Faith-based organizations were among the first to respond to the needs of communities early in the pandemic. Churches and nonprofits have largely focused on people’s physical and spiritual needs, through ministries such as food drives, rental assistance and virtual worship services.
But the Christian community also believes it can play an effective role in another area: mental health.
The pandemic has impacted people’s emotional well-being, and Christian therapy organizations say they are in a unique position to meet the growing need for mental health services. The organizations provide professional help to Christians and offer believers a safe space to share their theological doubts and frustrations.
Some faith-based counseling groups have seen an increase in the number of clients – many of whom are Christians, but not all – seeking help with a wide range of issues, including depression, anxiety, post stress disorder -traumatic, bereavement and difficulties. the marriages.
Generally speaking, Christian therapy takes an integrated approach to counseling by blending science with scripture. Local therapists are clear that a Christian approach to therapy is not imposed on the client and is only available at the request of the client.
Bishop Steve Wood of St. Andrew’s Anglican in Mount Pleasant said it’s important for pastors to understand their own limitations when it comes to caring for the mental well-being of parishioners.
Wood acknowledged, for example, that despite being married for more than 30 years and raising four children, he is still not a professionally trained family therapist. For example, St. Andrew’s has developed relationships with local Christian counseling organizations to provide referrals to parishioners in need of professional help. Churches and mental health workers should work hand in hand, he said.
“As a pastor, I can do counseling,” Wood said. “But I was trained in the Bible and theology, not counselling. … I think good therapy combined with good pastoral care can provide many opportunities for healing.”
At Mount Pleasant-based Life Resources, psychologists, social workers and licensed professional counselors blend “the best of science” with the gospel, chief executive Jacquie Atkins said. This involves looking at each person’s specific situation to see what they need, Atkins said.
Often prayer and meditation around relevant scriptures are helpful solutions, she said. But prayer must be fused with evidence-based solutions derived from the counselor’s professional field of study, Atkins said.
“We don’t believe in ‘just pray this verse and your depression will go away’,” she said. “It’s not us. It’s really about taking a holistic approach.”
Health organizations are expanding to meet the growing need for mental health services.
Life Resources has added a branch in North Charleston and is using an $11,000 grant from the Medical Society of South Carolina to provide continuing education for therapists. Charleston Christian Counseling, which has offices in West Ashley and Goose Creek, recently added five therapists to its staff to meet growing demand.
In recent years, studies have shed light on the impacts of the pandemic on mental health. In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Noted that young adults, racial minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported experiencing disproportionately worse mental health issues, increased substance use, and high suicidal ideation.
Young people have been particularly vulnerable. In March, the CDC shared that more than a third of high school students reported experiencing poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At Life Resources, more teens have sought professional help, giving them the opportunity to raise doubts about their faith and ask questions about why God allowed the pandemic, Atkins said.
“As integrated therapists, we have the opportunity to help (adolescents) explore that,” Atkins said. “Not to tell them what’s right or wrong, but to help them explore on their own and find their own answers.”
Some religious practitioners have sought professional help to manage relationships.
Diane Arnold, Certified Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapist of Charleston Christian Counselors, said she has seen an increase in the number of Christian couples seeking help to repair troubled marriages.
Arnold, who has written two books on maintaining healthy marriages, said many clients have spoken about how their relationships have suffered during the pandemic.
Couples often invoke certain scriptures when discussing marital woes. At this point, Arnold counsels them to make sure the way they interpret scripture leads to healthy, non-harmful outcomes in their relationships, she said.
Arnold also encourages couples to engage in spiritual acts together, such as listening to sermons or praying together. Couples who pray together tend to have a higher likelihood of staying together, she said.
“It’s very intimate to sit down and be vulnerable…to really open my mind to your mind,” she said. “Isn’t that really what the alliance is supposed to look like?”