Psychology & Counseling Professors Return to China with Students to Promote Healthy Marriages

From left, John and Peter Zhou from LifeConnections Beijing, Dr. Jim Sells, Dr. Jennifer Ripley, Regent student Wendy Wang and Luke Wen, Grace and Hope trainer.

This spring, from April 26 to May 6, Regent University School of Psychology & Counseling (SPC) professors Dr. Jennifer Ripley and Dr. James Sells returned to China for an ongoing project to promote healthy marriages. Accompanied by a team of Regent students, they provided training and community-based counseling to local church pastors and Christian counselors who are seeking ways to help a country with an increasing divorce rate.

“In lots of churches around the world there are marriage classes and counseling from church leaders, but that didn’t exist in China,” said Ripley, who is also the director of the Marriage Ministry Assessment Training and Empowerment (MMATE) Center.

As China has become more westernized, the problem of divorce has significantly risen, increasing by 10 percent every year. In 2015, Ripley and Sells were invited to China as a result of Chinese officials asking the Christian Broadcasting Network’s (CBN) China office for help in combating the issue. Partnering with CBN, and through the Templeton grant project awarded to Regent University, Ripley and Sells were able to create a curriculum and begin a research study.

“We don’t want to just provide support — we want to make sure it’s working and adjust things as we go,” Ripley said. “We are in the midst of an assessment right now, asking people who attend church in China what the needs are in their marriage.”

From the beginning the project has been a contextualized intervention, meaning the resources and training weren’t simply translated from English to Chinese but were influenced by the ideas of marriage in China and designed with their culture in mind.

“Our goal is for us to decrease and for them to increase,” Ripley said.

In order to do this they partnered with LifeConnections, the Chinese branch of LifeWay, which offers biblical resources. Ripley explained that this trip was largely about working with trainers that will provide the marriage counseling ministries. They also trained local church leaders and Christian counselors, empowering them to provide answers to marriage issues.

“The question is how do we be Christian in our family while still respecting the traditions of our culture,” Ripley said. “It was exciting to see what God is doing as they take the lead to teach Christians throughout China.”

The training took place at the CBN China offices in Beijing, and the student team consisted of Wendy Wang, a master’s in marriage, couple & family counseling student who lives in Beijing and is the director of research; Lydia Montiel, a psy.d. in clinical psychology student who lives in Hampton Roads; and Christine Pui-ting, a professor at Alliance Seminary and a ph.d. in counselor education and supervision student who lives in Hong Kong.

“I learned a lot from their model and how they took from their work and really adapted it to the Chinese culture,” said Montiel who is working on her dissertation focused on international couples interventions and hopes to carry the same type of training to South America.

In the same way, Pui-ting is carrying the training to pastors and church leaders in Hong Kong, where they are exposed to a different subculture from Beijing.

“I think the project is great for Chinese Christians living in Beijing as they are very open to learning from the West,” Pui-ting said. “We had good conversations and talked about how to integrate the western findings into the Chinese cultural context.”

“Essentially churches in China are just beginning to emerge as a more positive influence in China,” Ripley said. “It’s exciting to see ideas taking off in different parts of the country.”