There are people in my life who I really like, and enjoy the company of, who are involved in Christian counseling so please do not mistake what I am going to say as an attack against believers who care and want to help others deal with struggles in their hearts and minds. I believe that many Christian counselors truly do care and truly want to help people find helpful and meaningful answers to their struggles.
Having said that I would like to issue a word of caution: Christian counselors, you are dealing with incredibly serious matters, and the words you say and advice you give may have an impact far beyond, and far more serious, than you may know.
I am no expert on depression, so I won’t try to explain the way any of this stuff works, but I do know a few things from observation.
The first thing is that there are two types of situations:
- The first is the one where people of completely sound mind are having a hard time dealing with something, in which case helping that person understand whatever it is they are struggling with, assuming that person wants to make a change, will most likely result in helping that person overcome whatever their issue is: whether fear, sadness, anger or whatever.
- The other type of situation is where someone struggles with something far more serious then your everyday pedestrian fear, sadness, anger and so on. This person is severely oppressed by darkness and sadness many times in spite of the life-situation they find themselves in. This person may not be able to think or pray through this darkness no matter how hard they try, no matter what advice you give, no matter how bad they want to change, no matter how much logic and truth contradict the thoughts and struggles in their head. This person may feel lost, hopeless, overwhelmed, overcome, overpowered, tired, weary, exhausted, empty, alone, afraid, confused, discouraged, defeated, useless, and maybe even betrayed and angry, and many times these feelings are directed at themselves, not others.
Another thing I know: we know much less than we think we do. If we aren’t humble and we don’t realize that things are much more complex than we can understand then we will tend to presume to know the answers to these struggles. Many of these answers are circular in logic (this is happening because you are sinning, if it doesn’t go away it means you are still sinning) and discouraging for the person who is already struggling with this heavy darkness in their minds. The truth is that we don’t understand all the details of how the human brain works, we also can’t even begin to understand God’s plans, intentions, or workings in the hearts, minds and lives of others. To presume we know these things, which we do when we give simple definitive answers, is nothing more than arrogant ignorance, and it can be incredibly destructive to someone who is already feeling defeated.
So, please, if you are a Christian counselor, or simply a Christian trying to help a friend, tread lightly, act in love, and humbly understand there is no way you can know the other person’s heart, mind, situation, and life. Confronting sin in a loving way is obviously an integral part of helping each other become more like Christ, but assuming some sin is the cause of a person’s mental health issues is unfounded and dangerous and could do serious harm to that person. As I stated at the beginning of this post, I truly believe many people who teach this and counsel this are well-intentioned, but good intentions are not enough when people’s very lives could be on the line. Be cautious.