Mental Health & Counseling

Mental Health and the Cross

December 24, 2021

A Resource Team Perspective 

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Resource Team: A group of individuals working under the Conference Care Committee for the Church of God in Christ Mennonite to provide resources that include counseling and therapies for those suffering from mental illness and facing emotional and relationship challenges.

psy·chol·o·gy – /sīˈkäləjē/: noun. the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behavior in a given context.

cross – kros: noun. represents self-denial, humility, sacrifice, surrender, repentance, and commitment.  

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This might seem like a rather strange title for an article. But I do field occasional questions and concerns regarding our work on the resource team. This is good and I appreciate it. We need healthy “tension” to keep things in the middle of the road and heading in the right direction as we stumble towards glory. God forbid that we would ever try to stifle opposition, criticism, or questions: concern make us go to deep places, think hard about what we’re doing, and re-evaluate if we’re misdirected. This article then is to answer, or at least attempt to address, some of the questions that come our way regarding the place of spirituality and the cross in our work. 

Sometimes the thought comes forth that as a resource team dealing with mental health issues, we tend to look at things from a psychological perspective only. Looking at the raw definition of the word psychology, we do attempt to be students of the mind and mental illness that unfortunately attacks most people at some time in their life in some shape or form. It is true that we are not necessarily dealing with people on a spiritual level. Our pastors see individuals and their issues through spiritual lenses, for the most part, because that is their calling. They are defending the church and the truth. We also are concerned with these exact same things but are called to look at issues such as addiction, dysfunctions, and disorders from a holistic perspective. We want to see a person from a spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental standpoint. Because no matter what, there is no getting around the fact that we are all comprised of these four facets which crisscross, complicate, and challenge matters.  

An addiction, for example, is a spiritual problem, yes, but not only. It is also an emotional, mental, and physical problem. If a person is only told to repent (find the cross) without addressing the pain, hurt, or void the person is trying to medicate, soothe, or fill, then likely the change you are asking for will not be lasting. It is most helpful and therapeutic if we can address all parts. And while sometimes the spiritual part or need comes first, sometimes the physical must be addressed first. 

I think the criticism, if there is some, is generally what are we doing with the cross of Christ; how do we incorporate or address the cross in the lives of our clients and counselees. Are we advising people appropriately to go to the cross? Are we telling them to repent if they need to? Where does self-denial come into addictions? Are we asking those who’ve been hurt to forgive? The answer to all is yes, but a nuanced yes. Every one of these facets is a vital part of our counseling and our work. The cross comes into almost every case, at least in some shape or form and at some time or the other. People are asked to seek God’s face no matter what they are facing, be it marriage problems, addictions, or the sequelae of neglect and sexual abuse. 

The issue is when we spiritualize every mental and emotional challenge. When we tell our Christian brothers and sisters that their problem is only spiritual when they know in their gut that they feel something physical or struggle mentally. I think it is important that we recognize all facets, know when to address each one, how far and deep to go, and understand the importance of timing. 

Sometimes people come with problems that are obviously more spiritual in nature as they talk of offense, sin in their lives, and confrontations with local ministry, for example. Many times the pastoral staff has sent them with a good word and there is little spiritual about the situation—or better said, their problem is not primarily spiritual in nature. That is the work of the resource team. We want to work as a team together with the ministry and leadership everywhere. No one needs to feel threatened. We are on the same team. That is, the only way we can help people is as a community, united, with common goals. Admittedly, sometimes the problems that we face (for example sexual abuse, same-sex attraction, or profound addiction) need help that is beyond our expertise. Sometimes we are obligated to report things to the law. This is all a part of our work. It all takes reliance on God to lead us in the right direction. God must remain at the center of our work and counseling. 

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Personal introspection regarding mental health and the cross:

  • In what ways could or does spirituality and the cross play into PTSD secondary to sexual and physical abuse? 
  • In what ways could or does spirituality and the cross play into mental health disorders such as ADHD and autism? 
  • In what way does one apply the cross in such issues as schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder? 

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