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I recently did a series of radio interviews on the topic of depression. Specifically, is it possible to identify someone with depression, what causes the symptoms, and can medication help? If you are in Dallas, you can hear the programs on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, June 20th and 21st, on 90.9 KCBI at 6:30pm and 10:30pm. For those of you out of state, you can check out the website www.forchristandculture.com and click on the “on the air” tab.
In the second program, I focused on the issue of chemical imbalances. Are there such things? If so, how relevant are they to our psychology and spirituality? Can medications help?
This is an important topic for me because I continue to find myself within a sphere of tension where the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of a client’s mental health may not be readily apparent.
I’ve said before that it is easier to focus on one of the three areas to the exclusion of the other two. This may be easier for the therapist, but it is not helpful to the client. In the radio interview, I read some statements from a professor at a Christian University in Texas who believed that the chemical imbalance idea was not practical or relevant to mental health. Here is a direct quote from the article:
“[The article stated] Counseling must go beyond merely symptom relief, and it must aim at spiritual transformation, to get people to conform to the likeness of Christ…a new professor was asked for his views on counseling those who have been diagnosed as having a chemical imbalance…’There’s no concluding evidence in science that it [a chemical imbalance] is real,’ he said, adding that neurotransmitters are not measurable in a living human being so nobody knows for certain whether anybody has an imbalance… The chemical imbalance diagnosis is problematic because, even if the imbalance could be proven, one still wouldn’t know if the imbalance caused the mood disorder, or if the mood disorder caused the imbalance.’” (Citation provided upon request.)
I agree with the first statement made. I am a firm believer in the fact that counseling must go beyond symptom relief and that our ultimate purpose as Christians is to encourage Christ-likeness. However, I have several problems with the argument that says because we do not fully comprehend all the intricacies of a particular problem, we should avoid it all together or focus on one particular aspect of a problem and ignore other potential solutions.
- The mystery of God’s creation is inexhaustible. No one would deny that the human cell is vastly more complex than what Darwin original thought when he developed his theory of evolution. Because it is so complex, should we ignore the study of it? Of course not. If our current knowledge of the cell turns out to be elementary at best, should we avoid using the knowledge we do have for practical purposes? No, we should not. Science has proven that a great deal of good can come from even the most elemental knowledge of a subject. (Note: Nerves are cells. We should study nerves.) Though we do not yet have the cure for cancer, Parkinson’s disease, autism, or schizophrenia, we don’t give up pursuing those cures. God created us as creative, curious beings and to deny that aspect of our humanity is to deny God’s sovereign design. This study should include the physical nature of our emotions.
- Chemical Imbalances are actually well studied. I explained Parkinson’s disease during the second radio interview. It is a disease that’s cause is unknown, but we do know the symptoms and that the symptoms occur because of an imbalance of acetylcholine and dopamine in the brain. By giving a precursor of a neurotransmitter (yes, that’s right! An actual neurotransmitter) we can relieve the symptoms of the disease and help people have a better quality of life. The same can be said for depression. Though we don’t have all the answers as to the cause of depression, we do have physical treatments that can help relieve suffering, and that is exciting!
- Relieving suffering can bring people to Christ. I heard a comedian once say that telling someone that an antidepressant is just a crutch is like telling an amputee that his crutch is just a crutch for his one-leggedness. Um, yes, that’s exactly what it is. Thank God for crutches and prosthetic legs and for medications that can help us to live more effective lives for His glory. A person who fears that someone will turn away from Christ because his/her needs have been satisfied would have been appalled at some of the miracles Jesus performed. Jesus healed ten lepers knowing that only one of them would return to worship him! I think sometimes we fear that if we use means beyond the Bible to help people feel better (diet, excercise, medication, boundaries in relationships) that somehow we will distract them from exploring the spiritual side of life. This just isn’t true and even if it was, it should not preclude us from the act of compassion!
I say all this to remind each of us that we are all guilty of being flippant about things we don’t fully understand. Let’s be careful not to make the same mistake that Christians in Galileo’s time made when they demanded that the world was flat (an issue that the Bible never even addressed!). Let us instead, remain in that constant state of tension as we earnestly wrestle with the brokenness of life, always seeking to heal, to restore, to redeem broken pasts, to relieve suffering, and in our feeble, broken way, point people to Christ!
