“Lord, that our eyes may be opened.” This is the request of two blind men who cried out to be healed by Christ. There is something much deeper in this miracle than merely giving eyesight to blind men. In a subliminal manner, this utterance of the blind men very much applies to mental health. During the first week of October, various organizations such as the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) provide activities and resources which brings to light an array of aspects within mental illness (“Get Involved | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness,” n.d.). There is no doubt that across the lifespan a person may deal with mental illness whether directly themselves individually or through a loved one. The fact of the matter is that mental health awareness is only beginning to gain speed whereas other cultures and groups sadly fall short. To deny the importance of mental health is to deny God’s given grace of Him allowing us to be partakers in being His healing presence. Similarly, God has given us the grace to partake in creation by having and bearing offspring; God allows us to be healers through the intellect, mind, and heart He has endowed us. In Vesper prayers, Copts proclaim Christ to be the “true Physician of our souls and our bodies, the Bishop of all flesh…” (Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States, 2007). When we think of Christ and His ministry it was not just to justify humanity in terms of salvation. We must remember that the incarnation in its core was to restore humanity to its first state. In On the Incarnation, (St. Athanasius, 2012) says,
“For we were the purpose of his embodiment, and for our salvation he so loved human beings as to come to be and appear in a human body…for the Word, realizing that in no other way would the corruption of human beings be undone except, simply, by dying, yet being immortal and the Son of the Father the Word was not able to die, for this reason he takes to himself a body capable of death, in order that it, participating in the Word who is above all, might be sufficient for death on behalf of all, and through the indwelling Word would remain incorruptible, and so corruption might henceforth cease from all by the grace of the resurrection.”
This restoration was not merely to defeat death but to restore man its entirety. Seeing the life-giving reality of His incarnation we can understand that mental health awareness is a duty as a Christian and the importance of counseling.
As a Christian I need to give heed to becoming more mindful of mental health. Just as a person is keen to physical and bodily health, one must be aware of not only the mental health of others but also our very own. The concept of “becoming a healing presence” was coined by a professor of psychology and pastoral care, Albert Rossi. He states in his book, Becoming a Healing Presence,
“We become a healing presence because Christ is the healing Presence through us. He is ‘all in all’ through us to others. We can’t give what we don’t have. We can’t give Christ’s healing presence to others if we are not intimate with Him ourselves. We grow in intimacy with Him through stillness and prayer. St. Theophan said that the essence of the Christian life is to keep the mind in the heart before God. Christ moves through us as a healing fire to the extent that we allow ourselves to be open and available to Him. We need to spend quiet time with Him, gently speaking His name or saying the Jesus Prayer, and we need to do all we can to have conscious contact with Him all day and when we awake during the night…becoming a healing presence is a simple process. All we have to do is do what we can. As St. Irenaeus said, ‘We need to relax in God’s hands’” (Rossi & Thomas, 2015).
Christ’s healing presence is not merely a singular modality. Christ is the healing presence of our bodies, minds, hearts, souls, and spirits. Once we have established the importance of being more aware of mental health, we can then begin the work of counseling.
Counseling is not an easy task by any means or measure. It takes the aptitude of vulnerability and the concept of healing my inner wounds for one to follow through. Counseling is analogous to physical therapy; however, they have their differences respectfully. In physical therapy a person sustains a physical injury such as tearing an ACL. This type of injury usually results in some sort of surgery creating a wound and ultimately leads a person to put in a cast. After a prescribed amount of time the person then moves from a hard cast to soft cast and the recommendation of the doctor may be to begin physical therapy. The most painful part is said to be the physical therapy itself. Now how does mental health align with this scenario? A person has some mental or emotional distress and a “wound” is created whether by some sort of experience or relationship. Most of the time a person decides to cover this wound; which is the cast, to protect it from becoming more hurt. Counseling becomes physical therapy in the sense that it might not just have a chance to trigger pain, it will be triggering. The fact of the matter is that counseling deals with deep psychological, mental, and emotional wounds and/or vulnerability. If we are avoidant due to the fear of feeling this pain, then we run the risk of creating an even more debilitating issue. Imagine if the person who tore their ACL never goes to physical therapy? The person will continue to have a weak knee that might get the job done but at the end of the day is prone to more injury.
Lastly, one must have a balanced view when dealing with mental health. Neither extremes lead to holistic healing. We can neither “pray away” mental illness nor neglect the spiritual aid in recuperation.
“I have personally witnessed the tragedy that can occur when people assume clinical depression is a sin or the direct result thereof. I have watched some try to pray away mental health issues, attempting to combat depression by conjuring up more hope or faith or discipline. I have watched others grow dejected over the lack of sensitivity toward mental health they encountered in Christian circles and leave the faith altogether. These misrepresentations and misunderstandings are hardly trivial and warrant a deeper, nuanced discussion…When we equate historical spiritual concepts with modern diagnoses, we blur the lines between spiritual ill health, moral culpability, and medical necessity. We risk cheapening and deadening the contributions both theology and medicine have to make to the healing of brokenness” (Roccas, 2018).
True healing requires us to be present and cognizant of the importance of both. There are four positions or views between Christianity and psychology which implies counseling as well. The first view is called the un-Christian view since they view that religion and Christianity has no place in counseling. The second is the spiritualized view which maintains that the solution to any mental illness is to listen to God and apply spiritual exercises. The third is the parallel view which is a psychologist or counselor that knows Christ in an intimate manner and apprehends the Bible yet has little integration between his Christianity and his secular psychological knowledge. The final view like the latter has knowledge and skill in both yet “does not see the Bible and psychology as functioning independently in different spheres. This counselor has an ability to put together the truths of psychology and the Bible in a harmonious way”(Kirwan & Carter, 1984).
When we have deep psychological distress and decide to close the door on becoming restored, we make ourselves even more vulnerable to more distress. It is self-destruction. If one does not feel the need for one’s own self, then at lease for the sake of their beloved ones around them. The best gift a person can give a loved one is working on them being the best they can be; becoming whole in Christ. Then one becomes a wounded healer as Henri Nouwen said, “Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?” When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.” May we pray that our eyes may be opened by the Lord to see the importance of mental health.
Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States. (2007). The Divine Liturgy: The Anaphoras of St. Basil, St. Gregory, and St. Cyril (Second). Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States.
Get Involved | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2018, from https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Mental-Illness-Awareness-Week
Kirwan, W. T., & Carter, J. (1984). Biblical Concepts for Christian Counseling: A Case for Integrating Psychology and Theology (5th or later Edition edition). Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic.
Roccas, N. (2018). Time and Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith and Life. Chesterton, Indiana: Ancient Faith Publishing.
Rossi, A. S., & Thomas, H. (2015). Becoming a Healing Presence. Ancient Faith Publishing.
St. Athanasius. (2012). On the Incarnation: Saint Athanasius (English), With an Introduction by C.S. Lewis. Retrieved October 29, 2018, from https://www.svspress.com/on-the-incarnation-saint-athanasius-english-with-an-introduction-by-c-s-lewis/