How should Christians think about mental heath issues like depression, ADHD, PTSD, or Schizophrenia? Are these terms and labels from the secular psychiatric world that we should use? What about the medication that is prescribed for such issues? Should Christians take antidepressants?
All of these are hot-button questions and topics that deserve careful, thoughtful, Biblical thinking for pastors, counselors, and Christians seeking to care for one another in the body of Christ. Where do we begin?
A New Book
Michael Emlet — faculty member at CCEF and former family physician — has written a new short, introductory book on this topic called Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses and Medications. In this book, Emlet seeks to help readers avoid the two extremes of being “too hot” or “too cold” in what he calls “The Goldilocks Principle.” Emlet’s goal “is to help you move from either extreme — too cold or too hot — toward a view of psychiatric diagnoses and medications that is hopefully ‘just right'” (2). He elaborates on this goal:
“I simply want to provide a foundational biblical framework for understanding psychiatric diagnoses (Part 1) and the use of psychoactive medications (Part 2). Ultimately, I want this book to help you to think wisely and compassionately about these struggles so that you are just a bit more equipped for this important work of burden-bearing and counseling” (4).
The book is divided into two parts — psychiatric diagnoses and psychoactive medications.
In this first part, Emlet looks at psychiatric diagnoses. He helps the reader better understand what these diagnoses are, where they come from, what the DSM is and why it matters, and the potential strengths and weaknesses of the DSM classifications and diagnoses. He says of this section:
“The ultimate goal here is neither to vilify nor vindicate the psychiatric diagnostic system but to help those who struggle with disordered thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. To the extent that using psychiatric terminology helps with that goal, we must be open to that help. To the extent that using psychiatric terminology hinders that goal, we must offer wise an gracious critique” (9).
In this first section, Emlet identifies a number of problems and pitfalls of psychiatric diagnoses as well as a few positive values that are offered by these diagnoses. Summarizing this first part, he says:
“At the end of the day, the goal is not simply to confirm or condemn a given diagnosis but to carefully, persistently, lovingly, and biblically bring God’s redemption to bear upon people who struggle with the problems encapsulated in a diagnostic description” (48).
After discussing the diagnoses, Emlet proceeds to discuss the medications that are prescribed for such diagnoses. There are several things that Emlet sets out to accomplish in this section. First, he helps the reader become more familiar with the basic classes of psychoactive medications. He helps the reader understand the difference between antidepressants, mood stabilizers hypnotics, and more.
Second, he looks at what we actually do and do not know about the efficacy of such drugs, with a particular emphasis on antidepressants. Many people automatically assume that every drug prescribed is certain to be effective to treat their diagnosis. But is that true?
And finally, he discusses a biblical approach to psychoactive medications, devoting 5 chapters to various aspects of exercising wisdom in thinking through the this topic of psychiatric medications.
So where does the author land — Should Christians take antidepressants? Should counselors utilize psychiatric diagnoses? It depends. Emlet shows that there is much wisdom that must be thought through and exercised when it comes to this difficult and debated topic. The author demonstrates a robust commitment to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible for all of life, while also maintaining the truth that humans are a union of both body and soul, and certain medications may be helpful and a gift of God’s common grace in treating various ailments. Whether you agree with him or not on the finer points of the debate, I believe you will find this book to be a well-written, thoughtful, engaging introduction to the conversation.
If you are involved in one-on-one ministry in any capacity and have wondered how to think through this topic of psychiatric diagnoses and the medications prescribed, this book will serve as a short, engaging, and readable introduction to the topic. The author closes the book with these words:
“I trust that what I have written bolsters your confidence that Scripture speaks broadly and deeply to those in significant mental distress, whether or not they meet the criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis — and whether or not they take a psychoactive medication. Whatever helping role in the church God has given you, I pray that you have gained encouragement to pursue those struggling with disordered thinking and emotions, knowing that God himself will provide wisdom to care for both the body and soul of those he entrusts to you” (98).
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Litfuse Publicity Group and New Growth Press for providing me a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.