During an intake session, a new client reported multiple traumas along with an eating disorder. When I asked if she had received treatment for the eating disorder, she stated she had seen a church counselor about ten years earlier. “Basically I was given Scripture to quote whenever I felt the urge to restrict my food or purge it after eating.” “Do you still restrict your calories or purge your food after you eat?” I inquired, “Yes, when I’m stressed or thinking about the past I won’t eat and sometimes when it gets bad, I purge.” She replied. In her third session with me, she reported moderate to severe depression and “not feeling like myself anymore,” with thoughts of dying. She let me know she was afraid to take medication because her time in church counseling taught her that taking an antidepressant was not biblical.
I recommended she see her medical provider anyway where she was promptly started on an antidepressant. “I don’t know what the Bible says about that (medication), but I’m starting to feel better.” That is not the first time a client has expressed concern about the Bible’s message on taking medication. Actually, the Bible says absolutely nothing about taking an antidepressant or any other medication for that matter. Surely sufferers in biblical days used whatever modern healing methods were available to them. However, since those healing methods are not stated explicitly, we assume medication is sinful and to be avoided, complicating matters further.
Instead of the church being part of my client’s healing, they were part of her trauma. The person who tried to help her was unqualified and my client’s illness was prolonged for an additional ten years because she did not receive the necessary treatment. Quoting Bible verses does not heal trauma, mental illness or eating disorders. While it is acceptable to give an ailing parishioner Scripture to quote, church leadership can best serve its congregation by referring folks who need more than spiritual growth to professionals.
If you lead a church ministry and you do not know any licensed mental health professionals in your community, endeavor to change that today. Do a Google search for providers in your area, check out Psychology Today, ask local primary care physicians who they refer their patients to and then get to know them over a cup of coffee or lunch. You might even ask if they are willing to offer a presentation on mental illness to your congregation.
I refer to mindless quoting of Scripture and bad theology (e.g. taking Scripture out of context, using it as a weapon, poor interpretation, or trite spiritual sayings) as roadblocks to the healing process. People should not be made to feel guilty because they need medication or therapy for a mental or emotional condition. That is a personal choice and does not make them weak or less of a Christian for doing so. You do not want to be the friend who discourages a depressed individual from taking their Prozac and two weeks later, end up at their funeral. Obviously, all medications have side effects that have to be considered, but when the benefits outweigh those side effects and they give suffering people their lives back, who are we to judge their decision?
We should strive to facilitate healing, not hinder it by minimizing suffering or offering skills we have not been trained to use.