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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? In September 2020, prominent pastor Jarrid Wilson committed suicide after a long battle of depression, and many ministers and congregation members across America were left confused. Recent studies have also shown that well over half of pastors in America claim to have experienced some kind of mental health struggle during their time in ministry. It is no surprise that people in the Christian faith also struggle with their mental health, regardless of their credentials.
“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. So let’s unpack whether seeking professional help for our mental health is something Christians should or can participate in.
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!
I have found since starting therapy that my ability to deal with anxious thoughts and other similar experiences has not only benefitted me in my daily life, but also my spiritual journey as well. Navigating my mental health challenges with the assistance of a professional has genuinely made me a better human being.
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 have a negative stigma 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 counseling 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 seeing a professional counselor 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! And in many situations, the wise counsel we need to help us navigate the challenges of life should come from professional counseling.
What About Biblical Counseling?
Biblical counseling differs in many ways from professional mental health treatment. Typically, biblical counseling is administered from a pastor or another leader in the church who has received some form of training, and maybe even a minor certification. In many situations, unless the person giving the counseling has had actual professional training, the biblical counseling consists mostly of taking scriptures out of context and repeating those scriptures, or being told to pray more. As much as I love prayer and the Bible, none of these strategies are of great help when what you’re dealing with is deep seated trauma and actual mental illnesses.
There may be a time when a good Bible verse and prayer session are good enough. I’m not saying that pastors shouldn’t try to offer assistance to those with mental health issues. What I am saying is that when a person is struggling with serious mental health issues, base-level pastoral counseling may not cut it.
I know this opinion of mine may be a controversial one in many Christian circles, but it is vital for Christians to understand that there is a big difference between a pastor whose training is in spiritual guidance and Biblical truth and a licensed counselor whose training is in mental disorders and the treatment of said illnesses.
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 good 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. 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.
Mental Health Resources
- National Institute of Mental Health – is the lead federal agency for research on mental health conditions. They offer lots of information and statistics on various mental illnesses, and they have a database of healthcare providers. They also have a suicide hotline and crisis hotline (Call 988 For the suicide and crisis hotline) , as well as free crisis text line (Simply text HELP to 741741.)
- Anxiety And Depression Association of America – has a wonderful site that provides lots of information about anxiety and depression, as well as various tools for receiving help.
- Betterhelp – Is an online therapy service that makes therapy accessible and affordable for all people. They have a huge database of therapist with many specialties, and offer many ways to participate in therapy. From online counseling, to over the phone sessions, they odder a plethora of ways you can get help from a therapist.
- Faithful Counseling – Is very similar to Betterhelp, but is a database of online Christian therapists. If you would prefer to receive therapy from a faith-based perspective, then this could be just for you.
- Brightside – offers online medication and therapy treatments for depression and anxiety. You can get an appointment with an online provider in as little as 48 hours, and each treatment plan is catered to your personal needs.