I wanted to let those of you who are interested know about a week-long summer intensive that we are offering at Criswell College this year: The Integration of Theology and Psychology. I am very excited about this one week intensive scheduled for July 16th through the 20th. My good friend, Dr. Larry Dixon from Columbia International University will be joining me for the week to discuss topics related to the integration of our respective field. Below is some information from the course catalog:
This course will answer the question: “How does a counselor help a counselee grow through his or her life difficulties in a way that involves emotional growth, growth in Truth, spiritual transformation and a healthy and intimate relationship with God?” Such growth is not an end in itself, but prepares the individual for deployment in God’s global cause.
The goal of this discussion course is to help Pastoral and Clinical Counseling students develop a keen awareness of the major philosophical, theoretical and practical issues impacting the integration of special and general revelation as pertains to the profession of counseling, while at the same time maintaining an attitude of humility and grace towards those with differing viewpoints.
To join us, call: (214) 821-5433 or (800) 899-0012 or visit www.criswell.edu
This week on “For Christ and Culture,” I discussed the subject of eating disorders and food addictions. This is a pervasive problem in the United States that has taken hold of the lives of many people (women especially) and must be addressed spiritually, relationally, biologically, and psychologically. Jesus acknowledged that mankind cannot live by bread alone, yet we have made food and all that accompanies it (control, pleasure, survival) idols that have clouded our focus and enslaved us. For those of you who struggle to keep food in its proper place, let me give you some hope. There are resources that can help you to conquer your struggle. But first, you must do several things:
- Acknowledge what you really desire when you engage in eating disordered behaviors. (Control, Penance, Retribution, Mastery, Pleasure or avoidance of Pain, etc.)
- Recognize your powerlessness to overcome the struggle on your own.
- Confront the shame that keeps you from asking for help.
- Seek out a medical professional (dietician, psychiatrist, internist) who can help you take care of your physical body in a way that enables you to live the life God wants for you. (This may mean addressing the underlying depression that is perpetuating your behaviors)
- Open up to a Godly Christian counselor who can help you address the patterns of thought and emotion that keep you stuck in the addictive cycle.
- Establish a community of people (Support Group, Celebrate Recovery, a local Church body, Small group) who know your struggle and will not enable you to continue the addiction but will challenge you to move beyond it to be all that God wants you to be.
Here are some resources that may help to get you started:
- Texas Health Resources: Eating Disorders
- Remuda Ranch
- National Eating Disorders Association
- Sober Living by the Sea
- Focus on the Family
- Celebrate Recovery
Care for this individual who desperately wants to give up control and be free of her addiction. Help her to seek out a more lasting source for her significance, her purpose, and her love. Lead her to people who can empower her to break free and experience peace in her identity, past present and future.
Question: How have you overcome the internal struggles in your life? What encouraging resources have been helpful in your journey?
Note: For those of you interested in the radio program I did, it should be uploaded to the For Christ and Culture Website the week of the April 2nd.
Relationships are full of conflict. If you have managed to avoid it this far in your life, I guarantee you that you have also managed to avoid people. Avoiding conflict is not the answer, although we can certainly try to steer clear of meaningless squabbles and debates. The true sign of a healthy relationship is one that navigates the stormy seas of conflict with intentionality and precision. The only way to do this is to first understand why and how conflict tends to arise. We discussed the first source of conflict in the previous post: POWER. The second source of Conflict is Power’s mirror image: Preservation.
Preservation. Preservation of self is a natural response when we feel we are being manipulated, mistreated, overlooked, or attacked. Our physical bodies even generate responses that alert us to potential threats. Our heart rate increases, our face flushes, our eyes dilate, and our muscles tense. This does not just happen when we feel physically threatened, but emotionally threatened as well. Unfortunately, we can become super-sensitized to possible threats in our relationships, especially if we have been hurt before. If we are not careful, we can perceive threats where there are none. It takes a great deal of intentionality and persistence to recalibrate our system and raise the “conflict threshold” in our minds. So how can we manage our sense of self-preservation as we engage in conflict?
