Psychiatry and Ministry (sort of)

Pretend this piece on Slate Star Codex isn’t about psychiatry but about ministry. Alexander describes two ways of understanding psychiatry:

Attitude 1 says that patients know what they want but not necessarily how to get it, and psychiatrists are there to advise them. So a patient might say “I want to stop being depressed”, and their psychiatrist might recommend them an antidepressant drug, or a therapy that works against depression. This is nice and straightforward and tends to make patients very happy.

Attitude 2 says that people are complicated. Sometimes this complexity makes them mentally ill, and sometimes it makes them come to psychiatrists and ask for help, but there’s no guarantee that the thing that they’re asking about is actually the problem. In order to solve the problem, you need to unravel the complexity, and that might involve not giving the patient what they want, or giving them things they don’t want. This is not straightforward and requires some justification, so let me give a few cases where Attitude 2 seems to me obviously correct.

Consider the two viewpoints in the context of ministry. To the degree that the sinners we work with have adequate (a) knowledge of themselves, and (b) knowledge of maturity and healthy life in Christ, #1 would be the way to go. To the degree either of these is lacking, #2 would be indicated. If our ministry is entirely about meeting “felt needs,” or our theology has its primary roots in our own experience, we are effectively choosing attitude #1. I’m inclined to think attitude 2 is more fitting, given our limitations.

What do you think?

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