The most visible part of Jesus’ ministry was healing people. Jesus healed people of long-lasting illnesses, defects from birth, demon possession, raised the dead, but most of all he healed people from their sins. His physical healing always had the ultimate message that pointed to the redemption of the whole person: body, soul and spirit. I similarly believe that God has the power to heal today into our broken world- that this is his way of showing signs of his Kingdom for the lost and weary travellers of this earth.
There is a statistic from the World Health Organization that in 2030 depression will be the world’s largest health burden affecting more people than any other disease.
If this will be the biggest disease burden of this world, where is Jesus and how is he working in the world for the healing of this condition?
We have often looked to Jesus to only heal physical symptoms, and are hesitant to ask God to heal mental health conditions, like depression. This is in part because the church has viewed mental illness with stigma and often blames the individual, or family. It is also because people, like myself, have prayed for the healing of people’s minds and addictions to no avail. It is hard to find many stories of God’s miraculous healing of depression or schizophrenia. Perhaps we lack faith, perhaps we do not fully understand the spiritual-socio-biological interactions of depression.
In fact, this is probably one of the main reasons that I decided to get training in social work and counselling. I wanted more skills and tools to support, love, and promote the healing of people around me who struggled with trauma, addiction, and mental illness. In our little church of about 20 or so people on any given Sunday I would guess that about 50% of people in the room have a diagnosed mental health condition (including substance abuse). Some are on the paths to healing by slowly regaining independence and faith in God, while others feel like they haven’t received much relief from God or from therapy or medications.
I wish God would simply heal people, that we wouldn’t need psychotherapy or pharmaceuticals for mental health issues. I also wish that we did not need anti-retrovirals or chemotherapy for HIV/AIDS and cancer, but we do.
As a Christian therapist I have read the scientific research on mental illness. Most medications address symptoms, rarely do they provide a cure and its’ success varies widely depending on the condition and the medication. Similarly, psychotherapy fails many people and is not the cure-all for mental health issues although some forms of psychotherapy can provide lasting and improving relief from symptoms. Interestingly enough, some people do not develop long-term symptoms and may have spontaneous remission or “natural” recovery with limited or no pharmaceutical or psychological interventions.
Prayer does not always cure. The church regularly fails to care and love those struggling in their midst. We fail to be a family of faith that treats each person as an equally beloved child of God.
Although the role of the therapist is not explicitly a biblical one, it will become increasingly important as the mental illness becomes more prevalent and recognized in our world. Being a Christian therapist allows one to offer the most effective treatment available, while also believing in God’s ability to take care of a person in a way that reaches beyond what our limited understanding has discovered. Being intentionally open to the Holy Spirit, while using sound therapeutic judgement and evidence-based practices are ways of operating ethically and faithfully as a servant of Christ working within a secular medical system.
What are your experiences with mental illness and Christian faith/the church?
If you are a Christian therapist, how have you seen God work or what success have you seen within therapy? What has surprised you?
What tension do you see between healing from God and healing from therapy?