Psychiatry and Faith

by James Rudy Gray

In 2003, psychiatrist William Glasser wrote a book, Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health.  He laments the fact that psychiatry has changed over the last 20 years and has shifted from a counseling-based approach to a drug treatment approach.  He stated that the medical approach to mental distress is based on the unproven hypothesis that mental distress is either biological, genetic, or some type of chemical imbalance.  "Decades of intensive psychiatric research have failed to establish a biological cause of any psychiatric conditionnot a single psychiatric diagnosis can be confirmed by a biochemical, radiological, or other laboratory test."

In January of 2006, Psychiatrist Irvin Savodnik, who teaches at UCLA, wrote an article in the Los Angeles Times: "Psychiatry's Sick Compulsion—Turning Weaknesses Into Diseases." He is a critic of the psychiatric establishment and presents his views candidly. He claims that the American Psychiatric Association has been inventing illnesses for the last 50 years or so. An example he cites is the significant change in the DSM (Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorder). When it was first published in 1952 it identified 107 diagnoses. By 1994, the manual described 365 diagnoses in 886 pages—a 340 percent increase.

Savodnik has observed: "All medicine rests on the premise that disease is a manifestation of diseased tissue. Every medical student learns this principle. Where, though, is the diseased tissue in psychopathological conditions? Unlike the rest of medicine, psychiatry diagnoses behavior that society doesn't like. Yesterday, it was homosexuality. Tomorrow it will be homophobia."

He continues: "The erosion of personal responsibility is, arguably, the most pernicious effect of the expansive role psychiatry has come to play in American life."

Diagnosing or labeling someone with a condition may be helpful. But helping that person change from a distressed state to a healthier lifestyle is the biggest challenge. A familiar adage goes, "You are either in therapy or in denial." There are other options. Sometimes a drug may be necessary, but Americans take more prescription drugs than any other country in the world. Even when drugs are used in the treatment process, the place of counseling is important.

It is at this point where the biggest difference is observed in Christian counseling and secular therapy. Christian counseling should rely on God's truth as the standard of measure for determining the right and wrong of something. It should also employ the principles of God to aid a person to better ways of thinking and behaving.  The DSM may be helpful in identifying symptoms but nothing can compete with God's Word in providing insight and direction for helping troubled people move toward good living.

A person may suffer from low self-esteem. Is the answer high self-esteem or a self-esteem founded on his position in Christ? To labor as a Christian counselor is to be aware of the contributions of secular research but to never compromise the standard of truth found in God's Word. In the end, it is not a diagnosis or a specific treatment that sets people free. It is a relationship with Christ. That kind of freedom empowers a person to live right. When we are seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, other positive blessings will be added to our journey that we had not planned or anticipated (Matt. 6:33).

We must, as pastors and counselors, use not simply what seems to work momentarily but what is true eternally. 

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