How do very conservative Christian denominations view a congregant’s choosing to take his mental and spiritual problems to a secular psychologist?
Pastor Dale Hummel heads Eden Prairie’s Wooddale Church, which is an evangelical church. His answer might surprise some observers.
Pastor Hummel feels that a mentally ill person can benefit from spiritual counseling by his pastor but also from professionally trained therapists. He would offer spiritual counseling and if there were a need to plunge far deeper into the person’s mind and emotions, he would refer the person to a professional counselor – with the proviso that the person consult “a Christian-based counselor.”
Senior Pastor Matt Brant of Eden Prairie’s Prairie Hill Evangelical Free Church notes that a person’s body or mental self may become unhealthy. “There could be a chemical problem,” he said. He would talk with the person spiritually, and beyond that, his “first choice” would be to refer the person to a “Christian counselor” so that the person could arrive at spiritual solutions.
Both pastors feel that Christian therapy can be a kind of ministry. Pastor Hummel believes that Christianity tells us, “God has value of your life,” and that Christianity encourages us to find a purpose in life.
Pastor Brant says that Christianity offers the helpful perspective that God is in control.
Pastor Hummel has no problem with psychological drugs being prescribed “on a case by case basis.” Pastor Brant accepts the idea of such medicine “when properly prescribed.”
Do troubled people hurt only themselves? Pastor Hummel notes that troubled people “also hurt the people who love them.” Pastor Brant says there is a “ripple effect.” Using New Testament language, he says, “We are all part of a body.”
Dr. Douglas Frey has established Home Heart Counseling Christian Counseling Services in Eden Prairie. Frey has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from International University-San Diego and a Master of Arts in marriage, family and child counseling from Biola University.
Frey says it is time to consult a therapist when an emotion or thought is very persistent—depression, anxiety, the effects of a traumatic event, ongoing unrelieved stress in a relationship. He believes that Christian patients will be comfortable with a Christian therapist—someone who knows their world view.
Frey says a troubled patient may have feelings of regret, failure, or self-loathing. Christianity and Christian therapy talk of forgiveness and—very importantly—of forgiveness of oneself. Christianity also offers a view of a future positive afterlife and a comforting God.
Frey says that Christian therapy does not necessarily create a feeling of happiness but rather a feeling of fulfillment—a sense of having been created in love for a purpose. Faith in God gives life a purpose, and faith in other people nurtures trust and dispels a feeling of loneliness.
Frey believes there is an overlap of the mind and the soul, producing a person’s identity and shaping what they see and how they view life.
Frey notes that if a person is a danger to himself and to others, a therapist is legally and ethically bound to report the person to the authorities.
Frey does not use group therapy. He deals directly with a single patient or with a troubled family. He often encourages people to attend various support groups that are available these days.
Peg Roberts has created Spirit of Hope Counseling Center in nearby Minnetonka. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has a master’s degree in clinical counseling from Bethel University. She has been a Christian therapist for 23 years and feels it is her vocation, her calling.
She believes that the quality of therapy is “regimented by licensing boards” and by both the profession’s strict ethics and its requirement of continuing education.
Roberts says that a person should seek therapy if they are uncomfortable with the way they feel or if their feelings have reached the urgency of crisis. Even if they are in a state of crisis, it is not too late for them to obtain help from therapy.
She believes her role is to represent Jesus and spread the word of God and the love of God. She must be there for people and help them connect with faith.
Roberts says that the soul is the essence of who we are, while the mind is an organ in the body. She says that the two are different but “intertwined.” Hence people search for “something bigger than themselves.”
For troubled people, Roberts notes, Christianity reminds them to trust in God and remember that they are not alone. This life is very important, but at the same time it is a stepping stone to heaven, she said.
Roberts also does not use group therapy but works directly with troubled individuals or families.
Sin and mental illness
How can you be of psychological assistance to people if you tell them they are inherently sinful?
Pastor Hummel says that we have a sinful nature, which “leads to our struggles.” Pastor Brant acknowledges sin and says, “We are born that way.”
Therapist Frey says that Christian therapy does acknowledge “natural tendencies that are selfish and harmful.” There is sin, a spiritual “immaturity,” he said. “We are always growing and need to grow.”
Roberts says that we are sinners with “a natural propensity to sin.” She feels, however, that knowing that simply makes us realize that we all make mistakes and have to work to correct our behavior.
Access to therapy
Frey said that there are large numbers of people currently seeking therapy. He attributed some of this to COVID, which he said has probably scared people and has certainly locked people in with their families.
While researching this article, many clinic front desks were virtually unreachable. Attempts to contact seven therapists at one Eden Prairie clinic yielded no responses. A phone call to the Minnesota Psychological Association in Minneapolis was routed to a remote worker who did not return any call. One Eden Prairie clinic expressed frustration that the earliest appointment available to potential patients was six weeks out.