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:
I won’t try going into what exactly happened to our mother. I more often than not see only dusty, empty rooms when I go in search for her back there, to that place of my past where my mind sometimes wanders but rarely lingers. I believe in words like psychosis and endogenous depression and schizophrenia, and I believe in chemical imbalances and “bad wiring” of the brain. I can spout lots of technical jargon and use psychoanalytical language to describe some things science understands and some things it does not. I’m supposed to have some understanding of neurotransmitters and receptor molecules, but all that cannot completely explain how people sometimes become lost to themselves and lost to the rest of us. And I believe in unseen darkness and demons, too, and I’m not at all sure where one set of beliefs leaves off and the other takes up. All I do know for sure is that God exists, that there is a world beyond what we can see and touch and feel, and that within that world evil exists, too. And I believe that for some of us in obvious ways and probably all of us in more subtle ways the disease exists and makes its home in more than just our flesh, and medicine alone rarely cures us. When all my training fails me, sometimes all I really know for sure is that being well — truly well — goes to a place within us that lies far deeper than the mere molecules that make us up, and that for reasons known and unknown our mother began to fall away from us. Isolated, abandoned, sitting for hours in that same room where we had so often been saved from the lightning, she stared out at the intruding gray, mourning something lost that none of us could help her find.
As Christians, we must embrace the truth that we are creatures of both flesh and spirit. And so, I have come to believe that our healing must take on a multifaceted approach: we are dealing with biological, psychological, environmental, and spiritual disease issues. Treating any number of these symptoms without treating them comprehensively will produce limited results. As believers in the true Healer, Jesus Christ, we must ultimately ask Him to accompany us one day at a time — perhaps one hour at a time — knowing that He will guide us regarding how best to utilize prayer, therapy, appropriate medication, and fellowship to heal our wounds. Whatever road we follow, we need never travel alone.
Each of us should prayerfully consider all of the options God provides us for healing. We can trust our Lord to lead us to a variety of people we can really trust — religious leadership, medical professionals, counselors, 12-Step or related support fellowships, friends and family — and then take all the information to the Cross, asking Christ to grant discernment and grace. Know that He will take care of you, even in those times when we might misinterpret His meanings. More than anything, Jesus wants you whole and well. And He has provided a number of both medical and relational tools that can help. If you have tried Christian counseling in the past, but had a less-than-satisfying experience, don’t give up. Finding the right therapist can take time and prayerful effort. An article I wrote entitled “Looking for a Christian Counselor?” can be found on my web site. The site also provides a comprehensive list of links to professionals in many areas of health and healing. See http://www.prodigalsong.com/links/index.html.
Reach out to others. I have found on my own journey that a deep need has been filled through fellowship with others bearing similar wounds. Together, we can discover a strength beyond our own, and embrace Christ Jesus—Healer of our hearts, Lover of our souls.
Jim Robinson, LADAC, NCACI, BCBC, is a successful songwriter, musician, speaker, author, and professional recovery counselor. A graduate of Christ Center School of Counseling and Addiction Studies, Robinson is founder of ProdigalSong, a Christian ministry utilizing music, speaking, counseling, and teaching to convey healing for the broken spirit. Jim’s web site, www.ProdigalSong.com, contains information about his ministry, numerous recovery resources, and additional articles he’s written. To subscribe to Jim’s monthly newsletter, click here.
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