“Pastors are not meant to get therapy” vs. “Pastors really need to get therapy.”
I used to live by statement number one... probably why I ended up living statement number two.
Let me start by saying that I am still a pastor, I still believe in the absolute power of Jesus to heal the heart and I’m still a huge supporter of church counseling and ministry. But I feel compelled to raise my voice and say:
Therapy is not demonic.
Taking antidepressants is not a sin.
Seeing a psychiatrist is not anti-christian.
And those who suffer from mental health problems are not a failure.
Lord knows we need more openness in our congregations because (and this is a fact) 50% of adults will develop depression, PTSD, anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, or some other mental illness in their lifetime.
Half of the people reading this article already have (or currently are). And for the sake of our family, friends and church leaders, we need to break the shame. Jesus is the hope for each and every one of our needs. He’s the miracle worker who, “healed every disease and every sickness.” And when Jesus healed the leper, the demon possessed, the broken-hearted, he never blamed them for their condition. Jesus is not a religious leader who will condemn us if we seek help, Jesus is the high priest who understands our weaknesses.
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”
Yes, that was Jesus talking about himself in Mark 14:34.
He knows how it feels.
Jesus knew Lazarus would rise again.— Carlos A. Rodríguez (@HappySonship) December 20, 2018
Still, he wept.
Because embracing pain is not negating faith. It's actually part of being in the likeness of God.
So have hope, but don't deny your emotions. Pay attention to them. Feel what you feel.
And enjoy the coming resurrection.
To talk of a person’s mental illness like it was a result of a sin, curse, or demon possession is to further stigmatize, shame, and isolate those who are struggling. It is stone throwing people who need understanding and a helping hand. Yes, it is possible that sin and curses and demons are part of the issue, but we need to focus on the person. And admit that we don’t have all the tools or all the answers for the different situations that need attention.
The church is the place many turn while in crisis. We cannot keep turning away the most vulnerable among us. We have to learn how to approach and relate to their specific needs.
As Brandon Peach wrote,
“Most churches probably have the very best intentions when dealing with issues of mental illness. Like the rest of society, however, the Church may misinterpret these clinical conditions and respond to them in ways that exacerbate them—and as a result, demoralize those suffering. Christ, the Great Physician, came to heal the sick. As His body, it’s time the Church leads society in helping to do the same."
In the past the Body of Christ has had three dominating approaches when dealing with mental illness:
Treat it exclusively as a spiritual issue.
Ignore it completely.
Treat it exclusively as a medical issue.
the first time in my life where I actually felt helpless, totally unmotivated and OK with the idea of suicide. Being able to talk to a professional who could specifically diagnose me and recommend treatment was liberating. Actually, in that moment it was the Godliest thing I could do.
However, I also needed friends who listened. I needed my leaders to pray. I needed God’s word and encouragement. And in certain moments, I just needed to ignore it all and focus on the things I love to do.
There are too many families in our congregations who are struggling with addictions and depression and all sorts of abusive behavior. I know that because that was our case. And in the middle of it, prayer was great... but it wasn’t enough. Sounds heretic just writing it. But it’s necessary that we talk about it.
I spent 8 months with a professional counselor who taught me how to manage my anger, improve my moods and take ownership of my situation. He gave me books to read, coached me with technics for relaxation and he saw Catherine and I together for marriage guidance. He used specific evidenced-based treatments to treat my conditions and used cognitive behavioral therapy (stuff I would have never considered before) because after many years in full time ministry and after 10 years of terrible behavior as a husband, I needed professional help.
I used to be so ashamed to share it. Now, I celebrate where God has taken me individually and where God has taken us a couple. And I am so glad I didn’t just go for ministry, or a one-time repentance fix, but actually invested money and time with a health care professional.
It was not perfect. A few times I considered punching my therapist (Hi Dolan! Love you bro). But after months of weekly sessions, I am absolutely convinced that God took me there.
I have heard stories of people getting healed in one moment. It’s happened in my own life in other circumstances; and I pray that for us all. But the reality for most is that the hurts and rejection of the past, combined with actual illness of the mind, require more time, more care and more attention. It starts with us pastors getting help when necessary. It continues with the church as a whole empowering people to do whatever it’s necessary to be made well. It demands open conversations with those who have overcome, and with those who are still struggling.
