Jesus used disequilibrium as a tool to change His disciples’ physiology and their faith. Although He could have spoken from a place of distant authority, He chose to be present with His disciples in their moments of fear and to guide them through with compassion and truth so that they could be restored to a place of peace.

One example of Jesus doing this occurs when He calms the storm as described in Mark 4:35-41 and Mathew 8:23- 27. Christ allowed His disciples the experience of perceived danger, and then connected it with the truth that He had authority over the physical world, and would preserve them in His love. Allowing them to be in this groan zone and then answering their fear in real time allowed each disciple to experientially make new connections between the affective (limbic) and cognitive (neocortext) domains of his brain.

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The physiological change that the disciples experienced in moving from fear to trust, built their faith far more effectively than instruction or exhortation to behavioral change alone. The faith that Jesus formed in these men, who would later lead the early church, He formed in part through experiential learning.

Since the Holy Spirit is Christ working in us, marital practitioners can use the same techniques that Jesus used to help spouses whose marriages are in distress. The Church and marital practitioners have been grieved by the current epidemic of divorce, and disappointed by the initial gains of traditional marriage enrichment programs and therapies. Frustrated by boundaries set by more clinical environments (where the counselor or therapist is limited to working with a married couples on changing patterns and behaviors that have occurred in the past week), many marital practitioners desire a learning environment where they can guide couples in real time through cognitive and affective learning.

Adventure Therapy offers spouses experiential learning activities such as rope courses and river rafting that have perceived and real risks, causing participants enter a state of disequilibrium (diffuse physiology arousal). In this state they work together with the guidance of the marital practitioner to navigate through the physical challenges before them that isomorphically and metaphorically represent the challenges in their marriage. In other words, shared activities and physical challenges become linked to the mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges the couple faces in married life. Confronting those challenges tangibly through physical obstacles opens up communication: revealing the dysfunctional patterns, misunderstandings, and hidden feelings that spouses are carrying. In these moments of crisis and acute vulnerability, the marital practitioner guides the couple through their highly charged state into deeper understanding so they can see their marriage and themselves differently. Spouses are enabled love each other well from that new place of understanding.

Couples participating in adventure therapy experience physiological change through their experiences. In the kinetic learning of each activity and challenge, connections are formed between the affective and cognitive domains of the brain. These connections are the active formation new beliefs that the couples now hold about themselves and their marriages. Affectively formed memories are not only retained longer, a new belief system consistently proves to be more transformative than a commitment to behavioral modification. Additionally, marriage practitioners get to be more like Christ, present in the moment of difficulty with each couple, coaching and loving them so that their marriage can be enriched in an enduring way.

The beauty of this research is that it shows Jesus used fear to lead to faith, and that spouses can be formed similarly for the redemption of their marriages. Couples in jeopardy can experience disequilibrium to form new and lasting beliefs about themselves and their marriages that will lead to transformational change. Marriage practitioners using adventure therapy also get to fulfill the desire of many in the Church: to serve married couples more effectively and more personally than before.

Resources:

  1. Dr. Sumlin’s Take-Aways
  2. Dr. Sumlin’s Observations
  3. Dr. Sumlin’s Trust Walk

Dr. David Sumlin

David is a native Texan who graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in finance. He served as a management consultant with the American Productivity & Quality Center and later as an executive for Hewlett Packard. Answering God’s call to enter full-time vocational ministry in 2002, David enrolled at Dallas Theological Seminary, earning a masters degree in biblical counseling and a doctorate in marriage and family ministry. He also served as a pastor at Terra Verde Community Church for seven years in Houston before becoming a full time marriage educator.

David and his wife Terri have devoted their lives and careers to helping promote healthy and godly marriages. They co-founded and facilitate Ultimate Date Night and Marital Oneness, two series designed to help couples enrich their marriages through the application of proven biblical principles and empirical marital research. Together David and Terri serve on staff with

JH Ranch Ministries which specializes in experiential learning experiences.