1. Consider the threat. What has been done to you that has caused you pain? Was it intentional or unintentional? If unintentional, can you let it go? (1 Peter 4:8) If it was intentional, what was the motive? Sometimes people hurt us for good reason. No one likes criticism but sometimes there is truth in what people say. If they were simply being hateful, then what about their actions or words penetrated and threatened your sense of self? We need to take time to consider the threat before we can effectively deal with it.
2. Bandage fresh wounds. The Vikings had great warriors called Berserkers who would psych themselves into a frenzied rage before charging into battle. Once they started, there was no stopping them. These soldiers would fight to exhaustion, often ignoring their wounds until they bled to death in the heat of battle. I know too many people who fight like this when they feel attacked. We forget that it’s okay to call timeout. Step back, look at where you have been hurt, and do some damage control before you confront someone. Maybe you need to meet with a trusted friend or advisor to sure up your sense of self. Maybe you need to pray and ask God to give you wisdom and discernment moving forward. Words can penetrate deep into our soul and taking time to heal a little before we jump into a conflict will allow you to resolve it more effectively. If not, you just might cut deeper wounds and bleed all over everyone around you. What a mess!
3. Hide yourself in Christ. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10). What does it mean to “run into the name of the Lord like a strong tower?” In regard to our relationships, it means that our identity becomes so wrapped up in who He is, that people can’t see us anymore. They see Christ. This, then, becomes our truest source of protection. The more we are like Christ, the more He is being attacked and not us. He will fight our battles, the more we place our identity in him. Then, we can worry less about preservation and more about resolving the conflict and strengthening our relationships.
Question: What has helped you in situations where you feel attacked by others?
“I’ve never told this to anyone but you.” For me, this is the saddest statement a client can make to me. So many individuals and families feel a deep sense of loneliness and isolation, even those who are connected with the local body of Christ. They feel lost when it comes to finding an authentic community that will walk with them through their hurts, their failures, and their triumphs.
At a roundtable discussion this weekend in Katy, Tx, we were challenged to consider how the church can better support the nuclear family in dealing with the dysfunction that every one of us has hidden behind our white pickett fences, manicured lawns, and pristine porticos. For me, there are several solutions, all of which were reinforced to me in a message given at our church this Sunday. The passage was Hebrews 13:1-6. Here were the summary points I developed from what I heard:
1. Host intentionally (vs 1-2) – We have become so program-oriented in our culture that we delegate the responsibility of fostering community to an organization, namely the church. I have said this often, but churches are not to be the locus of community. The home should!! Churches need to teach their members what it means to be hospitable. Some of the most authentic people I have known are those who open their homes to strangers. This may feel awkward at first, even terrifying, but the rewards are so worth it. If you want to open up to others and them to do the same, then open your home. Be intentional about the informal moments of life. You just might entertain (and be entertained by) angels.
2. Heal wholly (vs 3) – When working with those struggling with depression, I often find myself saying, “Look beyond your own pain.” Not only is this good for distraction, but it increases a sense of purpose that many depressed individuals lack. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. Therefore, to heal ourselves, we must heal others as well. Hebrews tells us to visit those who are in prison. What prisons do we find ourselves in? The prisons of addiction, loneliness, bitterness, pride, doubt, guilt, painful memories. Who is your family helping to heal? What ministries does your church have to the poor, the widows, and the fatherless. This is pure and undefiled religion! It’s time to stop consuming as families and start serving as families.
3. Honor Absolutely (vs. 4) – In this life, there are absolutes. Marriage is one of them. If you want to honor the family (see it remain strong and healthy), then honor marriage. Marriage is the foundation of the family and the family is the foundation of the rest of society. Churches are responsible for encouraging fathers to be the spiritual leaders in their home, mothers to nuture and support, and children to honor their parents. But what other absolutes do you stand for? Does your family share any convictions? Our postmodern world is always questioning and never answering. Some people may resent you for your convictions but stand by them. In doing so, you will help to establish a community with clear boundaries, one that will give a true sense of belonging to those who choose to join.
