I'm not sure why the topic how the Church handles mental illness intrigues me so much. I think it is for several reasons. One, I do have a degree in psychology and it has been an interest of mine for quite a while. Also, as I mentioned at the end of my last posting, I too have suffered from some significant mental health issues in my life (and may be the reason I got a degree in psychology to start with).
The last reason, is our concepts of human emotion and behavior is central to our Christian paradigm. For example the Greek concept for psyche and soul is virtually the same. It was only through the developments of Dualistic thinking that the spiritual "soul" became separated from the physical (brain) "psyche."
Back in the 1970s I was studying psychology at a state university, however, most of my thinking about psychology came from Evangelical sources at the time. The only reason I was getting a degree in psychology at the state school is because, I wanted to eventually get a license as a psychologist and the only way to do that was to get a credentialed degree.
Most of the Christian psychology resources, at the time, came from the likes of Jay Adams or Tim Lahaye. Jay Adams, was the king of the Evangelical counselling movement. The cornerstone of his type of counseling was called (coined by himself) "Nouthetic Counseling ." For fifteen years I was a great believer in Nouthetic Counseling as the only true Christian approach.
I will barely mention Tim Lahaye because, ( back when he was making money on psychology books . . . before he starting making millions on "end times" books) based his ideas on Greek mythology. Yet his ideas were very popular.
Now I believe that Nouthetic Counseling, in my honest, monist opinion is total crap and has done more harm than good. The reason is that Adams believes that ALL mental illness is the fault of the victim. So, to help them you must 1) confront them, 2) make them change . . . or cast the demons out of them. He told stories back in the 70s of how his Nouthetic Counseling techniques were emptying out mental hospitals.
But when you consider mental health issues in the true, non-Platonic-Dualistic view, you would realize that the Fall of Adam not only affected our spirit, it greatly affects our physical being, including our brains. Psychiatry and neurology (in which I now work) has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the brain is malfunctioning in most major forms of mental illness. This is not inconsistent with scripture. Only if you had been hoodwinked by Platonic Dualism would you ever see people as only the soul. Read some of Plato's works and you will see that he struggled very much with the division between the Soul and the body . . . believing that our essence was the soul (without any influence of the physical body or brain).
To say that our tendency toward mental illness has a physical (brain) dimension is in no way excusing it (as some Evangelicals would say). It is only dealing with a real problem in a honest and Biblical way. The brain can recover from the genetic and acquired injury, both by God's healing and what the Bible calls "renewing our minds" (or what secular psychology would call cognitive restructuring.) There is a place for medications, to help to correct for the malfunctioning brain.
The other common Evangelical (Dualistic) view is that mental illness is a direct attack or possesion by demons. Again, they reach this position because they can not accept that the brain, because it is physical, has any merit.
More later. . .