Ed Stetzer, President of the LifeWay Research Division and contributing editor for Christianity Today, recently referred to articles written by Heath Lambert, executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), to debunk myths surrounding ACBC's beliefs on mental illness, medication, and science. Stetzer has shown special interest in the subject and is "currently engaged in some significant research" on the topic, which will be completed this fall.
ACBC on Medication
Where does ACBC stand on the use of medication to treat mental illness in counselees? According to Lambert, it is important to begin by stating "Such questions and controversies (regarding the use of psychiatric medications) are not unique to Christian conversations." Books such as Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America by Robert Whitaker and Saving Normal: An Insider's Revolt Against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life by Allen Frances are pushing this conversation forward, both in and outside of Christian thought circles. Mental illness diagnosis itself is undergoing increasing scrutiny, addressed by articles such as this, which exposes the dubious nature of skyrocketing ADHD diagnoses among children.
Lambert summarizes ACBC's stance by saying, "My job is ... to state that the decision to use them is outside the professional purview of most counselors." However, Lambert does admit that counselors do, at times, engage with counselees on the use of psychiatric medication. He says, "Does this mean that it has never happened that a NANC counselor somewhere has told somebody to quit taking their medication. No. In fact, I'm relatively confident that it has happened."
ACBC on Science
Regarding ACBC's view on science, Lambert asserts: "It is a myth that NANC counselors don't care about medical science." Lambert hypothesizes that the myth has been perpetuated because "It is all too easy to spread a caricature of someone's position instead of engaging the real thing." The stance ACBC takes on science is similar to their position on medication (stated briefly above): "We show that care in leaving the practice of medicine to those who know how to do it as a part of their vocational setting. We also show that care by refusing to prescribe physical remedies to spiritual problems that Jesus wants to heal."
Stetzer Chimes In
Stetzer posits that these myths exist, not solely because of intentional spreading of caricatures, but because many have actually experienced anti-medication and anti-science counseling approaches in the biblical counseling realm. This may mirror the general Christian public's opinion; Stetzer's recent research shows that "A third of Americans - and nearly half of evangelical, fundamentalist, or born-again Christians - believe prayer and Bible study alone can overcome serious mental illness." As a result, Stetzer's stated desire is that these articles "can be helpful resources for those facing a biblical counselor who rejects any and all forms of medical treatment for mental illness."
Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness Within the Church
Countless others in the Church and community at large are publicly rallying around those with mental illness diagnoses, seeking creative ways to break the stigma of mental illness in the Church environment embrace them with the love of Christ. Rick and Kay Warren of Saddleback Church are an example of public figureheads of the movement, spurred on by the loss of their son, Matthew, to suicide last year. The Warrens hosted a conference called The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church at Saddleback Church in March of this year, hosting speakers across denominational lines. The event sought to "encourage individuals living with mental illness, educate family members, and equip church leaders to provide effective and compassionate care to any faced with the challenges of mental illness."