“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.
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]