Dr. John Townsend offers advice on dealing with family members and friends who feel they deserve special privileges and treatment. He also explains how parents can avoid instilling a sense of entitlement in their children.
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John Fuller: Well, it's my right.
Jim Daly: Well, you owe it to me.
John: No, I don't. I don't … I don't owe you anything.
Jim: John, come on; you owe it to me.
End of Teaser
John: (Chuckling) We hear this kind of thing all the time in our homes and it's my right. I mean, that's the leading thing that so many children seem to bring into the conversation and we're going to address that on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly.
Jim: Well, you're gracious there, John. It's not only what children are sayin', but a lot of us adults say it, too and I think especially one of the greatest concerns I have had is the way we behave in the culture. I feel it. I feel that entitlement when I check out at a grocery store line and it's not movin' fast enough, I'm getting frustrated, or the person in front of me just isn't doing what I expect when it comes to customer service. That's a sense of entitlement.
And I think we as Christians, we've gotta get a handle on how we treat people, especially when it's not goin' the direction we think it should go, and what we're owed. And we're gonna talk about that today with one of my favorite guests, Dr. John Townsend, who's written a book, The Entitlement Cure. And if I could be bold enough to challenge all of us, we all in America and I think some other countries, need to be challenged in this area. John, welcome back to "Focus on the Family."
Dr. John Townsend: Thanks, guys.
Jim: You were laughin' there when we started off. That is a—
John T.: Oh, my goodness.
Jim: --normal situation, isn't it?
John T.: It is and it's a situation that never goes anywhere. If we'd have let the tapes go, that conversation would've stayed just as dysfunctional as it started.
Jim: You know, I have a little theory here. It's about the ugly American, and of course, we air all over the world, so those outside of the U.S. will chuckle with this, but you know, in the U.S., we're so used to good service. When it doesn't happen, it's amazing how we respond, very ugly often.
I remember being in a counter in France. I was in Paris and this was during my college years, and there were two elderly American women in front of me in line and they stepped to the hotel counter, and this French woman just kept walking back and forth and never acknowledged these two American women that were standing there waiting to be served.
And finally, they stopped her and said, "Excuse me; we need some help." And the woman said, "Oh," in broken English, "Parlez vous Francais. I don't speak English." And these two women walked away, and I stepped up to the counter and the same woman said to me, "How can I help you?" in perfect English. And I thought—
John T.: Oh.
John T.: Goodness.
Jim: It was like she was just getting their goad for whatever reason and we do get frustrated, don't we, when it comes to service and more so when it comes to our marriages and what our expectations are, when it comes to our children and how our needs aren't being met. What's the general statement about curing this entitlement craze?
John T: Well, first off, we've gotta understand how bad the disease is. As a leadership consultant, working with organizations, it's in the workforce and it's really doing huge damage to the work ethic out there, of how long you're supposed to work and get off and what's expected of you. It's doing a lot of damage to our adult children and it's doing damage to our parenting.
And when I wrote the book, somebody came up and said, "Oh, is this a book about Millennials?" I said, "Kill, no, stop, stop!" This is about the human race. I know people in their 80's who are very entitled and the definition of "entitled" is, No. 1, it's always two things: I deserve special treatment just because I'm on the planet and No. 2, I get somethin' for nothin'.
And for lots of reasons, cultural and social, and kind of the way the world's going, we sort of have this disease that's really costing us a lot relationally, spiritually, emotionally and then financially, as well.
Jim: What causes this entitlement feeling? I mean, you can be a Christian and be a highly entitlement--oriented person. How come we know what to do, yet we don't behave the way we should?
John T.: Well, sadly, it started, in Genesis 3, guys, where Adam and Eve, our parents, felt entitled to get beyond being loved by God and having a great life ahead of them, to the knowledge of good and evil, where they felt like they should have that special privilege, which was not theirs to have. And ever since then, we've had the disease.
Now we'd like to say that it's escalated since then with a lot of things, I mean, social media and the Web and the digital world and the way the culture's going. I think the reason we see it so much now is, because with the kind of the general breakdown in family dynamics of, you know, a healthy home where, you know, mom and dad are loving and [they've] got structure and all that, that's getting more chaotic with the divorce rate and these sorts of things.
