As a Christian Psychologist, I have witnessed a number of misconceptions about the nature and treatment of mental health issues among fellow Christians. I am aware that many of my clients, friends and acquaintances do not feel comfortable disclosing their mental health issues to other Christians, often due to a fear of being judged for their struggles. Perhaps they have had previous negative experiences in which they received subtle or not-so-subtle messages implying that they are at fault. If only they were less focused on themselves and more focused on God….if only they had more faith….if only they prayed more….then surely they would not be suffering from a mental illness.
In my opinion, the assumption that individuals who struggle with mental illness have somehow inflicted their condition upon themselves, reflects a scarce understanding of what mental illness is. The truth is, mental illness stems from a complicated interaction of factors including genetic and biological dispositions, negative life experiences and personality. Most individuals with mental illness are no more responsible for the development of their conditions than are individuals who develop physical health condition such as cancer or arthritis. For a Christian, there should be no shame in acknowledging mental illness for what it is.
Unfortunately, even after coming to terms with the fact that they have a mental illness, many Christians feel torn about how to proceed. They may feel uncomfortable seeing a secular counselor, or even a Christian counselor who uses secular therapeutic approaches. Yet as a Christian Psychologist, who uses secular counseling approaches in treating my clients, I can honestly say that I rarely encounter evidence-based treatments that are inconsistent with the teachings of the Bible. Just because a particular treatment does not come with a Christian “stamp”, does not mean that it is not part of “God’s truth”. Most Christians do not struggle to believe that one of the ways in which God brings healing to the sick today is through advances in medical science; advances that are often discovered and implemented by individuals who do not share our faith. Likewise, I believe it is crucial that we “demystify” the treatment of mental illness by acknowledging that God can and does work through secular advances in the field of mental health.
That being said, it is equally important to acknowledge that for many Christians, their faith and mental health journeys are closely intertwined. When faith permeates a person’s entire worldview and is absolutely integral to how they define themselves, working with a counselor who is unable to relate to the person’s faith can be an unsatisfactory and disappointing journey. For these individuals, the opportunity to work with a counselor who shares the person’s faith may be crucial to the success of their treatment journey.
Gelareh Karimiha, Registered Psychologist, Burnaby Counselling Group