Psychology or Biblical? – Part 2

Four Lenses of Diagnosing Problems.

General medicine does not make Christians too nervous. If you have a troubling symptom you go the Internist or Specialist and hope for an accurate diagnosis and plan of treatment that will bring you back to health. Many times this may involve a prescription. If we are told we have a thyroid disorder and need Synthroid, we go fill our prescription and take our dose. If we have high blood pressure we may need medication.

Let’s dive into a controversial subject. When it comes to a Psychiatrist and diagnosis of some psychological disorder and a suggestion for medication we often balk as Christians. Milan and I have had to beg, plead and cajole many clients into seeking this kind of help. Sometimes there is a flat refusal. Why is this? Somehow this kind of help is labeled unspiritual. If we had faith, a close walk with God (whatever exactly that means) and read our bible and prayed we should not be depressed, anxious, have mood swings, compulsions etc.

While all these spiritual disciplines and practices certainly help, sometimes they are not enough. Milan and I like to look at all problems; medical, psychological and spiritual though four lenses.

Physical
Emotional
Spiritual
Medical

Most problems we encounter are a mixture of all of these areas. The difficult question is, what’s what? For example, years ago I saw a client who was 53 years old. We will call her Sue. The last of Sue’s four children had just moved out to attend college. She was an empty nester after being a stay at home mom for 25 years. She was not sleeping well. She was tired and unmotivated. She was a devout believer for many years and described her relationship with God as “close and life giving” until recently. Now her prayers seem to be “hitting the ceiling” Upon further questioning, I learned her best friend had died of leukemia the previous year. She described this loss as devastating and felt no one but God understood the degree of sorrow she experienced. Her husband was a high level executive and worked long hours. She loved him and the life style he provided, but longed for more emotional and spiritual intimacy in her marriage.

Let’s take these presenting issues and look briefly through our four lenses:

Physical: She is at a menopausal age. Her hormones are changing. Does she exercise?
How is her eating? Does she pay attention to nutrition?

Emotional: Sue has experienced a great deal of loss. She is in a major life transition
which is equivalent to a man retiring or losing his job. Who can she go to for
comfort? Is her husband willing to come in and learn to grow in his ability to
see and meet her needs for comfort and connection? How are her other
friendships? How has she dealt with this grief? Alone? Can she bring
her vulnerable need for comfort into relationship? What did she learn about
connection growing up? Is she a avoider, pleaser, vacillator, controller or
victim? How is her love style impacting her? Is she anxious? What is her
level of self-awareness? Is she a giver or receiver…can she be in both roles?

Spiritual: Is this a spiritual crisis/transition? Has she ever experienced this downturn in
her prayer life before? What is her church involvement? What is her level of
spiritual maturity? How much has she suffered? How does she integrate
suffering with God’s love? What is her level of vulnerable, real, connection
within her church setting and friendships? Where and how is spiritual opposition
operating? Does she know how to pray against the enemy?
Medical:
Are her sleep problems due to hormonal changes? Is her thyroid low?
When was her last physical? Is she depressed? Are her sleep problems due to
depression? Is there a family history of depression? Anxiety? Panic attacks?
What medications is she on? Are her symptoms a side effect of any
medication?

This is just a quick overview… the point is all areas are important to investigate. Leaving out one section means I may miss important information. In Sue’s case, what we discovered over time is that she was indeed depressed, but was uneducated about the symptoms of depression. In fact, as I explored Sue’s history, she had suffered post-partum depression after the birth of her last child but had never been diagnosed or treated. Her Father had serious alcohol addictions, which may have been his attempt to medicate depression or anxiety.

After three months of treatment addressing all four areas and no alleviation of her symptoms I suggested Sue schedule an appointment with my favorite psychiatrist and be evaluated for anti-depressant medication. (I prefer psychiatrist for this kind of evaluation because this is their area of specialty. Out of 20 or more possible choices of medication, a psychiatrist is trained to distinguish between all these options and select the best possible choice of medicine.)

I explained to Sue that depression can be situational and resolve on its own, or it can be clinical…that is caused by imbalances in brain chemistry. Most any condition for which we take pills or vitamins is an attempt to alter some chemical system in our body for the better. Initially, Sue resisted feeling she should be able to trust God more and that would help her feel better but after another month of sleeplessness, indecision, lethargy, frequent crying and anxiety she agreed to make an appointment.

Sue was astounded at the results. She said what I have heard so many clients say when treatment is successful… “The difference in how I feel amazes me. Overall, I feel I have my feet back on the ground and can manage stress so much better. I’m sleeping again and I can make decisions without agonizing. My head feels clearer and every little thing does not make me cry. I was afraid I would not feel like myself on medicine but it’s just the opposite. I feel like myself again.”

After treating her depression, she was in a much better place to work on her marriage. Her husband learned to understand the depth of her grief and learned to comfort her. This deeper level of vulnerability translated into some of her close friendships. She developed some new hobbies she had never had time to pursue. Spiritually, she felt more able to see suffering as part of the life of every believer and was more accepting of periods of stress.

