Thursday, October 30, 2008


The more I study the integration of faith and psychology the more fascinated I am by the polarities and yet similarities that exist within the fields.

In many churches there remains a stigma to mental illness, or even just mental health. This feels like an outdated statement, if that makes sense. But it feels that way because I am most familiar with contemporary churches - like Evergreen here in Portland, a church I briefly attended. It is a church filled with grace, love and a lot of clinicians. It was odd to sit in a round table style church in a pub (okay those in and of themselves should be considered odd but really aren't) and to hear people respond to Bob (the pastor) with sentences like, "I was processing this . . ." There is an integration of the two in that church. A respect I feel for the fact that mental illness is very real and not some sort of demonic plague. It is a painful experience that many people struggle with.

In other churches there seems to remain the feeling that mental illness should merely be surrendered to God and His healing powers will, well, do just that. How long did I wish that God would take away my depression? He didn't. It is my responsibility to respond to an illness and decide how to care for it. Lest I never escape its' power.

Mental illness all but destroyed me and my faith. It took from me some of the most precious things. Did I allow it to do so? No. I didn't know how to stop it. I can't completely blame that illness for big things that happened no more than I can blame God for not "saving me from them." But I can be cognizant that both played significant roles in the direction my life took. I am not the same person I was in 2005. My faith is not the same. My illness is not the same.

Thus back to the polarities. I held some very black and white views - I still agree with some but many I have had to let go of in order to experience healing. Many a healthy and a toxic church do not provide space for such things.

Generally speaking though both faith and the wonders of therapy and psychopharmicological intervention have significant powers to heal a person. Or in many (most) cases send them in the direction of healing. Healing is a lot of work. For me faith has been a lot of work - in the sense that I have struggled with the fact that I will probably never fit into the place that I once did in the church. I miss the church, I miss mission trips and youth group. I miss the community.

My mental health, my ability to have healthy relationships is probably better than it has ever been. I sometimes think of the many friends and relationships that I lost or damaged along the way. How many times was I terrified to put trust in people or myself? How many times did I claim that difference in "levels" of faith, or certain beliefs could keep me from loving someone, or rather being in-love with someone? How many times did I fear that if someone really knew me - especially my spells - that could not possibly love me.

These struggles have not completely subsided, well in love they have but that only recently and in friendships they remain. Kyle and I have walked through so much of that and I know the path is not at all complete or well paved for the future. With friends I remain longing for spiritual connection - for avenues to have calm and non-challenging conversations. Like the ones I used to have with, for example, my friend Kristie. Just talks of the wonder of God.

That is a trail away from the original topic.

What remains on that is this. Once while at First Pres. Burbank one of the women in the church, Roberta (or was it Nancy Cobb? well they were in a women's group together) asked: If a person were to come in to the church in the middle of service and walk straight to the front sobbing, how would we respond?

If a woman with a mental illness walked in suffering, would we call her crazy in our heads and then try to help her find treatment? Would we try to exercise those demons? I image the first.

Would we see the power of both the need for support in the mental health and faith communities for holistic healing? I hope so.