Thursday, January 16, 2014

Curing mental illness by prayer and Bible study

Is it possible to overcome serious illness like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia by prayer and Bible study, alone?

Some say 'yea' and some say 'nay' according to LifeWay Research.

Here is the question and the percentages among those self-identified as "born again, evangelical, or fundamentalist Christians."


By comparison, the views of all Americans are markedly different. Far less of the general population believes that prayer and Bible study alone can overcome serious mental illness. Do they know more than us or do we know better than them? I'd go with the former.

The recent suicides of the son of leading SBC pastor Rick Warren and the daughter of the SBC's day-to-day CEO Frank Page has raised the profile of mental illness among Southern Baptists, a good thing, since we need an informed and educated clergy in this area.

While I think LifeWay's question is not as precise in getting to the answers as it could be, the results should be sobering.   About half among SBC clergy and church members think that when a person has a serious mental illness, the cure might be just praying and studying one's Bible.

It is the pretty sorry, inept, uninformed, headstrong SBC pastor who would counsel someone who shows the signs and history of serious mental illness to get alone with God and their Bible and see if they cannot just snap out of it. Presumably our Bible college and seminary educated clergy are exposed to the broader knowledge of mental illness, its dangers and possible treatments.

What I fear is that my clergy colleagues secretly believe that it is an affront to God to seek medical attention and treatment for an emotional or mental illness. Some of the best counseling, some of the most effective counseling that I have done in several decades as a pastor is done in one sentence: "You need to go to the doctor with this."

Mental illness, especially depression, has been a regular blogging interest of mine, partly because I've been around a few suicides, including clergy suicides. The latter should not surprise us if we understand that some research reports that clergy have rates of depression nearly twice that of the national average.

And yet when I read or participate in discussion of mental illness and depression on blogs by Christians and Christian forums it always happens that some commenter asserts the sufficiency of prayer and Bible study and not only eschews medical treatment but vigorously opposes it. That's a possible recipe for suicide.

Next Monday is, you know, Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year, a completely bogus concept invented as part of some advertising program. How about taking your pastor out to lunch that day and sound him out on mental illness. Has he ever mentioned it in a sermon? There are plenty of texts that are perfect for a topical sermon on depression. Recommend a few to him. Pay for his lunch. He will feel better, since every Monday is sometimes Blue Monday to a pastor.

If you are seriously ill, if you break your leg, if you have crushing chest pains, if you have agonizing abdominal pain, or if you exhibit the symptoms of a mental illness: Hie thee to the doctor.


Peter Reilly CPA said...

Nice piece. The other thing people need to watch out for is mistaking bipolar disorder for depression. The manic phase is actually more dangerous (assuming you don't get depressed enough to commit suicide)

Anonymous said...

For some reason people will accept that your gallbladder can be diseased but not your brain. I have a friend who will tell you that he has never been depressed a day in his life and offered his counsel to my husband who was depressed. I wasn't too impressed with his "counsel". Those who have experienced darkness have much more empathy. The Lord can heal us if he chooses, sometimes it isn't His will to bring healing in mental illness just like other illnesses.

Anonymous said...

Plodder: “Presumably our Bible college and seminary educated clergy are exposed to the broader knowledge of mental illness, its dangers and possible treatments.”

Anonymous, Too: Let’s look at some of SBTS statements about its new counseling curriculum (recall that SBTS changed its pastoral counseling program in light of conservative theology (complete with a general distrust of science).

34305-Biblical and theological foundation of counseling: “This course will relate a biblical worldview to the claims of modern psychological theory ....”

Dialogue? No; the approach seems to be combative, otherwise a more positive statement is mandated.

34315-Contemporary models of counseling: “... a biblical understanding of psychology and counseling.”

Is that like a biblical understanding of mathematics?

34320-Christian theories of the person: “The course will examine how alternative viewpoints of the meaning of life and the centrality of the “self” express themselves in terms of human spiritual and emotional health."

Read "alternative" to mean “bad, not Christian, thus let’s not pursue this. Let’s pray away depression and not deal with those alternative approaches.”

34330-Typical problems in biblical counseling: "Topics discussed include …depression ....”

In light of the previous coursework, given depression will be a reality for some congregants, probably a fact that some likely will not receive the best help possible. We could, however, introduce them to the Psalms (which is also a course taught in this area of the curriculum. To recite the depression away?).

34820-Biblical counseling and human crisis: “A psychological and theological study of major life crises such as ... mental illness.”

Probably needs to read “Biblical psychology.” Even so, conservative theology likely will trump psychological and medical insights (see 34305).

Taken as a whole, these statements do not convey, at least to me, graduates of this program are ready for working with those truly suffering with depression or prepared to work with those in the medical profession treating depression, in which collaboration would surely be helpful.


Anonymous: “... sometimes it isn't His will to bring healing in mental illness just like other illnesses."

Anonymous, Too: Probably something that one would glean from a conservative reading of reformed theology, or a select reading of reformed theology (and time in a reformational counseling course [see courses 35530 and 35540] in which the sovereign God is as arbitrary as he wishes?]).

Nothing would please me more than to be wrong on these accounts. Unfortunately I have heard comments from those that practice a biblical counseling that is at odds and actively competes with psychological and medical insights (not that any area, yeah even the biblical arena, is not in process), which suggests at least some forms of biblical counseling are not in the best interest of those suffering from depression.

To be clear, depression is tough to treat; we need the pastor, the psychologist, the psychiatrist, the internist, etc.. We need a host of people with a host of insights working collaboratively as much as possible. Lone ranger yahoo biblicist counselors, the least trained and least insightful of the above concerning depression, are a threat to well-being.

Anonymous said...

After suffering with manic depression and three failed suicide attempts I can assure you that prayer and Bible study alone will not "cure" you. You're still just a depressed person who reads the Bible and prays. Remember that God created the minds who created the medicines so there is not contradiction if you go to a doctor or counselor. One word of advice is that if you go to a counselor at least confirm and be sure he/she is a Christian counselor. There is a big difference there.

BTW, I am a Southern Baptist pastor