The American Psychological Association claims that by 2010 80% of living Americans will have participated in professional psychotherapy.1 Why?
As Gregg Easterbrook wrote3 that there has been as much as a
"ten-fold increase in unipolar depression in industrial nations [in] the postwar era."
What's the solution?
“Psychotherapy can be broadly defined as a talking treatment in which a trained person deliberately establishes a professional relationship with a patient for the purpose of relieving symptoms.” 4
Psychiatrist Gary Almy5 wrote that
“there actually exist more than 230 recognized types of psychotherapy.”6
These various psychotherapies have a common foundational view of man that shapes their definition of what man’s problems are and how man can be cured. Here's a summary of psychotherapies' foundation based on Dr. Almy's book7 :
In our unconscious is a vast world of mental activity “deep” in the mind that contains the sum total of all our cognizant experience from birth. The unconscious exerts its influence on our day-to-day experience. Thus man is at the mercy of his past as recorded and stored- in a realm beyond our awareness or control. Man’s unconscious is filled with all sorts of unacceptable impulses or drives which have to be contained (repressed) or somehow transformed into acceptable behavior.
Man is born innocent, free of evil impulses or desires. Man’s problems (neuroses) result from imperfect rearing and adverse environmental experiences stored in the unconscious. We are what has been done to us. We are dysfunctional (neurotic) only because of bad influences external to ourselves.
One could come to understand and control these influences either by oneself or with a therapist as a helper. By knowing and controlling (insight), one could shed the unhealthy outcroppings (neurotic symptoms) of the unconscious and bring oneself to peace. Using insight, one could remove or neutralize bad past experiences and replace them with newer, healthier experiences.
One’s own conscious, or the conscious of a helper, could come to know deeply and understand the unconscious of a troubled patient, and thereby change the content and influence of that unconscious. Required to do this, however, was expertise, training, special (secret) knowledge, and a “therapeutic relationship.” Thus developed the importance of the patient-therapist relationship. Secrecy, confidentiality, suspension of the usual discriminatory faculties, reliving past experiences, and the creation of new experiences all have developed from this. The submissive, trusting patient opens himself to the caring, idealized, expertly trained therapist; then, supposedly using his own insight guided by the therapist and his own growing self-knowledge, the patient cures himself.
Does Psychotherapy work? Dr. Almy investigated this in the Psychiatric journals:
“A recent study reviewed the ways in which psychotherapists have tried to prove that their therapies are, in fact, beneficial and effective. It has been found that if one applies the same standards of evidence, analysis, and proof insisted upon in any other realm of science, that conclusions of benefit or efficacy of any type of psychotherapy are simply ‘not warranted on the basis of either the existence or of the size of statistical effects.’”8
“The reputation of psychotherapy as efficacious and beneficial is not justified by science but is accepted on faith.” 9
“There is no such thing as one psychotherapy with one carefully prescribed method or even a ‘how to’ manual acceptable to a large number of therapists…no rigorous, common, or reproducible training method has been forthcoming even after one hundred years of sustained effort…”10
B. The Victim Mentality:
By a person focusing on what evils have been done against him instead of coming to repentance before God and those whom he has offended, a victim mentality takes over, and the result is devastating both in his relationship with God and with others. Jesus Christ told us that the whole word of God rests on two commandments: loving God and loving others. Psychotherapy turns people to ignoring God (or recreating a “god” that meets our needs as our “Higher Power”) and blaming others. The results are predictable: lives spent addicted to a recovery method that doesn't work, instead of facing their own shortcomings and addressing them, relying on the Lord Jesus Christ's cleansing, healing power to change us.
The Bible boldly makes this boast regarding the power of God to change a person from the inside out: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"12 Regarding sinful addictions, the Bible is once more clear about the power of God to transform a life that has been reborn in Jesus Christ: "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you WERE. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."13
Through the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and our repentance, any addiction can be conquered.
C. Love of Self:
Secular psychology promotes the love of self through a "Hierarchy of Needs." On top of the mountain of needs is "Self-Actualization." In pride there is a belief that we can cure ourselves and that we need to love ourselves to find fulfillment. This doctrine has worked its way into churches' theology. Instead of the two great commandments: love God and love others, we end up with three: love self, love God and love others. The argument goes that you can't love others until you love yourself.
Jesus said, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate…his own life- he cannot be My disciple."14 The word "hate" in this passage is a word of comparison: our love for Jesus and for others is to be so strong that we are unconcerned with our own selfish needs in comparison. Jesus warned of the destructiveness of self-love,
"The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life."15
A person who is focused on self will seek to fulfill self through the things of this world, but a void will remain. That void is filled only in a deepening relationship with our Lord. Some Christians are deceived into thinking they need "Jesus plus." Peter reminded believers where all their needs (spiritual, emotional, mental) are met, "His divine power has given to us ALL things that pertain to life and godliness."16
D. Body, Soul and Spirit
Freudian Psychotherapy denies the spiritual life- it is atheistic. The Bible accurately tells us our spiritual condition: that before we repent of unbelief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and our sinful ways, we are spiritually dead.17 We become spiritually alive18 when we believe on Jesus Christ and receive the Holy Spirit into our hearts. At that time we become adopted into the family of God and through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in our place we become in God's eyes holy, righteous and pure- our sins are then completely washed. God has a solution to our troublesome thoughts caused by guilt- faith, repentance and forgiveness.
