The best piece I’ve ever read on Mental Health & the Church


Kulhanek-Untitled

“I want to know if you smile when you see me happy again and if a tear runs down your face when you realize that your people are the reason I’ve never quite healed, that chemistry and not Christianity has been my cure.”

~ Lydia Childress,“They’ve Thrown Us Out of the Church Like Lepers”

That’s the opening quote of this amazing piece, “Jesus is not our Zoloft: Reflections on Mental Health and the Church”, by R.L. Stollar, and I think it captures well the heavy heart with which he writes.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about Stollar, what he does or what his experiences in this area are, but this blog post is absolutely stunning. It is a response and critique of a recent Gathering on Mental Health and the Church conference, spearheaded by Rick Warren. He sees many things that encourage him, and some others that further dismay him. And he is spot on.

He points out the ways that the Church has wrongly seen mental health issues and mistreated those with them, and he beautifully charts a way forward.

Please read this. Yes, it’s kind of longer than most blog pieces, and doesn’t lend itself to skimming. But if all church leaders and Christians read this and took it to heart, it could change and help so much. The Church needs to hear this.

The first seminary I went to prides itself on being the greatest authority in “Biblical Counseling”. And yet, as I went through their Counseling courses, I realized that they were much better prepared for something more akin to spiritual direction than having much substance to say about true mental health issues. I was steeped in their view of theology and counseling for years and still learned nothing they would do or say that would offer real, genuine help to people struggling with  moderate to severe mental health diseases. If you were struggling with “pride”, they could help; Anxiety disorder, not so much.

I even tried to receive counseling from them. I went to one session with some young guy who said that all my problems were because of “feminism in the culture” and a “loss of biblical authority in my upbringing”. He then gave me some completely out-of-context verses from 2 Corinthians, said that my problems were because I wasn’t praying enough, and left me with a “prescription” to pray every day and journal about it.

Yes, seriously.

Now, though, having worked in social work and mental health for about six years now, I see the world that “Biblical Counseling” has little to nothing to say, and the damage the Church has done to these populations. I’ve been in real therapy for a few years now and on anti-depressants for a year-and-a-half.

In my first session with my counselor, a Christian, he heard my “presenting problem”, and then pointed out to me how I had laden my description with all this overly-spiritual language–chalking up my inner-busyness to “pride”, “idolatry”, “legalism”, “not finding my rest in Christ”. He then told me, “maybe that’s not the most helpful way to see this; maybe you just have anxiety.”

This was so freeing.

I pray that others can be treated in the way that I (eventually) have been by therapists and pastors that embrace these values and fight for justice among this marginalized group that sits beside us in pews, buses, and cubicles, suffering in their quiet loneliness and inner chaos.

[image credit: etching by Oldrich Kulhanek]

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2 thoughts on “The best piece I’ve ever read on Mental Health & the Church

  1. I’ve heard you speak dismissively and condescendingly about CCEF several times since you saw the counselor you mention and since you left Westminster. But it seems like in your criticism, you’ve made a leap from “him” (the counselor you saw) to “them” (CCEF) too easily. From what you told me about your sessions at the time and from what you’ve written about them since then, it seems like your counselor fits much more into the John MacArthur camp of hardcore nouthetic counseling than he does into the CCEF style of biblical counseling. I’ve seen other writers who aren’t as familiar with the ins and outs of Christian counseling equate the two approaches, but I thought you would know the nuances better than to do the same.

    In an article in which he stood in support of medical marijuana, Ed Welch said: “Many prescription drugs—like psychiatric drugs—can be mind-altering, and so are legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol. Christians have reasonable arguments on both sides. But I think we can agree that one’s motivation is relevant. If someone puts their hope in mind-altering drugs, and these drugs become a way to turn away from the Lord, they are idolatrous and wrong. Even then, that does not mean that the person must stop taking the drugs. It means they must learn how to turn to the Lord in their troubles.” That seems to me to be a pretty good summation of how CCEF views the use of psychiatric drugs. Helpful? Yes. The final answer? No. That may mean they are slower to prescribe those drugs than other counselors, but to lump them in with the “psych pills are sinful” crowd is an overreaction and oversimplification. In fact, CCEF has a psychiatrist who they refer people to when it’s necessary. And hearing Lexie talk about it, it’s not rare for them to do just that.

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  2. I really enjoyed this piece as well. Thanks for sharing, Paul!

    One thought as I read – when Stollar said: “You may believe humans have spiritual needs. That is fine. But those spiritual needs are not the cause of people’s mental health needs, any more than a person’s cerebral palsy is caused by spiritual needs.”

    I hear and appreciate what he’s saying, but I worry that him saying that spiritual needs have nothing to do with mental health needs goes too far and, ironically, perpetuates the false dichotomy that he rightly says we should move away from. Spiritual, physical, and mental health needs are all bound up with each other – the impact of psychological or other forms of stress on the physical body being one easy example – and so to say that Jesus/the church have nothing additional to offer is a mistake and overreaction in my opinion.

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