whole•adjective :having all the parts: not divided or cut into parts or pieces
From Repression to Revelation
I grew up in an era of repression. Self-repression, that is. If one had a doubt or a problem, one kept quiet about it. Sure, the characters on the Bob Newhart Show talked about mental health (but mostly as fodder for comedy). People didn’t go to counselors, they went to shrinks.
In fact, the origin of the word ‘shrink’ is ‘headshrinker.’ In other words, people saw psychology and psychiatry as subtractive professions. One went in order to get one’s head whittled down to a normal size. A lot has changed over the years, and people kindly refer to their mental health professionals as ‘therapist,’ ‘counselor,’ or just plain old ‘doctor.’
Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental illness (or even just the need to have wise counsel) remains—especially amongst Christians. When a friend struggled with Harm OCD, she went to an older woman in her church—someone she thought of as a mentor—for help. The mentor’s advice? Pray more.
Sadly, this attitude lingers among church members. This leaves those with mental illnesses, feeling less than. Less than Christian because their faith won’t heal them. Less than other church members because they have doubts or fears or traumas that won’t heal on their own with prayer and pastoral counseling.
Ignorance is NOT Bliss
Inadvertently, our collective attitude as Christians about mental health issues has crippled many people. Sometimes, we cripple ourselves. I confess that my own lack of understanding has caused numerous hardships in our family.
For example, I had no idea that seeing a grief counselor during Pedro’s catastrophic illness could actually help me during his struggle. Or, that I should have seen a counselor after his recovery to help me work through the trauma I experienced as his caregiver. I got depressed after his recovery and felt guilty because I thought I should feel grateful, not stressed and depressed.
Our young daughters saw their father struggle for life and almost lose it on two occasions. I didn’t realize that this trauma could change the way they saw life and reacted to subsequent hard times.
It took a catastrophic mental health crisis to wake me up to the fact that my ignorance almost cost us our daughter’s life. We knew about depression, and thought we provided what she needed to climb out of it. We didn’t—we probably made things much worse for her in our let’s-pray-about-it-tough-love-here’s-a-counselor’s-phone-number way.
What IS Mental Wholeness?
Ask any two counselors what ‘mental wholeness’ means, and they will probably give you different answers. Loren Fish, LCSW, defined mental wholeness as “Health, wellness, healing, and contentment.” Giselle Ortiz, an intern counselor, sees it as “the absence of any dissonance between personal values and actual behavior and decisions as well as having a growth mindset.”
In other words, in order to achieve mental wholeness, we need to identify areas in our life where we need to recover from trauma, or change our thinking, so that we can continue growing into the person God wants us to be.
Some of you may wonder why I start with mental wholeness—after all, shouldn’t all Christians start with spiritual wholeness? Many people have a distorted picture of God based on their interactions with the church, society, and even family members (try telling an abused child that God is their heavenly father).
By nurturing our mental wholeness first of all, we can work through our distortions and in a healthy way and prepare ourselves for spiritual wholeness. After all, Jesus healed the physical and mental ills in the Bible first of all.
Nurture Yourself Takeaway #2: Think about areas in your life where you may need mental growth and healing.Since none of us has reached #perfection, we could all benefit from growth. #mentalhealth… Click To Tweet
This post is part of a series, 31 Ways to Nurture Yourself. Join me tomorrow to learn about how journaling can promote mental wholeness.