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Integrated Christian Counseling

The Role of Medications 

By Dr. Brian Campbell

 

Some Christians adopt a “worldview” that all medications are bad, especially psychotropic medications (those that are used for psychological problems).  For those of us who have worked with moderately or severely mentally impaired individuals, we know differently.  For example, some psychotropic medications can “switch off” areas of the brain that are responsible for producing disturbing auditory or visual hallucinations. 

 

Severe disorders, such as schizophrenia, are definitely genetically based and are not easily treated by traditional Christian counseling only.  Unfortunately, some of the local evangelical churches feel that this genetically based disorder is the result of demon possession, and try to treat people with schizophrenia by “casting out demons.”  In my opinion, this is very unfortunate and is equivalent to trying to “cast out demons” in people who have diabetes.  You can pray with people with diabetes that God will miraculously heal them; but you should also strongly recommend that they take their insulin to control their sugar levels.


My point is, not all medications are “bad” or “evil,” and not all mental health issues are a result of demon possession, or the direct consequence of the person’s sin. Psychologists obtain a good deal of information and training in how the brain works; this information is extremely valuable when assessing (judging) why an individual is behaving in this or that manner.  The powerful effects of underlying biology on mental health are underscored in a maxim I use…

 

When biology meets psychology, biology wins!

 

If you don’t know a lot about the brain, you should start a lifelong quest of learning about that three pound organ that occupies your skull.  You will be surprised and amazed at how God engineered the brain of man.  As you acquire more and more facts about the brain, you will be less and less inclined to attribute psychological problems to spiritual issues.  In the Bible, seizures were at one time attributed to “sin,” but Jesus himself dispelled that myth. 

 

As you study the brain, you will be more and more amazed at how incredible—yet fragile—our brain can be.  You will learn how different parts of the brain function to acquire knowledge, remember what we have learned, reward us for exercising, etc.  At one point in the history of mankind, people believed in sun gods and moon gods, and reasoned that these celestial objects controlled the crops.  Now, with the science of horticulture, we are less likely to attribute a good crop to the “moon gods,” but rather to the efforts of farmers to enrich the soil with nitrates.

 

Let me give you an example of the importance of understanding the brain. I once treated a young boy who was seriously overweight because of a tumor that had been removed from his brain.  The surgery had damaged part of his hypothalamus that is involved in satiety—the feeling of being satisfied after eating.  The damage meant that the boy “never felt satisfied” and always felt hungry.  You might imagine how devastating it would be to cope with this disorder.

 

Theology would have very little to offer this young boy in terms of counseling or treatment.  Fortunately, as a psychologist, I received expert training in behavior modification and I can treat literally any disorder utilizing behavior modification techniques.  Drawing upon these techniques, I set up a program that involved two behavioral procedures:  Response prevention; and, Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behavior (DRI).

 

This young boy was also taking a psychotropic medication for his depression.  He felt hopeless and helpless about ever living a normal life.  He was significantly overweight because of the absence of satiety (feeling satisfied).  The antidepressant that he was taking (Wellbutrin) not only helped reduce his depression, it also had a side effect of weight loss and reduction of hunger (which helped this boy significantly). 

 

Since the boy was not a Christian, I was not at liberty to treat his problems from an integrated Christian perspective.  However, I did pray for him frequently, both before and after counseling sessions.  I not only prayed for healing, I prayed for an opportunity to witness to his parents.  In this case, I was not able to bring the parents to a knowledge of God.  However, the treatment I provided was highly successful in reducing this boy’s symptoms and I pray that I planted some seeds of faith that will eventually bear fruit.

 

I could relate literally hundreds of cases where appropriate psychotropic medication was essential to the effective treatment of clients.  My objective is always to “phase out” medications when and where possible.  However, with disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, medications are typically essential throughout the person’s lifetime.

 

Practical Applications:

 

My internet site contains a considerable amount of information on psychotropic medications.  Please make sure that you have a look at this information.  I strongly suggest that you learn about medications and have a basic knowledge of side effects.  Many clients you will be counseling will come to you on medications.

 

I would also strongly suggest that you have all clients check their medications for drug interactions.  You can find a link on my internet site that you should have all of your clients visit.  Drug Interactions  The client enters all medications and vitamins he/she is taking into the drug interaction website.  The computer then checks for all possible interactions.  If any are found, the client is encouraged to print out the information and discuss it with his/her medical doctor or psychiatrist.