“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.
I actually love my church for this. Not only is my pastor open about his own struggles with depression, but when I was hitting my absolute bottom my church paid for me to begin seeing a therapist while I was unemployed until I got back on my feet.
Amen, and Amen. Very good article, and comments. We are human beings.
We are not all whole, or balanced.
We are not robots. We are human..
I must say that many Christians believe therapy is not necessary because Jesus healed and saved us; however, just like seeking medical attention and utilizing innovations created by science, therapy is an important part of the healing process for most individuals. Humanity is resilient, but life makes us encounter situations that affect our mind, body, and soul to the point that those blows can cripple us. Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, and others are just as real and important to battle like Spiritual Warfare. Yes, Seek Jesus, but it is okay to seek therapy alongside Jesus. We all sometimes need to talk and see another perspective than what we see. Mostly importantly, we must have Grace and Mercy towards others and ourselves when we are facing mental health illnesses. As Christians, we are not only called to fight our battles but to stand alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ in their own struggles. #breakthestigma
Thank you for bringing this topic out in the open.
I have been battling chronic clinical depression since high school. I am now 44 years old, so I have survived the battle for 30 years! When I first experienced depression as 14-year-old, my parents first instinct was for me to talk to our minister. Thank God for his insight that this was too big for him and referred me to my pediatrician. My pediatrician then referred my parents and I to a psychiatrist with Methodist Hospital. I found healing there, and my church family also wrapped their arms around me. I could not have continually been winning my battle with depression without the help of my faith in Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. As well as my psychiatric care, family, friends, and my loving and understanding Christian husband! I truly believe God has been working with and through my doctors all along the way!
Thank you we started a support group at our church over a year ago for family’s that are impact with love one with mental illnesses very informational we meet every third Sat