Therapy should be more normalized in the Church

Here’s why the Church should remove the stigma around therapy.


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There should not be a stigma around therapy within the Church.

Zoe Ware, Freelance Writer

In an article published by Independent in 2017, the anonymous author talked about their experience with mental illness as a black person who grew up in a Caribbean Pentecostal household. More specifically, the article detailed how the culture of the church did not deal with mental illness well.

“It took my mum over a decade to speak to a professional,” the author recounted. “When my mum would try to talk about her depression, my nan would only have one response: go and pray. My mum knew this approach was never really going to work, because no matter how many times she prayed she still ended up feeling down.” 

In another article published by The Weary Christian, it was reported that Lifeway Research found that 18% of mentally ill people ended up walking away from a church, because of how that church responded. The very same article highlights another survey that was done, which highlighted faulty responses from church members, including blaming mental illnesses on bad choices (29.4%) and labeling them a spiritual problem that must be dealt with spiritually (30.5%).

While these are merely a few examples of how the church and its members have carelessly dealt with issues of mental health, Christians should use this story to discuss how the stigma against therapy can negatively affect brothers and sisters in Christ. Without undermining the power of prayer, Christians should seek to understand therapy and its goal as there is the possibility that the hatred of therapy present among some in the church could be due to a lack of understanding. 


Before addressing a proper understanding of therapy, it is important to first discuss the problematic view of therapy. In an article published in the Salve, a journalist named Megan McGibney opened up about an experience in which, after a consultation with her psychiatrist, it was suggested that she pray in the moments where her mind spiraled. Not only was Megan wrongly blamed for her mental illnesses, but this instance was a clear violation from the psychiatrist, as her role was only supposed to be a medical practitioner.

“Sadly, she is not the only person of faith I’ve met recently who told me their archaic views of mental illness,” McGibney said. “A friend of a friend, and committed Christian, once told me she believed people with severe mental illnesses were possessed by the Devil. The fear I felt being around her never went away.” 

Although these tainted views of mental illnesses may come from a place of care or from the need for a spiritual cause, they are appalling as they incorrectly blame mental illnesses on those suffering from them. Additionally, when people seeking help are met with criticism or pseudo-science, it can result in guilt — provoking a hesitancy to ask for help in the future. 

Senior music therapy major Daisy Perrigan identified the “pray it away” mentality in her own observations of American churches and believes that this type of thinking can be detrimental to Christians with mental health illnesses. 

“While it [the pray it away mentality] may be coming from a good place,it is very invalidating for those who do have mental illnesses and they feel like they are not going to be taken seriously,” Perrigan said. 


Although the idea that prayer alone solves mental illness appears to stem from a place of care, it is simply not practical. According to Lifeway Research, 76% of people who attend church said suicide should be openly addressed in the church community. Another 65% churchgoers, who have mentally-ill loved ones, wished their churches would talk about mental illness more openly. This notion is also backed up by 59% of individuals who suffer from mental illnesses themselves.

From this data alone, education and openness about mental health issues will benefit congregants more than the aforementioned methods of handling a complex dilemma such as this one. 

In the same set of statistics, it was stated that while 23% of pastors acknowledge that they suffer from mental illnesses, an alarming 49% of those pastors said they either rarely or never speak to their congregation about mental illness. In addition, only 27% of churches actually have a plan to support families who deal with mental illness. There needs to be a more established method of supporting church communities in navigating mental illnesses.


 One question remains: what can the Church do? The first step is learning about therapy, instead of relying on previous perceptions. 

When asked about how the church has reacted to the use of therapy, Perrigan stated that it stems from a place of misinformation. 

“I think it [therapy] stems a lot from being uneducated or being kind of fearful about what it is, or if they hear one bad story about therapy, that’s all that they think it is,” Perrigan said. “They think it’s not relying on God or stemming from a distrust in the Lord, which is not true.” 

Another concept the American church should understand is that God can call people to be therapists . 

According to Perrigan, “The spiritual gift of empathy is very present in therapy and I think that being a therapist is a Christian calling just as much as anything else.” 

The stigma against mental health and therapy is a significant issue that can no longer be ignored. If the Church as a whole starts to recognize therapy as something of equal importance to prayer, it is more likely that the mental health of Christians across America will start to improve. This is essential, as having better mental health can produce a better and stronger relationship with the Lord.

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