This post (or one like it) has been lurking in the back of my mind, and as an incomplete draft, for well over a year. It’s only recently, as I’ve been reading some of David Murray’s posts on this subject (here, here, and here) that I have determined to write out some of my own thoughts on this subject. I should also point out that I do so with great trepidation, for fear that some of those on the biblical counseling/nouthetic counseling “team” will read this and immediately go on the attack, rather than patiently considering what I have to say.
Way back in 1998, when I first joined the United States Army, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type I. I can still remember sitting in the psychiatrist’s office at the Community Mental Health Center, and listening as he laid out my treatment options. One of the first things he mentioned was Lithium, along with a few other medications like Tegretol. I was scared witless. I also remember him asking me if I liked being in the Army; of course I answered in the positive! I loved the Army like a husband loves his bride. At that point in my life I thought that I would be a soldier forever. “My” psychiatrist then proceeded to inform me that if I started taking Lithium I would be discharged from the Army, since it would make me undeployable; it would also make me appear to be a sissy boy to my commanding officer, and they would never trust me again, and everyone would hate me.
No, I’m not kidding. That’s what he told me.
So I tried to bootstrap the problem for 5 years. When I got out of the Army, I eventually got medical help, but only after a psychotic break and getting to spend a month institutionalized. It was a horrible experience.
Since 2004, after trying various other medications that worked with varying degrees of inefficiency, I finally bit the bullet and started taking Lithium. And I must say, that I am a textbook choice for Lithium and I respond extremely well to it.
Then in 2009 I met my wonderful wife, whose sister also has bipolar, and we fell madly in love. It was important to me that we both attend the same church, so I started going to the same Presbyterian church she did, where I met a pastor that I can only describe as misguided where mental illness is concerned. My bride wanted to hear the Sunday School class he was teaching on biblical counseling, so we tracked down the room where he was teaching.
Just a few minutes into his lecture, I knew he and I weren’t ever going to be pals when he said this:
All mental illness is a sin issue. From top to bottom, sin causes all so-called mental illness. When someone you love is diagnosed with bipolar or schizophrenia, you’ll find out whether or not you really believe this.
In at least one sense, he was right. But in another, he couldn’t have been more wrong. If he had meant by his statement that we could trace all mental illness to the Fall, I would have had less of a problem with his statement. But that wasn’t what he meant at all. What he meant was that bipolar or schizophrenia was caused by specific sin committed by the individual, not by the sinful nature we inherited from Adam.
To say that I was livid would be an understatement of massive proportions.
Since Jay Adams published Competent to Counsel in 1970, it has been very popular to slam psychology and psychiatry in Reformed and Presbyterian circles. To be completely forthright, I have my own questions about some aspects of both disciplines.
But I have even bigger questions about nouthetic counseling and biblical counseling. For instance there is this quote form Ed Welch:
Whatever mania does, it can only act like a temptation, not the power that coerces you into foolishness.
From the perspective of one that has been manic far more than once, I question whether or not Welch knows what he’s talking about.
I have a lot more to say on this subject, but I’m out of time. Perhaps there will be more posts on this subject in the near future.
- How do Churches Handle Difficult Mental Health Cases, Biblical Counseling, and the Law? (spiritualsoundingboard.com)
- Biblical Counseling and Mental Health Crises: Does it Always Work? (spiritualsoundingboard.com)
- Bipolar Predisposition and Christian Predestination (bipolarchristianity.com)
- How Does Your Church See Mental Illness? (brokenbelievers.com)