On Why Psychology is Biblical

» Posted in Mental Health, Personal Growth, Psychology and Faith | 4 comments

Bible

The other day, I was in my car listening to a radio broadcast by a well-known pastor, and as I listened, I started getting angrier and angrier.  I found myself wanting to pound the steering wheel in frustration as I listened to his dismissive and judgemental comments about depression and the field of psychology, and his very simplistic solutions to just pray and think more “positive” thoughts.  He went so far as to denounce psychology as a “danger” to us and warned people to stay away from practitioners of this field.  ARGHHHH!!

I recognize the well-meaning intentions of this pastor as well as many other respected teachers of God’s Word, but I also believe that in their misguided direction to us, they are doing a mighty disservice to many people who are suffering greatly by no choice of their own.  And to dismiss the value of psychology in treating mental health issues is short-sighted and shows their lack of understanding of this field.  Yes, there are some practices in my field that would not be biblically supported – just like there are quacks in any field – but in my opinion, good science is biblical because it is rooted in truth and in the way that God designed our bodies, minds and emotions.

And many times, we are ill equipped to know how to change our patterns of thought or regulate our emotions without the guidance of an expert who knows what they’re talking about. Just like you would go see a mechanic if your car broke down, so it makes sense to consult an expert when you’re experiencing relational, emotional or psychological problems.  Consider the folly of these statements:  Yes, my car is not working properly but I’m just going to pray that God will fix it; or If you just had more faith, your broken furnace would get fixed;or Yes, I have a broken leg but I’m going to read more Scripture to help me get better.

Mental health issues are problems that many people struggle with on a daily basis – from small children to adolescents to adults.  In fact, recent statistics from The World Health Organization  named depression the second most common cause of disability worldwide after cardiovascular disease, and it is expected to become number one in the next ten years.  The National Institute of Mental Health  reported that 18.1% of adults in the United States suffer from anxiety.  Studies of religious groups, from Orthodox Jews to evangelical Christians, reveal no evidence that the frequency of depression or anxiety varies across religious groups.

Whatever we chose to believe or not as Christians, mental health issues are very real and need to be responded to with care, compassion and understanding, not judgement and condemnation.  Our human natures – like Job’s friends – often look for answers in why people suffer and in our simplistic view, we will sometimes blame the sufferer for having sinned or done something wrong to unleash God’s wrath in their lives — or we judge them for their lack of faith or discipline.  But we forget that Jesus always responded with great compassion, love and acceptance to the many sufferers that flocked around him – shouldn’t we do the same as Christ followers?

There is plenty of research evidence to support the tangible, physiological differences that occur in the brain of those who suffer from depression or anxiety (for example, see this review of studies on depression and the brain) – supporting the notion that sufferers are not merely lacking faith but that there is something very real going on in their brains.  And for those people who’ve experienced abuse or trauma especially as children, there is clear evidence that their very brain wiring is impacted which influences greatly their ability to handle their emotions, interpret experiences and attach to others in a healthy way.  Without steps taken to process through their trauma or abuse, many people will remain locked into unhealthy patterns, no matter how often they pray or read their Bible.

Hasn’t their suffering been enough without layering on the rejection or judgement of their brothers and sisters who are supposed to love and help carry those who are suffering?  Aren’t we commanded by Jesus to love the “least of these”?  Be honest with yourself:  when you are faced with someone who is struggling from anxiety or depression or some other mental health problem, what goes through your mind?  Do you tend to draw away?  I know that I have to sometimes pray for God to show me how he sees the sufferers that he brings into my life so that I can respond to them with the compassion and grace that they need.

I welcome all comments and conversations about this topic as I am very passionate about it!  I also understand that there are some who believe that psychology can be dangerous in leading Christians astray so if that is your belief, please feel free to join in with the dialogue so that we can better understand each other’s perspective rather than being divisive or angry towards each other.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Great Article

  2. Thanks, Brett, this topic is very close to my heart. You ever hear comments or questions about the dangers of psychology or counselling while speaking to teens or parents?

  3. Hi Merry. Thanks SO much for posting on this! Reading it brought so much relief to my heart to hear a psychologist from a biblical, Christian perspective speak out on the subject.

    I have struggled for many years with severe anxiety as well as depression to the point of feeling suicidal. It wasn’t until I began a course of ongoing therapy with a Chrsitian psychotherapist that I finally began to see things turn around in my life.

    For years I struggled with shame, and hid from everyone around me my struggles. I figured if I just sucked it up, worked herder, tried harder, everything would get better, only it didn’t, it only got worse. I now know that once the neurotransmitters in your brain are depleted by stress, trauma, etc, the only way to restore them is through medication. And the only way, at least for me, to get to the root cause of my troubles, was to engage in Christian based therapy.

    My shame was compounded by the fact that I was saved in, and part of, a highly charismatic style church thtat preached healing and grace very strongly. Please don’t get me wrong! I truly believe God heals today, and I am so thankful for His grace through which I am His child, but the focus was on instant healing, miracles, and the preaching very much centered on the fact that Jesus accomplished all on the cross, therefore all we needed to do to be healed was to pray, believe, receive, and walk forward in our healing. I tried that many times, and every time I “failed” to receive, I got more and more discouraged and disheartened to the point of wondering if for some reason I wasn’t really a “Christian” or if God was mad at me, what was I doing wrong, etc, etc.

    There was one gentleman in the congregation who took this message to the point of believing that if he was taking his medication he was sinning and not walking in faith. He stopped all his meds at once and began a catastrophic downhill slide that ended up with his needing to be admitted to a psych ward, all the while adamantly declaring that he could not take medication because God was going to heal him, and he refused to be in unbelief and sin by compying with the meds.

    I don’t think religious leaders do it intentionally, but the type of preaching/teaching that you commented on in your post unfortunately has the opposite effect of what they are hoping. It incites shame, guilt, self hatred, and causes people to hide their issues, which many times brings more difficulty and can in fact push them away from God rather than draw them closer.

    I mean, I truly don’t understand this attitude at times. Mental health issues truly do often have a physical basis. You wouldn’t tell a diabetic to simply yell at or tell their pancreas to “snap out of it” and command it to start producing insulin again, so why do people think that doing that to someone with a chemically based mental health issue would have any different effect?

    One last thought, then I’ll end this really long comment! I think in today’s society, in Christian churches that preach healing strongly, we sometimes forget that while miracles are, well, miraculous, healing happens on an everyday basis. God has given us an incredible immune system to be able to do things like fight off cold viruses, knit skin back together, and give us stamina to endure medical treatements. He’s also given us wonderful dr’s in the medical profession, and He is the one who has given them the knowledge to know how to work with our immune system.

    You know, I have absolutely no doubt that God could heal me instantly of my mental health issues, and people would rejoice and give Him thanks and praise, and even talk about it for a while…but then it might just be forgotten about. But, as He leads me day by day, healing me through meds and therapy and various other things, He reminds me, and others around me that are aware of my struggles, that He is my constant healer. And for that, even though I may struggle, I am truly and constantly grateful!

  4. Thanks for sharing part of your story with us, Julia. You show remarkable courage in choosing to break free from shame and being open about your struggles. Wow. I know that God will use you as an encouragement to fellow sufferers, especially the hope and grace you exemplify. And I LOVE how you choose to trust in God as your healer day to day even as you may struggle. That, my friend, shows true faith and leaning on the Lord – to continue trusting him even if he doesn’t give you the “instanteous” miracle, knowing still that he is loving, he is sovereign and he has your life well in hand. It’s for people like you that I will continue to fight for this very important issue!

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