Does Spirituality Have A Role in Treatment of Mental Illness?

 Some youth come to me seeking “state of the art” psychiatric advice, regarding their feelings of despondency, despair, and low self-esteem.

After listening to them for a while, they receive a spiritual answer and I start seeing the disappointment on their faces!

We didn’t come to you for that … They say … Can you tell us some psych. Stuff …

I say …

We Humans are created in a unique way at the image and likeness of God by His own hands and through His breath of life we are living.

  • “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)

In the image of God, we enjoy His faculties of rationality, free will and authority, and in His likeness we enjoy all the fruit of His spirit with very positive emotional mental states of Love, joy and peace.

There is a clear relationship between psychological disturbances and distancing from God.

That is clearly demonstrated by the change of the state of mind that our fore parents Adam and Eve encountered after they sinned.

  • “And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:10)

Not every negative feeling or personality trait we have is considered a mental disorder that needs a psychiatrist, a psychologist or a professional counselor.

But sometimes we ask: what do we do to feel better, we don’t see God in this equation, and we feel lost!

Some of us act like our fore parents, or like Jonah, we distant ourselves from God and just hide away from Him. Our souls immediately gets disturbed, we feel distressed, anxious, irritable, angry, guilty, etc…

Some seek professional help hoping for a solution, a psychological technique, some sort of therapy or a medication. I find myself answering the Lord’s answer to the Pharisees:

  • “No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old. (Luke 5:36)

–  The whole structure of the soul is disturbed because its connection with its source of life has a problem.

–  Christ is the author of our life.  It is with Him, through Him, and by Him that we survive.

“for in Him we live and move and have our being, (Acts 17:28)

–  He is the actual true visible image of the invisible God

“Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:” (Colossians 1:15)

–  God, out of His great mercy, came to be the second Adam. He came to restore in us that same likeness of God through the willful abiding in Him through the fellowship of His Holy Spirit.

– So, He took our iniquities upon Himself.

   * ‘He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.’” (Matthew 8:17)

–  And gave us His life-giving Spirit.

* “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life giving spirit.’” (1 Corinthians 15:45

–  Therefore, in Him we are able to survive our brokenness.

*“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22)

–  Therefore, we, the repentant sinners carrying the sinful genes of illnesses such as fear, anxiety and depression, always have great hope in Him who came to carry our sins and give us life abundantly

*  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

–  So in addition to mental health modalities that sometimes includes medications and psychotherapy, the spiritual approach of the life of repentance and fellowship with the Holy Spirit to abide in Christ is the best treatment for these conditions.

 –  Just look what He is announcing as His mission statement for us:

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed;”(Luke 4:18)

 

–  That is why now in modern psychiatry they finally realized that there has to be a spiritual component in mental health added to the model of the 70’s that only included the triad (meaning ‘3 parts’) of treatment components that are bio-psycho- social elements as a standard of practice.

 

  • The current psychiatric standard of care provides the tetrad of bio-psycho-socio-spiritual, adding the spiritual element that I, as a Christian psychiatrist, believe to be the ultimate solution of healing the broken spirit.

“The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness, But who can bear a broken spirit?”(Prov.18:14)

–  The Spiritual process of healing is through returning to the glorious image of God that we were once created with. That is through a life long process of transformation from glory to glory through a fellowship relationship with the Holy Spirit bringing us back to that same image of God through abiding in Christ the True Image, and Word (Logos) of the invisible God. 

* “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Fr. Luke Istafanous, MD

Priest, St. Mary & St. Mercurius Coptic Orhtodox Church- Belleville, NJ

Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

Voluntary Faculty

Rutgers/New Jersey Medical School