Sunday, May 16, 2010

Nancy Kehoe: A Pioneer

Faith and Mental Illness: An Interview with Nancy Kehoe, Ph.D. author of "Wrestling with Our Inner Angels," conducted by Therese J. Borchard on Beyond Blue, (Please click on "A Pioneer" above to go to the original.)

Nancy is a Society of the Sacred Heart sister and a psychologist in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

1. Why are so many mental health professionals so opposed, reluctant, or uncomfortable talking about religion and faith with their clients?

Nancy: "Because of Freud's unparalleled influence on the way psychodynamic training and mental health treatment has been practiced in this country since the early 20th c. his views on religion have been profoundly influential. Essentially he viewed religion as a symptom of immaturity or pathological disorder. Until the most recent edition of the DSM ( Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) all the references to religion were negative, symptoms of illness. In addition to the historical roots, the omission of the discussion of religion in treatment is also related to the fact that mental health professionals have higher rates of atheism and agnosticism than the general population." (Wrestling with Our Inner Angels" p. xxi.)

What this brief paragraph does not address is the discomfort that clinicians feel in talking about religion and faith with their clients because of their own unresolved issues around their religious backgrounds. For many clinicians, psychiatry, psychology, psychoanalysis has become their religion. These disciplines have many of the characteristics associated with religion - a system of beliefs, an oral and written tradition, authority figures, rules, rituals and a community of fellow believers.

Other factors exist that make it difficult to talk about religion and faith with clients.

• Clinicians often feel uncertain as to what to ask, what questions may be perceived as intrusive or judgmental. For this reason I developed a religious history questionnaire to offer mental health providers ways of exploring a person's religious/spiritual background. (A copy of this may be obtained from the author at
• Clinicians are anxious that a client may ask them about their beliefs.
• Judgment, proselytizing, dogmatism, an inability to have an open, respectful conversation about beliefs make it difficult to have a discussion in society at large and these same elements make it difficult to have a conversation in a therapeutic environment.

2. How would you advise a person seeking treatment from depression and anxiety to broach the topic of religion?

Nancy: When a person of faith, or a person with a strong spiritual practice, one for whom participation in a religious tradition is an important part of who they are, then he/she should ask the therapist if he/she is open to talking about this aspect of the client's life. That does not mean that the therapist be a believer himself or herself, but that he or she can attend to this aspect of a client's life respectfully and non-judgmentally. Asking questions that lead to a deeper understanding of the role a person's faith or practice plays in his or her life are a vital part of therapy and do not suggest a negative attitude toward a person's beliefs.

Therapists do not need to know about every religion but they do need to have an attitude or respectful curiosity and the ability to withhold judgment. It is important to trust one's own sense of whether the therapist seems open and willing to talk about a person's religious beliefs.

3. How can you find a mental-health professional open to faith discussions?

Nancy: Finding the right therapist is often a challenge. Factors that affect the options are:

• the area in which one lives,
• the resources that are available,
• the insurance one carries,
• the networks one has

In some states a person can call the parent organization such as the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the Association of Licensed Social Workers and ask if they have therapists on their lists that are open to the discussion of religion/faith/spirituality in the process of treatment. Word of mouth is always a useful resource - knowing someone who has had a successful therapy and who was able to talk about their beliefs or knowing religious professionals in the area who may know therapists who have or are respectful of a faith dimension.

If a person's religious/spiritual beliefs are to be an integrated aspect of the therapy, the client must take responsibility for that and seek out a therapist that will honor that.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

When the Church Proudly Embraces Sin, does it invite the affliction of mental illness?

I believe in salvation through Jesus Christ. If you were to ask me if I believe in Mental Illness I would have to say that I do not believe in its intrinsic finality, whether it be psychosis or depression, schizophrenia or obsessive compulsive disorder, addictions or psychopathic behaviour and I acknowledge that many people, including Christians, suffer from these conditions. I prefer to suggest that we have been conditioned to accept these illnesses as natural and unavoidable. We've been told the statistics. The CMHA has said that one in 4 or 5 of us could be suffering a mental illness at any one time. This is an obvious exaggeration obtained by including everything from bad manners to psychopathic criminal activities. Nevertheless, whatever its actual extent, the rate of severe illness is still too high. The recent behavior of some church leaders, together with the virtual lack of teaching, in our churches, about the connections between spiritual and mental health, raises a stark question.

Is the church today promoting mental illness?

Bill Muehlenberg writes in 'When the Church Proudly Embraces Sin'
(see )

'A half century ago A.W. Tozer preached these words: “This is the day of excusing sin instead of purging sin. An entire school of thought has developed justifying sin within the church and trying to prove that sin is perfectly normal, and therefore acceptable.”

If this was true back then, how much more so is it today? Indeed, we find examples of the church embracing sin instead of rebuking sin on a regular basis. And tragically, many of these churches take great pride in their affirmation and endorsement of known sin.

Consider this headline found in today’s press: “US Anglican church ordains lesbian bishop”. The article opens with these words: “A 56-year-old lesbian was ordained as a bishop by the Episcopal church on Saturday, reigniting an issue that has caused bitter divisions in the Anglican movement worldwide. Mary Glasspool became only the second openly gay bishop to be consecrated by the Episcopal Church – the governing Anglican body in the United States – after Gene Robinson was ordained in 2003.”

So how in the world can an entire denomination get things so wrong here? How can they simply throw out the clear teachings of Scripture on all this? There would be many reasons, but most have to do with embracing the homosexual agenda – hook, line and sinker – while rejecting the Bible as God’s authoritative word to us.