The Bible demonstrates a relationship between our body, soul and spirit. If we are not in fellowship with God due to unrepentant sin, it can easily affect both our physical and mental health. Anger, anxiety and other sins in my own life have at different times affected my physical health- affecting my energy levels or sleeplessness and even making my immune system more susceptible to colds. Other sinful habits can also easily end up affecting our mental and physical health, whether it is unresolved fear, envy, bitterness, covetousness, jealousy or any other sin. The Bible offers us a wonderful, sweet solution to all sin: repentance- agreeing with God about our sin, resolving to give up the sin permanently, relying on God to change our hearts as we take steps of faith to change, and seeking to get right with others if our sin has affected them. God warns us,
"In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it."19
A. Growth in the Midst of the Struggles of Life
Paul spoke of tremendous struggles and their end result in his life:
"We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers."20
God used these tremendous trials in Paul's life to humble him, showing him how needy he was of God’s daily sustenance in prayer.
Peter encouraged believers going through tremendous difficulties in life,
"Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy."21
In the midst of these fiery trials, "the genuineness of [our] faith"22 is demonstrated to all who observe us as they see the work of Jesus Christ in giving us necessary strength, endurance, peace and joy mixed with the pain. It is in the midst of these trials that we learn,
The difficult trials of Jesus25 , Paul26 , Job27 and David28 brought them to their knees in reliance on the Father in prayer for deliverance and strength. Nothing in life is more important than drawing closer to God, so for these trials we can be exceedingly grateful for their end result, that we would be "mature and complete, not lacking anything."29 Such maturity learns to accept the curve-balls that God allows to come our way as blessings in disguise, and leads to a heart attitude of reliance, trust, thanksgiving and praise in the midst of the storm.
B. Depression Due to Guilt Caused by Unconfessed and Unrepented Sin
The classic Bible story on this is David, who committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed secretly. The effect of this sin hardened his heart toward God. Later God sent the prophet Nathan to convict him of this "secret" sin and David completely repented. David was later known as "a man after God's own heart", an example to all of us of the grace of God to forgive all sin and radically change the sinful course of a man away from destruction and instead towards renewal and strength once again in the Lord. David wrote psalms of what it was like before he had repented of sin- its' affect on his mental and spiritual well-being:
"Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; my eye wastes away with grief, yes, my soul and my body! For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away."30
Throughout scripture we see this same pattern- sin kills us- all sin has negative impact on us, particularly sin that we willfully commit, knowing full well we are doing wrong. Have you noticed the same in your own life? I sure have in mine! These lessons have repeatedly taught me to have short accounts of sin with God- the moment I become aware of sin in my life, I desire to deal with it immediately and receive the peace of once again being in fellowship with God (If I don't, the Spirit begins his work on my body, soul and spirit- He is unrelenting in His pursuit to bring me back to repentance through discipline!)
Unrepentant sin leads to a growing distance in our relationship with God. We can seek all we want to suppress our sin through justification, blame and excuses, and we can run from God, but where can you run from the Almighty Lord of the Universe? The psalmist declared,
"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there." 31
There's no hiding from God! People can seek to hide, just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden, hiding from God and seeking to cover their nakedness with fig leaves. We can seek to cover our sin in so many ways- we can drown it in addictions or numb it with noise and folly- but where can one hide from the Almighty? He loves us too much not to seek us out and say, "Where are you?"32
In Psalm 51 we see David's genuine repentance for adultery and murder as he models for all of us what kind of earnest heart we should have whenever the Holy Spirit has brought to our attention that we have sinned,
"Have mercy upon me, O God according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight- that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge… Purge me… Wash me… Create in me a pure heart… Restore to me the joy of my salvation… the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart- these, O God, You will not despise." 33
In this psalm, David comes to understand so many things, such as…
1) All he can rely upon is God's mercy- he has no merit, nothing to offer God except brokenness and humility. He doesn't once list out his merits to try to offset his sin. He recognizes the holiness of God and his desperate need.
2) He is consumed with his own sin- there is no blaming others, such as Bathsheba or his wife or parents or other relatives. He is consumed only with his own sinfulness and need for cleansing and a change in course.
3) He recognizes his character. When we become aware of God's holiness and our own sinfulness, it makes us aware that indeed there is nothing good in us, other than that which God has done in us. This is completely humbling. So we fall completely before God- totally relying on Him alone to forgive us and change us into the person He wants us to be.
4) He won't settle for anything less than a complete change. David isn't sorry he got caught, but sorry that he sinned in the first place- there's a huge difference.
