Some Christians are too slow to seek the help of medicine. Though they profess that man is both body and soul, their “grit-your-teeth-and-just-pray-harder” approach seems to downplay the crucial role that the body plays in human existence. Some counselors sadly heap burdens upon people, guilting them out of seeking prescriptions for anti-depressants and the like.
Some Christians, however, seem content to depend exclusively upon medicine. Just because someone has found a medication that works, that doesn’t mean they should over-do and over-commit themselves. Prudence and self-discipline combined with medicine can be a truly wise combination that faces squarely the reality of our dichotomous make-up: body and soul.
I’ve been reading through Counseling the Hard Cases: True Stories Illustrating the Sufficiency of God’s Resources in Scripture, edited by Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert and really appreciated Dan Wickert’s comments in chapter 5, “‘Mary’ and Paralyzing Fear”:
As a physician I am always familiar with the details of my counselee’s medications. I recognize most antidepressants; I know how they work, the common side effects, and the mental and physical dependency that many of these drugs cultivate. Because of my knowledge in this area, many counselees want my medical advice concerning whether they should continue with their medication.
As a rule, I never advise or require counselees to stop medicating because I am not their physician. I don’t know their complete medical history, and it would be irresponsible for me to advise them out of ignorance. In many cases patients who stop taking their medication cold turkey will suffer severe withdrawal symptoms that make it even more challenging to think and act rightly. Sometimes, however, a counselee with inform me that he is ready to stop taking medication. In these cases I am always curious to hear his reasons before I advise him to talk to his doctor about stopping.
One question I typically ask is, “Why do you want to stop?” Often a counselee wants to get off medications because they do not want to be judged by friends or family. This is not a good reason because the person is often more concerned about his own glory than the glory of God. A second question I consider is, How are you handling life on the medication? Are they handling the normal problems of life in a biblical, God-honoring way while they are on the medication? If not, then taking them off the medication usually will not help the counselee to please God.
Does medicine ultimately solve heart problems? No. But is God’s will ultimately going to be hindered by medicine or a lack of medicine? No. God will work in a counselee’s heart regardless of whether they are medicated. My goal and responsibility are to cultivate hope, to help people grow in Christlikeness, and to help them prosper in the freedom of the gospel and in God’s rich purpose for their lives.
Counseling the Hard Cases, pgs. 120-121. (Bold emphasis added.)
Very insightful words. If Dr. Wickert (an M.D.) isn’t willing to advise those he counsels (in his role as a biblical counselor) either to start or stop taking medicine, pastors and lay-counselors who are not medical doctors should be even more careful in this regard! While we have a duty to focus our counselee’s attention on the spiritual aspects of their struggles, we should not burden them with pressure to avoid or get off medication, claiming it is somehow more natural or God-honoring.
We do well to rebuke both extremes. Those who are ashamed of the supposed stigma of medicine should be confronted with their fear of man and helped to focus on God’s glory in place of their own. Those who are unwilling to discipline their lives spiritually because they are using medicine as a quick and easy answer to their problems should be confronted with their unbiblical assumptions about what causes challenges in the Christian life.
In the end, counselors do best when we lead people to Christ. When our focus is on helping them see how the gospel relates to their problems, we give them the help we’re best qualified to give. And when we bring God’s word to bear in the messy places of their lives, we give them hope. Perhaps if more counselors put the use or non-use of medicine several levels down on their priority list, we would be better able to present biblical and pastoral counseling as the thoughtful and balanced approach it is intended to be.
Rev. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)