After staring at the wooden door frame for what felt like hours, she put a heavy-hand forward. With a fixed-gaze she took a deep breath and pulled the door towards her. Startled, she heard a chime from above the door as if to say, “Hey I’m here! Everyone cast your eyes and judgment on me!”
Wearing a plain outfit and hair tucked beneath a baseball cap she made her way to the front desk. She couldn’t risk anyone recognizing her. Everything felt cold and overwhelming. She continued to judge all those present, her eyes hidden behind thick-rimmed glasses. She couldn’t help but scan the occupants of each chair, wondering what brought them. It was only a matter of time before her vulnerabilities would be brought out from the dark.
Just then a foreign voice called out her name. She jumped and saw a woman motion her into a well-lit hallway. With the click of the door behind her she couldn’t help but question her current circumstances. Feeling the forceful embrace of failure she wondered why she had chosen her mental health over God. She had decided to seek out a therapist.
Psychology and psychiatry are common services that are utilized among the secular world, yet are often uncharted waters in the Christian world. Is there a dichotomy between the worlds of psychology and Christianity? Do they co-exist or should they co-exist?
Mental illness has a stigma in the church. It is often misunderstood (by well-meaning Christians) that having mental illness reveals a lack of trust in God. Bible verses and “I’ll pray for you” texts are often thrust into the face of the afflicted only to be picked up and sorted by the exhausted.
This is when ministry burnout happens. This is when depression sinks deeper. This is when identity crises occur. This is when hope feels lost.
And this is why we need to talk about mental illness inside the church—for the sake of all students, parents, and ministry leaders who exist inside our ministry.
Let’s look at three “whys” to bring perspective.
Why is psychology often considered a breach of faith?
Psychology is associated with the sciences and there is a perceived battle between the sciences and God. It is true that certain aspects of psychology are founded on naturalistic schools of thought, yet psychology in and of itself is not bad. Some Christians who have a problem with psychology may have an issue with talk-therapy, often referred to as counseling. The idea that someone other than God is advising them on life seems blasphemous. Counseling is viewed as “an addition” rather than our sufficiency coming from Christ alone.
Why should we encourage counseling?
God gave humans the ability to study anatomy and use research to better understand the inner-workings in order to offer the best treatment. If you broke your arm and needed surgery, you would act accordingly and promptly so the doctor could administer treatment. Would you say then that the doctor healed you? No, God is the one who heals. He made your body in a way that it recovers and functions. The doctor is only applying the process that God already put into place.
It is the same with counseling. God made our minds and emotions. Seeking out therapy or medications for mental illness does not mean that we are trusting God less, nor are we saying that we need it “in addition” to God for the sole purpose that “He is not enough.”
Why should we have a biblical counselor?
Going back to the origins of psychology, most counselors are well-versed in behavior modification. This means that they work with you to correct or change certain behavior. This is not an evil concept, but as Christians, we need to consider who we are in Christ.
A Biblical counselor is someone who has all the medical training of a psychologist but their viewpoint differs in how they see the patient. A Biblical counselor uses Scripture in conjugation with medical treatment and points the patient back to God, versus solely changing a behavior. Biblical counselors view the patient as someone made in God’s image and is able to be a trained outside eye. Her or she uses their gifts for seeing how God is working in the lives of the patients.
Behavior modification alone only addresses the symptoms present. Approaching therapy that is led by the truths in Scripture allow issues in the heart to surface and to be addressed by the power of Christ.
In summation, talk therapy and medication seem scary and taboo in the church. But, you do not have to choose between your mental health and God. They are connected. Submitting our health to Him is a testament of our trust in Him—the One who made us. This is why it is crucial to approach therapy with truth from Scripture. Talking, modifying behaviors, and medication do help. But it can’t stop there. We need the life-giving truths found in Scripture. It is so important that whoever you see for counseling understands this and believes God’s Word is vital for the treatment process.
Although I am a Christian, I still have a body that was marred by sin. I live every day with struggles that remind me of my depravity. Seeking counseling or taking my medication does not mean I trust God less. It is a way for my body to be aligned so I can better serve God. It is a provision.
Bethany Zavala is the daughter of a pastor and grew up in church. She was saved through God’s grace during a revival at the age of 7. Since then she has been in pursuit of Jesus. God led her to the Baptist College of Florida where she and her husband met. After graduating they left to serve in ministry. Bethany’s main ministry is to care for two little humans aged 3.5 and 2. When not wiping away artwork on the walls, you can find her in her garden foraging for veggies. She loves to serve her sixth grade girls Sunday School class. More recently Bethany is an independent contractor for Vipkid. This allows her to teach English to kids in China stateside. She loves to read, play sudoku, and drink her tea while it’s still hot.