Grace for the Afflicted by Dr. Matthew Stanford is a book written to help educate a Christian on mental illness. It assumes the person has a fairly affluent background in Christianity and is interested in how mental illness is incorporated. The purpose is to educate others and explore some of the fundamental conversations happening around faith and mental health. This is something we agree with as we have released our own mental health educational resource that would help your church.
Dr. Stanford is currently a Stanford neuroscientist, CEO of the Hope and Healing Center & Institute in Houston, Texas, adjunct professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine, and church deacon. So when you want to talk to someone about mental health, he gets it, and when he wants to include faith, there are few better at it.
The Reason To Get This Book
If there is one key point that I have always heard Matthew Stanford push, it’s that mental illness is not a sin. If for no other reason, you should read this book to see how you need to come to understand this. Pastors, counselors are not the enemy and counseling can easily be part of helping serve your community. Counselors, churches are a huge community that can help your practice and spiritual needs are something you need to have as a resource for your Christian clients who are struggling and asking theological questions.
There are definitely things I don’t like about this book. I hold deep respect for Dr. Stanford and I have troubles with how he goes about laying out this book which I will touch on shortly, but because of this one point he has championed, I will always recommend people read this book. No one else has said it more clearly than him.
A Bad Example of Diagnosing
Several critics of the book note they disagree with Dr. Stanford’s diagnosis of Biblical characters. I’m going to go one step further and say diagnosing Bible characters is wrong. I actually wrote about this very thing recently to separate out my thoughts on this issue. It’s unethical and in my mind sets a poor example of how we should diagnose someone. I would never see someone on the streets and say “they have depression” or “they have schizophrenia.”
Christianity and other culture/faith traditions already have issues with mental health professionals over diagnosing, over prescribing, and making everything clinical. This actually furthers their discussion and hurts the mental health cause. I’m actually very disappointed about this part and believe it was a poor editorial decision to include any at all and the only reason I am not giving this book a favorable review.
It Becomes Very Dry
As a clinical counselor, I was required to read the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: (DSM-5) for diagnosing and to pass an exam. But I would never read it for fun nor suggest anyone else do it. This book has a very abbreviated version of the DSM-5, but it still feels very dry. I get it, it is needed for those who need to educate themselves, it’s just hard to read through, especially in audiobook form. I read a review of the book that reflects this by saying:
“the sort of thing I often find in books about Christianity and mental illness, and which I’m just not the target audience for — I don’t need the neurological components of mental illnesses explained to me, nor do I need psychiatric medication and/or therapy explained to me”GoodReads.com Review
The content of the book is a good initial insight into the conversation of faith and mental health, but the issue with diagnosing Bible characters is not something we over look. Overall, I’d give the book a 3.5 out of 5.