Originally Published on July 20, 2010 in “Psychology Today”
Let me start by acknowledging what is well known: Manic Depression or Bipolar disorder can be a devastating illness. Affecting at least 1% of the population, it can, untreated, result in suicide, ruined careers and devastated families. Bipolar disorder is often accompanied by alcohol and drug abuse and addiction, criminal and even violent behavior. I acknowledge this because I do not want to make light of the burden this illness places on people’s lives, families, and communities.
On the other hand, the history of the world has been influenced very significantly by people with manic depression (see website www.wholepsychiatry.com for details). They include:
“It seems clear that for at least some people with Bipolar disorder, there is an increased sense of spirituality, creativity, and accomplishment. It may be that having bipolar disorder holds great potential, if one is able to master or effectively channel the energies, which are periodically available, to some higher task. This would of course presume the ability to abstain from harmful drugs and alcohol, to have good character, and at least some supportive relationships and community networks.”
It might be helpful to consider a reconceptualization. Perhaps instead of it being a disorder, we can think of people with bipolarity as having access to unusual potency. This potency will find a way to be outstanding-either in a destructive way, or in a constructive way. If such a choice is presented to the person, perhaps it can open some doors.
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them”
From an article in Christianity Today, February 9, 1998
“The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army,” said the speaker, a psychologist who had just returned from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries. He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with as:
1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.
2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.
3. If both of the first two steps fail, we still don’t seek professional help.
I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church—among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatics, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties.
Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.
THE EMOTIONAL-HEALTH GOSPEL
Several years ago my daughter was battling leukemia. While lying in bed in the hospital, she received a letter, which read in part:
Dear Susan, You do not know me personally, but I have seen you in church many times….I have interceded on your behalf and I know the Lord is going to heal you if you just let Him. Do not let Satan steal your life—do not let religious tradition rob you of what Jesus did on the cross—by His stripes we were healed.
The theology behind this letter reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Health and Prosperity: Your Divine Right.” The letter writer had bought into a “healing in the atonement” theology that most mainstream evangelicals reject.
According to this traditional faith-healing perspective, Christ’s atonement provides healing for the body and mind just as it offers forgiveness of sins for the soul. The writer meant well, but the letter created tremendous turmoil for my daughter. While evangelicals have largely rejected “health and wealth” preaching—that faithful Christians will always prosper physically and financially—many hold to an insidious variation of that prosperity gospel. I call it the “emotional-health gospel.”
The emotional-health gospel assumes that if you have repented of your sins, prayed correctly, and spent adequate time in God’s Word, you will have a sound mind and be free of emotional problems.
Usually the theology behind the emotional-health gospel does not go so far as to locate emotional healing in the Atonement (though some do) but rather to redefine mental illnesses as “spiritual” or as character problems, which the church or the process of sanctification can handle on its own. The problem is, this is a false gospel, one that needlessly adds to the suffering of those already in turmoil.
This prejudice against those with emotional problems can be seen in churches across the nation on any Sunday morning. We pray publicly for the parishioner with cancer or a heart attack or pneumonia. But rarely will we pray publicly for Mary with severe depression, Charles with incapacitating panic attacks, or the minister’s son with schizophrenia. Our silence subtly conveys that these are not acceptable illnesses for Christians to have.
The emotional-health gospel is also communicated by some of our most listened-to leaders. I heard one national speaker make the point that “At the cross you can be made whole. Isaiah said that ‘through his stripes we are healed’ … not of physical suffering, which one day we will experience; we are healed of emotional and spiritual suffering at the cross of Jesus Christ.” In other words, a victorious Christian will be emotionally healthy. This so-called full gospel, which proclaims that healing of the body and mind is provided for all in the Atonement, casts a cruel judgment on the mentally ill.
Two authors widely read in evangelical circles, John MacArthur and Dave Hunt, also propagate views that, while sincerely held, I fear lead us to shoot our wounded. In his book “Beyond Seduction”, Hunt writes, “The average Christian is not even aware that to consult a psychotherapist is much the same as turning oneself over to the priest of any other rival religion,” and, “There is no such thing as a mental illness; it is either a physical problem in the brain (such as a chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency) or it is a moral or spiritual problem.”
MacArthur, in “Our Sufficiency in Christ”, presents the thesis that “As Christians, we find complete sufficiency in Christ and his provisions for our needs.” While I agree with his abstract principle, I disagree with how he narrows what are the proper “provisions.” A large portion of the book strongly criticizes psychotherapy as one of the “deadly influences that undermine your spiritual life.” He denounces “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he asserts, “There is no such thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes.
