One of the hallmarks of the Biblical Counseling movement has been the clear articulation that psychiatric problems are not different in kind from any other set of problems. This assertion is made by some for a couple of reasons:
- To make sure everyone knows that the bible speaks to every kind of experience. if one draws lines between “regular” anxiety and pathological anxiety, those who meet the criteria for a DSM diagnosis might think that biblical material cannot speak to their situation–that they need to go elsewhere for help. God cares for and addresses every concern.
- To level the playing field between professionally trained counselors and biblical counselors. If the roots of human problems are common no matter the outer expression of them, then pastors and lay counselors can understand the issues (pride, suffering, fear, despair, etc.) and walk alongside anyone. One may not need special training to help another.
- To communicate to the healthy that they are not different from the more obviously unhealthy. The point is to reduce stigma and promote unity.
Consider the pros and cons of this viewpoint.
- Reduction of stigma and ghettoization
- Increase normalization (“so, I’m not so different from others) and similarity with the rest of humanity
- Increase the confidence and courage of leaders to address and dialogue about all forms of suffering
- Decrease in interest in the specific experiences of suffering thus narrowing problems down to a simplistic cause (sin?)
- Possible over-confidence of some leaders leading to a reduction of empathy and listening to the experiences of other; failure to consider body/mind issues not specifically elaborated on in the Bible.
- Failure to recommend outside helpers with specific expertise and training; dismissal of the need to have professional counselors who may have greater practice with certain kinds of interventions\
When I teach my Psychopathology course I want my students to see just a bit of themselves in descriptions of people with thought disorders, addictions, eating disorders and the like. I want to normalize these kinds of problems so that students don’t think of clients with the problem as somehow different from their own experiences. While I may not binge, I may be able to empathize with those who do. However, I do not want them to think their brief binge as exactly the same as someone else’s experience. Otherwise, they might assume it would be easy to “just say no” to the binge.
When I teach my Physiology course, I want my student so to see the complexity of the brain and body and thus recognize the unique forms of suffering some go through. I want them to realize just how little we understand how much the body influences our experience of the world and of self. However, I do not want them to medicalize psychiatric problems. If they did that they might believe that counseling has little influence on psychiatric disorders. They might think that biblical reflections on anxiety and depression have no place in the healing of serious problems in living.
What is your experience regarding christian leaders handling of psychiatric problems? Do you see too little normalization? Too much? Do you see minimization of psychiatric suffering?