“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.
Charlie do you pray about your type 1 Diabetes or take medicine and pray and live right to help it? Same thing. Stop it.
Amen! We are born into a broken world. We can have broken bodies and broken minds. I would NEVER tell a diabetic to not take their insulin. A brain chemical imbalance should also be able to be treated with the same care and understanding. Trauma can cause a person’s brain to change, getting help should not be shamed like getting help for cancer is not shamed. I do think that therapy should always be Gospel centered as we draw strength from the Lord as seek to heal.
It is encouraging to know that God works through counselors , teachers, pastors, etc. to clarify His Word. When I think about the Bible, I think about Bibliotherapy!!!
Charlie needs to read Kristen’s example. I am a health care provider. If someone comes in with a heart attach, do I smack them with the Bible and question their faith? No I use the knowledge God let me retain, to treat them. Why is mental health so different and seen as God should be enough? Maybe when people have a car accident we should send ambulances full of bibles that can throw Gods word at people and just leave them on the road. Or post at the emergency room, read your bible and go home. God will always be enough in practice, there are days he uses my hands for good, and days I feel he didn’t need me at all but sent several of his own messengers to me. Medical and mental healthcare are tools. If you wanna stay on the roof and drown, that your choice but don’t judge the guy who got in the boat or the helicopter or left when the flood warning came in the first place.
As a professional counselor and Christian I can’t agree with this more. So many are suffering in silence. We are all broken people who Jesus Christ has redeemed, but we still live in a broken world. I believe I was called and equipped to gain more knowledge in order to better understand how to help others through whatever challenges they are facing. And although I can’t ethically share my personal beliefs with the individuals I serve, my prayer and hope is that Jesus uses and works through me to help others heal.