God supplies divine resources sufficient to meet all those needs completely.” Physically caused emotional problems, he adds, are rare, and referring to those who seek psychological help, he concludes: “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”
A PLACE FOR PROFESSIONALS
When adherents of the emotional-health gospel say that every human problem is spiritual at root, they are undeniably right. Just as Adam’s fall in the garden was spiritual in nature, so in a very true sense the answer to every human problem—whether a broken leg or a burdened heart—is to be found in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. The disease and corruption process set into motion by the Fall affected not only our physical bodies but our emotions as well, and we are just beginning to comprehend the many ways our bodies and minds have been affected by original sin and our fallen nature. Yet the issue is not whether our emotional problems are spiritual or not—all are, at some level—but how best to treat people experiencing these problems.
Many followers of the emotional-health gospel make the point that the church is, or at least should be, the expert in spiritual counseling, and I agree. Appropriate spiritual counseling will resolve issues such as salvation, forgiveness, personal morality, God’s will, the scriptural perspective on divorce, and more. It can also help some emotional difficulties. But many emotional or mental illnesses require more than a church support network can offer.
I know it sounds unscriptural to say that some individuals need more than the church can offer—but if my car needs the transmission replaced, do I expect the church to do it? Or if I break my leg, do I consult my pastor about it? For some reason, when it comes to emotional needs, we think the church should be able to meet them all. It can’t, and it isn’t supposed to.
This is why the emotional-health gospel can do so much harm. People who need help are prevented from seeking it and often made to feel shame for having the problem. Thankfully, more and more people in the Christian community are beginning to realize that some people need this extra help. If professionals and church leaders can recognize the value of each other’s roles, we will make progress in helping the wounded. Forty percent of all individuals who need emotional help seek it first from the church, and some of these will need to be referred to mental-health professionals.
Church leaders should get to know Christian therapists in their communities so they can knowledgeably refer people with persistent emotional problems.
Written by “Holly,” “In my search for a counselor, I visited a secular psychologist, read books written by extremist biblical counselors, and had tearful talks with my own general practitioner. I wish I had known then what TYPES of Christian counselors were out there and how on earth I could find help I could trust and afford.”
Why Educate Yourself about Christian Counseling?
Perhaps you do not suffer from depression, have a great marriage, kids seem to be doing okay, everything is fine. Why should you look into various types of Christian counsel?
1) Think of a Christian counselor as an invaluable resource, much like the family lawyer, pediatrician, or accountant. When problems arise, wouldn’t it be nice to already have the information you need regarding local counseling services?
2) It’s always a good idea to have information at hand so that you can guide distraught friends and family members to a trusted counselor who can offer biblical guidance and support.
If you are a believing Christian, I MUST recommend seeking a Christian counselor.
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.”
There can be a problem with secular counsel.
Many secular counselors will take your faith into consideration when treating you. However, as citizens of heaven, seeking counsel from a non-Christian is much like seeking counsel from someone who doesn’t speak your language…and he or she does not speak yours. Progress and inroads could be made, but in the long run, little will be accomplished.
There’s seldom wisdom and truth apart from godly counsel:
“The godly offer good counsel; they know what is right from wrong.”
Please try to find a Christian who is a professional counselor. There are a number of directories on the internet. Each individual counselor is different from the next, however, and you will need to interview any counselor before you decide to use his or her services.
If possible, find a specialist.
You may wish to choose a counselor who specializes in a specific area. There a number of issues for which people seek counsel, including:
Coping with Stress
Major life changes
Religious doubt/ confusion
Sexual/ intimacy difficulties
The first thing to consider when choosing a Christian counselor is whether or not they are capable or qualified to handle the particular issue you seek counsel for. A marriage counselor may not be the best person to go to if your thirteen-year-old daughter is battling anorexia. This seems like a given; however, be sure your counselor has experience handling your specific issue.
Decide whether or not you would feel more comfortable seeing a man or a woman for your particular problem.
Seek a Licensed Professional
Also, if you seek counsel outside of your church, make sure your counselor is a licensed professional. I suggest finding a professional who holds a minimum of a master’s degree in their field of study, who have completed the required number of supervised hours, and who has passed your state’s examination to become a licensed counselor.
Remember that most counselors employed by churches are professional counselors, but some are not. A church counselor should be qualified through their educational experience, and have some sort of license or certification that enables them to counsel (generally they have a Christian counseling certification awarded from various Christian counseling training programs or colleges.)
