Are faith and mental health services incompatible?

Jerry began weeping midway through our first session. He never expected to find himself in therapy and he wasn’t even sure that’s what he needed. He was a successful salesman, a good father, a good husband, and a deacon and Bible study leader at the family’s church. Yet he couldn’t shake the feelings of despair.

“My pastor said I needed to devote more time to prayer,” he explained. “I was raised to believe God answers all prayers. I’ve prayed for guidance, I’ve prayed for answers, I’ve prayed for happiness, and I’ve pleaded with God to take me out of this darkness. I just can’t seem to pray these feelings away, and I don’t understand that. God has never let me down before.”

Within the first few minutes of our session, I was confident Jerry was suffering from depression. I don’t make quick diagnoses, but everything he said was consistent with that observation. As I asked questions, his answers pointed in that direction. In the sessions that followed, I helped Jerry better understand depression and its causes, and shared strategies to help him manage the symptoms and the feelings.

Was his pastor wrong to urge him to pray? Not at all, but sometimes there are additional effective ways to help. Anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions are real, and are often rooted in medical problems. While pastors receive extensive training in scripture and managing a congregation, they often receive little exposure to mental health treatment. When a church member comes to them for advice, they may not know how to respond. Diagnosing, understanding, and treating issues like depression requires specialized knowledge pastors may not have.

Ministry is hard work, and it can be difficult for some pastors to admit they don’t have all the answers. But when you think about the amount of education and training it takes to become a counselor, that’s understandable. Care to Change works with many pastors to serve as a partner in their ministries. When church members come to those pastors with problems that are outside of their knowledge or comfort levels, they refer those members to our team of professional counselors, because they know our approach is consistent with their own values.

Were Jerry’s prayers answered? I believe so. After all, God led him to counseling, where he found the answers and help he needed to begin the journey back to enjoying a full life. Whether you’re a pastor who is concerned about a member’s well-being or you’re an individual who is praying faithfully but worried that you aren’t feeling better, why not contact us and sit down with one of our counselors?

Bill Overpeck is one of Care to Change’s licensed therapists. He has a history in church leadership and is well versed in helping those impacted by anxiety and depression.