Faith & Pharmaceuticals: Trust God, or Get a Prescription?
- Tuesday, February 06, 2007
And Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. -–Matt. 9:35
One of the most common concerns posed by clients who come to see me in my counseling practice goes something like this: “I’m confused about relying on prescription medication for my depression / bipolar / sleep / mood disorder. As a Christian, shouldn’t I rely more on faith than pharmaceuticals? What do you think?”
As a licensed addictions counselor, I do not diagnose or treat these disorders directly, nor do I prescribe drugs. But alcoholic and drug addicted clients commonly struggle with depression and related mood disorders and with the false sense of shame and fear that often accompanies these issues. It is of course critical that those caught in this incredibly deceptive battle of mind, body, and spirit be referred to appropriate professionals for treatment. But sometimes Christians are concerned about medical intervention due to social stigma, particular kinds of religious teaching or bias, or any number of other factors. My clients caught in the isolating and self-destructive dynamic of addiction and mood disorders often feel as though they are alone in their pain, and that admitting their problem will bring judgment and condemnation. In some cases, the person feels that confessing their pain would indicate to others within their church a kind of spiritual weakness or failing of faith. Caught in this lonely place of doubt and self-loathing, the person may even begin to question their own walk with Christ, making them reluctant to come forward and ask for help.
I have experienced this irrational but powerful dynamic firsthand; throughout my own long battles with addiction and bipolar disorder, I have often resisted taking medication. And yet, no one would fight such emotional wars within themselves if, for instance, they needed to take insulin on a daily basis for their diabetes. Such is the dangerous nature of self-deception accompanying these issues.
Sometimes people who come into my office and hear my recommendations leave with an impression that I am less than enthusiastic about the use of medications. This isn't true. I personally am taking medication for my bipolar disorder, and it has helped me. What I do believe, however, is that we live in a culture in which certain disorders are at times too-casually diagnosed, and medications radically over-prescribed. The use of everything from antidepressants to sleeping aids has skyrocketed, and far too often these types of medications are seen as a “magic bullet” that will instantly take away our pain. This is a one-dimensional approach to what is a far more complicated situation.
That having been said, let me be clear about my overall position: A great number of people suffering from a variety of the above-mentioned conditions have found positive, even remarkable results utilizing certain of these medications as part of a comprehensive treatment protocol. Certainly, there are people who simply could not function without their meds. The new generation of psychotropic drugs is far superior to those of the past, and for a number of clients who suffer, these medicines can offer considerable symptomatic improvement. Many of the clients with whom I work suffer from a depression too severe to allow us to successfully approach various types of “talk therapy.” By first stabilizing the client’s mood with the appropriate medications, the therapeutic relationship can better proceed; the person’s ability to concentrate and do the needed work can be drastically enhanced.
Although I appreciate the role of medications in the overall treatment of these and related disorders, I see them as more supportive than primary for many of my clients. I'll share with you a quote from my book, Prodigal Song: A Memoir. It's a section in which I describe my mother's bipolar disorder and her descent into addiction:
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