Interview Your Prospective Counselor BEFORE Your First Session
Going into a counseling session before you know where your counselor is coming– I should never, ever exercise my personal freedom if that action infringes on the liberty of others. That can be dangerous, especially when you are in a vulnerable emotional position unable to clearly think or discern the counsel you receive.
Before your first session, make the counselor shares your faith and concerns about the issue at hand. If possible, bring a trusted companion along to get their opinion about the practice you are considering.
Some questions to ask your potential counselor are:
What is your Christian counseling approach?
Do they adhere strictly to biblical counseling or do they consider psychological approaches as well?
What license or certification do you have? Is it from an accredited college? A Christian college? A training program?
Are you affiliated with any particular Christian counseling organization?
How do you integrate the Bible into your counseling sessions?
How do you incorporate prayer into your counseling practice?
Do you have experience counseling people with (insert the issue for which you seek counsel)?
What is your payment structure?
Will my insurance cover my sessions with you?
What is your view on psychoanalysis, medication treatments for psychological ailments, and other scientific approaches to mental illness?
If you have an opportunity to interview your potential counselor in his or her office, take a good look at the books on the bookshelves. The types of books displayed might give you an excellent indication of the types of counsel you will receive.
Before you make your final decision, pray on it, consult your Bible, and if possible, talk to your trusted general practitioner before seeking therapy.
Educate yourself about the various types of Christian Counselors. When finding a Christian counselor, remember to find a licensed, experienced CHRISTIAN professional capable of addressing your specific issue. Interview your prospective counselor before attending your first session. Go prepared with a series of questions that will help you gain knowledge about the kind of counsel you will be receiving. Prayerfully consider whether or not you and the counselor are a good fit.
(Bryan— I unearthed this from somewhere. Thought it might help someone. I apologize for not being to attribute the article.)
Does your child have extreme behavior changes too? Does your child get too excited or silly sometimes? Do you notice he or she is very sad at other times? Do these changes affect how your child acts at school or at home?
Some children and teens with these symptoms may have bipolar disorder, a serious mental illness. Read on to understand more.
What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a serious brain illness. It is also called manic-depressive illness. Children with bipolar disorder go through unusual mood changes. Sometimes they feel very happy or “up,” and are much more active than usual. This is called mania. And sometimes children with bipolar disorder feel very sad and “down,” and are much less active than usual. This is called depression.
Bipolar disorder is not the same as the normal ups and downs every kid goes through. Bipolar symptoms are more powerful than that. The illness can make it hard for a child to do well in school or get along with friends and family members. The illness can also be dangerous. Some young people with bipolar disorder try to hurt themselves or attempt suicide.
Children and teens with bipolar disorder should get treatment. With help, they can manage their symptoms and lead successful lives.
Who develops bipolar disorder?
Anyone can develop bipolar disorder, including children and teens. However, most people with bipolar disorder develop it in their late teen or early adult years. The illness usually lasts a lifetime.
How is bipolar disorder different in children and teens than it is in adults?
When children develop the illness, it is called early-onset bipolar disorder. This type can be more severe than bipolar disorder in older teens and adults. Also, young people with bipolar disorder may have symptoms more often and switch moods more frequently than adults with the illness.
What causes bipolar disorder?
Several factors may contribute to bipolar disorder, including:
Genes, because the illness runs in families. Children with a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder are more likely to get the illness than other children.
Abnormal brain structure and brain function.
Anxiety disorders. Children with anxiety disorders are more likely to develop bipolar disorder.
The causes of bipolar disorder aren’t always clear. Scientists are studying it to find out more about possible causes and risk factors. This research may help doctors predict whether a person will get bipolar disorder. One day, it may also help doctors prevent the illness in some people.
What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?
Bipolar mood changes are called “mood episodes.” Your child may have manic episodes, depressive episodes, or “mixed” episodes. A mixed episode has both manic and depressive symptoms. Children and teens with bipolar disorder may have more mixed episodes than adults with the illness.
Mood episodes last a week or two—sometimes longer. During an episode, the symptoms last every day for most of the day.
Mood episodes are intense. The feelings are strong and happen along with extreme changes in behavior and energy levels.
Children and teens having a manic episode may:
Feel very happy or act silly in a way that’s unusual
Have a very short temper
Talk really fast about a lot of different things
Have trouble sleeping but not feel tired
Have trouble staying focused
Talk and think about sex more often
Do risky things.