When you don't have love and structure that I'm a loved person, but I have responsibilities, when that's not in your head, you move into entitlement. I'm owed. I'm special, because that thing that happened in Genesis 3 has to be starved. It has to be, you know, we can't feed that part, but if you don't have a lot of healthy things coming in your life—spiritual, emotional, psychologically and in business and whatever—when in doubt, we default to entitlement.
Jim: Let's drive it to a more personal level; in marriage what does that look like? You counsel thousands of couples where entitlement begins to be unhealthy. What does that look like? Give us an example in a marriage that's unhealthy when it comes to entitlement. What does it look like?
John T.: It's always best to start, Jim, from what healthy looks like, and then you can see, it's like, you know, here's what a real dollar bill looks like; let's look at what a counterfeit looks like.
A healthy marriage is one where two people love each other. They sacrifice for each other. They build something bigger called a "we," that's greater than the two "I's." But at the same time, they also say, "I have individual interests. You like opera; I like rock. You like this kind of church; I like that kind. You like water skiing and I like [whatever]." And so, people have differences within that and they respect each other's differences. There's no entitlement there; it's just love and responsibility and individual preferences.
Entitlement comes when someone at some level says, "You are responsible for being a certain way for me, and I don't have to work for that at all." For example, the husband that says, "My wife should be everything for me and make sure that everything I need is taken care of just because I bring home the money" and in kind of a typical marriage where one's bringing home more than the other. In these days, both do everything. But as opposed to she's got needs, too, as opposed to she can get tired, too, as opposed to, she needs to be fulfilled, too. He kinda says, "You live for me."
You flip it around. You've got the wife who says, "If my husband is not around me all the time and answering every text I send at work or whatever, then he's not a good husband. She has certain unrealistic expectations of him that determine whether he's a loving husband or not, or he does.
Now you're into entitlement, when people have these expectations that aren't realistic, that often involved some need the person has that they should be meeting for themselves.
Jim: You know, John, when you look at it, God uses this defect (Laughing), if I could call it that, of entitlement, to teach us so much about who we are in our core, doesn't He?
John T.: Absolutely. It's one thing that He has very little patience with—pride, hubris, arrogance, narcissism, there's a million ways to describe it--but God's kind of against it and He's teaching us lots of things, because one of the essential lessons of life, I think, Jim, is to know that we're little people in a big universe and that God's really in charge.
And when I humble myself, because you see a lot of passages about how great humility is. Good things happen to me. I get life. It says, "Humble yourself before the Lord," that God gives me health and He gives me a passion. He helps me to be a growing person. God teaches us about entitlement, because He knows that if we give in to it, life doesn't work. We lose relationships. We lose marriages. We lose children. We lose jobs and these sorts of things. So, He's always kind of working against that Genesis 3, I think I'll get something which doesn't belong to me.
Jim: John, what makes it so difficult for us as Christians particularly, to see truth, to see reality? Why do we miss it?
John T.: Well, it's kind of in the DNA, Jim. We are a people who the Bible talks about who are wayward. We sort of have this, "I want to be God" piece and we want to see the way we want to see it. The other reason is because we're also broken and hurt and not who we should be 'cause of damage done to us. And so, it distorts our brains. It distorts our neurology when you've had people control you, judge you, or abuse you, or be irresponsible with you.
So, either way, whether it's the genetic back to Adam and Eve, or it's some brokenness, we see through a lens that is not very clear.
Jim: So, then what can we do about it? I mean, how do we see that reality in a purer way?
John T.: Well, fortunately God did not leave us alone with that smeared up lens. I mean, He wants His children to be healthy and productive. So, the first thing is, it's a spiritual thing actually. It's to ask God and to pretty aggressively give Him permission to come in. Psalm 139 is one of my favorite passages and I pray it a lot, where David says, "Search me and know me and try my anxious heart." God get the spotlight and tell me where my blind spots are, where I'm being self-centered or hurtful or irresponsible or makin' it all about me. I want those blind spots to be eradicated, so that's the first thing.
The second thing is for me to become a detective of myself. One of the things I do and I coach my executives this way, too, Jim, is every day you oughta have a self-scrutiny time. It may be at lunch time. Morning's kinda bad because you're so busy, but lunch time, maybe mid-afternoon or at night, where you just save five minutes and give yourself a report card.