“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image.” Thomas Merton
It ends with us caring more about people (and their health) than about our limited opinions and hindering theology. The religious mindset wants to control how people heal. It wants to determine the rules of engagement for all scenarios and situations. But spiritual maturity is demonstrated by the increase in realization of the help and grace you need. And the heart of Christ is to heal the brokenhearted.
Maybe you’re the broken-hearted in this scenario, can I encourage to ask for help?
And if it takes visiting an actual doctor to help you with your situation, then I know for a fact that Jesus will be holding your hand the whole way through. He did it for me.
Because Jesus is the hope for everyone struggling with mental illness. And the hope for the church that’s ignoring it.
Might be a good time to stop pretending and start attending to this real need. For my sake.
* We can all help prevent suicide. This lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
As a therapist, thank you so writing those and sharing these thoughts. So many pastors are alone and have been burned by those they trusted . The church needs to stop making them the primary packmule for all their needs…and pastors need to know it’s okay to set boundaries
Thanks …keep up the good work
Thank you for this! Love it so much!❤️
This is soooo good! I have been in therapy for many years. It has been so powerful and I have seen God work in miraculous ways in therapy. Growing up, I had a lot of trauma and when I first became a Christian I had so much fear that I could not leave my house. As I get more education, I am learning that trauma has a powerful effect on the body, spirit, and the mind. Read the book called the “The Body Keeps the Score,” by Bessel van der Kolk. But when I was younger, I had people try to cast demons out of me. For years, I thought I was demon possessed and that I had a lot of sin in my life. My fear would get so bad that I would be crying daily. I really believe that certain churches should not treat mental health issues unless they have degrees. Because they can do more damage to a person’s mental health. Well, I can’t pray trauma or the mental illness away, God wants us to get help too. I believe the power of prayer but also doing something about it. I think he can heal people, but in my case I had to walk through the storms. On top of the trauma, I have a lot of anxiety and other mental health issues. I don’t ever talk to people about the mental health issues within the Christian community. Many of my friends might say to pray it away. I had a friend say to me, that I should read the Bible and pray more. She tells me to keep reading the Bible so it goes away. While she is right, she don’t understand that I have to go to therapy too. This person is so clueless and I don’t really like to open up to them anymore. Guard your hearts as well. Some people just don’t get it. Thanks for writing about this!
Thank you for this message of encouragement. As a PK, literally born and raised in the church, I found it hard to accept that I needed mental help or just help in general. As Im going through therapy its hard to get past the shame, doubt and low self esteem I’m not supposed to have. Its never easy being an example when you just want rest. Its not easy realizing just how hard life is and knowing you won’t be able to handle it all on your own. Praise and worship songs, powerful sermons or prayers screamed to heaven didn’t help give me that message nor tell me its ok. I’m glad to say in the first four weeks of therapy I have experienced some major relief on the mind and heart and I will keep going ,to see this through to healing!
With my own struggle with mental illness and working with those that find themselves on the same journey, God revealed a truth to me.
God created the brain to handle trauma before trauma even entered the world! He knew what sin would do to the human psyche.
I stand in awe of that revealed statement!
So yes, I have had therapists. Many to be exact! Yes I take medications. Many in that area as well. They keep me alive. With Suicide being on both sides of my family (multiple members) if I do not take them, I find myself slipping into a deep dark hole that I have worked hard and had to fight hard to get out of.
With that said, this is how I address these issues with fellow believers who challenge me on therapists and medication. Which thank goodness isn’t too often. But for others I know, they have not been so lucky.
First, I know my journey and my body and no one can take that away from me.
Second, getting well from mental illness is not based on my faith. I refer back to my reveal statement.
Third, if you have a disease like diabetes or cancer who do your go to? A doctor. What else do you do? Take medication. Mental illness is no different.
Fourth and final, I know that there are many who have had an amazing healing experience from God on their mental health. I rejoice with them! I don’t doubt them or tear them down for not being on the same healing experience journey as me. I certainly do not call their level of faith into question!
Can we not Rejoice for both? For the soul who has had the miraculous event and for the soul who goes to therapy and takes meds. Both are experiencing healing! Can we not rejoice with each other?
Second, getting well has nothing to do with my amount of faith!