Book Review: Christianity and Developmental Psychopathology (editors Kelly Flanagan & Sarah Hall)

Book Review: Christianity and Developmental Psychopathology (editors Kelly Flanagan & Sarah Hall)

Editor: Kelly Flanagan & Sarah Hall

Publisher: IVP Academic/CAPS Books

Reading Level: High

Pages: 480

Psychology is a complicated field. It wants full acceptance as a hard science, due to lack of repeatability, and is incredulous to Christians because of a focus on anthropology and the human condition. In an effort to bridge some of these gaps with Christianity, IVP Academics has teamed up with CAPS Books to produce student psychology books that remain faithful to orthodox Christianity. Christianity and Developmental Psychopathology (henceforth CDP) is one such volume.

Psychopathology is the study of mental disorders. The field of developmental psychopathology focuses on emerging disorders in the lives of children and the events or situation that foster them. Naturally there is a lot of groundwork to be covered in terms of theories, diagnosis, and treatments. Where CDP goes beyond developmental psychopathology is that it seeks at every available chance to integrate these topics back to the Scriptures, theology, and ultimately God Himself.

The Communication

The language of CDP is heavily academic. This will be a deterrent to individuals reading for private development but should not be strange to students. Terms are well defined and adequately explained as is to be expected from a volume intent on providing the “foundations and approaches” (CDP’s subtitle). While multiple authors are involved in CDP, it rarely shows. There is a minor awkwardness to the persistent change in “he” and “she” when discussing an individual but other than that, the text flows excellently.

CDP’s communication excels in its persistent focus on the overarching themes of children as divine gifts, respected persons and spiritual agents (9-10). Introduced as early themes, most of the chapters conclude with a re-iteration of its subject matter and an evaluation of how these themes can be seen and in what way the Scriptures work to enforce the ideas taught. Because of this repetitive assessment each chapter helps focus the thoughts and conclusions of the authors towards a singular goal. This helps conclude the chapters, reevaluate them and provide a structure for summary statements. 

Despite being written primarily to “practicing Christian therapists, faculty, and students” (9), the content of CDP does present a practical “holistic conceptualization”(9). Though written for academia and professionals, the content is presented in such a way that an individual can both learn and benefit from Christian research and diligence in the study of psychopathology. 

The Content

CDP essentially breaks down into five sections 1) introduction, 2) intrapersonal influences, 3) interpersonal influences, 4) treatment and 5) application. The material presented moves from foundational/theoretical to clinical application. The first three sections (chapters 1-6) present a foundational understanding of psychopathology, beneficial to all readers. Individuals “who emphasize care for the young ” (15) will benefit from the basic elements contained here such as: heterotypic continuity (25), temperament swings in young children (49-53), emotional regulation as more than “reduction of negative emotions” (63-64) and distinguishing between “weakness” and “sin” when discussing emotional temperament (95-96). Parents in particular will benefit from the insights related to emotion regulation and “self-fulfilling prophecy” (77, 84), regulating their own emotions to detour sin in their children (92), and marital conflict and resolution (122-124).

Throughout these early sections the major themes of children as blessings, persons, and agents is as practical to church theology as it is to clinic work. Understanding these themes within the realm of temperament (chapter 2) helps parents, clinicians and the church feel encouraged when dealing with “difficult children” (61-62). These themes provide guidance in “validating a child’s emotion” especially when they are “based in Biblical understanding” (91-97). Perhaps though, these themes are more jarring and convicting of the church in the chapter on “peer relationships” (chapter 6). In arguably the best pages of CDP, it is shown how at this level children effect and influence God’s covenant community in an outstanding way (167-175).

The concluding sections of CDP (chapters 7-12) are bent toward the clinical treatment and application of developmental psychopathology. With this in mind, the final five chapters (chapters 8-12) all contain lengthy case studies exemplifying their content in real examples. Despite this clinical application, each chapter continues to emphasize the book’s themes while articulating valuable advice for even non-clinical situations. For instance, within the treatment section (chapters 7-8), the major themes resound powerfully (225-236). Each page provides great insight for clinicians and their work but also for the church to understand the immense value of children now, “Children and childhood are gifts from God not because they are carefree, but because God has a purpose for children” (227). Likewise when speaking about the “already-not yet” of working with children the reader is instructed, “it is also important for clinicians to recognize and receive the more immediate gifts that working with children provide…we do not have to wait until the fullness of a child’s developmental trajectory is made known in order to rejoice in the gift of children” (229). Individuals in clinics and the church need to be persuaded by these insights and the working out of pertinent Biblical principals.

Concluding chapters focus on various treatment approaches, providing a foundational introduction to the differing concepts and their purpose when working with children. Ranging from attachment (chapter 9), behavioral (chapter 10), cognitive-behavioral (chapter 11) and family system (chapter 12), the authors present a wealth of practical advice as well as significant spiritual conclusion. The behavior and behavioral-cognitive chapters in particular present values, insights and tools that could be utilized by even parents, pastors, and churches (285-292, 324-327).

The Conclusion

Christianity and Developmental Psychopathology is a very good introduction clinical foundations and approaches. As an introduction, it is accessible to non-academic students interested in psychopathology. The integration of theology may put off readers with a Reformed bent, but remains consistently orthodox and thought provoking. In many ways, the persistent instruction and emphasis on child development supports and encourages the covenantal approach of Reformed theology. The consistent application of these psychological concepts to the themes of children as divine gifts, respected persons, and spiritual agents (9-10) should provide value to both clinicians and even courageous pastors and parents.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. 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: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Joshua Torrey is the sole proprietor of Torrey Gazette (don't tell Alaina) and the fullness of its editorial process. That means everything wrong with TG can legitimately be blamed on him.