What was my impact on other people? Were people glad I came in the room or did they cringe? Or did they think, well, he's too ADD to make sense? Or (Laughter) whatever, but I give myself a report card every day on the people that I care about the most—employees, clients, family, this sort of thing.
And then the third thing, 'cause God doesn't leave us with two answers; He leaves us with three and a lot of these cases is other people, is to get people around you that are safe and loving, but full of truth, too and give them permission and say, "If you see me with an attitude that's not good, that you're concerned about how it's gonna affect my life, marriage, health or whatever, tell me about it.
And that I have a lot of friends in the military. They have a phrase called PTSF, not PTSD, PTSF—permission to speak freely and to go to three or four friends and say, "I want to know when we have lunch or a phone call or go to Starbucks or whatever, that you'll say, 'I just want to tell you, I like the way you did whatever.' 'I think you've kinda forgot[ten] your marriage here.' Or 'You didn't sit down just where you needed to.' Or 'You kinda made it all about you.'" Because sometimes we just need the eyeball to eyeball conversation of other people. Those three will not let you down in terms of being able to understand reality as it really is.
Jim: John, one of the things I hear you saying so clearly in this expression and you pointed to Adam and Eve several times, it's that hiding mentality. We do tend to want to hide. We don't seek the spotlight on our own heart. We don't say, "Lord, shine the light as bright as You can so I can see the stuff I need to work on." We kinda say, "Well, go look in that room, Lord. Don't look in this room of my life."
John T.: Yeah, Jim, that's very important. I wrote a book called Hiding from Love about that very thing and the reason that there's fig leaves all the way back from the beginning is when I don't feel love and grace from God and others, that space inside of me is filled up with guilt and shame. The space inside of me defaults to guilt and shame, if I don't feel love. So, if I don't feel connected, if I'm not vulnerable with others, if I don't open up to others, I'm full of guilt and shame, and that means anything about me is bad, and I don't want to look at it.
So, the more disconnected we are from a very vulnerable relationship with God and others, you can bet there's a lot of messages about how bad you are and how broken you are, how unlovable you are. :
Jim: Well, and you think about it in the parenting context, how do we help inoculate or do we even inoculate our children from that? Or do we equip them to understand their own nature, where the pitfalls are, why the enemy of our soul is gonna feed us these lies and how we need to manage it in a mature way?
John T.: It's funny you said that about inoculate, because when I started writin' the book a while back, one of my editors came to me and said, "Whatever you do," they said, "this is an important book, 'cause nobody's writin' on it. Whatever you do, do not write a finger-wagging book." And I said, "What's that mean?" (Laughter) 'Cause everybody is saying, "Ain't it awful? Ain't it awful? Look how selfish. And everybody's desire, you know, says they deserve this." And they said, "Write some solutions for once." So, the whole book is about God's process of how does He inoculate and cure that within us, with our children, with our adult children, with our friends, with our employees?
So, when you say, how do you inoculate it, I've got nine or 10 principles on how to do that. Let me give you a couple of examples. One would be to change your wording from "I deserve," to "I'm responsible."
Jim: Fill that in though, for me in a marriage or a parenting context.
John T.: Oh, let's go [to] parenting. You guys are the best at parenting, right? I deserve a cell phone and I'm 13.
Jim: You've been talkin' to my children? (Laughter)
John T.: Well, they called me right before the show.
Jim: Yeah (Laughter), I bet they did. Can you talk to our dad about getting a cell phone?
John T.: Actually, Jim, this is an intervention on behalf of your children, I want you to know. And so, "I deserve it 'cause I'm a good kid." Well, no, you're a good kid 'cause you're supposed to be a good kid.
So, let me change your wording, Jimmy to "I deserve this," to "I'm responsible for this." "Mom and dad, what will it take for me to get this?" And our brains listen to words and when you change the wording from "I deserve," which is basically a disempowering phrase. It means, "I'm powerless. I don't have to do anything. I'm kinda helpless," to "What do I need to do to get a good marriage, a good house, a good job, a cell phone, a car?" All of a sudden, that's empowering to say, you know, there's somethin' for you to do. Can I tell 'em a funny story about one of my kids on this?
