Monday, April 22, 2013

Pastors and the DSM-5"

The recent announcement that the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5) will be available in May of this year (2013) has led to a renewal of the debate of how Christians Counselors and pastors use resources such as the DSM-5. The original DSM was published in 1952, and there have been a number of revisions until we have reached the point of having the 5th edition coming this year. 
I’m generally amazed at the number of pastors that criticize the DSM-5 (or its previous editions), and have a very negative view of the book. However, what even amazes me more is how many of these same pastors that criticize it, have never read it (or even read a single page out of it). I have been involved as a Pastoral Counselor & Alcohol Drug Counselor for over 23 years, and have read the DSM-III, DSM-IV, and the DSM-IV TR, and I’m looking forward to reading the DSM-5, to see how that I can better help the individuals I counsel not only with my professional practice, but within my church as well.  Let me be clear that I don’t agree with everything in the DSM-IV TR, and I’m pretty sure I won’t agree with everything in the DSM-5. However, I am convinced that we have to have a starting point in order to have a conversation about Mental Illness within churches today.
I have begun to see articles appear on some of the more common websites of pastors and Christian ministers, and refer to anything that is not straight from the Bible as “Psycho-babble,” I’m not sure what they are referring to when they use that term “Psycho-babble” and yes I have had several try to explain their use of the term to me, and even with all my education in both Theology, Bible, and Christian Psychology it sounds like an attempt to dismiss the use of a very practical tool to help see someone recover from a very serious illness. Over the years we have seen pastors, churches, and Christian colleges sued because they thought a person didn’t need a particular treatment and counseled against it, such as cancer treatment, heart disease, or even something like diabetes. Yet I have heard pastors counsel and brag about how they would never send a person to a psychiatrist or psychologist (even a Christian on), because God doesn’t say to in the Bible.
Pastor this post is not intended to be a criticism of your beliefs, even though I would disagree with you its purpose is to challenge your thinking.  Sadly there is going to be a time that an individual is going to come in your office that is suffering from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic Stress, Bi-polar, Schizophrenia and all of your best efforts, prayer, counsel from scripture, and wisdom is not going to see the results that relieve these symptoms.  Just as with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other illnesses, it is going to take a medical intervention to help these folks. That is where the DSM-5 comes in, the symptoms of various mental illnesses are listed, and described.
As a pastor if you don’t understand the symptoms of mental illness, and are unwilling to understand how the mental illness is destroying the individuals life, his/her family, friends, and even possibility your own church you are providing un-ethical counsel and I believe ungodly. My challenge to pastors and Christian leaders is simple:
1)      At least take time to read the DSM-5 before you dismiss it as “psycho-babble”
2)      When you read it look within your congregation and see how understanding the symptoms described in the DSM-5 would help you better minister and refer individuals within your congregation for help.
3)      Prayerfully, use it as a reference tool to assist you in better ministering to the Body of Christ.

Many of you will dismiss this article as the writing of a Clinically Trained counselor that has been brainwashed by the Freudian, Jung and others anti-God teaching. However, you would be wrong; yes I do hold a Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor-Clinical Supervision in the state of Ohio, but I also hold a PhD in Psychology and Christian Counseling from Louisiana Baptist University and have been involved in pastoral ministry for over 35 years. But brainwashed no, I have over the past 35 years of ministry and 23 years of counseling ministry made and informed search of the Scripture and the material in the field of counseling (and even though I don’t agree with all the material that psychology has produced), I have seen the benefit of the material. It like the old adage “Don’t though the baby out with the bath water” … I simply ask before you throw the DSM-5 under the bus, that you read it and see how God leads you to apply some of the writing to help your congregation.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Sad Reality of the Church

This past weekend brought the sad news for from one of the great preachers/pastor of our era.  It was announced that Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church, one Americas largest churches, son Matthew committed Suicide this past week.  As with anytime we receive news like this our heart breaks for the family and friends.
There are no words that can be used to help the family and friends to grasp the since the loss they are feeling, It is through the loving spirit of Christ and the support of family and friends that we can. The ability to move forward and the tender embraces of Christ love gives us solace in the thoughts of knowing we will see this loved one again sitting with Christ.  With the joy unspeakable, that they struggled to obtain here on earth.
Over the weekend I was amazed at the comment’s I read, most were supportive and encouraging, and individuals shared their condolences. However, I will say a few were inappropriate at the time like this.  These inappropriate comments and questions did raise a concern for me as a pastoral counselor and minister, what does the church really understands about Mental Illness or in some cases what are they willing to learn about it?  This summer the American Psychiatric Association will release the updated and much debated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-5.  It discusses the signs and symptoms of Mental Illness. I have also been amazed at the number of pastors, Christian counselors, and laymen in the church that have dismissed the use of this resource.  And how many will not read it.
One of the key topics with DSM-5 and yes even with in scripture itself is the discussion of depression.   According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of depression may include the following:  Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions, Fatigue and decreased energy, Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness, Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism, Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping , Irritability, restlessness, Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex, Overeating or appetite loss, Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment, Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings, Addiction, Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts. Some reports state that as many 15% of those suffer from depression will attempt and many they are successful at suicide.
Too often we think of someone with a mental illness as having a shameful diagnosis when in fact if it is simply a brain disorder, not different from a heart disorder. There are underlying biological reasons for these brain disorder and they are usually not caused by other people or the individual.
Throughout scripture we find many examples of individuals that suffered from depression, including some of the greats such as David, Jonah, Daniel, and many more. We can even say that Christ suffered from some anxiety and depression as HE kneeled in the garden, before going to cross.
My back ground has brought me in contact with individuals that suffer with depression every day, as well as my experiences as my work as a pastor. And I believe that the greatest need in the church today is an open and caring heart for the hurting. The stigmatize attitude needs to leave the morning worship service. Sitting in church and hearing prayer request after prayer request for individuals that have cancer, heart issues, in-grown toe nail, and upcoming test are all find and good (and do no misunderstand we need to hear these and pray for them). However, sitting there knowing a family that is struggling with a family member suffering from depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia, and yes even Alzheimer’s disease.  I sit there in the pew feeling their fear to say anything, because they will be judged differently than those with physical illness.  It is time for a NEW DISCUSSION OF MENTAL ILLNESS IN THE CHURCH.
In my opinion the following needs to occur. Believe me, I’m not out to win a popularity contest. However, I believe that someone needs to take a look at Mental Illness and give it, the place in the church that will allow the world to know that we care as much about the mentally ill as the physically sick.
1)      The church needs understand what mental illness is, and begin talking about it. This is includes our pastors, don’t sweep it under the table but encourage individuals to be honest about their struggles.  When they mention as a prayer request don’t judge it, give it the same attention as any other request. If you don’t understand what they said, in private ask them to explain and then seek a professional opinion, so that you know how and for what to pray if you need to.

2)      Encourage the individual to continue in treatment, all too often as pastor s or laymen we think that we know best about what is going on with mental illness.  There are individuals that will need to be on mediation for the remainder of their lives, to tell them differently is irresponsible.

3)      Support the family, I have meet dozen if not hundreds of pastors that will drop everything to run to the bed side of a church member who family member is hospitalize, from cancer or other physical disease. However, won’t even pick up the phone to see how a family member is doing that is depressed.  Encourage the family to seek help a great resources is the  National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), in my opinion every pastor should have their local chapter on speed dial.

As we close let’s be clear, I’m convinced that mental illness and if that is true it is treatable. However, I believe that God is a sovereign God, who will heal as he sees fit, and until that miracle healing comes for the individual weather it is mental illness or physical illness.  However, we as the Body of Christ need to treat each with the same type of prayer.

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