Jesus Christ, the Ultimate Counselor and Healer
By Matthew Potter
Suffering and turmoil is a human condition. When we define it by the effect it has on our minds and soul then we contemplate relief or solutions for our pain. We then we investigate what the problems, the symptoms and the remedies are. In the year 2014, our best model appears to be mental health services. Professionals in the mental health field include psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, and counselors. Within the mental health field there is a “diagnostic manual” (DSM) that a mental health professional uses to make a clinical diagnosis of a cluster of symptoms. This manual is 991 pages long and lists over 150 “diagnostic codes”, or psychiatric illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. This is the 5th volume of this type of book, with the first manual being published in 1952.
Classification of a condition or an illness is somewhat after the fact. What a patient or client seeks is treatment. The “remedy” for the most part is psychotherapy. Derived from its Greek origin, Psychotherapy is psyche- “breath, spirit, soul” and therapeia – “healing, medical treatment”. According to the “internet” there are over 160 recognized psychotherapies being practiced by mental health practitioners. Some terms you have heard likely such as, family therapy, cognitive therapy or art therapy. Others like Reiki (life force energy flow) therapy or Vegetotherapy (physical manifestation of emotions) may be less commonly known. For those of you practicing Yoga, your breathing and exercise is viewed as “therapeutic”.
We have shortened the therapy process in the last few decades. No longer will your HMO or PPO pay for years of twice weekly visits to Dr. Freud while you sit on his couch and complain about your mother. Being labeled “neurotic” or “hysterical” has changed. In modern times we have brief therapy, a few sessions over a few weeks or months. We have free advice on TV or radio. Our new guru’s Dr. Phil, Dr. Drew, Dr. Laura or Oprah gives us instant advice. Celebrity Rehab allows us to be “entertained” and informed by the lives of once famous celebrities with substance abuse addictions. The “self-help” book industry is reportedly a 10 billion dollar industry in the United States alone. I confess to reading many, and will plug a guy named Dr. Steven Stephen, who uses a Christian perspective. If “self-help” isn’t the only source you want to rely on then I refer you to the original mental health agency, the Bible.
A NIV Bible is around 1,000 pages. Part Old Testament and New Testament, the Bible contains stories, lessons and guidance for mankind. Chapter upon chapter provides us with examples of our Biblical and Christian ancestors. Their choices, decisions and lifestyles inspired and altered the history of millions of souls and serves as a daily inspiration when accessed by the reader. The Bible does touch upon the human condition. Multiple Biblical stories of depression, fear, guilt, and anxiety can be found. It also describes demons and spirits. An almost outright warfare is described between Jesus and demons, plaguing villagers he encountered. We have an ancestry that is born into a world at war over good and evil, at peace and in chaos.
God was aware of our suffering and out of this we have John 3:16 “For God so loved the world he gave his one and only son…”. And from that act, until his death, we have the counsel of Jesus. In John 6:33 he tells us “..In this world you will have many trials and sorrows (troubles)”. Christ himself openly communicates to us the emotional pain, his own trials and sorrows that he experienced, while in human form. He bears testimony of mental and emotional pain inflicted upon him by the Evil conditions of the world. His own soul or psyche was under attack daily, until his ultimate crucifixion. In the end of John 6:33 he also provided Hope when he says, “...but take heart because I have overcome the world”. He also teaches us to call upon the Father, asks for His will be done, not our own. This last part is significant because secular therapy can be guilty of over valuing the self, the individual. Christians are taught to put God above all else, to balance self-interest vs selfishness (C.S Lewis).
The best legacies that both the Bible and mental health share are that at their root they aim to provide the individual with some relief. Yet circumstance and solutions are most often viewed in opposite ways. Paul writes in James 1:2-3 that troubles ought to illicit true joy, they are a chance to grow. In psychology we can “reframe” a bad event but do we tell the person to be joyous over it? No, the Bible does not make assurances a believer will be spared hardships in life. The history books are filled with Christian persecution and world-wide new chapters are being written daily. Christians suffer depression, anxiety and other conditions like non-believers. We are promised though an eternal peace. Mental health can provide therapy, medication and make improvements to our lives, our relationships. Yet secular psychotherapy never fully has fulfilled its promise to heal the soul. Of the 160 psychotherapies I referred to, Christian counseling or faith based counseling is not recognized. For me personally, that has had a profound effect on how I interacted in the mental health field.
