Therapy and faith: partners on the path to healing
Anxiety, a sense of gloom, mood swings … Surely there is no one who has not experienced a low. But sometimes life can run off the rails. And then it needs more than sensitive ministers and a kind and loving congregation.
Mental illnesses can affect anyone. They affect the individual as a whole, influencing the way the person thinks, feels, and acts. They lead to disorders such as depression and panic attacks or to obsessive-compulsive disorders. Sometimes they even result in physical symptoms. Often, family, friends, and colleagues suffer too.
The causes have to do with genetic predisposition, on the one hand, and certain events in the life of the affected person, on the other. One thing, however, may not be considered as a cause: that it is a sign of deficient faith. The New Apostolic Church International makes this clear in its “Guide for the pastoral care of members with mental illness”.
The main thing is that it is unbiased
As with physical illnesses, faith alone is not the way that leads to healing, especially since the perception of the affected often changes in such a way that they can neither draw joy nor hope from their faith. Mental illnesses absolutely need to be treated by qualified therapists and doctors.
The New Apostolic Church fully endorses scientifically established methods of treatment. For most therapeutic methods are value-neutral and respect the patients in their religiosity. There are concerns, however, about therapies which make ideological or spiritual opinions the focus of their therapeutic treatment, it says in the guide.
And what can and should ministers do for their sick brothers and sisters? They can support the therapy by showing them understanding, kindness, and patience, strengthening their courage and trust in God, and praying for and with them. “The minister must not intervene in the psychotherapy treatment,” the paper says. This is the recommendation of the Church’s leadership in abbreviated form. “It is beneficial to encourage the patients to continue the therapy.”
The congregation can help along too. The offers of fellowship and applied love for one’s neighbour provide security, which can help to stabilise the patient. “It feels good to be accepted in the congregation, and it helps members cope with the illness.”
Ministers and members should not forget the affected families, for they often have to cope with many burdens ranging from conflicts to having to deal with too many demands. The families need loving care, and may at times also need support in order to cope with their daily lives.
Within such a framework, psychotherapy and pastoral care become partners on the path to healing. At best, the treatment restores the ability to cope with everyday life again. And faith provides a perspective that transcends time.
In fact: “Today, all agree that it can be beneficial to the health of the patient if he/she belongs to a religious denomination,” the paper emphasises. And conversely, psychotherapy may improve the experience of faith.
Detailed information on the “Guide for the pastoral care of members with mental illness” can be obtained from the Apostles in charge of the respective area.
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