One of my hobbies is perusing church websites, particularly the websites of churches in my area. I like to see what other members of the Body are doing in ministry. I like to check out different programs. And I really like to read statements of faith.
As I was scrolling through one of these statements recently, I found an interesting section dealing with the discipline of psychology and the use of counseling. I can’t recall this being addressed by any other church whose site I’ve visited. Here is the statement:
We believe that modern day psychology has had a detrimental effect on Biblical counseling. In fact, we believe that most “Biblical Counseling” has become little more than therapeutic, psychological counseling. Interestingly, there is not even a mention of modern day counseling practices in the Bible. The Bible has no gift of counseling, and the idea of a person or persons regularly going to another individual for repeated meetings is not a concept found in the Scriptures at all. We do see the occasional interaction between individuals with questions and an associated or corresponding response; but the idea of a believer resting on and finding support in a person holding the office of counselor is not named once.
My initial reaction was to laugh. The Bible doesn’t mention the gift of being good with money, but I don’t see any church telling its members to avoid accountants. There is no mention of iPads or Wal-Mart in the Bible, but plenty of Christians make use of both.
The amusement faded quickly, though. It is true that anyone who visits a counselor can become dependent on her, and that that’s not a good thing, but the counselor with a solid foundation of faith is going to do everything she can to point the patient to God. I attended therapy for a little over a year; every one of our sessions closed in prayer, I was encouraged repeatedly to memorize Scripture and all of the focus was on God and truth. My bill might be settled, but there is no way that I can ever repay my therapist. She cared about me, took the time to listen and prodded me to a deeper faith. I don’t have any words to explain how much I needed that.
The Church in general and this church in particular needs to come to a better understanding of mental illness and the nature of suffering. We are supposed to listen to, encourage and lift each other up, but there are times when that just flat out isn’t enough. Therapists are trained to understand things like the chemical make-up of the brain, how past trauma influences the present and how we can subconsciously block painful emotions. Sometimes life is just too big, too much, and we need the help of a professional. Sometimes marriages hit incredibly rocky patches and it takes a third party to help sort out the issues. Sometimes kids get really hurt and can’t talk to anyone else. What shame is there in this? Why can’t God work through these people who truly desire to help others?
I know the example has been used a million times, but go there with me: You wouldn’t tell a diabetic to cease seeing the doctor, to stop monitoring his diet or to throw out his medication. Why do we treat mental illness any differently?