Children and teens having a depressive episode may:
Feel very sad
Complain about pain a lot, like stomachaches and headaches
Sleep too little or too much
Feel guilty and worthless
Eat too little or too much
Have little energy and no interest in fun activities
Think about death or suicide.
Do children and teens with bipolar disorder have other problems?
Bipolar disorder in young people can co-exist with several problems.
Substance abuse. Both adults and kids with bipolar disorder are at risk of drinking or taking drugs.
Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Children with bipolar disorder and ADHD may have trouble staying focused.
Anxiety disorders, like separation anxiety. Children with both types of disorders may need to go to the hospital more often than other people with bipolar disorder.
Other mental illnesses, like depression. Some mental illnesses cause symptoms that look like bipolar disorder. Tell a doctor about any manic or depressive symptoms your child has had.
Sometimes behavior problems go along with mood episodes. Young people may take a lot of risks, like drive too fast or spend too much money. Some young people with bipolar disorder think about suicide. Watch out for any sign of suicidal thinking. Take these signs seriously and call your child’s doctor.
How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?
An experienced doctor will carefully examine your child. There are no blood tests or brain scans that can diagnose bipolar disorder. Instead, the doctor will ask questions about your child’s mood and sleeping patterns. The doctor will also ask about your child’s energy and behavior. Sometimes doctors need to know about medical problems in your family, such as depression or alcoholism. The doctor may use tests to see if an illness other than bipolar disorder is causing your child’s symptoms.
How is bipolar disorder treated?
Right now, there is no cure for bipolar disorder. Doctors often treat children who have the illness in a similar way they treat adults. Treatment can help control symptoms. Treatment works best when it is ongoing, instead of on and off.
1. Medication. Different types of medication can help. Children respond to medications in different ways, so the type of medication depends on the child. Some children may need more than one type of medication because their symptoms are so complex. Sometimes they need to try different types of medicine to see which are best for them.
Children should take the fewest number and smallest amounts of medications as possible to help their symptoms. A good way to remember this is “start low, go slow”. Always tell your child’s doctor about any problems with side effects. Do not stop giving your child medication without a doctor’s help. Stopping medication suddenly can be dangerous, and it can make bipolar symptoms worse.
2. Therapy. Different kinds of psychotherapy, or “talk” therapy, can help children with bipolar disorder. Therapy can help children change their behavior and manage their routines. It can also help young people get along better with family and friends. Sometimes therapy includes family members.
What can children and teens expect from treatment?
With treatment, children and teens with bipolar disorder can get better over time. It helps when doctors, parents, and young people work together.
Sometimes a child’s bipolar disorder changes. When this happens, treatment needs to change too. For example, your child may need to try a different medication. The doctor may also recommend other treatment changes. Symptoms may come back after a while, and more adjustments may be needed. Treatment can take time, but sticking with it helps many children and teens have fewer bipolar symptoms.
You can help treatment be more effective. Try keeping a chart of your child’s moods, behaviors, and sleep patterns. This is called a “daily life chart” or “mood chart.” It can help you and your child understand and track the illness. A chart can also help the doctor see whether treatment is working.
How can I help my child or teen?
Help your child or teen get the right diagnosis and treatment. If you think he or she may have bipolar disorder, make an appointment with your family doctor to talk about the symptoms you notice.
If your child has bipolar disorder, here are some basic things you can do:
Encourage your child to talk, and listen to him or her carefully
Be understanding about mood episodes
Help your child have fun
Help your child understand that treatment can help him or her get better.
How does bipolar disorder affect parents and family?
Taking care of a child or teenager with bipolar disorder can be stressful for you too. You have to cope with the mood swings and other problems, such as short tempers and risky activities. This can challenge any parent. Sometimes the stress can strain your relationships with other people, and you may miss work or lose free time.
If you are taking care of a child with bipolar disorder, take care of yourself too. If you keep your stress level down you will do a better job. It might help your child get better too.
Where do I go for help?
If you’re not sure where to get help, call your family doctor. You can also check the phone book for mental health professionals. Hospital doctors can help in an emergency.
I know a child or teen who is in crisis. What do I do?
If you’re thinking about hurting yourself, or if you know someone who might, get help quickly.
Do not leave the person alone
Call your doctor
Call 911 or go to the emergency room
Call a toll-free suicide hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Contact NIMH to find out more about bipolar disorder.
National Institute of Mental Health
Science Writing, Press & Dissemination Branch
6001 Executive Boulevard
Room 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663