Relating Faith and Psychology From the Pulpit: Part 1

Mental health is a major concern in the United States, and Christian books concerning depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are common bestsellers. Yet the majority of pastors rarely or never discuss it on Sunday mornings.

A 2018 study by Lifeway research brought the issue of how mental health is addressed in churches to light. The study found that although 66% of pastors rarely discussed mental health issues from the pulpit, over half have counseled someone with an acute mental illness, and ¾ of those surveyed knew someone personally who suffered from clinical depression. The study found that almost a quarter of pastors surveyed struggled with mental illness themselves. If this is the case, why aren’t pastors speaking about this more often? Continue reading

Trauma and Boundaries: Membranes, Walls and Drawbridges

I recently attended a conference on trauma and grief along with members of my CPSP chapter. The impetus for the event was the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which was where our group met where some members were leaders.

While it wasn’t discussed, I realized that one of the things that makes traumatic grief so painful is that those who are going through it are so vulnerable to continued pain. Our speaker talked about how triggering events, images and even sounds can bring trauma back to the surface even years after. Some participants found that even discussing traumatic grief was difficult for them in the context we were in and had to leave the room to gather themselves. Continue reading

The Political Chaplain

An image from the Arbor Day foundation: “A rotten inner core … can cause a split trunk. The wounds are too large to ever mend.”

I have a game at home called “We Didn’t Playtest This At All”. It’s a really fun game (to some at least) based on unique cards that people play during the game that change the rules of the game as it’s played. For example, one card simply says “You Win” and when you play that card, you win (but only if you’re a girl in one case). Unless someone has the card that allows them to make someone lose whenever that person just won (but they also lose). My favorite card though is called “Politics”. When you play that card you are told to say “everything is ruined!”, then all players turn in all their cards and pick new ones. Because, as we know, politics ruins everything. Continue reading

Moving Beyond Helplessness: An Update

I recently wrote a post about the difficulties of overcoming helplessness in grief and grieving. Since then I wanted to give a bit of an update not only on the case but on my CPSP group’s reaction to it when I presented it to them for feedback.

I had written about a woman who recently lost her husband and since then had become very depressed. She felt that everything good was gone in her life and that nothing could make it better. The only thing that could make things better was for her husband to come back, and she knew that wasn’t going to happen. She often told me that there was nothing I, or anyone else, could do for her. I described talking to her as feeling like I was putting the needle back into the groove of a skipping record. After several discussions, visits, and referrals for her I brought the case up to my CPSP group for feedback and at least a listening ear.

The first response I got after detailing the situation surprised me: “so how long are you going to do this?” Continue reading

Moving Beyond Helplessness

In my working with individuals who are struggling with their grief, one of the most difficult obstacles I’ve had is the sense of helplessness that sometimes accompanies grief. I made a call the other day to the wife of a past patient the other day, and she expressed her feelings this way: “You can’t help me.” She went on to talk about how she and her husband did absolutely everything together and how they planned on growing old together. Life without him was unimaginable. Now, two years after his death, every day feels worse than the day before. She has no picture of a future without him, feels unmoored and purposeless, and lacks a sense of her own identity. She has panic attacks and is very depressed most of the time. Worst of all though is her feeling that there’s nothing I or anyone else could do to help her. Continue reading

Self-Disclosure: How Much is Too Much?

A reader asked me a while ago about the appropriate use of self-disclosure and I thought that was a great topic to write about more in depth. It can be a touchy subject, as I expect we have all met those who engage in too much self-disclosure with those we support. To completely avoid self-disclosure though is to not use our most valuable and powerful tool, our own story. Continue reading

528 Hertz

“You know that the universe vibrates at 528 Hz, right?”

This was only part of the first conversation I had with Neil*, who had just come on hospice and was living at home with with his mother. It was my initial assessment with him, and it was already off to an interesting start. When I arrived for our meeting time he wasn’t available. The neighbors in his apartment building who were sitting outside said that he had just gone out to the local Rite-Aid with his girlfriend. So I waited on the patio until he arrived.

Neil right off the bat struck me as an interesting guy. He was in his mid-50’s, and his long white hair, thin build, pale Hawaiian shirt and straw fedora made him look like a wandering beachcomber. He carried a portable oxygen concentrator, the only visible indicator of his end-stage lung cancer. “Hey man! Sorry I’m late. I had to go get my meds and some toothpaste.” He introduced me to his girlfriend who was with him and neighbors and then escorted me inside, chatting the whole time. Continue reading

CPE Verbatim: Avoiding the Unavoidable

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 Bookshelf: “Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded?”, by Dwight Carlson

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). Continue reading

Serving the Servers: How Chaplains Can Help Prevent Burnout

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.

Continue reading