John T.: Well, when I was talkin' about this in a major city in the United States and a Christian school asked me to come speak to their parents about entitlement in children and how not to raise 'em that way.
And so, I was going to fly over there. One of my kids was in college in the same city and I called him and I said, "Why don't you come over and the last five minutes of my talk and they want to hear you anyway. You're the finished product as parents."
Jim: Proof in the pudding.
John T.: Proof in the pudding. So, I said, "Just show up the last five minutes and tell 'em somethin' about how mom and I raised you for better or for worse in kind of an entitled culture, 'cause we came from a cosmopolitan background, too and you know, there's a lot of that out there.
So, I flew over. He says, sure. I flew over. I'm talking and the parents are all, should I get Susie a cell phone? Should I get Jimmy a car? And they're nervous, 'cause they don't want to destroy the self-esteem of their children. They don't want to, you know, make their children feel bad. They want to be their children's best friend and I'm saying, "Well, you want to make your children happy, but you shouldn't be their best friend and saying no is a good thing."
And so, they're scribbling all these things out. And I said, "Look, one thing Barbie and I did is, we always told our kids, 'You need lots of things. You need love and you need happy times and you need fun and you need opportunities and we need an education and we're gonna give you all those things, but you don't deserve anything. You need (Laughter) things, but you don't deserve things." That was kind of our little mantra. And my son walks in and I said, "Okay, come here. Come look at the product." "Ricky, walk up here and, you know, tell 'em a little bit." Now he had no idea what I'm sayin'.
Jim: He didn't hear any of it.
John T.: None; he's just drivin' from his college class to do dad a favor. He walks in and he scratches his head and says, "Hi. Mom and dad, they're great people, not perfect parents, but I think they did a good job and I'm a junior in college here and I'm tryin' to think, we were raised in an atmosphere of a lot of kind of entitled kids and neighbors. And I think the one thing I remember is my parents sayin', 'You don't deserve anything!'" (Laughter)
Jim: See; he put the nail in it.
John T.: We dodged a bullet on that one. (Laughter) But the idea is, that's what God says, too.
John F.: Well, we're having a great conversation today on "Focus on the Family" with Dr. John Townsend. The big concept, we don't deserve anything. And we'd encourage you to get a copy of John's book, The Entitlement Cure. We've got that and a CD or a download, a mobile app, as well, at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or ask about it when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
End of Program Note
Jim: Let me ask you in the marriage context again, when you see this in a healthy way, where both spouses have a good handle on this and they really are laying down their lives for one another, paint that picture. What does that look like as you talk to that kind of a couple?
John T.: Well, let me paint a picture with one of my favorite Bible passages. It's Proverbs 4:23, where Solomon says, "Guard your heart, for from it flow[s] the wellsprings of life."
What he's saying there is that you have a responsibility to your own heart. I've gotta take care of my feelings and my behavior and my self-care and my working out and am I praying? And am I fairly healthy? I've gotta guard my heart, but I've also gotta guard my spouse.
So, in a healthy marriage, you're sort of jockeying backwards and forwards in your head between what's good for my spouse and what's good for me? And that's a healthy marriage. That's why all the Boundaries books sold like they did, because people finally found out, if all I'm considering is my spouse, I'm not going to be healthy enough to help him or her. But if all I'm considering is me, I'm a self-centered entitlement person. So, the balance is, my spouse is important and I've got to be healthy to be the person who goes the long route—back and forth between my needs and that person's needs.
Jim:. In seeing that and knowing that, what if one spouse is in a good place and the other is not? How does that spouse that sees it begin to highlight it? I mean, this is delicate territory and so, a person who is self-focused, who is narcissistic, how does that [spouse address that with their mate]?
John T.: You mean, besides puttin' my book on their nightstand? (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah or on the pillow. (Laughter) Yeah, I mean, that's an obvious way, but maybe too obvious--
John T.: No, no, no.
Jim: --'cause that can be a point of tremendous friction in the marriage. How does a spouse who is trying to help their mate see this blind spot? How can they go about doing it?
John T.: There's two words that can solve in my experience about 80 percent of this, except for very, very serious cases and the two words are a "vulnerable appeal."
Jim: What does that sound like? Role play with me.
John T.: You don't look like my wife at all, Jim.
Jim: And that's a good thing. (Laughter)
John F.: Make it a coworker situation.
