Is Mental Health Counseling Biblical?

by Glenn Petruzzi

mental health counseling

Where is counseling in the Bible?

It is a great question, and my short response is that it can be found throughout both the Old and New Testaments but under different words and terms.

Just before he was crucified Jesus encouraged his disciples by announcing “unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn. 16:7, NIV). Jesus was referencing the Holy Spirit and the support the Holy Spirit would give his disciples when he left this world. So, my personal view of counseling is patterned after the consolation and encouragement that the Holy Spirit, the ultimate Counselor, gives me on a daily basis.

Examples of concepts commonly emphasized by modern counseling professionals that are also found in the Bible include client rapport (unconditional love), therapeutic alliance (advisors, self-reflection), self-awareness (enlightenment, insight), hope (trust in God), strengths (gifts), emotional intelligence (love, heart, church, covenants), in-the-moment (one day at a time), wellness (holistic view of the soul) and meditation (prayer). The knowledge base within the mental health field is constantly growing through research, and it is amazing how much of this knowledge has been available in the Bible all along. It is not unusual to read about some new mental health research, connect it to a concept found in the Bible, and through this process obtain new insight into what the Biblical writer was trying to say in the first place.

Another important concept to keep in mind is the social isolation that exists in modern society. For thousands of years, men have for the most part lived in small, communal villages. God created men to be highly social beings that depend on each other and God for survival, and these themes can certainly be found throughout the Bible. Many of the emotional needs that the modern counseling profession addresses used to be met naturally through the community. Individuals knew and were known, intimately by other community members. Problems were often addressed together by the community, and older wiser members provided guidance and advice. These social dynamics are now largely missing in many people’s lives, even sadly within the church, and this relatively recent social isolation gap is where the counseling profession often fits in.

Exploring Faith and Well-being

The question of whether the concept of “mental health” is truly Biblical is a complex one, sparking lively debate within various faith communities. While the term itself isn’t explicitly used in scripture, exploring related themes and principles can offer valuable insights.

Arguments for a Biblical Basis:

  • Holistic Well-being: The Bible emphasizes the interconnectedness of spirit, soul, and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Therefore, caring for emotional and mental health aligns with promoting overall well-being. Passages like Proverbs 17:22 (“a merry heart doeth good like a medicine”) and Psalm 34:18 (“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit”) highlight the importance of addressing emotional burdens.
  • God’s Compassion: Scripture portrays God as deeply caring for his people’s struggles (Psalm 55:22). Seeking help for mental health challenges can be seen as cooperating with God’s desire for our restoration and healing.
  • Community and Support: The Bible encourages strong communities where burdens are shared and individuals are supported (Galatians 6:2). Seeking professional help or joining a faith-based support group can fulfill this principle.

Biblical Analogy:

When God breathed life into Adam in Genesis 2:7 he did more than simply provide a “spark” to animate Adam’s body. The ancients viewed the nature of man as holistic and did not tend to divide life into the separate parts of body, mind, and spirit. God intended for Adam to live in the most complete way possible, which involved a full and prosperous life with the ability to completely exercise his potential. It includes life as a whole, not just health or prosperity for example, but rather an overarching sense of well-being, health, peace, eternity, and connection with God.

This Biblical concept of the life God intended for Adam, and everyone else, ties completely to all the most recent research supporting the effectiveness of wellness approaches to mental health. Wellness is a framework that modern counselors use to holistically help their clients, leveraging their natural strengths, to treat not only their presenting concerns but also to improve their overall life satisfaction. It involves a systemic perspective including client family relationships, profession, intergenerational attachments, and community. It also involves a holistic view of the individual including physical health, spirituality, and emotional connection with others. To address health issues, the counselor should ask specific questions around eating habits, exercise, sleeping patterns, and physical intimacy. For example, a client may come to counseling presenting with strong anxiety symptoms. If the clinician takes a wellness approach, she may discover the client is an excellent swimmer, loves it, but has gotten away from it in recent years. Simply encouraging the client to consistently leverage her strength of swimming could go a long way in helping her with her anxiety symptoms and also improve her overall sense of well-being.

Considerations and Nuances:

  • Focus on Inner Transformation: Some argue that true “mental health” stems from spiritual renewal and aligning oneself with God’s will. While professional help can be valuable, they emphasize prioritizing prayer, scripture study, and seeking God’s guidance.
  • Distinguishing Spiritual Issues: Mental health concerns like depression or anxiety can sometimes mimic spiritual struggles. Differentiating between the two might involve seeking guidance from both mental health professionals and spiritual leaders.
  • Balance and Integration: Integrating professional help with faith practices can offer a comprehensive approach to well-being. Open communication with both therapist and spiritual advisor can facilitate this integration.

Conclusion:

Whether or not you view “mental health” as a strictly Biblical concept, seeking support for emotional or psychological struggles falls within God’s desire for wholeness and flourishing. Ultimately, the decision of how to address mental health concerns is a personal one, guided by individual faith, values, and circumstances. Remember, God’s love and support are available on this journey, regardless of the path you choose.

Related Posts

Need help with our online check-in process? Our new online check-in and registration process is simple and convenient.

X

Need help with our on-line check-in process? Our new online check-in and registration process is simple and convenient.