“The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.”
Proverbs 27:9, NLT
“Wise words are more valuable than much gold and many rubies.”
I’ve discovered that good counsel invariably comes from a good person.
But it’s more than that– not everyone can do it. At one time I thought any mature Christian believer had a right to give guidance, but that really wasn’t the case. I also believe that every believer will receive a minimum of a ‘spiritual semester’ in counseling. The Holy Spirit will come to teach you. We have to learn there is wisdom, and there is counseling. And at times, “wise counseling.”
Choose your rainy day people carefully. Mark them out beforehand; before things get out of hand.
“From a wise mind comes wise speech; the words of the wise are persuasive.”
Proverbs tells us that giving good advice is as rare as gold or silver. I have met so many people who have an opinion about my problems, but few want to listen. And listening skills are what my counselors need. Job’s friends were the best counselors when they sat quietly in the ashes with him. They were sterling silver until… well, you know what happened next.
I want to unload my issues. Personally, I need someone who has been profoundly depressed and finally stumbled out into the light. It’s not that I don’t love certain believers, but they haven’t been “checked out” on this particular problem. It’s like flying a plane, or operating heavy equipment. If they haven’t suffered, then leave me alone–but, please do pray for me.
I read this somewhere, and it seems like it’s true. “Unless you have been lost in this particular section of hell– just shut up!” I don’t want to be rude, or ungrateful, but I really need someone who has visited ‘hell’ on occasion. And especially down this specific corridor. People who have been damaged by life know what I mean.
Often counselors are offering a very small part of the needed wisdom. They must accept this. I however place a premium on the counsel of a few dear friends, even though I have hundreds of Christian relationships. I am a bit of a hermit, so it’s hard to find caliber people that I can trust.
I don’t diminish relationships, but I do know that certain people are not tested on certain problems. This may be simplistic, or a little harsh. But when I had my brain tumor, I did not want my car mechanic to fix me, I wanted a neurosurgeon. And both are wonderful people. I’m fortunate to have them.
If you’re reading this, and you have a mental illness issue that’s starting to escalate, you need to reach out. Realize, that 1 in 70 people, [more or less] are qualified to deal with mental illness. Ask the Holy Spirit for his help in this. He is the Comforter and the Wonderful Counselor. He will direct you, and help you. That is what He does.
“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.”
This should supply direction and dialogue on the issues faced by every church member. It is a great opportunity we have been given— to minister to every person in the Body of Christ. —Bryan
by Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press —
Living with depression — or any other form of mental illness — is like viewing life “through a glass darkly,” according to Jessy Grondin, a student in Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School. “It distorts how you see things.”
Like one in four Americans, Grondin wrestles with mental illness, having struggled with severe bouts of depression since her elementary-school days. Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness, along with bipolar disorder, another mood-altering malady. Other forms of mental illness include schizophrenia and disorders related to anxiety, eating, substance abuse and attention deficit/hyperactivity.
Like many Americans with mental illness, Grondin and her family looked to the church for help. And she found the response generally less-than-helpful. “When I was in the ninth grade and hospitalized for depression, only a couple of people even visited me, and that was kind of awkward. I guess they didn’t know what to say,” said Grondin, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Alabama.
Generally, most Christians she knew dealt with her mood disorder by ignoring it, she said. “It was just nonexistent, like it never happened,” she said. “They never acknowledged it.” When she was an adolescent, many church members just thought of her as a troublemaker, not a person dealing with an illness, she recalled.
A few who acknowledged her diagnosed mood disorder responded with comments Grondin still finds hurtful. “When dealing with people in the church … some see mental illness as a weakness — a sign you don’t have enough faith,” she said. “They said: ‘It’s a problem of the heart. You need to straighten things out with God.’ They make depression out to be a sin, because you don’t have the joy in your life a Christian is supposed to have.”
A Baylor University study revealed that among Christians who approached their local church for help in response to a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, more than 30 percent were told by a minister that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness. And 57 percent of the Christians who were told by a minister that they were not mentally ill quit taking their medication.
That troubles neuroscientist Matthew Stanford. “It’s not a sin to be sick,” he insists. Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the doctoral program in psychology at Baylor, acknowledges religion’s longstanding tense relationship with behavioral science. And he believes that conflict destroys lives. “Men and women with diagnosed mental illness are told they need to pray more and turn from their sin. Mental illness is equated with demon possession, weak faith and generational sin,”
Stanford writes in his recently released book, Grace for the Afflicted. “The underlying cause of this stain on the church is a lack of knowledge, both of basic brain function and of scriptural truth.” As an evangelical Christian who attends Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, Stanford understands underlying reasons why many Christians view psychology and psychiatry with suspicion. “When it comes to the behavioral sciences, many of the early fathers were no friends of religion. That’s certainly true of Freud and Jung,” he noted in an interview.
Many conservative Christians also believe the behavioral sciences tend to justify sin, he added, pointing particularly to homosexual behavior. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association famously removed homosexuality from its revised edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As a theologically conservative Christian, Stanford stressed that scripture, not the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, constitutes the highest authority.
