There is a dangerous stigma in the church. According to many churches, if you are a Christian, you shouldn’t need therapy.
“If you have Jesus, that’s all you need,” they say.
“Just pray for deliverance, and you’ll make it through,” they say.
“God won’t give you more than you can handle,” they say.
Yet how many news flashes have we seen in the last year of prominent ministers committing suicide, or fall into different temptations, or walk away from the Lord altogether? Just in September, prominent pastor Jarrid Wilson committed suicide after a long battle of depression, and many ministers and congregation members across America were left confused.
“I thought Jesus was a healer.”
“Jesus is the Prince of Peace, right?”
“Aren’t Christian’s supposed to have joy?”
All of these are true, but Jesus never said we were supposed to ignore our mental state. The Bible does not make mental health taboo. Jesus is, and will always be the answer, but the answer is not ignorance.
I’ve struggled with mental health issues my entire life. Depression and anxiety have been an on-again-off-again problem since I was a child. I remember having moments when I was a child when even the smallest bit of criticism would send me into a panic. I didn’t know it was anxiety at the time, but in hindsight I realize that anxiety has known me for quite some time.
During a particularly difficult time in my teenage years, I started cutting myself and battling suicidal thoughts. That was when my therapy journey began.
I wasn’t a Christian at the time, and I didn’t have a choice about going to therapy. My dad said “you’re cutting yourself, so we’re going to therapy!”
Naturally, as an apathetic, angry, depressed, and resistant teenager, I didn’t open up to my therapist much. She asked a lot of questions, and I gave very minimal answers. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t miss me much as a patient!
About 3 months into my failed therapy journey, a close friend of mine invited me to church, and that was when I gave my life to the Lord. My life was radically changed upon salvation!
The next week after experiencing the power of Jesus for the first time, I went to my therapist and told her my story. She responded with “well, sounds like you don’t need me anymore!”
I was elated! I didn’t need a therapist!! Hallelujah I was healed!
…but that wasn’t the end of the story.
Adulting Changes Lots of Things
For many years, I lived in the peace of Jesus. The panic attacks were minimal, the depressive episodes were few and far between, and when those moments came, I was easily able to ground myself in Jesus and move on.
Fast forward to many years later, I married my husband, got the job of my dreams (or so I thought), and was going to become a mommy! How could life become any more perfect!
That was until I came home from a particularly horrible day of work and had my first intrusive thought.
“I shouldn’t be a mom. I’m going to ruin my child. There’s no way I could give my child what they deserve.”
The guilt I experienced when I had those first intrusive thoughts were completely crippling. When those thoughts came in my mind, I immediately laid down in my bed and I didn’t move until it was late at night. My husband kept asking me, “what’s wrong?” and I couldn’t even articulate how I felt. This was a feeling I hadn’t experienced since I was a teenager.
I wish that was the only time I had those feelings. Unfortunately, evenings like that became a regular occurrence during my pregnancy. After about two moths of nightly depressive episodes, soaked in tears I prayed “God, please help me!”
That was when I heard His voice speak something to me I never thought I’d hear:
“Go to a therapist.”
But isn’t Jesus the “Wonderful Counselor”? Surely I don’t need to see any ACTUAL therapist!
But the intrusive thoughts became much worse. I couldn’t ignore the need for help anymore. So I googled my local Christian counseling center and made my first appointment.
I got placed with my therapist, and I am so incredibly grateful that I listened to that little whisper that told me to see a therapist. Yes, I have Jesus. Yes, I also have a therapist. And guess what, I am thriving!
Why is the church so anti-therapy?
I don’t think you can blame the church as a whole for the stigma against mental health. I believe mental health issues are frowned upon societally, secular and religious equally.
In the church, though, going to therapy could seem like a slap in the face to God’s power over your issues. It could seem like you are just not praying or reading enough to get over your issue and heal in the way Jesus wants you to.
It could be that the church sees therapy as a conflict of interest. When we have scriptures such as “I can do all things through Christ which gives me strength,” it can seem like you can’t handle life if you have to see a therapist.
There’s also the issue that secular therapy could conflict with Christian beliefs. Will someone try to spread their Freudian theories all over me? Will I have to analyze ink blots? Or will someone make me take medication I am not comfortable with? Will they criticize my faith?
I’m not going to criticize the church. I think the church has a right to question some of these things I mentioned. Unfortunately, many therapeutical practices have been frowned upon, and that’s left a bad taste in many Christian’s mouths over many years. I’m sure there are more reasons why the church has frowned upon therapy for many years, but these are the ones that stick out to me.
Does that mean that therapy is anti-biblical? Absolutely not!
What does the Bible say about therapy?
I guarantee you…someone is going to read this and say “the Bible doesn’t say anything about seeing a therapist!”
Well, of course it doesn’t! Therapist’s didn’t exist in the days of the Bible! Neither did modern psychological practices. So, of course the Bible doesn’t say anything about therapy.
But what exactly is therapy? It’s simply taking to someone about what you’re going through, and they help you navigate your struggles in a healthy manner.
Now, if you put it that way, the Bible has all kinds of things to say about that!
I’d like to believe that the intent of therapy is very biblical! There are so many scriptures that speak about talking to other people about what burdens you. For example:
- Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2)
- A nation falls through a lack of guidance, but victory comes through the counsel of many. (Proverbs 11:4)
- Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice. (Proverbs 13:10)
- We must also consider how to encourage each other to show love and to do good things. We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming. (Hebrews 10:24)
- So then, encourage one another and build each other up, as you are doing. (1 Thess. 5:11)
- Instead, continue to encourage one another every day, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13)
God makes it abundantly clear that counseling is not sinful, or faith-lacking, but it is in fact wise! God knows through experience that life is really hard to navigate on your own. Why do you think Jesus had 12 disciples? It wasn’t that he wasn’t good enough to handle the job of being the Messiah all on his own. It was because we need others to help us navigate the struggles of life!
So….should Christians go to therapy?
I think if you are asking yourself this question, then you know the answer.
If you think you need a therapist, God isn’t going to be mad at you for going to one! Simple as that. Through the evidence of the scriptures above, God would rather have you seek the counsel of someone wise who knows how to help you navigate your struggle than for you to suffer quietly where you are!
Christian or non-Christian, it is important to find a therapist who you connect with well. Not any therapist will do! Just like in any relationship, you need to find someone you connect with well. I recommend that if you feel like you need your therapist to share the same Biblical beliefs as you, then seek out a Christian therapist. Some pastors also receive training in psychological counseling as well. There are a myriad of options for Christians to find someone who won’t just help them in their struggle, but encourage them in the Lord as well!
This is a popular phrase that is floating around social media, but it reigns very true: It’s ok to have Jesus and a therapist too! Don’t feel ashamed that you need a little extra help navigating life. Life is hard! Not only is Jesus there, but He can lead you to someone who can also be there too.