Jim: Let's just say, I've been very verbally abusive. I mean, I attack. I'm the man of the house, here we go.
John T.: Jim, can we talk?
Jim: I'm kinda watchin' the news right now.
John T.: Is there a better time?
Jim: Well, let's do it after dinner. I think I'll have a few minutes.
John T.: Okay, so fast forward; you respect that. Okay, it's after dinner, so you got a few minutes away from the kids?
Jim: Yeah, now's a good time.
John T.: Okay, great, thanks. I just needed your full attention. I love you and I want to be together for life and God's brought us together. I want to be the best spouse possible to you, but honestly, I'm hurting and I want to talk about what hurts me. And by the way, as I tell you this, whatever I'm doing that's hard for you, I want to know that, too. So, are you open to a frank discussion right now about how we impact each other? Because I need it and maybe you need it, too.
John T.: Okay, thanks. I'm so glad to hear that. When you come in and you sort of like look around and you yell at all the kids and then you tell everybody to pick up their stuff and then you go in and you get on ESPN and watch for a while and come back and ask what's [for] dinner? That's kinda not why I married you. I married you because of your warmth and your personality and your spiritual values and it makes me feel really, really sort of in a corner by myself.
And what I would like is 15 minutes when you get home. Maybe you need to go take your 15 minutes just chillin' out or workin' out.
Jim: Well, I definitely need to decompress and you're always putting that expectation on me that I'm there for you right when I step through the door.
John T.: And I'm sorry and I'm really gonna work on that, 'cause I know that's hard for you. It's the last thing you need and I know you got a hard job. I'm sorry. So, for what I really need is that, after you've decompressed, to come in and ask me about my day and look at me in the eyes and say, "That sounded hard," or "Great, I'm so proud of you," or "Tell me more about that. I just need that from you to know that I'm important to you. I would love that. Is that doable?--
Jim: Let's do it. John, as we talked that through, I mean, what you're talking about there in that role playing is communication skills. That is loud and clear.
John T.: --which begins with a vulnerable appeal. Don't come in with, "You're not being a biblical spouse."
Jim: Point out all the errors.
John T.: Yeah, nobody can metabolize negative information until they're in grace. So, the first thing you say is, you're sorta like showing your soft white underbelly. You're saying, "I just have a need." How can you get angry at somebody who's just saying, "I'm lonely."?
John T.: And there's the percentage of the population that can, but they're very severely disordered. Most people say, "I don't want you to be lonely." If you come in like the parent, you're not doin' the job right, you're not meetin' the standards, well, that's a different issue. Come in vulnerable; it solves a multitude—
Jim: Boy, that's—
John T.: --of sins.
Jim: --so good. You know, John, we've gotta talk about the adult child who's still living at home and there are economic reasons for that. The economy's been sluggish and that's understandable, but talk about that entitled 20-something, maybe even 30-something now, where they're havin' to come back home or they have never left home and they're quite comfortable.
John T.: They're comfortable and they're not comfortable. Nobody's truly comfortable who doesn't live the way that God designed. So, they may feel like it's great because mom's a good cook and there's laundry there.
Jim: That's exactly right.
John T.: But inside there's tremendous self-respect and shame, because their friends are movin' on and they're not. So, in a way at a deeper level, they're not comfortable. But in the book I talk about the solution's if you've got a relationship like that with somebody, failure to launch kind of things, first off you gotta have a plan. This is not indefinite, so I know you need to be here now, but mom and I or dad and I are planning for you to be out of here in, you know, six months. So, we need to you to be working full time, in school part time or the reverse or whatever. You need to be contributing, you know—
John T.: --puttin' some money into what's going on here. And also we'll help you get coaching. We'll help you get a counselor, we'll help you find, you know, executive head hunting or whatever, but we want your energy to be in being equipped to leave. And in the tough circumstances, sometimes when they're being blown off and the person just wants to party and that sort of thing—
Jim: Video games.
John T.: --we want to make sure you know that now we're at the 30-day mark, mom and I will have your stuff on the sidewalk on Day 31. So, we love you, but we've given you the first and last rent and we've given you training and coaching and all these kind of opportunities and I know that you maybe you had an emotional struggle. We found a counselor for you there, but unless there's other reasons, this is it. And follow up and I've seen miracles happen, miracles when families went to that level.
