Christian Counseling: Confession in the Research

At the very beginning of the Christian life one cannot help but learn that confession is a golden key necessary for opening the door to the presence of God and salvation. Confession reconciles us to God and frees us to experience the full and wonderful forgiveness of God for all our wrongdoings, no matter what has been done. That is how it is supposed to work for all God's children. The truth is it doesn't play out like that for everyone.   

Research on confession and guilt has shown there is often an increase in felt guilt when confessing. Sure, whatever we focus on will be accompanied by a greater awareness of the feelings associated with a memory. However, the good news is that about two weeks after confession guilt diminishes and feelings of closeness with God grow, as does reported personal growth. Those who wrote out their confessions also had stronger intentions to change. 

A few research studies have suggested a correlation (relationship, but not causation) exists between awareness of personal faults and psychological health. Further, physiological and psychological health is also affected by confession. For many, there are positive effects of confession, but for others it can lead to feelings of shame and worthlessness and a decrease in psychological health. Why does this happen?

Some common problems appear to exist for those who bear the load of negative consequences after confession instead of finding relief. The problems are: poor self-image, self-deprecating, having a negative image of God (not very loving), motivated to a religious life by external reasons rather than internal ones (i.e., external rules), and believing God's forgiveness is earned through proper behavior (works) and not based on grace (getting what is not deserved) or mercy (not getting what is deserved) (McCormick & McMinn, 2012). 

Knowing the roadblocks to finding relief and not trouble through confession is a starting point for those wanting more peace with themselves and with God. 

 McCormick, Angela and McMinn, Mark (2012). The Intrapsychic and Interpersonal Effects of Talking About Guilt. Journal of Psychology & Christianity, 31, 354-365.       

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