I have 24 years in the mental health field. My resume is quite varied but the bulk of my work has been in direct care, in psychiatric and residential settings. I have worked under psychiatrists, alongside psychologists and therapists. We attempted to treat “maladaptive behaviors”, “irrational thoughts”, “self- harmful acts”, “eating disorders”, “addictions”, “compulsions”, “mania and depression”. We gave medication. We altered patients’ environments by locking them in a secure unit. We gave them structure and daily groups. Over days, sometimes weeks, we would finally say “the patient is stable” and a discharge plan would be written. God or Christ rarely was a topic of conversation. Sometimes though, the patient was labeled delusional and “too religious” for mainstream. We imagine the Chicago homeless, street-corner “preacher” as a “bit off” and doubt he is a modern day prophet. He lifts the words from the Bible, but we worry that non-believers will see anther religious zealot speaking for us.
I know I have a different point of view when it comes to the topic of mental health. I forget that what I have seen over 24 years is not the majority of what occurs in most people’s life. My view also reflects a road taken by a Christian who really didn’t grow in the faith for years. As an 18 year old I considered Bible colleges, to “help souls”. By the time I graduated from the University of Illinois, I wanted to “change minds”. This is not an easy field to earn a living. It requires far more self-maintenance then I ever knew. I typically gave better advice than I took myself. My Christian life was intermittently present over these 24 years, and personally and professionally it showed. I had become that undesired “lukewarm water” Christian which Christ spoke about. Very recently though, God did something for me that my wife, Caroline, said he will do, he didn’t leave me alone. He offered me a second chance at counseling, but this time specifically as a Christian Counselor. My prayer is to do the Lord’s work and help aide others in true therapy of the mind and their soul.
Each and every one of us individually has certain capacities for how well we tolerate and cope with issues that come our way. At times we may enlist the support of mental health providers or seek pastoral advice. We may turn to Biblical studies/books, watch Joel Osteen or listen to KLOVE radio in the car to get through the day. Maybe you have a phone “app” that reminds you to pray, meditate, or take a deep breath. What we likely won’t do is ask our doctor or insurance provider to recommend a good “Demon Exorcist”. The DSM book I cited doesn’t consider that a condition. Angels and Demons are taboo in the field of mental health. We might say the addict is “wrestling with his demons” but it’s metaphorical. The mysticism of the Bible and the life of the Christ, prophets, and disciples is not a theme secular psychology/psychiatry can endorse. The science in these encounters is “unproven”. The effectiveness of prayer becomes a subject of researchers who want to know does “prayer” really work. Can I accept or reject my hypothesis about prayer? Acts of hope, faith are even a requirement for a Christian and are reduced to a question for scientists. We investigate each brain lobe, lesion and map the synapsis connections. We believe we are learning more and more about the brain, and the mind, but what homage is given to the creator of our grand intellect and creativity? We know once upon a time our mind, body and spirit were in perfect alignment. Now we are inheritors of imperfection and daily we learn to cope in that reality.
In summary, the connection between our mind and soul, is not viewed through the same lenses by the secular world and people of faith. The extra dimension of the Holy Spirit found in the process of prayer and scripture devotion, does not get “measured” by the statistician. Scientists look for a lobe in the brain that “needs religion”, “invents” God. The Bible has become a “nice story” with good “lessons” but not a “living word”. Even though mankind will keep coming up with a new version of the DSM, the inspired words and authenticity of the Bible remains intact. It remains a source of grace, clarity, hope, inspiration, faith and compassion for tens of millions of people. The Bible doesn’t offer 160 therapies to fix our psyche. It offers grace, salvation, compassion and faithfulness for those willing to seek a Christ-like way of life. My prayer for your mental health and psyche is to schedule a daily “Intake appointment” with the ultimate counselor and one true healer, Jesus Christ. Your suffering is a specialty God can treat.