Growing up in church, we are taught that prayer is often the only tool we need to endure anything. But when it comes to mental and psychological issues, many often need additional help to get through the battle. So, what tools can believers turn to when they find themselves needing some extra help?
This article is part of our Quarterlife series, produced in partnership with Unite Health Share Ministries.
To shed some light on how people can connect their religious life with their psychology, we spoke to Dr. Peace Amadi. As a mental health expert and psychology professor at Hope International University, her experience as a pastor’s kid shaped her view of how her faith and expertise could intersect. In her latest book, Why Do I Feel Like This?, Amadi helps us navigate through difficult emotions while giving ourselves grace.
We asked Amadi how to connect our faith and healing processes, and how the church can reshape their thoughts on psychology.
Can you tell me the origin stories of your new book, Why Do I Feel Like This?
I grew up in the church and I’ve also been studying psychology for the last two decades of my life. I have been a fan and a promoter of really looking at our mental health. Being a pastor’s kid, I saw that there was a lot more gaps between the two worlds and I felt that were doing us a disservice. Because I’m someone who loves God, loves Jesus and believes in his healing power, but also I’m someone who’s a behavioral scientist and seeing that there were actually tools that we we’re given to help us heal. I felt like there wasn’t enough resources that really bridged my two worlds.
And so I figured, you know what, I’m going to fill the gap. I’m going to write something where people of faith can rest assured that they can find something that isn’t going to diminish their faith or demonize their faith in any way, but really find that happy, middle, beautiful, empowering ground there is between God and his healing power and really, the behavioral science and mental health and so that was the beginning. In addition to me having my own story and feeling like I personally want to find more resources that speak to how to heal using both scripture, but also psychology.
What are some of those specific gaps you mentioned?
One example I think of is anxiety, which is something that I have struggled with personally. I have a pretty solid understanding of where it comes from and all the different places it’s come from, being a trained clinical psychologist myself. But the talk around my anxiety was like, “Well, just pray. If you prayed enough, God’ll take all that anxiety away.” And as ideal and beautiful as that sounds, the reality of the situation is, when you’re really struggling with anxiety, you need tools and support to come alongside you and help you through that journey and really unpack where that anxiety is coming from and how to relieve it.
And so I was finding that the more that I leaned on my faith community, the less I really knew what to do besides get on my knees and ask God to take it away. And the more I leaned into my psychology side, especially as I became an expert myself, I realized it didn’t have to be this hard for so long. God isn’t insecure, I can lean into these resources, I can lean into the science, I can lean into people who look at this from different points of views and embrace all that and not take anything away from the fact that God is my healer. God is going to work through these methods as well.
I think something that a lot of people of faith fear when they start to consider going to see some professional help to talk about their issues is that the professional may not understand their religious beliefs. In your experience, is that something that’s important? How relatively reassured can somebody who’s looking for help feel that when they go to talk to a counselor, therapist, psychologist, that that person will be sensitive to that part of their identity?
That’s a great question. And here’s what I’ll say, our faith is something to be incredibly proud of. It’s beautiful, it is our strength, it is our anchor. And that isn’t something that you ever need to feel that needs to be minimized or held back when you’re seeking any help or support. So I specifically say to people, when you’re looking for help, when you’re looking for a therapist and you’re consulting, tell them, “I am a person of faith, my faith is important to me. I see the world through these lenses. Is that something that’s going to be a problem? Or is that something we can explore?” And nine times out of 10, you’re going to get a therapist that is open to that and supportive of that and wIll know how to deal with that, because guess what? As a mental health professional, we’re also trained to take all of a person, all of their worldview, and explore how that intersects with their health and healing journey.
Sometimes mental health professionals get this bad rap that we’re just going to poopoo on people of faith, but actually, the research points to faith being one of the most protective factors that there is in a person’s life. We respect that as a field, whether the individual buys into that worldview or not. So it’s not something that needs to be as worried about as I think it is. It’s just a matter of awareness.
You mentioned that so many of us, myself included, were taught growing up in the church that if you’re feeling any mental health issues, you pray. I think some of us are starting to learn a little bit better since that time. But I still think so many of us are unsure of how to pray about our mental health struggles. How do you, as a person of faith who thought a lot about this, pray about the things that you’re dealing with mentally and psychologically?
God helped me find my way, however you want to do that. If you want to pray, literally, “reach your big hand inside my soul and just take something away,” cool. But it can also be, “Help me find a therapist that can help me, help me find a community that can support me, help me find a word that I can anchor myself in, help me know who to keep in my life and who not to keep in my life. Give me hope.” These are prayers that I’ve prayed, where I acknowledge that God moves and works and heals us in so many different ways. And I think we can all resonate with that.
I think we’ve all prayed, God, for example, God, financial breakthrough, God doesn’t drop dollar bills in your palm. God will maybe whisper in somebody else’s ear to give you a gift. Somebody will just call you the next day, “You were on my heart and I want to bless you.” It doesn’t have to be this mystical, magical, super supernatural thing all the time. Sometimes it’s just practical, but it’s God directing our footsteps. If you’re open to the different ways that God can move, God will answer that prayer.
Whenever Christians start talking about turning to any subject outside of the church for help, what you hear is, “Well, you don’t think the Bible is sufficient?” How would you answer somebody who says that?
I would ask them, “Yes, God is sufficient, but how does God work and move?” I always go back to physical health, for some reason, people understand that a little bit more. Your loved one has symptoms, you take them in and find out they have cancer. What do you do? You start looking for the best doctor and you pray. You start praying that God will show you to the best doctor. You know what I mean? You start researching, how can this person heal? “God, help me figure this out.” It all works together, it’s not either/or.
God is our ultimate healer. God has also put us in this situation and designed it so that we can lean on each other’s support, expertise, schooling, everything. That’s just how he built it. He’s sufficient, because he’s so creative with how many things he’s given us to get the help and support we need. It’s really that simple for me.