Jul 15, 2014

Mental Illness and Spiritual Struggle

This morning in my role as a hospital chaplain, I was working with our psychiatry people on a case, and then when I checked my e-mail I found an article about the fact that some evangelical Christians see psychiatry as the enemy. Sadly I have to admit that among Christians there are probably people who are in both camps described in this quotation from that article (URL below):

Among evangelicals, you will find some who are very open to dealing with mental illness as a physiological reality, but you will also find others who think that there is no other value to be gained from listening to the world.

As will surprise no one, I want to urge us to abandon such either/or thinking. When I checked my mail, I saw the link to this article which I would urge you all to read: [click here]

In the article you will find this quotation from Tim Keller: We must beware of giving people the impression that through individual repentance for sin they should be able to undo their personal problems. Obviously, we should not go to the other unbiblical extreme of refusing to acknowledge personal responsibility for sinful behavior as well...While we can't fall into the reductionism of believing all problems are chemically based and require medication, we also cannot fall into the reductionism of believing all problems are simply a matter of lacking spiritual disciplines. Schizophrenia, bipolar depression, and a host of other psychological problems are rooted in physiological problems that call for medical treatment, not simple talk therapy.

My advice is that if you have a parishioner who needs counsel beyond your own training, do not refer them to a Christian counsellor who sees psychiatrists as the enemy, or a counsellor who tries to diagnose things they have no training to diagnose. I’ve seen terrible harm done by such well-meaning counsellors. Before I refer to any Christian counsellor, I would want to talk with them and learn about their training and whether they have a psychiatrist to whom they refer clients whose needs are beyond their expertise. If you hear blanket criticism of psychiatry, or that they never refer to a psychiatrist, you know you are dealing with an incompetent counsellor.

Now someone will want to cite the circumstance where a psychiatrist had a bias against people of faith and did harm that way. I’m sure that such persons exist too. But my contacts with psychiatrists in my 15 years in hospital chaplaincy has been with none of that kind. And there is a growing consensus (typified in the linked article) among evangelicals that psychiatrists are God’s gift, just as are other physicians.

How I pray that pastors will not compound the problem of mental illness by steering people away from the medical professionals who can help them. I know I grew up with a bias against psychiatry, and have listened to enough conversations to know that the bias is still around.

1 comment:

  1. Great points! Many Christians view their family doctor's interventions as God's gift in times of crisis, yet, view psychiatrists differently. It should not be so.