5) True repentance allows God's healing touch and power, and a zeal to help others find repentance as well. God uses it in us to produce compassion towards other sinners. David wrote,
"Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you."34
True understanding of our sinful, desperate condition and the forgiveness we receive at the cross leads a person to passionate evangelism, recognizing the awesome power of the grace and mercy of God to save and transform sinner's lives. Missionary C.T. Studd who died serving Africa wrote,
"Some want to live within the sound of a chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell."
A true understanding of forgiveness does that to a man.
6) True repentance delivered David from depression and filled him with joy in due time: David wrote,
"Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord'- and you forgave the guilt of my sin."35
People are on psychiatric medicines for various reasons. The medicines have been proven effective in elevating people's moods so that they can function in society and live a "normal" life. Does this mean that the individual was "cured" of an "illness"?
As Dr. Almy has noted, psychiatric medicines don't cure depression, they treat the symptoms, like cold medicines. Some in our medical community have told us that depression is genetic and must be treated as an illness. Is genetics at the root of most depression?
From 1990 to 2002 I was on psychiatric medicine for depression and mania. During that time with my psychiatrist's consent, we eliminated one anti-depressant and reduced doses on other medications over several years. I recommitted my life to Jesus Christ in 1999. One day in 2002, God spoke to my heart, "You no longer need that medication- I've set you free." The causes for my depression had been lifted in 1999, but I hadn't yet realized it. The medication was merely added "baggage" that weighed me down with unpleasant side effects with no benefit. In 2002 I stopped taking all medication and indeed found I was "healed" of depression. I use that word "healed" lightly- for in my case, though I had symptoms of depression, the symptoms were caused by a spiritual condition. Once the spiritual condition had been corrected through repentance and faith, the drugs were no longer necessary. After getting off of the drugs, I could "see" more clearly spiritually as well. The drugs had a way of artificially affecting my moods- it was a joy to once again have no drugs affecting my moods. I could clearly see that in my case that the reason for the depression in the first place was a loss of focus and dependence on God in my life and abandonment of the calling God had in my life. I had become a spiritual "drifter".
Does this mean that this is true in all cases? I’m not suggesting that. But what about you? If you are depressed, have you first examined your life and repented of all known sins and rededicated your life to follow after God's will as revealed in the Bible with no reservations? If you need repentance, the moment you wave the flag of surrender before God, you will be surprised as the Bible's promises to you come alive in your life. You will be able to say with the Apostle Paul,
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ."36
The same power that raised Christ from the dead is now available in your life through faith in Jesus Christ. Who knows, God may choose to continue to keep you humble and reliant on Him through struggling with depression. Who knows, God may deliver you completely from it!
Dr. Almy noted that in one affluent Boston suburb 90% of the people were on psychiatric medicines! Similar statistics exist in other European countries, but in countries like Indonesia, where my wife is from, there are virtually no psychiatrists and few people have need of them. I guess affluence doesn't guarantee mental health! What is it in our culture that would cause so many to struggle with depression? Our country was founded on the gospel of Jesus Christ- there wasn't rampant depression in our country in earlier times. People had vision in life, knowing that the Lord Jesus Christ would take care of their needs in the midst of hardships. People had stable environments with close family relationships and a focus on God. This last century has seen a drastic step away from our Christian roots as atheism, agnosticism, secular humanism and religions focused on self-actualization such as the New Age movement have run rampant in our society. Instead of people relying on God to meet their needs, they've turned inward to self, only to be greatly disappointed.
I enjoy asking people on the streets, "What is your passion in life?" I'm amazed at the many trivial answers I get that indicate a truly passionless life- a life that has nothing in it that will truly produce lasting satisfaction. I ask about their passion, "If you were able to do your passion now all the time, would you finally be fulfilled?" When a person gives their life over to Jesus Christ, they have found the meaning of life, the reason for passion, the Person to glory in who takes up residence inside their hearts. Self begins to fade as the glory of Jesus Christ takes over in our lives as we willingly yield to Him, the Lover of our Soul. Every moment and circumstance takes on meaning- life in all its' abundance- the life God meant for us to live. This must be what Jesus meant when He said of His followers,
"The kingdom of God is within you." 37
All vain strivings for the lusts of this world cease to be meaningful when we strive after Jesus Christ.
Here's a prescription from the Bible for both preventive maintenance against depression and what to do if depressed…
1) Recognize that God has provided you forgiveness through Jesus and wisdom through the Holy Spirit. Rely on them to speak to you and guide you in all truth. 38
2) Be strengthened by the word of God, prayer and fellowship with other believers in Christ. 39
3) Be suspicious of any counselors that give advice contrary to the Bible- avoid their counsel.40
4) Recognize the power of the counsel of a godly close friend or pastor/teacher who trusts in the Word of God for counsel.41
5) Meditate on the positive- fill your thoughts with God's thoughts for you with a grateful and thankful heart, and pray continually.42
6) Finally, recognize that to be depressed is not necessarily equivalent to being in sin. It may be a season of testing God has you in for spiritual growth.43