A Long Overdue Conversation
I wish that I could say that the terms and descriptions in this book are foreign to me. Depression, dementia, and bipolar disorder, however, have affected my family members and friends. On at least two occasions, no one knew there was a problem until we received a call from the hospital regarding a suicide attempt. Though more accepted in Christian circles nowadays, I remember when a discussion of depression was only carried out in whispers. That is why Will Medicine Stop the Pain?: Finding God’s Healing for Depression, Anxiety and Other Troubling Emotions by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Laura Hendrickson, M.D. caught my attention.
Fitzpatrick, author of more than ten books, a member of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC), and frequent conference speaker, has been counseling women for over twenty years. Laura Hendrickson, who formerly practiced psychiatry and is currently a biblical counselor and member of NANC, shares her testimony of her personal struggle with deep depression following the birth of her son. I agree with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, who wrote in the foreword, “This book … is long overdue and desperately needed.”
Fitzpatrick and Hendrickson offer this word of caution and encouragement before reading the book:
This book is not intended, nor should it be interpreted, to state or imply that any particular drug, pharmaceutical company, therapy, medical diagnosis, or counseling program is wrong or harmful. All of the medications identified in this book by brand name or by generic name can play an appropriate role when expertly matched to a particular mental disease or serious emotional crisis. But do we in our depression, like King Asa in 2 Chronicles 16 run too easily and first to the medical and counseling establishments for relief in drugs when the solution may be found in the Bible and prayer? If you have picked up this book because of its title, you probably have already answered the question posed by the title and are looking for more biblical and effective alternative opinions and ‘treatments.’
To explain those “more biblical and effective alternative opinions and ‘treatments,’” Will Medicine Stop the Pain? is divided into two parts: “Our Bodies, Emotions, and the Problem of Suffering” and “Seeking Answers with God’s Help.”
Our Bodies, Emotions, and the Problem of Suffering
In part one, Fitzpatrick and Hendrickson lay a good foundation by explaining the amazing connection between our inner man and outer man, our physical bodies and our thoughts, feelings, and choices.
Many passages in the Bible teach that we are duplex beings. That is, we consist of two distinct aspects: a body or outer person, and a spirit or inner person…This inner person is the real you that God sees and interacts with (1 Samuel 16:7; Hebrews 4:13). Your inner person is the source of the activity that can be measured in the brain, which is part of your outer person, or your physical body… Our speech and behavior are the body’s outward expression of our inner life.
Fitzpatrick and Hendrickson explain that God created us so that our physical bodies alert us to problems in the inner man, and vice versa. The authors include several clear diagrams to help illustrate this foundational point. Having a biblical perspective regarding the connection between the inner man and our behavior influences every aspect of how we choose to address depression, anxiety, moods, pain, and perceptual problems.
In chapter two, Fitzpatrick and Hendrickson discuss physical and emotional pain (which includes depression, anxiety, fear, and mood disorders) and how the two occur together. They also explain the drugs most commonly prescribed to deal with physical and emotional pain, how these drugs work in the body and, because so many people self-medicate on top of their prescriptions, how they interact with street drugs and alcohol. In their explanation of what medicine can and cannot do, the authors expose drug “poop-out,” therapeutic tail chasing, dependence, the myth (my word) of chemical imbalance, and the dangers associated with medicines that recent research is suggesting “may even rewire the brain as they produce relief of symptoms.”
In chapters three and four, Fitzpatrick and Hendrickson provide a biblical perspective of our pain and suffering. They explain why people suffer, God’s ultimate purpose in allowing people to suffer, and how best to respond to pain and suffering. They encourage the reader to identify with Jesus Christ in his suffering on our behalf. Recognizing that far too many people look at the suffering of Jesus as only benefiting their eternal destinies, the authors provide six reasons Jesus’ suffering helps us deal with today. In this particular section, filled with comfort from the scriptures, the reader will find prompts to pray or read a passage of scripture in order to begin thinking about how Truth can transform perspectives and feelings.
Seeking Answers with God’s Help
In part two, Fitzpatrick and Hendrickson offer greater detail about specific forms of emotional pain and how to apply the biblical principles discussed the part one.
When the problems we’re facing have to do primarily with the body and its functioning, a medicine that cures or relieves physical symptoms is part of God’s common grace to our suffering world. But when the problems we’re facing have to do primarily with the heart or inner person, something different is needed. Only God can cure an ailing heart; only the Spirit can bring hope and light to a distressed mind.
From chapters five through eight, the authors apply Scripture to depression, fear, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, out-of-control moods, and cognitive-perceptual problems. Regardless of an individual’s plight, her emotions and behavior can improve when she changes the way she thinks of herself and God. She may not be able to move completely off medication, particularly those who suffer under schizophrenia, dementia, or a brain injury, but, as the authors teach, there are practical steps one can take in applying scripture to each situation so that a woman is no longer lead by her feelings and fears.
The appendices include short chapters entitled, How You Can Know If You’re a Christian, Understanding Medicine Dependence, Withdrawal, and Side Effects, How to Talk with Your Doctor, and Resources for Further Study. Anyone wishing to stop taking her medicine must read the appendix on understanding medicine and talk to her doctor first. While it has been a great relief to me that the medicine prescribed for my mother is helping her, I must admit that “poop-out” and tail chasing are already becoming factors she is facing. I plan to give a copy of this book to her and do what I can to see that she follows the authors’ suggestions, but only with help from her doctor and a biblical counselor. I fear going it alone after an extended time on medicine would lead to a severe relapse.
Depression may be the last taboo in the church. Women whisper about feeling down, or about their moods, but the ‘D’ word is rarely used. Depression and mental illness ought not to be reserved for the medical establishment. Christians need to claim authority over the issue of depression. In most cases, people are dealing with issues of the heart. As more and more negative news stories and research studies regarding the side effects of the foremost medicines to combat depression and mental and emotional disorders are released, people will seek alternatives. The church stands in a unique position with the message of the gospel.
I learned a lot reading this book. For instance, Fitzpatrick and Hendrickson point out that most of the medicines prescribed for depression and anxiety end up making the patient feel worse and that the very structure of our brains can be altered by these medicines, making withdrawal very difficult. In Appendix C, “How to Talk to Your Doctor,” I was shocked to read of a trend that many patients are prescribed medicines without “even the indirect physician supervisions that the law requires for nurses and physician’s assistants,” rather they are prescribed medicines by psychologists who are not required to have as much medical training.
I recommend this book to all women, particularly those who suffer with chronic pain, mood swings, depression, and anxiety. Even if you do not struggle with depression or OCD or crippling anxiety, the section on moods and PMS is very helpful. The suggested exercises for using Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi and Peter’s second epistle will prove beneficial to any believer who puts them into practice. The authors include four or five probing questions at the end of each chapter to help the reader uncover root spiritual issues that may be contributing to her emotional pain. One other helpful feature closing each chapter is a personal story from other women who have faced the struggles detailed in this book. Finally, I think co-author Laura Hendrickson’s testimony will encourage women who want to be free of their medications to take the steps necessary to do so.
BCC Staff Note: This review first appeared at the Discerning Reader book review site. It is re-posted at the BCC with permission of Discerning Reader and the review author. You can read the original review at Will Medicine Stop the Pain?