Jim: And actually follow up. I was gonna say, let's fast forward the tape. You're on that day. You've actually put the stuff out.
John T.: And there's the big tantrum and my parents are crazy and they don't love me and they tell all their friends. And then the parents have to have a lot of good friends around you to say, "Keep it up, you know. We love what you're doing." And somewhere the miracle happens in the next six to 12 months, the kid stops couch surfing and eatin' pizza with all their friends at night, and doesn't like it and says, "Maybe I need to get a job and maybe I need to work and maybe I need to start at the bottom." And within a year, most of 'em come back and say, "Thank you."
Jim: And that's where you see the success stories.
John T.: Yeah.
Jim: People typically don't drown in that situation.
John T.: They typically don't drown. There's always extenuating circumstances, but you gotta look at it. They're the minority. The majority they just need that eagle pushin' the kid out of the nest a bit.
In the book I talk about giving them lessons like, when you make a promise, keep it. And inconvenient commitments are a big part of what grownups do. Say when you're wrong. Admit when you're wrong. Say "my life is my problem; I need help." Those kind of little mantras I talk about in the book, along with that idea of a plan, cure most of this.
Jim: Getting back to the higher spiritual level of all of this, this is the goal that God has for us and I think you have written a very important book, The Entitlement Cure, because I think this is the crux of the problem in our spiritual development. We expect things from the Lord. We expect things from our spouses. We expect things from our kids and when we don't get that expectation met, we're upset and it spins us out of control in all different ways and I just want to recommend the book, The Entitlement Cure to everybody, because I don't think we can hit perfection in this area. This is a lifelong pursuit of trying to do it better day by day. We don't wake up just one day and say, we've arrived, do we?
John T.: No, we don't, Jim and the funny thing is, I talk about the real solution is what Jesus talked … that Jesus' example in Isaiah 51 [FYI: Isaiah 50:7], in the Messianic passage where he says, "I've set My face like a flint." Sometimes in life we have to set our face like a flint and say, "I am a spouse, and I'm gonna do hard things in my marriage." "I'm a parent and I'm gonna do things with my kids." "I'm gonna put up with attitudes, and I'm gonna have difficult discussions, because I want good things to happen."
If we decide that the high road and the hard road is the right way and set our face like a flint, we have great lives and great success and great health and great families. So, entitlement says, do it the easy way. God says, do it the hard way, and there's no other option.
Jim: Wow, well-said, Dr. John Townsend, author of the book, The Entitlement Cure, great to have you with us.
John T.: Thanks.
John F.: And as you've been listening, you might have been thinking about someone close to you who fits some of those characteristics of what we've been talking about today and you might feel powerless to help that adult child or that spouse or employee who has that ... that pattern of entitlement. Well, John Townsend's book is gonna help you explore strategies for fighting entitlement, including that kind of thing in your own life. And again, the book is called The Entitlement Cure. It's available from us when you call 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or you'll find it at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And while you're at the website, be sure to download our mobile app so you can listen to these programs on the go and also order the mp3 of this broadcast.
And we'll send John's book to you when you contribute a generous gift of any amount today to support the work of Focus on the Family. We're a not-for-profit organization. We offer trusted advice and we're here to help you and your family thrive and we need your support, so please, donate generously and we'll send that book to you.
And then let me quickly mention the Townsend Institute of Leadership and Counseling. It's a new online program in partnership with Huntington University and you can get a Master's degree using John's biblically based material and content from other Christian leaders, as well, including our own Jim Daly. See the link at the website for more information.
Well, our program was provided by Focus on the Family and I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time. You'll hear from Dr. Larry Crabb, a godly wise man, who'll give you a unique understanding of God's design and purpose for your life. That's as we once again, help you and your family thrive.
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John TownsendView Bio
Dr. John Townsend is a clinical psychologist, a marriage and family therapist, a popular public speaker and the co-founder of Cloud-Townsend Resources. He is also the author or co-author of numerous books including God Will Make a Way, How People Grow and Who's Pushing Your Buttons? Dr. Townsend holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Biola University. He resides in Southern California with his wife and sons. Learn how you can earn a graduate degree in Dr. Townsend's methodology at The Townsend Institute.