This is the second part of a conversation that I had with a licensed psychologist. I’ll keep his name anonymous, but suffice it to say that we share basic biblical/theological foundations, but approach counseling with a different methodology. We are able to maintain a solid friendship, though we disagree on some points, as you’ll see below. If you haven’t been following along, I wrote this blog post about psychology and faith (and how they aren’t going together all too well), he responded here, and the following is what I said as a response. Feel free to agree or disagree with me. Here I go:
“Thanks for the response ______(I’ll keep him anonymous)! I appreciate the wisdom that you bring and the expertise in psychology that you have. You see it through a biblical worldview as well, and I appreciate that.
I agree with the follow-up blog that you said. I agree that not all mental health crises are issues of ‘faith’, but it’s so hard to detect and diagnose those issues (depression, bi-polar, PTSD, etc.) empirically, right? To diagnose somebody as a diabetic, you can do blood work, but not so for depression. I don’t mean to say that we then abandon all search for an empirical test. But I will throw out this as an idea, that it would only be, at best, a diagnosis and not a prescription. For many of those same issues, could it not be a ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ If we do find a blood test that can prove definitively that a person has anxiety disorder, who is to say that it was brought on by purely physical (bodily) problems, as in the case of diabetes. To further my example, lets say that a person comes into the ER with a broken leg. We can perform X-rays to confirm, CAT scans to check head injuries, etc., and prescribe medications to dull the pain. In fact, we can even set the leg and cast it so that it will heal. Having a broken leg is a problem, for sure. But maybe the real problem is that this guy can’t see well at all. He walks out in the middle of the road when traffic is heavy because he can’t see the cars coming (I know, it’s a stretch, just hang with me…I probably could’ve come up with a more realistic example, and I will someday). That’s what broke his leg the first time, and it will break his leg the next time he walks out of his house. Medication can’t do anything about this…he needs glasses. His leg needs to be fixed, but his real problem is that he can’t see. Could it be like this for mental illnesses? I make a blanket statement here, but I don’t deny purely bodily-induced illnesses, as in post-pardum depression, thyroid-induced depression, and others that I can’t think of off the cuff. Medicine may take the edge off of mental illnesses, but the real issue that the illnesses came up is not addressed by medications.
I think that often (not always, though) mental illnesses are a result of (sometimes years, and even decades) responding sinfully to life. Instead of appropriately grieving, a person spirals into depression. Instead of handling fear in a God-honoring way, a person develops a myriad of phobias. Instead of building God-honoring relationships, a person develops habits of retracting from people and society, and it becomes so bad that they can’t function, and are labeled with social anxiety disorder. When the person presents to their psychologist/counselor, it’s way, way out of control. Telling them to turn to God doesn’t “fix” their problem, because they’re trying to overcome so many years of developing sinful ways of responding to life (but ultimately the problem rests in their deficient relationship with God). This is why I hate ‘Biblical’ counseling that consists of quoting a verse at somebody and telling them to ‘obey the Word of the Lord.’ It’s not quite that easy. They have to be shown, over time, how to life life in a God-honoring way. Medications may help this person take the edge off of their ______, but doesn’t necessarily help them to live a godly life.”
I welcome comments.