The sigh of relief that accompanied the recent RELEVANT interview “Mental Health: A Christian Perspective” lends credibility to the concern that Christians too often seek after health and wellness issues alone, and only through prayer.
To expand upon this concern, RELEVANT brings Dr. Paul Meier back to discuss more about Christian therapy and scriptural approaches toward mental health and wellness.
[RELEVANTmagazine:] How prevalent do you find the attitude “mental problems are made up” or “mental problems can be fixed through prayer” among the Christian communities you visit and interact in?
[PAUL MEIER] In the U.S., only about 10 percent of Christians have this much legalism and massive denial, whereas in the 1970s, for example, it may have been a slight majority. But, in many countries I have visited around the world, it seems to me that a slightly higher percentage [of Christian communities] remain “behind the times” in matters of mental health.
[RM] Do you think the lingering of pessimistic attitudes toward mental health can be linked to a lack of (or an ignorance about) scriptural reference to the subject?
[PM] No, Actually the Bible has many, many passages on concepts upon which Christian therapy is based: truth, love, compassion, confession and even the use of medications—balm in the Old Testament, medicinal wine for Timothy’s stomach problems in the New Testament.
[RM] Are there specific Scriptures you understand as foundational for Christian therapy, or a Christian approach to mental health?
[PM] Secular research has shown over and over the happiest people on Earth are people who love and are loved, just as they are, a theme throughout the whole Bible. See all the “one another” passages, like confessing faults to each other in James 5:16.
[RM] If this is so, isn’t Christian therapy simply “psychologized” versions of spiritual development lessons found in the Bible?
[PM] Yes, most of the therapeutic principles are. But look at Alcoholics Anonymous and other organizations who rely on the effectiveness of “psychologized” Bible lessons in 12-step and other programs. A professional organization or therapist can incorporate this effectiveness with their specific training in other techniques, like Gestalt, not found in the Bible but moral and excellent “shortcuts” to getting well sooner.
[RM] So, what would this approach look like in practice?
[PM] While a great secular therapist would show love to their client’s wounds—say, date-rape—and help them talk to an empty chair, pretending like the abuser is there and can be told-off in an act of “role playing” intended to bring “closure,” a Christian therapist takes the issue forward through God. The client/victim would be allowed to go much deeper into forgiveness through the promise(s) of “letting go” offered by God when we turn vengeance over to Him (Romans 12).
[RM] Date-rape and other physical crimes of abuse seem a bit much for Christian communities to handle on their own; do you find communities shy away from speaking to topics of mental health because they fear the church/pastor can’t adequately deal with them?
[PM] Most Christian communities I travel in address [most] issues very well. Many churches have a host of groups going on the help people with specific addictions and problems. Healthy Christians, however, leave sick church communities that deny such problems; abusive pastors are those who keep people sick by foregoing mental health concerns in their communities as a way to control people or keep them from fleeing to healthier churches that speak to, or recommend resources for dealing with mental health.
[RM] Let’s talk medication…why is it difficult for Christian individuals to understand a belief in God’s provision can include medicinal help when dealing with mental wellness?
[PM] Fear of the truth about flaws in their own soul, pride, and a need to be in control and “do it all themselves” instead of seeking professional help. We seek mechanics for our cars, plumbers for our toilets, and surgeons for our tumors, but some are too prideful and insecure to see a psychiatrist (a graduate of an MD program who can prescribe medication) for an emotional pain.
[RM] Would you say a portion of this pride or obstinacy comes from rising levels of wealth or success in people’s personal lives, giving the illusion that the self is the core component to problem solving?
[PM] If we don’t deeply love and get loved, we naturally run the rat races of wealth, power, sex or drugs. But, even if you [generate wealth or succeed] in the rat race, you’re still a rat! We are all rats who need to confess and be loved as we are, flawed or not.
[RM] If love and confession come first, then, on which does successful Christian therapy rely more often: the recognition of love/confession and other Christian principles, or the proper application of proven psychological principles and medicinal practices?
[PM] Both, but the proven psychological practices that consistently work are nearly all described in Scripture. However about 15 percent of my patients have genetic mental problems that are correctable only with the right medications, Christian or not.
[RM] So medication is necessary, but not in the majority of mental health cases?
[PM] Loneliness, depression, anxiety and relationship struggles of various kinds make up about 80 percent of our clients. Others are those who have genetic disorders or some other problem [that might require medication].
[RM] Say I want to learn more about Christian therapy in general; where can people become involved with or educated about Christian counseling as a field?
[PM] Start by reading articles like this one. Also, most of the nearly 200 psychologists/psychiatrists and therapists working for Meier New Life Clinics—all fine, loving Christians—were educated at secular universities. You can learn to integrate general psychology principles with Scripture [outside school], or you can find programs that teach the two together, like Rosemead (La Mirada, Calif.), Wheaton (Wheaton, Ill.), or various seminaries: Fuller, Dallas Theological, Trinity. As long as people have become educated, love God, love people, and look at all their philosophy and psychology through the grid of Scripture, I have no preference for either system.[Interview by Katie Meier. Full disclosure: Dr. Paul Meier, Katie’s father-in-law, is founder and director of Meier New Life Clinics, located in cities throughout the U.S. and abroad. Dr. Meier has published numerous books on mental health and wellness, most of which are available online or at local bookstores. In addition, Dr. Meier hosts the daily radio show, “New Life Live,” featured on stations throughout the country.]
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