Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Christians and help seeking behaviors

Megan Hanfee-Major is a sophomore at Trinity Christian College double-majoring in Psychology & Communication Arts/ Theatre. Originally from New Richmond, WI, Megan plans to continue her education in Psychology by pursuing a M.A. degree with an emphasis that has not yet been determined. She hopes to eventually serve God's people through a career in counseling, perhaps integrating her love of theatre into the therapeutic process

In an article in The Journal of Psychology and Christianity entitled “Measuring Protestant Christians' Willingness to Seek Professional Psychological Help for Mental Illness: A Rasch Measurement Analysis” (2012) researchers Kenneth D. Royal of the University of Kentucky and Juan Michael Thompson of the University of Louisville attempt to see whether or not self-professed Christians that attend a Protestant- based church are likely to seek professional help with mental illnesses.  This is a particularly interesting topic considering the differing views within Christianity concerning the classification of mental disorders as illnesses or demonic or the like.  The authors’ methods are fairly simple; they conducted a survey within churches regarding the likelihood of seeking professional psychological assistance when dealing with a mental illness.

The survey used was a simple 10 question one with statements such as “If I were experiencing a serious emotional crisis at this point in my life, I would be confident that I could find relief in psychotherapy,” that the participant reacted to.  Overall the results showed that, generally, the group of 540 was not likely to seek professional help although the majority believed that professional intervention could help with their psychological problems.  However, the respondents generally did feel that if they had been feeling depressed or distressed for a long period of time or if they felt as if they were having a mental breakdown that they would seek help (Royal & Thompson, 2012).

The researchers reflected upon previous work done in this area and concluded that “religious” people are less likely than the average person to seek out treatment when a psychological problem arises.  They cite that the most commonly held reason why people in general do not seek help is the stigma attached to receiving psychotherapeutic assistance.  Does this mean that Christians feel this even more strongly?

This would make sense.  Perhaps Christians feel that they should be equipped to manage any sort of distress they encounter in their life because Christ has set them free from bondage.  And while this is true, many people know and are realizingthat just because Christ has gifted us with freedom in His name we can still face trials.  In fact He assures us we will face trials.  And because He knows this He encourages us to lean on our brothers and sisters in the faith for support.  It is unfortunately  still a commonly held belief (especially for Christians) that we should be able to handle our problems on our own and reaching out for help is a sign of weakness.

Another factor that should be considered is that Christians will often reach out to leaders in their churches (pastors, elders, etc.) for assistance in a crisis.  A person of this standing may not be equipped and trained to handle situations involving some mental illnesses, but  may provide valuable insight when dealing with problems such as depression.  Although this may not be the most effective solution it is one many people feel more comfortable with (again, it has less of a stigma attached).  I have to wonder how this study would be able to consider this in their data.

It doesn’t seem like the people involved in the survey were against the idea of seeking treatment altogether.  The majority said that they would consider it- as a last resort.  What causes this mindset?  Why do Christians (those who should understand somewhat the level of human fallibility) especially shy away from seeking out psychotherapeutic help during times of trial and when concerning mental illness?  But the most important question, I think, is how do we combat this?  How can we remove as much as possible the negative connotations associated with receiving psychological help when needed and make it a better option in the minds of people, but especially Christians?  How can we show Christians that dealing with their problems professionally is not a sign of weakness or incompetence, but of faith in that they care enough about their whole-body health to seek support?


Royal, K. D., & Thompson, J. (2012). Measuring protestant Christians' willingness to seek professional psychological help for mental illness: A Rasch measurement analysis. Journal of Psychology & Christianity, 31(3), 195-204.