Therapy and the Church
“If you just had more faith you would be healed.”
“If you were praying more, this wouldn’t be as big a struggle.”
“If your faith in God was strong enough you wouldn’t be dealing with this.”
These statements exemplify the attitude that some of my clients have experienced in the church when they become vulnerable and share about their mental illness or emotional struggles. As a therapist and a Christian, it is disheartening to see how God’s people use their words to discourage those that are struggling. After all, isn’t it true that God is near to the broken hearted? If so, why then does it seem that many in the church choose to not demonstrate the compassion necessary to edify those that are broken over their mental health issues and diagnoses?
When a member of the church body is diagnosed with a life changing physical illness, support tends to overflow. We pray, bring meals, collect money and more, however when a member of our body shares that they are struggling with something mental or emotional, they are often advised to pray it away or to accept a slew of platitudes like, “there is a reason for everything”. What’s more, if they continue to struggle with their depression/anxiety/trauma/etc. it is insinuated that their struggle was brought on by a lack of faith. I wonder if we would tell someone whose cancer had progressed into another part of their body that they must have more faith and they’ll be healed. Is it possible that all of these things are just marks of a fallen and broken world?
This is not to say that God can’t or won’t perform miracles, He does. I have seen faithful and dedicated Christians healed of many types of illnesses, but I have also seen faithful and dedicated Christians suffer with their affliction for the better part of their lives. In fact, God never promises a pain free life on this side of eternity. He tells us that this world will be full of trouble (John 16:33). He does promise that He will be with us through every step and turn of the journey (Isaiah 40:29-31). For those walking with a mental illness, Jesus is near and promises comfort, but not healing in this present life. We all have a thorn or two that stick in our sides, serving as constant reminders of our humanness.
My purpose in writing this post is not to shame the church, but to call it to give some attention to an issue that is all too often neglected. I want to encourage church members to be uncomfortable and attempt to understand what it is like to walk with a mental illness. Refrain from criticizing another’s prayer life or amount of faith, but instead remind them of how loved they are. Remind them of how much strength and courage they have to face an invisible battle every day.
Therapy can be a place where mental health research and Biblical principles unite to guide a person towards healing. I am broken by the amount of Christ-followers that minimize the struggle others face and though many churches are blazing trails in this area by offering counseling services or making therapy referrals, we can do better. A church shouldn’t lean away from what therapy can offer, but rather collaborate with the mental health professionals in the community because after all, we are all in the same arena trying to offer support to those in need.
Kaitlyn Thompson is a Licensed Social Worker and Psychotherapist in the Houston area. She specializes in treating trauma and working with couples. She also has had experience working with at-risk students in schools, refugees and crime victims. Additionally, Kaitlyn is a youth leader at her church in Pearland and loves to work with teenagers.