Is Psychiatry Unbiblical?



Part Three - Is Psychiatry Unbiblical?


In part three of our study on the Biblical view of depression and anxiety, there is one other matter I feel should be addressed. It is my hope that the following will help to dispel some of the error that is being taught and propagated by some very sincere but some very wrong believers.

First of all, going to a Psychiatrist to treat depression is not a sinful act Those who hold to the Nouthetic or “Biblical” counseling approach teach as fact that if a Christian turns to a psychiatrist to treat his depression or anxiety, he is substituting the truth of God’s Word with the perverted views of Sigmund Freud. There was a time when that was true, but that time past a long time ago. Modern psychiatrist will tell you they no longer follow Dr. Freud and his teachings. 

Secondly, Psychiatrist do not do psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is the technical term for counseling or therapy. There was a time, say 50 years ago, when the psychiatrist commonly conducted therapy sessions as a part of his practice, however that has changed. Psychoanalysis became the realm of the Psychologist who, unlike the Psychiatrist, do not hold a medical degree necessary to prescribe medication. The Psychologist focused on treating patients with therapy session either one on one or in group sessions. This too has changed in recent years as the role of the Psychologist has been fazed out and given to mental health counselors.

With this in mind, the Psychiatrist is primarily a medical doctor who specializes in disorders such as depression and anxiety. He does not do therapy but simply evaluates the individual to determine one of several courses of action.

a) If the patient is a suicide risk, he will admit the patient to a hospital ward for their safety and the start of treatment

b) If the patient is not suicidal, he will determine if the condition is severe enough that medication is needed. Since there are many different medications, he must determine which one is best to treat this person’s condition. He will also recommend, when the patient is able, counseling with a trained counselor to help avoid the problem in the future. He will also evaluate when how the medication is working and when it is time for the patient to come off his medication.

c) If the patient is not severely depressed or prone to anxiety attacks, he may prescribe a medical leave of absence and/or counseling to help the individual better cope with the problem. This counseling will be carried out usually by a trained counselor.

d) If the patient has repeated occurrences of the condition or there seems to be a family connection, the psychiatrist may choose to put the patient on a maintenance dose of medication and counseling regiment to help the patient stay free of his condition

Thirdly, the Psychiatrist work does not conflict with the Bible’s Teaching. Any time I hear someone from the Nouthetic school of thought say that psychiatrists are anti-Christian in their approach it causes me to ask them a series of questions. “Have you ever talked with a Psychiatrist?” The answer is always, “no.” I then ask “have you ever personally studied modern psychiatry’s approach to treating depression and anxiety” and once again the answer is “no.” I have come to expect these answers. Since they view psychiatry to be the work of the devil, they see no reason to research this matter for themesleves to learn the truth. It is for this reason I ask a third question, “How do you know that what you hold about psychiatry is true if you have never talked with them or read their most recent material?” The answer I get is, “well that is what I have been taught or told by this preacher or teacher or expert.” In other words these individuals are merely mouthing the words of their teachers and have accepted the idea that if their teacher says it is true, it must be true. 

When I was in college and seminary it was driven home to me over and over, do not take the word of some “expert”, well known Professor, or preacher as being true without studying it out for your self. By following this practice I have discovered that even great men of God have been known to occasionally preach things that are not biblically true. Take for example when Peter taught the Gentile believers that they should follow the traditions of the Jews. Paul had to rebuke him publicly for his error. This is exactly why Paul praises the believer’s at the synagogue in Berea for checking out everything that Paul taught them.

Acts 17:10-11, “Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” NKJV

When it comes to the teaching of others concerning biblical truth, we must make sure that we have done our home work and what we are saying matches the Word of God and the facts. This is so important for two reasons.

a) #1: Those who teach others will receive a harsher judgment. The reason teachers will undergo a harsher judgment when they teach error is because they are multiplying that error in the lives of those who listen. Thus God warns in James 3 and 2 Tim. 2. 

James 3:1-2, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” NKJV

2 Tim 2:15-16, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 16 But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.” NKJV

b) #2: False teaching can inflict long term damage in the lives of those who come into contact with it. It saddens me when I hear of those who are suffering from depression or anxiety needlessly because they have been taught to avoid psychiatrists. The psychiatrist can often lessen the pain suffered and shorten the time of the patient’s recovery. 

