Pastors often need help with own mental health
    May 29 2009 by Jennifer Harris, Associated Baptist Press

    Congregations often view their pastors as strong, stable shepherds, but many ministers experience a disconnect between the image they project and the mental and emotional battles to which they are subject.

    “I have never met a clergy person, either in therapy or out, who did not suffer some type of wound to their self,” said clinical psychologist Robert Randall, who spent 37 years as minister of counseling at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Elmhurst, Ill.

    Clergy are not very good at taking care of their health, he said. “The common excuse is ‘not enough time,’ but the underlying problem has more to do with narcissistic issues.”

    Clergy want to be seen as unshakeable and don’t allow anyone to see what they are going through. Instead, they keep “working and working” to be seen as productive and indispensable, Randall said.

    “For some clergy, there is a long history of struggles to maintain firm self-cohesion and self-esteem,” he said. “But even pastors with a firm sense of self are always vulnerable to having their self shaken.”

    Cliff Caton, pastor of First Christian Church in Blue Springs, Mo., and a student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in nearby Kansas City, Kan., speaks about his history of depression from the pulpit.

    Caton’s experience with depression came before he was a pastor. He lost his job at a bank, faced the foreclosure of his home and was divorced — all in a 90-day period. “I just sat in my apartment for a year, leaving to go to the gym and buy groceries,” he said.

    Sharing his experience from the pulpit gives his congregation permission to not be perfect themselves, he said. Several have come forward to seek help for their own struggles.

    Speaking about depression and other mental health issues can help remove the stigma, he said. “A number of clergy still view it [depression] as a weakness, but it’s a disease. Is there shame in having mumps?”

    Randall recommends four steps for pastors facing depression:
    • “Admit you are depressed and need help. Understand that this admission is a sign of strength, not of weakness — you care enough about yourself, and about those whose lives you touch, to reclaim your life.
    • “Get into psychotherapy with a good therapist, one who not only understands depression but also understands the life of ministry. Stick with the therapy!
    • “Consult your M.D. or a psychiatrist who your therapist might know to discuss the possible need for antidepressants. Stick with the medication!
    • “Keep putting one foot in front of the other, even if you don’t feel like it. Maintain your routine.”
    While Caton had good experience speaking to his congregation about his depression, Randall cautions against sharing while in the midst of the struggles. “If a depressed pastor is still functioning fairly well, then the pastor should treat his/her depression as his own personal issue, shared with family and select friends, but not made a congregational issue.”

    If the pastor’s work is impaired, he or she needs to inform the elected leaders of the church. The pastor and the leaders can discuss the best way to inform the congregation and the path that needs to be taken, Randall said.

    “At all times the pastor wants to avoid trying to attract sympathy to him- or herself. The pastor and church leaders should lift up the situation of the pastor’s depression as a normal human predicament that commonly arises in individuals, that can be overcome and that will be dealt with common sense and caring skill.”

    (EDITOR’S NOTE — Harris is a news writer for Word & Way, the historic newspaper of Missouri Baptists.)

    5/29/2009 10:00:00 AM by Jennifer Harris, Associated Baptist Press | with 2 comments




Comments
Gene Scarborough
Church people, particularly in the pretentious South, are obsessed with proving they are perfect when, in reality, we all walk on feet of clay. The last place a hurting church member wants to be seen is at the Preacher's office or house. After all, "Everyone will know I have problems if my car is seen at the preacher's place."

My biggest disappointment as a psychology major / pastoral counseling trained new minister was how people hide their problems. By the time I learned of a marital problem, all I could do was say a blessing over a divorce. If they had come sooner and with more honesty, I could have been helpful.

The same is true of clergy. Get over the perfection image. Admit you need help from others. If you can't work on it with understanding and listening friends for free, then seek professional help. I would encourage hurters to seek help from a Psychologist as opposed to a Psychiatrist.

The reason for this is a Psychiatrist is an MD trained more in prescriptions than listening. The Psychologist listens first, AND has the ability to help with medicine, if needed. Sometimes medication covers the symptoms without seeking the emotional core of the problem.

We can all be helpers when we listen carefully to the hurts of others. In this terrible economy there are hurting and grieving people everywhere. Never in recent history has there been a greater need for a listening friend who understands the hurts and grief of financial loss or anxiety in the workplace. Those who have lost 40% in their investments hurt. Those who might be fired next week are anxious. Those who lost a house to foreclosure are truely in grief. Horror stories of husbands coming home with a gun and slaughtering the wife and children could be avoided if friends were consulted and truely cared. Even police officers having to serve eviction notices are forced to do things a compassionate human would never do.

This is a heartless age focused on financial success rather than honesty and hard work which were supposed to be the ticket to success in the ideal America of long ago. "Greed is good" is the motto these days rather than "love your neighbor as yourself" and "do unto others as you wish they would do unto you." Now it is "do unto others before they do unto you." How sad we have lost our way in what used to be a world of compassion, especially in the church!
5/31/2009 12:06:46 PM

Dr. James Willingham
Mental health is not a subject some pople like to address, but it is a necessity if one is to be effective in the service of our Lord. It has been a matter of amazement to me to see how much of the counseling techniques developed by various schools are movements in psychology have been anticipated by the Bible and the christian ministry. The technique of reframing was anticipated by Joseph in his response to his brothers and the evil they did him: "You meant evil against me, but God meant it unto good."(Gen.50:20). And then thee is the matter of empathic understanding. Our Lord and Savior Himself personifies the empath type (see the old Star Trek series). He actually entered into the human situation and lived among people in order to save them from their miserable condition. Personally, I try to keep awake and aware of developments in counseling psychology, psychiatry, etc., altho these days it is beginning to get beyond my slender resources to keep up. Some of those techniques come in very handily in seeking to help some poor, suffering soul. Some times, I am amazed to find that the thing was in the Bible already, but due to ignorance, etc., I did not know it was there. This is not to say, I throw away the Bible and rely on psychology alone. It is simply saying that there is a complementarity to much of what goes on in life in many, if not all, areas.
5/30/2009 4:24:47 PM

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