I am oriented toward direct service and working on staff in a church didn’t afford me that opportunity as much as I would like.
Something seemed really wrong with that to me.
Because there are people walking all around us who are wounded and need a little extra care—despite what their outward demeanor suggests. And we aren’t paying them any attention.
Admittedly, conservative Christians, evangelicals and even Baptists (in whatever form they come) have a reputation for stigmatizing mental health care and mental illness. Generally speaking, the response has been that one doesn’t have enough faith or should pray more or read scripture more and all will be well. And we have this crazy Protestant work ethic which leaves us no time for self-care—or gives us permission to, I don’t know, observe Sabbath.
That. has. never. flown. with. me.
I certainly do think that one can use the support and practice he or she has as part of one’s faith in a therapeutic situation. In fact, that’s what faith-based counseling (note that I did not say Christian counseling) is all about. But the reality is that all of us, at one time or another, need someone else with whom they can process the crap that life throws at us—or to work through more complex issues. For a good number of people, they don’t need to pay to see a therapist. They have really good friends and/or family who can listen and reflect with them. For a good number of people, seeing a therapist and meeting therapeutic goals can be accomplished in a few sessions. For a good number of people, they have been so deeply wounded that they need way more. And it’s more than prayer, meditation, yoga, scripture reading or having faith alone can do.
Until churches find ways to normalize mental illness and to promote mental health, I will have to continue to work outside church. Until churches find ways to identify and meet the needs of the community around them, I will have to continue to try to summon the energy to do so myself. For those churches who have ministers of counseling on staff, I applaud you. You are making strides already.
And if your minister of counseling happens to vacate that position somewhere around 2013, call me. I’ll be looking for a job.