Questions From Readers
Would it be wise for a Christian to consult a mental-health practitioner?
Reports from some lands indicate that there has been an increase in emotional and mental illnesses in these “last days.” (2 Timothy 3:1) Christians feel deep compassion when fellow believers are affected, but they recognize that each one must decide for himself whether to seek treatment for his illness and, if so, what kind of treatment.* “Each one will carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:5) Some, suffering severely from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, deep clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, self-mutilation, and other distressing disorders, have been able to live fairly normal lives after obtaining the right professional help.
In some places it has become quite fashionable to seek therapy. In many cases the patient does not have a severe mental disorder but has difficulty coping with some situation in life. However, it is the Bible that gives the most effective help in handling the difficult problems of life. (Psalm 119:28, 143) Through the Bible, Jehovah supplies wisdom, thinking ability, and true knowledge—things that fortify us mentally and emotionally. (Proverbs 2:1-11; Hebrews 13:6) Faithful servants of God may express themselves irrationally at times because of severe inner turmoil. (Job 6:2, 3) James 5:13-16 encourages such ones to call on the elders for help and counsel. A Christian may be spiritually sick, or he may be distressed by an unchangeable circumstance or by oppressive stresses, or he may feel that he is the victim of injustice. (Ecclesiastes 7:7; Isaiah 32:2; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10) Such a person can find help with the elders, who will ‘grease him with oil’—that is, skillfully impart comforting Bible counsel—and also “pray over him.” The result? “The prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well, and Jehovah will raise him up [out of his despondency or his feeling of being abandoned by God].”
What, though, if a person’s mental distress and confusion persist despite the skillful help of spiritual shepherds? Some in this situation have chosen to undergo a thorough physical examination. (Compare Proverbs 14:30; 16:24; 1 Corinthians 12:26.) A physical problem may lie behind emotional or mental distress. Treating such a problem has in some cases given relief to the emotionally ill person.* If no physical problem is found, the physician, upon request, may recommend a mental-health professional. What then? As stated, this is a decision each individual must weigh for himself. Others should not criticize or judge.—Romans 14:4.
Nevertheless, practical wisdom must be exercised and care taken not to forget Bible principles. (Proverbs 3:21; Ecclesiastes 12:13) In the case of physical sickness, patients are faced with a variety of treatment choices, from orthodox medicine to therapies such as naturopathy, acupuncture, and homeopathy. There are also different kinds of mental-health practitioners. Among them are analytic psychotherapists and others, who may delve into the patient’s personal history to try to find reasons for irregular behavior or painful emotions. Behavioral psychotherapists may try to help the patient learn new behavior patterns. Some mental-health practitioners believe that most mental illnesses should be treated with drugs.* Reportedly, others recommend diet and vitamins.
Patients and their families should use caution when considering these choices. (Proverbs 14:15) Significantly, Professor Paul McHugh, director of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said that the mental-health profession “is a rudimentary medical art. It lacks easy access to proof of its proposals even as it deals with disorders of the most complex features of human life—mind and behavior.” This situation leaves the door open to eccentricity and fraud, as well as well-intentioned treatments that may do more harm than good.
It should be mentioned, too, that while psychiatrists and psychologists have professional, postgraduate degrees, many others with no professional qualifications practice without supervision as counselors or therapists. Some individuals have spent a lot of money consulting such unqualified people.
Even with a trained, qualified mental-health professional, there are things to consider. When choosing a medical doctor or surgeon, we have to be sure that he will respect our Bible-based views. Similarly, it would be dangerous to consult a mental-health professional who does not respect our religious and moral views. Many Christians are striving hard, despite mental and emotional confusion, to have “the same mental attitude that Christ Jesus had.” (Romans 15:5) Such are rightly concerned about the attitudes of anyone who might affect their thinking or behavior. Some practitioners view any restrictions imposed by Scriptural beliefs as unnecessary and potentially harmful to mental health. They may approve, even recommend, practices condemned in the Bible, such as homosexuality or marital infidelity.
These ideas are included in what the apostle Paul called “the contradictions of the falsely called ‘knowledge.’” (1 Timothy 6:20) They contradict the truth about the Christ and are part of “the philosophy and empty deception” of this world. (Colossians 2:8) The Bible’s touchstone is clear: “There is no wisdom, nor any discernment, nor any counsel in opposition to Jehovah.” (Proverbs 21:30) Mental-health practitioners who say “good is bad and bad is good” are “bad associations.” Far from helping to heal unstable minds, they will “spoil useful habits.”—Isaiah 5:20; 1 Corinthians 15:33.
So a Christian who feels that it is necessary to consult a mental-health professional should scrutinize the qualifications, attitude, and reputation of the practitioner and the possible effect of any treatment recommended. If a distressed Christian cannot do this himself, perhaps a mature, close friend or relative may be able to help. A Christian who is uncertain as to the wisdom of a particular treatment may find that talking with the elders in the congregation is helpful—although the final decision is his own (or his parents’, or the joint decision of husband and wife).*
Science can do much more today than in times past to alleviate suffering. Still, there are many diseases—both physical and mental—that at present are incurable and have to be endured through this system of things. (James 5:11) In the meantime “the faithful and discreet slave,” the elders, and all others in the congregation reach out a hand of compassion and support to sick ones. And Jehovah himself strengthens them to endure until that glorious time when sickness will be no more.—Matthew 24:45; Psalm 41:1-3; Isaiah 33:24.
Sometimes an individual may be asked to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, perhaps when being considered for high-level employment. Whether one submits to such an evaluation or not is a personal decision, but it should be noted that a psychiatric evaluation is not psychiatric treatment.
See “Winning the Battle Against Depression,” in the March 1, 1990, issue of The Watchtower.
Some mental illnesses seem to respond well to the correct medications. But these medications must be used with caution under the guidance of skilled and experienced medical physicians or psychiatrists, since there can be severe side effects if dosages are not correctly adjusted.
See the article “Mental Distress—When It Afflicts a Christian” in the October 15, 1988, issue of The Watchtower.