Mood, Medicine, and the Value of Emotions

April 7, 2015

Charles Hodges

More From

Charles Hodges

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part Two in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series. Today in Part Two, Charles Hodges, MD, interacts with a recent New York Times opinion piece written by Dr. Julie Holland (Medicating Women’s Feelings). You can also read Part One in this series by Paul Tautges: 3 Biblical Journey Markers When Working Through Depression.

Pressured to Apologize for Our Tears

“Women are moody.” Those are words that only psychiatrist Julie Holland could say and survive! In our age of politically correct speech, such ideas are nearly forbidden. And, it is a great loss for women because as Dr. Holland said women are moody by “evolutionary design.” She also said that it is important to them and to all of us.

In an opinion piece written for the New York Times recently, Dr. Holland said women are made to be empathetic and intuitive and that this design is needed for our survival. Instead of seeing a woman’s emotions as a disease, they need to be seen as a great source of strength.[i]

Dr. Holland notes that great pressure has been and is being brought to bear on women to “apologize for our tears, to suppress our anger and to fear being called hysterical.” As if that were not enough, she notes that the “pharmaceutical industry plays on that fear.”

As a result, sales of antidepressants and antianxiety drugs have exploded. One in four women is now taking a psychiatric medication (compared to one in seven for men). This does not mean that Dr. Holland thinks that no one needs to take medicine. But, in her own words, “As a psychiatrist practicing for 20 years, I must tell you this is insane.”

Normal Sadness

So, how have we managed to get ourselves to this point in America where normal human emotions have now been declared to be disease that requires medical treatment? It is a complicated question, so let’s look at one part of the problem where it is possible to do the most good.

Sometime in the 1980s the criteria for depression was changed so that normal sadness over loss became identified as depression.[ii] In as little as 2 weeks an individual grieving the loss of anything important can be diagnosed with depression. This coupled with the arrival of Prozac in 1988 set the stage for an enormous change in the way most of us view emotions. Instead of being a useful tool to drive us to change, sadness and eventually worry would become symptoms of disease.

The good news is that there is a revolt growing in psychiatry and psychology against turning normal emotions into disease as evidenced by Dr. Holland’s article. She is not alone. Alan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield said much the same thing in their book, The Loss of Sadness.

Their research and research of others would tell us that perhaps up to 90% of those diagnosed with depression today are simply normally sad over loss.[iii] This “normal sadness” fits right in with Dr. Holland’s view that emotions, even unhappy ones, are a normal part of our being.

Implications for Biblical Counselors

 What then does this mean to those in biblical counseling? I think it is a great opportunity to help those who struggle with sadness and worry.

The Apostle Paul was a man who was very acquainted with suffering. He suffered beatings, stoning, and shipwreck. At times he struggled under the weight of the problems that existed in the church. It was very true of the church at Corinth. The troubles that caused Paul to write the first letter to Corinth simply made him sad.

In his own words, For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus…” (2 Corinthians 7:5-6, NASB). Titus brought the news that the church had repented. The letter Paul wrote made them sorrow and that sorrow drove them to change.

Like Dr. Holland, Paul believed that emotions like sorrow were useful, although he would have said they were created in us by God and not biology. Paul would say, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NASB).

The sorrow at Corinth drove that church and its members to change. Our society does not see sorrow that way, and we miss the benefit of it. As Dr. Holland said, when women feel irritable or dissatisfied at certain times in the month, they need to see these feelings as genuine and “re-evaluate what they put up with the rest of the month.”[iv]

A dear friend once told me something very similar. I was struggling with a major problem that made me sad and angry. My friend said, “Well, Charlie, why has the sovereign God of the universe let this come into your life now? What does He want to change about you to make you more like Christ?”

I then began to understand in a real sense the purpose of suffering and sadness that day. As Paul would say in Romans, I was suffering so that I could be “conformed to the image of His Son.”

The opportunity we have in biblical counseling today is to help strugglers see adverse emotions a little like Dr. Holland, but more like Paul saw them. They are a tool that God wants to use to draw us to Himself. And in that sense, they are very valuable.

Join the Conversation

 How does God want to use emotions and mood in your life?

[i]New York Times, NYTimes.com Julie Holland 2/28/2015: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/opinion/sunday/medicating-womens-feelings.html?_r=0

[ii]Good Mood Bad Mood, Charles Hodges, Shepherd Press, Wapwallopen, PA, 2013.

[iii]The Loss of Sadness, Alan Horwitz, Jerome Wakefield, Oxford University Press, New York. 2007.

[iv]NYTimes.com, Holland.