“Christians Don’t Need Therapy” and other Lies We’re Told in the Church
By: Guest Blogger Rachel Gribling
I’ll never forget the look on a youth worker’s face when I confessed to her I was struggling with anxiety disorder at university.
You’re just a little stressed is all. You don’t need therapy. Therapy is for crazy people.
Bless her. I think she was trying to be helpful. In reality, she unknowingly was perpetuating a cultural stigma against people with mental illness within the Church. Christians can’t get depressed, they should know better. This belief leads to denial, which only makes matters worse. Well-meaning friends, and even pastors, who don’t understand what is going on, encourage their loved ones to “snap out of it,” and offer advice on “getting their Christian act back together.”
Don’t be fooled depression isn’t something a person can “snap out of.”
I was extremely reluctant to go to a counselor. That’s for crazy people, as I had been previously reminded. Luckily, my dear mother knew better and dragged me into a counselor’s office with heels dug into the ground. The sad reality was that stigma almost prevented me from seeking help. I cared more about what people would think about me than my own well-being. But I went. And I still go occasionally. And it has made all the difference.
So what about Christians? Surely we don’t need therapy. After all, we have the Holy Spirit, so we can talk to God whenever we want, so who needs licenced psychologists and professionals? In fact, who needs doctors or pharmacists or nurses. We have the One who heals, so who needs any of them?!
So what about Christians? Believe it or not, even Christians need therapy. Stop me if I am blowing your mind but this came as a shock to many people I have come in contact with. Specifically with people from the Church.
Perhaps I need to back up my story a little bit.
When I was in college, I began to experience panic attacks. So much so that they became a part of my day in the same way you turn off your morning alarm clock or turn on the shower – habitual, involuntary, and routine occurrences.
While panic disorder was already quite frightening, perhaps one of the more disturbing aspects of this whole journey had been the reaction from other people who were learning about it for the first time, especially among members of the Church. Before you read another line, it’s important that you understand I am in no way bashing the Church or Christians themselves. I myself am a Christian, I was raised in a Christian home, I went to a Christian high school, and many of my friends are Christian. However, this is not to say the Church has it all together. No-one has it all together, especially when you get a group of sinful selfish people together and label it “church”.
Thank God for His saving grace.
What I am supposing however, is that the kind of reaction and response that people with mental illness have received – negative and unsupportive – is not the kind of response Jesus had in mind when He said to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).
There is a stigma against mental illness in our culture today, and sadly it is permeating the Church, the place where we should feel at home, at peace, and free to be vulnerable with one another.
You just need to pray more.
Your depression is a sin against God.
You’re just a little stressed.
If you were really walking with God, you wouldn’t be depressed or anxious.
Maybe your panic attacks are a sign of your waning relationship with the Lord.
In a survey of Christians suffering with some mental illness, all of the recipients confessed to have hearing 4 out of 5 of these remarks from people they trusted. What perhaps is the most disconcerting of all is that these people were individuals in positions of leadership and authority – youth leaders, Bible study leaders, and elders.
One girl I spoke to, remembered a time when she asked for guidance about her anxiety disorder and depression from her Bible study, only to hear her leader tell her that she was sinning against God. This nearly broke my heart when she recollected the story to me. It was evident those words still had an effect on her. What people don’t realize is that their reaction and response to someone with a disorder has the power to reinforce many of the lies that depression and anxiety disorder say about them.
You’re not good enough.
You can’t keep it together, you’re a failure.
No-one wants to help you because you’re too much to put up with.
What do we make of the Church when we are belittling the plight of our brothers and sister in Christ? We have been given doctors and medicine to help heal our physical bodies. We take medicine when we feel ill. In the same way, we have been given the knowledge and resources to understand the human brain, to help correct chemical imbalances in the brain, and to normalize behaviours through various forms of counseling. If “only crazy people go to therapy” (or need it), then I guess we must all be looney tunes.
My name is Rachel and This is Where I Stand.
- Be vulnerable. Be courageous. (whereistandblog.wordpress.com)
- Group Therapy May Help Ease Social Anxiety Disorder (nlm.nih.gov)
- Right-Wing Evangelicals Claim ‘Good Christians’ Can’t Get PTSD (alternet.org)
- Battling the mental health stigma (sophielang92.wordpress.com)
- Stigma, lack of options hinder mental health treatment (blueridgenow.com)