Answering this question is foundational to the purpose of this entire website. Without answering this question, we have no reason to continue in discussing how mental health can collaborate with the church.
A gap between mental health and the church has been present for a long time. An attitude expressed by some Christians is that if you struggle with depression and anxiety, you need to just pray it away.
Ed Stetzer, popular Christian blogger and author, wrote on this very subject:
It is common practice in churches, however, to treat mental illness differently. We immediately assume there is something else, some deeper spiritual struggle causing mental and emotional strain.
The fact is that mental illness and spiritual struggle can be (and are) related. We are not separate things, we are complex people—remarkable connected in spirit, soul, body, mind, etc.
But, let me be direct here: if we immediately dismiss the possibility of mental illness and automatically assume spiritual deficiency, our actions amount to spiritual abuse.
Where Is The Gap?
This dismissal Ed talks about above I’m going to label the Christian Mental Health gap. To best answer the question if it is okay with Christians going to counseling, I think we need to first identify where the gap is.
This gap has two parts to it:
- It starts with awareness as the Church sees depression, ADHD, and anxiety as consequences of an individual’s sin. If mental health was simply a sin, one must simply pray for repentance and to receive healing. Certainly God can perform a Holy miracle and prayer for God’s divine wisdom and favor should be part of the process. But the process of counseling to many Christians with talk therapy, medication, and better living practices like yoga and deep breathing coping skills is seen as lacking trust in God. And psychosis and mania are of the devil. This is simply not true.Trusting in God is no devoid of action. One can have trust in God and still ask for assistance. In fact, we as Christians are commanded to take action and in so doing will be blessed.
- We need to normalize mental health and get rid of the stigma. How many times have you heard of someone saying they have OCD tendencies when they like to be organized, saying they are so depressed when their football team loses, or they feel like they are losing their mind when they lose their keys? Those disorders have real implications and you are misusing the titles of the disorder.More so, many times people are scared of those that have mental health. We need to understand they are hurting and with any person who struggles, come along side them. We fear what we do not know and many Christians do not know about mental health.
We fear what we do not know and many Christians do not know about mental health.
What Scripture Says About Counseling
Now that we have awareness of the differences between sin and mental health as well as normalized mental health, we must see what Scripture says about the question if it is okay for Christians to go to counseling.
It wouldn’t be a very good collaborative website for pastors if we did not include Scripture. Thankfully, we see many pieces of Scripture that discuss counseling to suggest this is very appropriate for Christians to engage in.
The well known Old Testament Scripture that foretells of Jesus’ coming specifically calls Jesus a counselor. In fact, if you notice the order, He is called counselor before any other title in all English translations.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
– Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)
The title Counselor here is the Hebrew word ya’ats which literally translates to “to advise, consult, give counsel, consel, purpose, devise, plan. This is the very definition of a counselor in our modern era.
We see counseling described a couple of times in the New Testaments with proverbs.
Through insolence comes nothing but strife, But wisdom is with those who receive counsel.
– Proverbs 13:10
Without consultation, plans are frustrated, But with many counselors they succeed.
– Proverbs 15:22
Certainly there is more Scripture to support this argument, but the justification has been laid. It is not against our faith as Christians to go to counseling. In fact, it actually is biblically sound to do so.
This now paves the way for a conversation for asking the questions: when it is appropriate to go to counseling, when is it appropriate to go to a pastor, and where can you find resources for both? We will discuss this in upcoming articles.
Tell us in the comments.
What your thoughts are on if it is okay for Christians to go to counseling?