Where Do you Go to Find Help?

“Barely hanging on” raised an extremely important question:

WHERE DO YOU GO TO FIND HELP?

At least in terms of LCMS pastors, this is an area where I believe our church body has almost completely flopped. Most of the resources from the Commission on Ministerial Growth & Health (or whatever the current permutation calls itself) are such yawners that I can barely stand to even look at their stuff. They had better resources a few years ago in some respects, but no one wants to addresss the 900 pound gorilla: Our pastors are hurting and suffering, and no one is really trying to address the issue. We continue to churn out pastors at our seminaries and very poorly trained “pastors” through various mail-order or long-distance programs, but offer little in terms of real resources for help.

Okay, enough ranting. Back to the question. Where do you go to find help?

I think there are several answers to that question. These are in no particular order. Whatever you are most comfortable with is probably best. Also please don’t take these as laws to make you feel guilty about how you’re failing. They are counsel from one who has been on the road for a while. A travel map, if you will, when you are in the fog.

  • Go to your family doctor. Just do it and tell him what’s going on. While depression may feel like it is unique to you, it is tragically common in our over stimulated and ridiculously busy world. Just lay it out. I would urge you to have him refer you to a psychiatrist for prescribing medication. Your family doctor can prescribe anti-depressants and other medications, but get to an expert. (Btw, if you are on one of the permutations of the Concordia Plan, you will need to get prior approval to see a psychiatrist and/or psychologist from AETNA, formerly know as Broadspire. I’ll post on that soon.)
  • Go to your pastor, and if you don’t have a pastor, find one quick. I am very blessed to have the best pastor in the LCMS, but that is the loyalty one should have of their own pastor who speaks the words of our dear Lord in and out of season. This pastor may be a personal friend, although I don’t think that is always the best. The key thing is that the pastor’s pastor must be someone you trust. Tell him what’s going on. The whole story, warts and all. You need to have people that are in your corner who are thinking clearly. I know there are many times (even now) when I am not capable of making intelligent decisions. Someone has to be able to think objectively. Ideally the pastor would be nearby, but I suppose that’s not absolutely necessary either. Pastor Weedon is right. Having a Father Confessor is tremendously helpful.
  • Talk to your wife (or husband). This make come as a shock to you, but they know what’s going on. They may not be able to define it, but they know things are not right. The more your wife understands what’s happening, the better off both of you will be. All she wants is for you to be well. If you’re sick, she will want to help. Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses require a different kind of help than a broken leg. But she loves you. Don’t hide your fears from her. It’s why you’re married.
  • Explore counseling. I’m not talking about psychobabble. Believe me when I say I have seen psychobabble really close up, and that is not helpful. But a good counselor can serve as a listening post, help to refine your thinking and decision making, give you the experience of one who has helped hundreds or even thousands of patients, and most importantly, understands exactly what you are going through. The trick here is finding a counselor you trust. You may try Lutheran Social Services, or other Christian counseling services in the area. Personally, I am quite leery of most Christian counseling. If it comes from a Reformed background, they are going to root you in the Law, which is the last thing you need. If they come from the liberal wing of Christianity (if it can be called such), they may use a lot of Christian sounding words, but be using a different dictionary. I am very blessed to have just about the only confessional Lutheran counselor in the LCMS. But if I didn’t have my current counselor, I would probably explore going to a more secular counselor. While pastors have a lot of unique challenges to face with mental illness, much of what they face is also common.
  • Tell yours friends what’s going on. There is such a stigma with mental illness, there is this bizarre temptation to hide it from the very people that can help the most. I have 2-3 friends whom I confide in that have been hugely helpful. Don’t be afraid. They are your friends. They’ll help you if they are able, and they will certainly pray for you, check in on you, and the like. Trust them.
  • At some point, consider talking to key members of your congregation. This is perhaps the hardest, because we Super-Pastors don’t want our flock to know that we are weak like they are. It is an arrogance that comes from a false view of the Office, and most of us (imo) succomb to it in one fashion or another. The way congregations receive this knowledge will vary, but I would start by seeking out whomever you trust the most (noticing a theme here?) and confiding in them about what’s happening, and how to approach it with your parish. Since I ended up going on disability, I really needed to tell everyone. At the end, it was the right decision, but it was very scary for a while. Life is like that sometimes.
  • Pray. This is hard, very hard. Even now I can barely pray. But a kyrie eleison goes a long way. Pastor Weedon mentioned in one of the comments that he had never experienced the daily office as pain. I have. It hurts me to pray Matins. I hate it. Drives me crazy. But I can’t. Most people don’t realize that depression and anxiety can cause physical pain, expressed in all kinds of odd ways. But right now for me, the offices are a weight and a burden, not the freedom I know that they truly are. Nevertheless, a little prayer goes a long way, and after all, the Spirit also helps us in our weakness (Romans 8).

This is a start. I know it’s not profound. But this would have been pretty useful to me at the beginning of my journey. I hope it helps you.

So anyone else have any suggestions that I have missed?

-DarkMyRoad

7 thoughts on “Where Do you Go to Find Help?”

  1. You’ve made some very important points. I am inclined to believe that it is better to go to a secular counselor who is open to hearing you voice your beliefs and then help combine that with everything else that is going on with your life, than to go to a reformed or liberal Christian counselor most of the time.

    Just like with doctors, butchers, dentists, etc. Some counselors are better than others. And since it is a very intimate relationship, sometimes you just aren’t compatible personality-wise, or their paradigm doesn’t work for you. Give yourself permission to look around. Give it a few sessions. If it doesn’t work, allow yourself the freedom to go to someone else.