At this point let me share a personal experience. About 13 years ago, I was pastoring a church in NJ which had a youth pastor on staff. He had been taught the error of Nouthetic counseling in Bible College. When he found out that I was treating my depression with medication and that every six months I checked in with a psychiatrist for a medicine review he began to take actions against me. He felt for me to do so was sin and that the reason I live with depression was due to unconfessed sin in my life. I found it interesting that he never could identify any unrepentant sin in my life. He forced a church meeting to have me removed as pastor since in his eyes I was no longer qualified to serve and in the process caused a large split that the church has never recovered from. To add to the damage he inflicted, I had to leave the church 2 years later and in the process under went a period of depression.  This is the kind of damage that can be caused when men preach their opinions as if they are gospel truth.

Now, up to this point I have said that the idea that going to see a Psychiatrist for problems with depression or anxiety is not a sin. However I have yet to prove that the modern psychiatrist’s treatment is in accord with biblical truth. Let me share some facts to prove my point

a) Modern Psychiatry leaves Sigmund Freud in the past. I have talked with several unbelieving psychiatrist about this and they were all in agreement that modern psychiatry abandoned the views of Freud years ago. This is illustrated in the recent publication of a book honoring the 150th birthday of Freud. In the front of the book is a disclaimer indicating that though modern psychiatry was founded by Freud, most if not all of his theories have long since been abandoned by psychiatry. They therefore honor him only because he is the one who started the science of the study of human behavior. 

b) Modern Psychiatrists follows many biblical principles in dealing with anxiety and depression. They were there all along in the Bible, but it took psychiatry years of research to find them on their own. Because of the nature of this article I can not share all the biblical principles used in modern psychiatry however I can give one compelling example. While in pastoring in NH, we had a woman in our congregation who lost her baby one week before it was due. She seemed to handle it well for a couple of weeks and then she crashed hard and I believed she was possibly suicidal. I quickly located a psychiatrist in town who would see her immediately and my wife and I took her to be evaluated. This was not a Christian psychiatrist but an unbeliever. I was permitted to sit in on the evaluation and after a few minutes of him asking this woman some questions, he stopped, looked at her and said, “your problem is that your are angry at God for taking your baby.” She quickly protested and said as a Christian she could never be angry with God. He looked her again and said, “is your God great enough to handle your anger?” She responded with a “yes.” He had hit the nail on the head for she was angry with God and did not even know it. Three months of medical treatment and some counseling and this woman has never had another episode.

c) The testimony of many Psychiatrists fits with biblical principles As a pastor I was curious of what psychiatry taught and what counsel they would give a Christian patient. I have had the opportunity to talk with many psychiatrists about their view of treating Christians and every one of them told me that no Psychiatrist worth his salt would ever counsel a Christian to go contrary to what they believe. I have been seeing a psychiatrist for some 25 years for check ups on my medications. Not once have I ever been counseled to go contrary to the Word of God. In the last severak years I have been seeing a Psychiatrist that I believe knows the Lord. She has on her desk my church business cards. She requested them from me. The reason for this is she believes that I can offer some spiritual help to those Christians who come to her for help in these areas. She also believes that the soul needs to be considered in the complete recovery of the patient.

d) Nouthetic or “biblical” counseling is not usually the answer when it comes to depression and anxiety. At the time I first became depressed I had bought to into the error that the psychiatrist could not be trusted. Needless to say, Nouthetic counselors did nothing to help me but only prolong my suffering. Psychiatry on the other hand began turning it around in less than two weeks.

Finally, Psychiatry though effective in treating depression and anxiety has its flaws. Though it is an effective program in treating these conditions yet it is not a perfect science. I would not recommend individuals with marital problems or wrestling with the sin of homosexuality to unbelieving modern psychiatry. Their views in these and other areas are not in alignment with Scripture. Therefore caution should be always taken when dealing with psychiatry.

I have risked a lot in publishing these articles. Many who will eventually read this may write me off as being liberal and unbiblical. However, as a pastor, teacher, and depression/anxiety sufferer, I feel I am qualified to share what I believe God would have us follow in dealing with this devastating disorder. If you are presently suffering from depression or anxiety, do not be afraid to check out a good psychiatrist for intervention. You will not be sinning to do so and you may find it will do you a world of good. If want some one to talk with I am available. Under “Contact Us” you will find phone numbers and email address.