When I was about 14 years old, I was in my room in the back of my parents’ home and I got really excited about something. I bolted out of my room and ran down the hall to share my excitement with my mother. On my way down the hall toward the living room, I hit my pinky toe on the wall. As I collapsed to the floor in pain, I forgot about what I was about to tell my mother because the pain was so intense. My mother eventually came to my rescue, wrapped my foot and the next day, she took me to the doctor that she was working for at the time. As it turns out, my pinky toe was broken. I had never broken a bone or body part in my life, so this was entirely new to me. For about two weeks, my foot was in a cast and I had to hobble along on crutches. Eventually, I was healed, but I first had to get the help I needed and wait for my healing.
I am sure that a large percentage of you who are reading this blog have heard this church cliché: “We don’t counsel demons; we cast them out.” Having been in church nearly all of my life (since the age of 5), I have heard this quote more times that I can count. I have heard it used across a wide array of platforms, from storefront churches to major platforms (Unfortunately, I have heard my share of “church celebrities” who have great influence say this…)
Here is the first reason why this phrase is not only disheartening but problematic. Words are powerful. Words are seeds. Words create pictures, images and set expectations. This type of language has helped to create an oppressive and condemning culture of silence in religious circles that still exists today. Cultures create mindsets. This culture makes it difficult for those who actually need the help of counselors to access the help that they so desperately need. The automatic assumption that this cliché creates is that one who needs counseling is inevitably demonically possessed.
In these types of environments, Parishioners are also made to feel as if they lack faith if they want to go see a counselor to work through issues or even understand themselves better. This particularly plagues the African American community where religion is often used as a “catch all” for everything, even if one does not attend church regularly or does not claim to be a practicing Christian.
The second reason why this phrase is disheartening and problematic is because it is a terrible generalization. Everything is NOT demonic. Yes, I believe in demons. They are real. They influence people, families, communities, cities, and regions. Yes, I have cast out demons before (and still do). The legitimacy of demons and evil spirits is not up for debate here. What is up for debate, however, is the question of how do you know whether it is a demon or not? The only way that this question is appropriately answered is by doing an assessment. Mental health professionals do assessments all of the time. Even Jesus did assessments before he moved into action (Study Mark 9:20-21). Assessments involve asking the right questions and gathering data before coming to a conclusion.
I always ask this question: “Is it a demon they need to be delivered from, or deep pain that they need to be healed from?” The symptoms may look alike, but the root is not the same. (Yes, there are instances where mental illness can be demonically influenced; this, however, is not the norm). For years, the church [a generalized statement/term] has attempted to cast “non-existent demons” out of people who have simply experienced trauma in their lives that they have suppressed. Unresolved trauma can lead to mental disorders, emotional health problems (trouble controlling emotions, maintaining relationships, etc.) and even physical health problems. Some individuals are having trouble with transitions or are experiencing difficulty adjusting after events such as natural disaster, divorce, the loss of a loved one, child or spouse, etc. They are certainly not demonic; they are in need of counseling!
We cannot continue to demonize people who need help. Proverbs 11:14 says there is safety in a multitude of counsel [counselors]. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 instructs us to “encourage the fainthearted, help the weak and be patient with them all.” That sounds like counseling to me!
Mental illness are medical conditions that are brought on by chemical imbalances in the brain, medical conditions, genetics, and other deficiencies, just to name a few. It does not mean that the person is less than, unworthy of God’s grace nor does it automatically equate to being demonically influenced. The same respect that is given to physical health issues (from my broken toe, right up to diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc.) should be given to mental and emotional health problems.
Counseling and faith are not diametrically opposed. Counseling helps people heal. Counseling brings people into self-awareness [“Thou art the man”]. Counseling helps people to develop new behavioral patterns. Counseling rewires the brain and helps to create new neural pathways. Counseling gets to the root of dysfunctional thought processes that continue cycles of behaviors. Counseling teaches coping skills. Sometimes, counseling IS deliverance. What I have discovered is that many people [in church] are delivered but they are not healed. Selah.
So yes, “we” counsel people. Many in the church need it. There are pastoral counselors (trained, ordained clergy), lay counselors (trained encouragers) and professional counselors (licensed, certified, degreed, trained professionals). The church must experience a paradigm shift whereby we prepare ourselves to deal with those who not only need prayer, but need ministry to their total man: body, spirit and soul. So with all due respect, let’s take this phrase out of the cliché spin cycle!
For more information about services offered by Joshua, for counseling referrals or to book a seminar, workshop or consultation for your organization, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org