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Faith and mental health have more than once been at odds with each other. It is commonly said that we are mind, body, and soul. I’ve also heard it said that we are one complete being, so inextricably put together that there is no difference between any facet of our being. That is to say that what affects our mind affects our body, and what affects our body affects our soul. When it comes to treating these portions of our being, however, there is some tension regarding what to treat and how. For the body, the most seen tends to be a point of focus. But the interplay between the mind and soul presents a point of tension in treatment.
How does one affect the other, and is one dominant over the other? Faith has at times touted the idea that a mental health issue is no more than a test of faith. Depression is a lack of connection with God or the spiritual world – “You should pray more.” Anxiety is a lack of trust or lack of ability to really have faith in tough times or times of uncertainty. Mental health educators have also reciprocated this tension by highlighting the lack of mental health acknowledgment by spiritual practitioners. To some in the mental health field, depression has no spiritual dimension. Depression is simply a physical ailment, a chemical imbalance in the brain that needs to be addressed.
I am more hopeful than ever as I have heard the conversation between mental health and spiritual health is changing. There is a growing acknowledgment among mental health practitioners that spiritual health and reinforcement can increase the mental well-being of their clients and patients. There is also acknowledgment from church parishioners that mental health is more than just prayer and worship. I have seen a healthy exchange between these two factions. The marriage of spirituality, mind, and body and how they add or subtract from the entire being seems to be more heavily discussed in recent discourse than ever.
Through working for The Summit Counseling Center, I have seen healthy communication between these two disciplines. There is a growing number of therapists who are spiritual practitioners and vice versa. You are finding that dual-degreed and trained professionals are arriving with feet planted firmly in examining spiritual and mental health outcomes.
I am seeing this interwoven sense of discipline produce communication between the worlds of mental health and ministry. I heard a sermon by a pastor in which she said, “Therapy can help develop the strategy for healing, but prayer is a weapon with which we take aim at our issues.” Her call and training in mental health provide a beautiful example of how mental health and ministry can work together.
An ancient Church Father, Gregory the Great, is quoted as saying, “How foolish it is, therefore, for the inexperienced to assume pastoral authority when the care of souls is the art of arts. For whom does not realize that the afflictions of the mind are more hidden than the internal wounds of the body?” Sure, we can debate about whether his ideas of inexperience were about age, training, or authority, but I find it interesting that his wording includes the care of souls and the mind.
In our current age, we have the privilege and training to address more than just one facet or the other. We have the option to work towards an understanding of how our beings communicate with each other. In continuing to work toward this understanding, we hope to continue this discussion at our North Fulton Mental Health Collaborative meeting. I hope to see you there.