Psychology & Counseling Professors Promote Healthy Marriages in China

Dr. James Sells and Dr. Jennifer Ripley. Photo courtesy of Dr. Jennifer Ripley.
Dr. James Sells and Dr. Jennifer Ripley.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Jennifer Ripley.

China is a nation “ripe for Christianity, ” according to Regent University School of Psychology & Counseling (SPC) professor Dr. James Sells.

And with this ripeness comes a budding interest in healthy marriages and strong families.

But what happens when the tie that binds two people, creates families, and supports the entire societal structure begins to unravel on a major scale? What counseling methods prevail in the midst of marriages with extreme discord or that ultimately end in divorce?

Sells, along with his “partner in crime,” SPC professor and director of the Marriage Ministry Assessment Training and Empowerment (MMATE) Center, Dr. Jennifer Ripley, hope to uncover these methods in their work with pastors in Beijing.

This summer the two professors worked side-by-side, training local pastors and professional counselors, getting feedback on their counseling curriculum, and translating their ideas for healthy, Christian marriages into the Chinese cultural context. Their invitation to work in China came as a result of local Chinese officials asking the Christian Broadcasting Network’s (CBN) China office to help facilitate training for community-based counseling.

“I think some of the core values around Chinese marriage and families resonate very well with our Christian theology,” said Sells. “Probably the most prominent value is the sense of harmony, and that there should be a harmonizing experience within the home.”

However, according to Ripley, often times Chinese homes experience anything but harmony. The rise of Christianity in the nation has brought religious schisms and even violence to households. These factors contribute to the nation’s 40 percent divorce rate, and its 10 percent increase every year (in comparison to average two-three percent in the United States).

“This gives us a sense that these couples aren’t attaching,” said Sells. “They’re not connecting and staying connected.”

Sells also believes the nation’s growing urbanization has led to the rapid incline of the divorce rate.

“As they come into the cities, they’re disconnected from their family traditions, from their parents, from everything that they’ve lived with as children,” said Sells. “They’re unplugged from their communities, and they’re not plugged into anything else but work.”

Those who’ve been plugging into the Christian church, however, have been asking questions about marriage.

“They ask what it means to be a Christian spouse, and how to love each other and how to respond in Christian love to one’s partner and spouse,” said Ripley. “These ideas were brand new.”

Though these are novel concepts to the minority of the Chinese population who celebrate the Christian faith, they now are developing their own definition of healthy, Christian marriages.

“People were asking over and over again, ‘what do you think is a good, Christian marriage?’ We had to tell them, ‘as theologians you have to develop that,'” said Ripley.

Ripley and Sells’ work is hardly through, though they left the nation encouraged that a desire exists to see stable marriages in China. Together, they hope to create a foundation of funds to continue supporting the training of pastors on a larger scale throughout the entire nation of China.

“Work on marriage reflects how people will come to feel secure through their connections, attachments and through the definitions of themselves that are generated by their affiliations,” said Sells. “None of those definitions tend to be as substantial as the identities that are formed around family and into the creation of the family’s next generation.”

Justin Murff ’14 (Robertson School of Government), CBN International’s grants and foundations manager, helped with setting up the training opportunity and joined Ripley and Sells in China.

“This type of strategic partnership between CBN and Regent University is a great example of the kingdom impact our two organizations are able to have all over the world,” Murff explained.

Learn more about Regent University’s School of Psychology & Counseling and the Marriage Ministry Assessment Training and Empowerment Center.