Several years ago I wrote an article on the Puritan “treatment” of despair and melancholia. But I despaired of ever finding a home for it. It was too theological for some psychological publications, too clinical for some theological/historical publications…and so it languished. But yesterday I got my copy of Edification (2:3, 2006), the newsletter about to be flagship journal of the Society for Christian Psychology–and my article is the lead article. See my links on the right side of this page for their homepage.
As a teaser, here are some points I make. The article has lots of delicious (to me at least) quotes. Next week, I’ll trot out a couple for you.
1. The Puritans often get a bad rap in this country which is terribly unfair and it results in us modern folk missing out on some good pastoral care, still useful today. Histories of psychology are remiss when they leave out this literature.
2. The divines distinguished between the physical malady of melancholia and spiritual despair–two different problems, but easily entwined and interactive. Richard Baxterremarked that the “soul and the body are wonderfully co-partners in their diseases and cure.” (Okay, they thought the physical problem was caused by black bile, but we can forgive them for their lack of understanding neuroanatomy).
2. 3 common categories of spiritual despair: despairing of God’s assurance of salvation, despairing of relief from trials and tribulations, and despiaring of the loss of God’s presence–the loss of “the cheering light of his gracious countenance” per J. Colquhoun.
3. The treatments employed?
(a) Gentle encouragement and comfort without being overbearing.
(b) Meditating on God’s graces (rather than their sins and failures).
(c) Taking oneself to task by not listening too much to self (rumination) and yet engaging in self-examination (a la Psalm 42).
(d) Using all the means of grace available to build trust in God (spiritual disciplines, worship, community supports, etc).
I end with a little vignette from a counseling session where a counselee explores combating serious despair accompanying her depression with some of these “treatments.”