What do you do about your son who is easily distracted, the lady at church who is so depressed, the neighbor who talks to you about the strange voices she hears, or your brother who cannot get over his addiction? Are these people mentally ill? Can they get well? What should the church’s role be? Are drugs the answers? How can you help the family?
Dr. Matthew S. Stanford deals with these questions and others in Grace for the Afflicted. Dr. Stanford is a recognized researcher, professor at Baylor University, and psychologist who thoughtfully discusses the issue of mental illness as both a psychologist and a Christian. Using the Scripture’s teaching on our being “fearfully and wonderfully made” from Psalm 139, he explores what can go wrong in our brains.
He first looks at the uncomfortable conflict between the church and science throughout history on the issue of mental illness. He describes the tri-partite view of man as body, soul, and spirit, and brings in the spiritual aspects of dealing with troubled people. He relates the Scriptures that apply to mental illness, being careful not to excuse sin. Then he summarizes several mental disorders, common approaches to dealing with them, what it is like to live with them, and how the church can help. These conditions include: mood disorders, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, dissociative disorders, eating disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, substance abuse disorders, and borderline personality disorder. Practical ideas for helping families with a mentally ill member round out the book.
He includes appendices for national mental health organizations; Christian mental health counselors, psychologists, and physicians; Christian mental health groups, clinics, and hospitals; lay counselor training; and recommended reading.
Stanford approaches the issue of mental illness with compassion, thoughtfulness, and spiritual concern. His book is extremely compassionate to the person with mental disorders and to their families while trying to bridge the gap between the church and those who minister professionally to those in need. He doesn’t shy from the spiritual aspects of mental health problems, nor does he credit the devil with being the source of all mental illness. He offers astute guidelines for people considering counseling, a well-thought out chapter on demonic influence and its limitations, and a good chapter on how the church can help families with a mentally ill member in practical ways. He includes the role for drugs and psychotherapy. His suggestions for decreasing the incidence of mental illness were particularly interesting as they described less about brain disorders and more about establishing a secure and loving environment for children.
The chapters on various disorders cover the more common symptoms and problems that fit into the broad disorder, such as anorexia nervosa being a type of eating disorder or bipolar disorder as a type of mood disorder, the approaches to caring for the illness, and some spiritual thoughts. In several of these chapters he describes cases from Scripture that sound similar.
As a layman with extremely limited experience with dealing with mentally ill people, I found the book informative, well-thought, helpful, and compassionate. However, the cover selection of a cracked pot is most unfortunate and somewhat offensive. I believe that the publisher was thinking of the marred pot the potter made, but my first thought was of a “crackpot.” This would limit whom I feel I could give the book to. I hope they will change the artwork in the future to extend the reach of the book’s usefulness. — Debbie W. Wilson, www.ChristianBookPreviews.com
Each day men and women diagnosed with mental disorders are told they need to pray more and turn from their sin. Mental illness is equated with demonic possession, weak faith and generational sin. Why is it that the church has struggled in ministering to those with mental illnesses? As both a church leader and professor of psychology and neuroscience, Dr. Stanford has seen far too many mentally ill brothers and sisters damaged by well meaning believers who respond to them out of fear or misinformation rather than grace. Grace for the Afflicted is written to educate Christians about mental illness from both biblical and scientific perspectives. Dr. Stanford presents insights into our physical and spiritual nature and discusses the appropriate role of psychology and psychiatry in the life of the believer. Describing common mental disorders, Dr. Stanford asks of each What does science say and what does the Bible say about this illness? Mental illnesses addressed in the book include Mood Disorders Anxiety Disorders Schizophrenia Dissociative Disorders Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Eating Disorders Substance Use Disorders Borderline Personality Disorder.