But that doesn’t mean the Bible is an encyclopedia of knowledge in all areas, and all people benefit from scientific insights into brain chemistry and the interplay of biological and environmental factors that shape personality. Furthermore, while he does not presume to diagnose with certainty cases of mental illness millennia after the fact, Stanford believes biblical figures — Job, King Saul of Israel and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, among others — demonstrated symptoms of some types of mental illness. “Mental disorders do not discriminate according to faith,” he said.
Regardless of their feelings about some psychological or psychiatric approaches, Christians need to recognize mental illnesses are genuine disorders that originate in faulty biological processes, Stanford insisted. “It’s appropriate for Christians to be careful about approaches to treatment, but they need to understand these are real people dealing with real suffering,” he said. Richard Brake, director of counseling and psychological services for Texas Baptist Child & Family Services, agrees. “The personal connection is important. Church leaders need to be open to the idea that there are some real mental-health issues in their congregation,” Brake said.
Ministers often have training in pastoral counseling to help people successfully work through normal grief after a loss, but may lack the expertise to recognize persistent mental-health problems stemming from deeper life issues or biochemical imbalances, he noted. Internet resources are available through national mental-health organizations and associations of Christian mental-health providers. But the best way to learn about available mental health treatment — and to determine whether ministers would be comfortable referring people to them — is through personal contact, Brake and Stanford agreed. “Get to know counselors in the community,” Brake suggested. “Find out how they work, what their belief systems are and how they integrate them into their practices.”
Mental-health providers include school counselors and case managers with state agencies, as well as psychiatrists and psychologists in private practice or associated with secular or faith-related treatment facilities, he noted. Stanford and Brake emphasized the vital importance of making referrals to qualified mental-health professionals, but they also stressed the role of churches in creating a supportive and spiritually nurturing environment for people with mental-health disorders. Mental illness does not illustrate lack of faith, but it does have spiritual effects, they agreed. “Research indicates people with an active faith life who are involved in congregational life get through these problems more smoothly,” Brake said.
Churches cannot “fix” people with mental illness, but they can offer support to help them cope. “The church has a tremendous role to play. Research shows the benefits of a religious social support system,” Stanford said. They stressed the importance of creating a climate of unconditional love and acceptance for mentally ill people in church — a need Grondin echoed. “There needs to be an unconditional sense of community and relationships,” she said. She emphasized the importance of establishing relationships that may not be reciprocally satisfying all the time.
People with mental-health issues may not be as responsive or appreciative as some Christians would like them to be, she noted. “Others need to take the initiative and keep the relationship established. People don’t realize how hard it can be (for a person with a mood disorder) to summon the courage just to get out of bed,” Grondin said. Christians who seek to reach out to people with mental illness need to recognize “they are not able to see things clearly, and it’s not their fault,” Grondin added.
Mostly, Christians need to offer acceptance to people with mental illness — even if they don’t fully understand, she insisted. “Just be present. Offer support and love,” Grondin concluded. “You won’t always know what to say. Just speak words of support into a life of serious struggles. That means more than anything.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.)
A great book:
“Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness” [Paperback] can be found at www.Amazon.com, by Matthew S. Stanford Ph.D
For more information: National Alliance on Mental Illness (800) 950-6264 Anxiety Disorders Association of America (240) 485-1001 Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (800) 826-3632 American Association of Christian Counselors (800) 526-8673 Stephen Ministries (314) 428-2600
What do you say to people who ask if you’ll eventually stop taking medication?
“I say to people that they don’t expect a diabetic to stop taking insulin, or someone with a heart condition to stop taking blood thinners. I have a chronic, lifetime disease and the only responsible thing for me to do is stick with my medications.
People wonder about medications’ long-term effects on the brain. I explain that while the medications’ effects appear to be reversible as soon as you stop taking them, the long-term effects of having repeated depressive episodes appear to be absolutely dire. There is lesioning of the hippocampus, and brain cells die. And this is in addition to the havoc that such repeated episodes cause in your daily life.
Imagine you have heart disease. You’re prescribed medication, you do better for a while, so you stop the meds. Then you have another heart attack, so you go back on the medication to get better. Twelve heart attacks later, what kind of shape are you in? It’s obviously crazy. If you have recurrent depression, you are not being “courageous” or “genuine” to go off your medication. You’re being foolish.
Can you explain the importance of balancing therapy and medication?
Different treatments work for different people, and I am open to the endless possibilities out there. But for most people, a combination of medication and therapy is the surest-fire way to handle depression.
The medication alleviates the worst symptoms and lets you function again. It makes life and the world bearable. But once you have emerged from the horror, you need to learn skills for managing the illness. You need to understand where it comes from. You need to make your peace with the idea that you cannot be fully yourself without the use of medications or other support structures.
And you need someone capable who can keep an eye on you. Ideally, you also need to understand the structure of your own personality and who you are; this gives you a feeling of peace and allows you to get through a difficult time with dignity.
By his mid-twenties, Solomon established himself as a multi-disciplinary wunderkind, earning international accolades for his work as a novelist, journalist and historian. After the death of his mother, the then 31 year old Solomon descended into a major depression, rendering him unable to work or even care for himself. He was helped by a combination of medications and talk therapy. This experience formed the bedrock for his National Book Award-winning “Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression”, a tour de force examining the disorder in personal, cultural, and scientific terms.