Depression isn’t new, however, more recently, there has been a rising number of individuals who are suffering from it, even in the church. For years, psychology (the study of the soul and behavior) has been unwelcome in our churches because of misconceptions and a lack of understanding. Psychology has been seen as an enemy to the church and because of our lack of understanding, “we” have traditionally believed this lie and added it to our doctrines, thereby creating a culture of silent suffering. Finally, we are coming to a place in the church where we not only teach and preach about spiritual care but soul care as well. After all, we are three part beings; mind/soul, body, and spirit. I always say, when in doubt, call in a professional. Not only am I a preacher, I am a professional counselor as well.
As we examine depression from a psycho-theological perspective, it is important to understand that there are different kinds of depression. There is “spiritual depression”, also known as “oppression”. This is generally spiritual in its implications because the source of it is spiritual. This is usually what people are [unknowingly] referring to when they say “the spirit of depression”. Oppression speaks to being under control or subjugated by an outside force, which speaks to some type of demonic influence. Oppression starts on the outside and works its way in, but the source of it is an outside force. 1 Peter 5:8 likens the devil to a roaring lion, seeking prey to devour. Acts 10:38 tells us that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Ghost and with power and he went about doing good and healing all those who were oppressed by the devil. There is a spiritual depression, oppression that can overtake the Believer if we are not careful. The Bible gives us prescriptions such as the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness (oppression).
Then there is clinical depression. Clinical depression is like any other medical illness because pathologically, it is a medical illness. Depression and oppression are two different things. When clinical depression is present, there are symptoms that are beyond the control of the individual and if these symptoms are not treated, the symptoms will worsen. Although the symptoms of oppression and depression are often similar, they have a different source. Oppression comes from without; depression comes from within. Clinical depression can be caused by anything from chemical imbalances, mismanaged emotional health, grief, stress related to major life transitions, other physical illness, certain medications and genetic predispositions; just like a medical illness.
Clinical depression can be caused by a variety of things, from chemical imbalances, mismanaged emotional health, grief, stress related to major life transitions, other physical illness, certain medications and genetic predispositions; just like a medical illness.
It is appropriate and proper to always distinguish oppression from depression. How do you tell the difference? Assessment! You must ask the right questions and get the right information. There are self-assessments that can be done by individuals and non-professionals, however, for diagnostic purposes, there is another level of assessment that must be done by a trained professional. This is why the church must embrace therapists and psychologists/psychiatrists. We are very much needed in the Body of Christ today! You have to know what you’re praying for in order to pray appropriately and effectively.
In religious circles, we like to say, “God heals”; and yes, He does. There is no doubting that. However, what is interesting to me is the hypocritical distinction we put between mental illness and physical illness that perpetuates stigma and silent suffering. There are individuals who are not just “depressed” [oppressed] in their spirit, they are ill mentally in their soul and their brain and they need to be treated. That is sometimes hard for us to accept in religious circles.
Here is the hypocrisy that is often present. When someone says that they have cancer, we don’t pray for them or try to “cast that cancer spirit of them”. No; we pray for them, call the cancer by name and decree and declare healing in Jesus’ name. Then, that person also enters some type of treatment, whether it be chemotherapy, radiation, etc. We don’t ever discourage someone from taking cancer treatments or dialysis or insulin. Why is that when someone is mentally ill, we pray for them but do not encourage them to go to seek professional help, even medication if a professional sees that it is necessary?? Wholistic health involves healing the body, soul, and spirit!
No, medication does not cure everything and medication is not always the answer. Many times, a person who is depressed or anxious only needs medication to “get them over the hump” and correct a chemical imbalance. Being on medication does not always have to be permanent. It is best that a person discuss this with their psychiatrist and not their pastor. (Yes, I went “there”.)
Then, there are times when counseling alone can help an individual who is depressed. Counseling is about dealing with the root causes of issues, problem-solving, changing negative core beliefs and thought patterns and bringing people into a place of self-awareness. It is a one-on-one interaction that also involves the learning of coping skills to help individuals deal with the pressures of life.
I will also add that seeing a counselor doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong. It means that you want to maintain what is right in your life and continue to grow and become better! One of the roles of a counselor is to walk alongside you. This is similar to the work of the Holy Spirit. He is our ‘Paracletus’ in the Greek. He walks alongside us as a helper, guide, and comforter. This is the ministry of a counselor. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 tell us to “comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men”. This is what counseling is! We are helpers, not fixers. We come alongside people to assist them. Counseling is a ministry of the Holy Spirit.
We often tell people that “Jesus is all you need” and that’s true; however Proverbs 11:14 says that there is safety in a multitude of counsel. Therapy and counseling is not something to fear. He has gifted individuals with the ability to help you through life’s transitions and there are many counselors who share your same [Christian] beliefs. I can attest that many of the skills and principles taught even in secular settings come straight from the word of God. For example, I personally use a balance of clinical interventions and Biblical/spiritual principles to help people come into a place of health and wholeness. [One such technique/modality is called “cognitive behavioral therapy” which is all about how your thinking guides your behavior and influences your feelings. Many of those principles come straight from Romans 12:1, Proverbs 23:7, Proverbs 18:21, and 2 Corinthians 10:5, just to name a few.]
If your problems are to the point where you feel like you need to talk to someone who can help put things into perspective for you, then counseling is recommended. If you feel as though you have trauma from your past that has not been dealt with, then counseling is recommended. Counseling stops cycles and is just as much ‘deliverance’ as coming down to the altar and having someone pray for you. You need to be “renewed in the spirit of your mind”. Many times, we get prayer and having an emotional experience at the altar with the music going, but we never experience mind transformation [Romans 12:2]. That is the purpose of counseling. Counseling and church are not enemies; they are co-laborers.
If you are in a place where you have been showing signs of clinical depression for over two weeks including but not limited to trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, loss of interest in daily activities, lack of energy or motivation, chronic irritability or anger, this is not something you need to try to “pray away” or “praise your way through” or even “preach your way through”. You need to be evaluated by a professional, licensed, certified individual. If you’re a Christian who is feeling depressed, it is not because you lack faith; it is because you’re human. But your faith without works is dead. There is more than one way to be healed. While you’re praying, get some help as well.
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