    Sometimes a district has a counselor on staff who travels around the district on a weekly basis. I know PSW does. I also know that he wasn’t confessional. Just because a counselor is on staff with the district doesn’t mean he’s free. He still bills your insurance. You are not obligated to go to your district’s counselor, if he is available.

    Before my daughter was born, I was 3/4 of the way through my masters in marriage and family counseling. From what I’m hearing, maybe there is a role out there for another confessional Lutheran counselor.

  2. One thing that has helped me unspeakably over the years is our weekly pericopal study group. We take about an hour to review the pericopes for the Sunday after the upcoming Sunday, and then we recess and eat together at a local greasy spoon and visit together. We sometimes are there for almost 2 hours after our meeting. It started out with just three of us meeting together; usually now it’s anywhere from seven to ten depending on the week. We have gotten to know each other well and share each other’s burdens. I don’t know how I would make it thorugh without it. Even when I’m on vacation (if we don’t leave the area) I will often attend simply because I find it so refreshing.

    If such a group doesn’t exist, I’d encourage folks to start one. That’s what we did here 14 years ago. I came from a place that had one that was simply a huge blessing (they may still meet at Ebenezer in Greensboro NC).

    Pax!

  3. Thank you, Pastor, for your efforts on this blog. I am a pre-doctoral intern at a Christian counseling agency until September. We do a lot of block counseling with missionaries and ministers who are sent to us by their districts for a short period of time. We do assessments and make recommendations about future care. We also do brief rehabilitation for pastors who have had a “moral failure.” In general, we include the pastor’s wives and sometimes families in counseling as well, as all are impacted. The counselors who work with these ministers are usually men ordained in the particular denomination themselves as well as being trained clinicians. While I do not agree theologically with their pentecostal/charismatic doctrine, I think that the system that we have set up here is a pretty good idea. We usually can’t do a great deal in the few hours over the couple of days that a minister is in town, but we can get the ball rolling, identify some patterns and help the minister to find follow-up care.

    I am a recent convert to Lutheranism from a morass of American Evangelicalism/Dispensationalism. I actually started graduate school and became a novice Lutheran at the same time, so I have been learning how to think like a confessional Lutheran and how to think like a Counseling Psychologist at the same time. You can imagine that the two are not always in harmony. In fact, I am about to post a series on my thinking about a Confessional Lutheran approach to Psychology at my blog Amor et Labor.

    I know little to nothing about our Synod and have looked in vain for how our Synod handles psychological problems. I have found only one confessional Lutheran Psychologist, namely Dr. Yahnke with whom I have been briefly in contact. I don’t know of any others, but would gladly be corrected and pointed toward other individuals or resources I may have missed.

    Thanks again for your candor and insight on this blog.

  4. I do agree with you though about the lack of support for pastors (and their families). A psychologist is encouraged has a supervision system in place for professional and personal feedback and is also encouraged to be in counseling themselves. When it is so necessary to have a father-confessor, why is there nothing in place for a pastor to find one? Most of the pastors we know are peers, guys my husband went to seminary with. Most others, when the subject comes up, look at you like you’re strange for even wanting one. It would be good to have a list of confessional pastors who consider themselves available to fill that role for others.

  5. If you are on the Concordia Health Plan there is a “Member Assistance Program” (MAP) which provides 24/7 access to mental health assistance. (Also legal aid and a lot of other help)

    When I finally broke down about two months ago with extreme feelings of failure and I couldn’t stop crying, I picked up the phone and by the end of the day was talking with a recommended counselor. Two months later I’ve been on medication (anti-depressent and anti-anxiety) and feel more myself than I have for a long, long time.

    Our Synod has a little dirty secret . . . congregations are failing their pastors. “Ministerial Growth” focuses on “endurance,” “coping,” and other skills to deal with antagonism. What is being done for our congregations? When will our church begin to train/help parishes to support and uphold their pastors and let us serve with joy, not with grief (Heb. 13)?

    Thanks be to God for my brother pastors who have commented on mental illness in the past year who helped me overcome my fears of getting help. My help gave me the strength to take action and change my environment. Had I not gotten help I believe I would have driven been driven into burnout by my demanding congregation and my own weaknesses.

    Thank you for this site where a reality of the ministry is having a say. What shall we do to help our congregations treat their pastors better so that they will not fall victim to this disease?

  6. Where I go is to the Sacrament of baptism. I trust this does not sound trite but it has been extremely helpful in my walk. I was raised in a tradition that does not place much importance on baptism. Since being embraced by this belief, when being gripped by fearful or angry temper, signing myself with the cross and invoking the Name of our Triune God indeed helps.

    Another helpful thing is when driving to work I have some podcasts from Issues Etc playing in the background rather than music which may or may not help. I also have podcasted sermons from a local Luteran Church and from Pr. William Cwirla. Being surrounded by the teaching of scripture keeps me from centering on myself rather than on God.

    Employing a Confessor is sure helpful. The words ” in the stead and by the command of my Lord….” are indeed beautiful. There again the tradition in which I was raised did not have Confessors but rather counseling which amounted to telling the troubled person we all are troubled get over yourself.

    I also read blogs like this one, Pr Weedon, Pr. Cwirla, Pr Baker Vicar Lehman, and several seminarians. There are a lot of places to go to find encouragement.

    I bid you God’s peace.

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