I revisited an older verbatim that I wrote back in 2011. It’s interesting to go back and review older visits and interactions with the lens of history and experience. I don’t remember this particular case, but it reminds me of several other cases. I do remember that it was rather frustrating for me, which will be evident in the interaction. Continue reading
The relationship between body, mind and soul is one of the most complicated and least understood in the modern world. One reason is that while the three certainly seem distinguishable (at least to those who believe we have a soul) the boundaries are extremely hazy. Is depression a result of a chemical imbalance, a poor self-image, or guilt from personal sin? How you answer this question will be a reflection of not simply your faith but your worldview as well (and the answer is most probably “yes” to all three).
Carlson sets out in his book “Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded?” to examine the phenomenon of mental illness from a clinical as well as religious perspective to see “why many Christians treat the emotionally ill as sinners instead of wounded saints (p 10)”. He sites several key beliefs that can lead well-meaning Christians do more harm than good:
- All emotional problems are ultimately sin problems
- Emotional and mental health problems can be solved primarily or solely by spiritual means (prayer, Bible study, spiritual discipline)
- Psychology is antithetical to faith and should therefore be avoided
- People who are right with God shouldn’t have mental illness or require psychological help
- Mental illnesses are just covers for bad or sinful choices
These examples may seem stereotypical or trite, but Carlson gives examples of these beliefs at work in the real world, both through authors who espouse these beliefs and those who were on the receiving end of them.
The confusion and pain that accompanies mental illness can be crippling at times. Our culture is just beginning to overcome the stigma of mental illness, as evidenced by podcasts about dealing with emotional illness (“The Hilarious World of Depression” is one) and by high-profile leaders and entertainers (including wrestler and actor Dwayne Johnson) coming forward about their own battles with mental illness. But there is still a stigma attached to showing up at a counselor’s office that deters some from going until things have reached a crisis point.
It’s important for Christians to understand mental illness not just from a spiritual and religious point of view, but from a biological, emotional, and social one as well. Carlson does a good job of describing the interplay of these different aspects of the person and the importance of understanding the person as a system and not just a soul with a body attached to it. He encourages us to take seriously the pains that are suffered in the past that can lead to long-term psychological and emotional damage. In doing so he promotes empathy and understanding over instruction-giving and problem-solving, something all chaplains are enjoined to do and what all Christians are called to do for one another.
Carlson’s book is helpful not only for chaplains and Christian counselors but also for those struggling with emotional illness who may have been hurt by the words of others or feel that they are in some way “damaged” or “broken” in God’s eyes because of it. It’s a helpful resource to understand at a basic level how our faith can inform our psychology and vice versa.
The Rev Daphne Preece (right) gives support to a member of staff. Photograph: Milton Keynes University hospital NHS foundation trust/The Guardian
Burnout is a common problem for those in helping professions, and while the word or term “burnout” may be used without much thought at times, it is a real problem with specific features. Maslach noted that the features of burnout are multifaceted, including “emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment”. Since caregiver burnout was first described in the early ’70’s a great deal of material has been written in order to study its effects and possible ways to alleviate it. Because of their visible role in the workplaces where they serve, chaplains can become a resource to help their coworkers prevent burnout and provide staff support as well as indirectly provide better patient outcomes.
I’m going to start right off by saying that this book will probably garner some strong reactions. John Bradshaw rose to prominence and popularity through PBS specials in the ’80s that, at the time, were controversial not only for their pop-psychology and soft spirituality but for their criticism of the family system as a source of dysfunction. Yet I found this book pivotal in my CPE training and helpful for understanding how individuals aren’t nearly as “individual” as we think.
Bradshaw On: The Family comes on the heels of the social upheaval of the late ’60’s and the cultural narcissism of ’70’s America. Popular culture was trying hard to emancipate itself from traditional societal and religious norms. This cultural zeitgeist runs through this book and therefore may turn some off. However don’t disregard it as mere “psychobabble”; it has ideas well worth considering. Continue reading
I came across the following short but insightful article on Relevant Magazine’s site. It highlights two basic observations that may seem obvious to some (the cyclic nature of grief and the importance of a social network), however the fact that it’s written at all shows the necessity to continue to educate and assist those grieving any sort of loss.
2 Things to Remember When Struggling With Grief
Joel Malm: March 5, 2018
Several years ago, a pastor who was a longtime mentor and friend of mine did some things that caused havoc in my family. Overnight we lost our church community. We felt totally betrayed. For weeks I was angry, then sad, then just depressed. I avoided interaction with people. I didn’t want to hear any Christian platitudes that just made me feel worse.
Starting out as a chaplain I was very concerned about what I might say and what counsel I could provide to others. As time went on I learned chaplaincy was more about listening than talking, and learned to silence my inner psychologist and problem-solver (or at least to keep that voice in my head, if not silenced). Then there are the times where words just fail. Continue reading
La Pieta Rodanini, Michaelangelo
A short reading from James Ford, originally posted on Patheos’ Buddhist page: Continue reading
I’m not one for Lenten traditions, but I try – and fail – to mark the season in some way. This year I’m going to repost stories that reflect on that Lenten season.
The following is by Tish Harrison Warren and originally appeared on The Well by Intervarsity here.
March 05, 2014 By Tish Harrison Warren
Marked by Ashes
At my first Ash Wednesday service several years ago, I knelt in a quiet, contemplative sanctuary and was surprised by feeling almost irrepressible rage. As the priest marked each attendant with a cross of ashes on our foreheads, I felt as if he was marking us for death. I was angry at death. I was angry at the priest as if it was somehow his doing. Continue reading
J. Vermeer: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
I love it when I read an overly-familiar Bible passage and something jumps out at me that never had before. It feels like that moment when you watch your favorite movie or read a favorite book and you discover something important that was hidden in plain sight. That happened recently as I was reading the familiar story of Jesus, Mary and Martha. Continue reading
Recently John Piper, through his Desiring God twitter account, sent out the following message: “Stop seeking mental health in the mirror of self-analysis, and start drinking in the remedies of God in nature.” The result was a backlash from many concerned with this apparent disregard for the nature of mental illness. A friend of mine told me afterward that he had recently lost a friend to suicide and that this sentiment was not helpful in the least.
Piper later walked back on his statement a bit, adding the context of the statement for clarification, noting that “mental health” meant something different 40 years ago.
To be quite honest, the suggestions included in the text (“10 Resolutions for Mental Health”) were quite interesting and would be beneficial for anyone. I recommend you read them. However couching this advice for “mental health”, knowing that true mental health is not just an intellectual endeavor but involves the interplay of biology and psychology as well, is still irresponsible.
Many shared their own stories of the battle between faith and true mental illness.
Christianity today still has much to learn about mental illness. Following is a post I originally wrote in 2015 which speaks to this further. Continue reading