4. Hold loosely (vs. 5) – Dallas is the city of the Jones’s…and everyone is trying to keep up with them. Why are we surprised, then, when our churches do the same thing? We look at the membership rolls, the size of the auditorium, the media equipment, the revenue, the clout of our members, the entertainment for our children and we call that success. If this is the case, then what is the church teaching the family? Listen: coming to church in jeans and t-shirts is not a measure of how accepting a church is. If we want families to learn contentment, then we better start showing it in our church! If someone has a song to sing to the Lord and they don’t hit all the right notes, is that a crime? If a man has been spoken to by God this past week, do we silence him because he does not have a seminary degree? Is it right to hire outside consultants to teach us how to use psychology to manipulate the minds and emotions of our congregations to give more money to the mega-building fund? Perhaps if we stopped flaunting and fleeing consumerism in our churches, we might see our families follow suit.
5. Herald confidently (vs. 6) – as we honor God individually and as families, we can proclaim confidently “The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” Authentic community is so because it has nothing to fear from the outside. It can speak its message clearly and directly with open arms…no hidden agendas, no alterior motives, just truth in love. That’s the kind of community I want to be apart of!!
Question: Where have you found authentic community? What are the qualities or attributes that make it so?
As a psychiatrist, I’m used to some of my severely mentally ill patients believing they are someone famous. One of my patients, years ago, told me that he was Jesus Christ. I will admit: I had a hard time keeping a straight face because he looked nothing like the image of Jesus that I had in my mind. He was dirty, disheveled, with slurred speech and an attention span the size of a mustard seed (to use a spiritual metaphor )
Then, suddenly, I realized something important, something that broke me, reminded me of how dirty and unworthy I was: this man really was Jesus Christ, at least as far as my attitude should have been concerned! The words of Matthew 25 were sobering: “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Though Jesus was speaking specifically of his disciples in this passage, I think the truth applies to all of humanity, even our enemies.
Though I fail often, I want this simple truth to transform the way I deal with my family, my church, my clients, and anyone else the Lord brings across my path. How many angels have we entertained unaware? I guess it doesn’t matter. What really matters is that what we do for the least, we do for the Greatest! Hear them say, “I am Jesus Christ!”
Question: What helps you to see Jesus in others?
The word picture “Castles in the Sand” is often meant to be taken negatively. We glory in fleeting achievements susceptable to the slightest drizzle and the persistent lapping of the ocean’a tide. But “Castles in the sand” has recently taken on new meaning for me as I found myself building my own sand castle on the coast of Charleston, SC. After the passing of a very close family member, my wife and I took our children away for a much needed vacation to get back to the basics of life: eating, resting, and enjoying the simple pleasures of God’s beautiful creation. One of my favorite memories of the trip was building sand castles with my kids. I thought about why that memory is so special to me and will stick in my mind for years to come. Here are several reasons:
1. I was creating, no matter how simply. When God made Adam and Eve, He told them to tend the Garden of Eden that He had created. He allowed them to participate in the process of tiling, planting, watering and harvesting. He gave them the responsibility of feeding the animals and keeping order. Did God “need” Adam and Eve to do this? Of course not. It was a privilege with which God blessed them.
Humans’ enjoyment of creation is an active process. Sure, there are times we sit back and soak in the beauty around us, but that is not all we are meant to do. We climb mountains, paint sunsets, sing about love, build with wood and stone and iron, study and discover truths hidden in nature. As image-bearers of God, we are engrained with a desire to create. To do so is to honor God’s purposes for our lives, no matter how insignificant the creation may seem.
2. I accepted the futility of my work before I began. Let’s face it. Sitting on the beach for two hours building something that you know is going to get washed away, tramped underfoot, or (in the case of my kids) attacked by flying seashells doesn’t make much sense when compared to the cosmic workings of the eternal universe! I guess unconsciously I understood that going into it. Yet, I still did it. Why? Because the process was special. I had a blast running back and forth to the water’s edge with my children hot on my heels, packing sand into plastic moldings, tapping them out into shapes like walls and towers, digging motes and filling them with water. The best part was that how the actual castle looked didn’t really matter. The “meaning” of the experience came from being together and delighting in our work! Isn’t that ultimately what life is all about?