I have heard a similar speeches countless times. Sometimes psychology (symptoms of depression) and medicine can make all the difference in helping someone regain their emotional health. To ignore this avenue of help can make suffering unnecessarily prolonged.
As Christians, we need to see life through all these lenses as we face trials, temptations, and stresses. God can use any and often uses all of these to help heal, restore and replenish a struggling believer.

Comments

5 Responses to “Psychology or Biblical? – Part 2”

I enjoyed reading your four lenses for Diagnosing Problems, however I have to say that the comment in parenthesis after a close walk with God (whatever that is) made me take pause of how effective this series could be. As a Christian for the past 30 years, I had been walking in ineffectiveness for the majority of that time, because I had never been told about the true close walk I could have with God. 5 years ago, as my marriage seemed to be imminently over, I sat down every morning at 5 am and read my Bible and prayed. I
can truly say that it was not that I had decided to sit and read my Bible, but that due to circumstances I believed were ordained by the Holy Spirit, I had the time and God used it to call me closer to Him. Over these past 5 year I have experienced a closeness with God that has impacted me as well as my entire family. My husband who has had a lifetime of addictions has been sitting down with me for the past year reading his Bible as well, which I can say was also totally prompted by the Holy Spirit because I had no idea that he would even by open to such a thing.

So, to get back to my concern about the comment, I felt compelled to say that the comment comes off as if no one knows exactly what a close walk with God actually is. That could not be further from the truth. As a former going through the motions Christian believed that what I had was all there was as far as my walk of closeness and ability to hear the Holy Spirit, it would have been so much easier if someone had told me not only that my walk toward God should be purposeful and intentional, but that I would feel a true change in my heart as well as my life. I apologize if I seem to have found the one thing that was a little off putting to me and made an issue out of it. However, I think that it should be your top priority in teaching people how to shake off the bad habits of loving wrong, by letting them know that a true, close and rewarding walk with God is very much a part of the program, and it is easily identifiable, not (whatever that it)

I do enjoy your insights though, and believe you are helpful to so many people.

Thanks so much.

Alice Murray

I enjoyed reading your four lenses for Diagnosing Problems, however I have to say that the comment in parenthesis after a close walk with God (whatever that is) made me take pause of how effective this series could be. As a Christian for the past 30 years, I had been walking in ineffectiveness for the majority of that time, because I had never been told about the true close walk I could have with God. 5 years ago, as my marriage seemed to be imminently over, I sat down every morning at 5 am and read my Bible and prayed. I
can truly say that it was not that I had decided to sit and read my Bible, but that due to circumstances I believed were ordained by the Holy Spirit, I had the time and God used it to call me closer to Him. Over these past 5 year I have experienced a closeness with God that has impacted me as well as my entire family. My husband who has had a lifetime of addictions has been sitting down with me for the past year reading his Bible as well, which I can say was also totally prompted by the Holy Spirit because I had no idea that he would even by open to such a thing.

So, to get back to my concern about the comment, I felt compelled to say that the comment comes off as if no one knows exactly what a close walk with God actually is. That could not be further from the truth. As a former going through the motions Christian believed that what I had was all there was as far as my walk of closeness and ability to hear the Holy Spirit, it would have been so much easier if someone had told me not only that my walk toward God should be purposeful and intentional, but that I would feel a true change in my heart as well as my life. I apologize if I seem to have found the one thing that was a little off putting to me and made an issue out of it. However, I think that it should be your top priority in teaching people how to shake off the bad habits of loving wrong, by letting them know that a true, close and rewarding walk with God is very much a part of the program, and it is easily identifiable, not (whatever that is)

I do enjoy your insights though, and believe you are helpful to so many people.

Thanks so much.

Alice Murray

Thanks for your email and the wise response. Sorry for the delay in responding as we were in Maui for 10 days enjoying an amazing time of rest. In reading my blog over my comment about a close walk with God did come off as flippant. I really do appreciate you taking the time to point this out to me and all who read this blog. I hear so many stories in my office about parents who believed they had a close walk with God and refused to get psychological or medical help for severe mental illnesses. As a result, the family went through terrible suffering and the kids wondered why, with all the prayer, God didn’t make it better. I had just heard a sad story of this kind in my office before I wrote this blog. So, my comment is a reflection of that conversation and I should have processed those feelings before writing. I do think our walk with God is the central point of any growth. I see every bit of our work and its results as a work of God alone and both Milan and I feel amazed that he uses us in spite of our brokenness. Your admonition spurs me on personally to take the time God gives me and draw closer to him. I can always grow in this area. Blessings, and thanks again…Kay

if a person has depression is it something they could have had their whole life possibly? I feel like I am depressed most of the time. I don’t just sit around though. But I cry very easily and feel very sensitively. I have had a painful childhood and live in the past much of the time. I am a mother and love my children but have a passion to be the best mom that I can be. I live to see joy in my 2 daughter’s lives. I have a hard time feeling my own joy though. Any thoughts?

Trauma and stress can change your brain chemistry. You might want to read The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel Van Der Kolk. Medication can do wonders to help you out of the hole you are use to living in. It will also help you stop ruminating on painful events. I suggest a psychiatrist if you can afford one as they are current with these medications. Some GP’s are some are not. It could change your life.

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