach” (p.69), refers to his MA as standing for “Master’s Assistant” (p.71), and uses twenty or thirty different lines like “we prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill that place in my soul with His truth” (p.75), or “I had not yet fully surrendered the driver’s seat of my life to the Lord” (p.50). 

That in mind, the book won’t pass muster as a clinical or ministry tool for anyone who doesn’t hold his particular mystical Evangelical perspectives, as they are replete with spiritual, doctrinal, theological, and perhaps more importantly, cultural assumptions, and there is little effort made to appraise ahead of time the various and sundry objections that could be made and to address them.  Little, “You might be thinking, ___________, but let me explain…”  Where he does do this, he mostly argues against strawmen, such as when he differentiates his model of therapy from other secular and Christian models of psychotherapy.

“Up to this point, I had not really seen patients healed (restored to a state of true wellbeing) either by secular or by faith-based counseling. Mostly I had seen temporary alleviation of symptoms, which would eventually return. Patients could learn to cope with and adjust to their situations, cobbling together strategies and advice for reducing stress and conflict. They learned to toughen up and survive trauma. With counseling advice they could cut back on addictive substances or behaviors. Sometimes patients even mustered the willpower to quit an addiction…similar to a person going off a pain medication.  But the emotional pain persisted. Real healing was rare” (p.31).

Never does Day suggest simply that he or those he kept company with were just, well, not very good practitioners.  The problem is exclusively seen as the model, a position which implicitly asserts that God isn’t capable of bringing true healing unless you use the right one, which I believe Day himself would probably not agree with.

In my experience, this is the same problematic circular thinking with most Charismatically-oriented healing models that abound in Christian ministry today.  They draw from a laundry-list of assumptions, some explicit and some more covert, many of them resting upon informal training by the leaders of other healing models, which have their own implicit assumptions that go unexamined.

A quick run-down of the reference list for Healing Troubled Hearts reveals the author’s influences: John Eldredge, Tim Keller, Alister McGrath, Stormie Omartian, Charles Stanley, Lee Strobel.  It’s an all-star list of conservative evangelicals, but none of them are mental health or ministry practitioners themselves, but preachers or Christian self-help authors, with the possible exception of Leanne Payne and Neal Anderson, neither of whom are without their fair share of well-deserved criticism from thinking voices in Christian ministry.

evangelical worshipIn sum, if I hadn’t spent so much time in both evangelical and Charismatic circles throughout my life, I’d have had an infinitely difficult time understanding what he was talking about throughout a good portion of this book.  To boot, for all of the critiques he makes of his various experiences prior to his Protestant Christian conversion (see above), Day seems to largely ignore how culturally self-referential this book is.  He speaks with seemingly no awareness that what he presents is esoteric and generalizable only to folks who believe precisely what he does.  He seems to have no direct address for those who believe otherwise.

What’s more, Day neglects in a rather large way to appreciate out-loud how all of his prior meanderings helped create his own model for ministry.  That is, his ability to easily ingest the mystical aspects of what he does are informed in large part by all of the metaphysical wandering he did before – i.e, God has used those items to broaden his appreciation for the mysterious ways God may choose to heal someone, but Day dismisses those experiences as mostly invalid and untrue.  This seems illogical when you consider the kinds of nebulous and vague mystical inferences his model is replete with both theoretically and practically:

“Then I ask the Holy Spirit to guide the entire process, to help us discern truth in everything we do during the session. Following this, I request that the Lord help us to perceive His Presence in any way and by any means He chooses.

As we wait on the Lord, the facilitator encourages the recipient to shift into a receiving gear, letting the Lord settle his or her mind into a calm, quiet, expectantly-waiting disposition” (p.118).

In other words, Day neglects that is his very likely his experience with and comfort in the realm of the metaphysical that he can operate in these terms now.  All of his years in the New Age movement and subsequently in Charismatic Evangelicalism have made this an easy jump, but many or most Christians don’t have that kind of background — namely, the wealth of folks who come from Catholic, Mainline, and Orthodox traditions.

The book does have its moments.  Day acknowledges the limitations of embarking upon a model of ministry that requires extensive use of mysticism, that “people can go off the deep end,” and offers some guidelines to help avoid this.  And he is occasionally spot on when he points out some of the most unhelpful aspects of so-called “Christian counseling” for it simplicity, ineffectiveness, and limitedness.

As a card-carrying Christian, I don’t take lightly the notions of asking the Holy Spirit for help, or using Scripture as a reference point for personal and ministerial healing. But for the most part, what Day attempts to present as a coherent model of Christian ministry ends up looking like a muddled hybrid of mysticism, baggage about particular models of therapy he experienced as unhelpful, culturally self-referential terminology, and convoluted forms of divination that aren’t principally that different than some of the New Age-isms he denounces.


 


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

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Author: Ryan Thomas Neace

Ryan Thomas Neace is a counselor, professor, husband, and daddy. Please contact him for counseling via skype or in-person at ryan@changeincorporated.org.

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