In our “purpose-driven” lives, we run the risk of forgetting what is really important. First, we can honor God in everything we do! (Sweeping floors, doing dishes, working in factors, pushing papers, editing digital software, reading a good novel) The key is to delight in the process and the people your position brings to you. You never know how God might use the insignificant things in your life to touch others for all of eternity. Second, without God, everything we do is meaningless (preaching to thousands, curing disease, conquering kingdoms, garnering fame, fortune, and power.) Just read the book of Ecclesiastes and you will know that we really might as well be building castles in the sand. Let God’s presence permiate every aspect of your life and you will never be without meaning!!
3. I left the final product behind me. As much fun as we had that day on the beach, it was soon time to leave. We had worked hard that afternoon and had a lot of fun in the process, but we couldn’t stand there forever admiring our accomplishments. Life doesn’t allow that. We had to move on. As we walked back to our beach house, I couldn’t help turning back and looking at our tiny little castle in the distance, dwarfed by the immense ocean waves behind it. At that moment, a father and his young daughter were strolling down the beach. The little girl, having discovered the castle in the sand, began to jump and cheer. She grabbed her father’s hand and began to pull him toward it. “Cooool!!” She exclaimed. “Daddy, isn’t it great?! Can we built one too?!” I smiled as they knelt down and began to dig. Maybe our castle had served a greater purpose after all!
I’ve found this song to be a real encouragement to me during difficult times. I hope you can take encouragement from it as well. Click on the picture to listen to the full song. I’ve included the lyrics here as well.
I’ve seen hard times and I’ve been told
There isn’t any wonder that I fall
Why do we suffer, crossing off the years
There must be a reason for it all
I’ve trusted in You, Jesus, to save me from my sin
Heaven is the place I call my home
But I keep on getting caught up in this world I’m living in
And Your voice it sometimes fades before I know
Hurtin’ brings my heart to You, crying with my need
Depending on Your love to carry me
The love that shed His blood for all the world to see
This must be the reason for it all
Hurtin’ brings my heart to You, a fortress in the storm
When what I wrap my heart around is gone
I give my heart so easily to the ruler of this world
When the one who loves me most will give me all
In all the things that cause me pain You give me eyes to see
I do believe but help my unbelief
I’ve seen hard times and I’ve been told
There is a reason for it all
As a psychiatrist, I see many individuals at the lowest point in their lives. “These are [literally] the times that try mens’ souls.” They are times of painful questioning…Does God really love me? Is He really good? How can I be saved when I feel so lost?
I think we have all been here at some point in our lives (and for those who have not, please see Proverbs 6: “God hates a lying tongue!”
One passage that has encouraged me during these dark times is 1 John 3:19-20: “This is how we will know we belong to the truth and will convince our conscience in His presence, even if our conscience condemns us, that God is greater than our conscience, and He knows all things.” (HCSB)
A few verses later in 1 John 4:10 it says, “Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (pardon or appeasement; removal of divine wrath) for our sins.” (HCSB)
So, often I must pray as the man whose son was demon-possessed, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” Thank God He is faithful even when I am faithless.
Can God keep for His Kingdom the man whose Alzheimer’s Disease is making it difficult to remember his own child’s name, let alone his commitment to Christ? What about the women suffering from schizophrenia or manic-depression who has completely lost touch with reality? The answer: “Nothing can separate us from the Love of Christ…” (Romans 8:38-39).
Take courage today, knowing that your salvation depends not on your own strength to holdfast but on the nail-pierced hands of Christ holding fast to you!
I am afraid that in our efforts to relieve suffering, many of us have adopted a fatalistic view of our sinful actions. We dig sedulously into our past, hoping to solve some psychological mystery that will provide a reasonable explanation for our choices, the unavoidable “series of unfortunate events” that will absolve us from guilt without the painful process of “sorrowing and repenting” which the apostle Paul says is essential for salvation, not only spiritually but psychologically as well. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
Now, don’t miss understand me. I believe a thorough knowledge of our pasts is important but if we want to live life with “no regrets” as it says in 1 Corinthians, then we would do well to follow Paul’s example. He said, “Even if I caused you sorrow by my [words], I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my [words] hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.” Pain is an inevitable part of redemption. Unless I, as therapist, am willing to walk with my clients through the painful process of accepting our responsibility for sin no matter what the external influences, I rob them of the one vital element that distinguishes Christian counseling from secular counseling. Let us not make that mistake!