These so-called Christians have simply bought every myth being perpetrated by the radical homosexual lobby. There are many such myths, but one of the most often repeated ones is the idea that people are born homosexual. And amazingly some Christians have completely bought into this.

Thus they claim that “Homosexuality is a gift from God” or “God made me this way, so how can it be wrong?” As one example, a group of leaders and lecturers at one Melbourne theological institution wrote, “We believe God has made some people homosexual.”

A simple response is that God has not made anyone to be sinful. But because we live in a fallen world, everyone is born with a depraved and fallen nature. So even if certain people feel a same-sex attraction from a very young age, this does not make God the author of that attraction. It is a result of living in a fallen world.

Moreover, if God made people to be sinners (be it homosexuality or any other kind of sin), how can God then condemn such sin? It is simply not fair for God to condemn homosexuals or murderers or adulterers if God made them that way.

But people tend to argue from their experience back to Scripture, instead of letting Scripture be the judge of experience. Thus even if we concede with some that they may have felt same-sex desire for as long as they can remember, that still does not mean God made them that way. Nor does it mean that such desires are therefore acceptable. As psychologists Jones and Yarhouse put it, “The Christian church has never taught that all our desires come from God, has never taught that all our desires are good, and has never taught that every desire, even every good desire, ought to be fulfilled. A heterosexual man’s lust for a woman who is not his wife does not come from God and is not a good desire, and should not be indulged.”

The issue of a genetic basis of homosexuality cannot here be explored, although I have written extensively on the issue elsewhere. But even if a small percentage of the homosexual condition can be attributed to a genetic factor, that still speaks of living in a sin-stained world. And it still does not excuse people of not availing themselves of the saving and healing power of Christ to set them free from that situation. I again cite Jones and Yarhouse:

“At the broadest level all humans are heirs to a predisposition that we have not chosen and that propels us toward self-destruction and evil – our sinful nature. The plight of the homosexual who has desires and passions that he or she did not choose is in fact the common plight of humanity. We all face the same challenge: how are we to live when what we want is out of accord with what God tells us we should want in this life?”

And even if we are born with various desires which seem to real and so natural, we still have the ability to say no to them, especially when they are not in our best interest, or when they are clearly contrary for God’s design for us. We are not robots nor are we animals. We can say no to harmful desires and tendencies, and say yes to what is right.

Indeed, that is how civilization works. As William F. Buckley once put it, “Civilization is about curbing appetites”. No society can last long if it simply says we should give in to every appetite, passion and desire that comes our way.

Christians of all people should know this. That we should say no to passion and desire which is not in accordance with God’s purposes for us should be obvious to every Bible-believing Christian. Sure, in a fallen world we will all be born with proclivities, desires and tendencies which are not of God. But we certainly do not need to just give in to them.

In fact, even with this fallen and sinful orientation, we can still determine whether or not we act out those inclinations and desires. We are not so utterly fallen that we have absolutely no say in the matter. We still enjoy God’s common grace.

Believers should never excuse sin just because we have a leaning toward something, or a desire for something. The Christian life is all about saying no to bad desires, and doing that which is right. Even a non-believer does not excuse all evil by appealing to desire. We certainly do not excuse a child molester and say, “well, he was just acting out his natural orientation’.

Frank Turek puts it this way: “Let’s suppose that scientists someday discover a genetic contribution to homosexual desires. Would that give license to behavior? No, all of us have desires that we ought not to act on. In other words, we were all born with an ‘orientation’ to bad behavior, but desires don’t justify the behavior. For example, some may have a genetic predisposition to alcohol, but who would advocate alcoholism? If someone has a genetic attraction to children, does that justify pedophilia? What homosexual activist would say that a genetic predisposition to violence justifies gay-bashing? (Born gay? What if the gay-basher was born mean?). Desires do not justify behaviors. In fact, there is a word we use to describe the disciplined restraint of destructive desires – it’s called ‘civilization’.”

Because of the Fall, we all come into this world as sinful, selfish beings. But the good news of the Gospel is that God has come to deal with the sin question and to set us free from our addiction to self, to selfishness, and to every sinful desire. We are clearly instructed to resist and overcome sinful desires, not simply give in to them.

Turek is worth quoting some more here: “But let’s suppose that some homosexuals cannot change their orientation. Does that mean they cannot control their behavior? Why do we expect pedophiles to resist their desires but not homosexuals? Because we know pedophiles are human beings who can choose not to act on their sexual desires just like anyone else. We also demand them to resist their desires because our children will not be safe if they don’t….

“The truth is, sexual behaviour is not compulsory. It is always a choice. We all must resist our sexual urges at times. And while it’s not desirable, some do so for their entire lives and never have sex. That’s possible for people with any sexual desire. After all, if I honestly believe that I’ve been born with heterosexual desires, am I required to engage in heterosexual acts? Am I not capable of controlling my sexual desires and remaining celibate? If you claim that I am not, then you have also made the absurd contention that no one in the history of the world has ever been morally responsible for any sexual crime, including rape, incest, and child molestation.”

The US Episcopalians should know better. But instead they have chosen to reject God and his word and have instead embraced the lies of the homosexual lobby. The Apostle Paul spoke about this situation 2000 years ago: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (Rom 1:24-25).'


The Canadian Church is also abandoning its foundation. Its teachings about sin mirror its effectiveness in helping people with mental illness.