Medication, Biblical Counseling, & Depression: What’s New in Treatment?

September 8, 2015

Charles Hodges

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Charles Hodges

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part Two of a two-part BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on Biblical Counseling and Medication, by Charles Hodges, MD. You can read Part One here: Medication, Biblical Counseling, & Depression: What’s New in Serotonin? 

Treating Depression

It is no secret in medicine that the medications for depression available in the United States today do not work well. Research tells us that between 80% to 90% of those taking these medications gain no more benefit from them than they would from taking a placebo pill that looks like but does not contain the active drug.[i] In yesterday’s blog, we saw that the reason for it is simply that medical science has been working with a theory about the cause and cure of depression that is most likely not valid. So what can we do to help?

Today we are going to look at research from this year that is really encouraging for those who struggle with depression and sadness and do not want to take medicine. The first article comes from the Journal of Family Practice and is titled “Treating Depression: What works besides meds?”[ii] It is a novel thought, but there are patients who do not want to take medication. And, for those patients, the authors suggested counseling, exercise, and dietary supplements. All three categories are considered to be effective evidence-based treatment options by physicians. Let’s look at them for a moment.

3 Non-Medical Treatments

If you are interested in dietary supplements, I will let you look up the article and take it to your family physician since I do not want to be practicing medicine in print.[iii] But, I will say that the supplements listed are important and helpful. Before using any supplement, a patient should discuss with their physician how it fits into their total health care.

On the other hand, exercise is a favorite of mine. I have been running 30 miles or more a week for the last 46 years. And, at times, running has been one of the things that helped me when I’ve faced problems that have made me struggle. So, I routinely send sad and depressed counselees out to walk as long as their general health will allow it. The research in the article tells us that it does help. In some studies ,it helps just as much or more than medication.[iv] Many who struggle with depression and sadness will become physically inactive and a two-mile walk does them good.

The article goes on to explain how research evidence also tells us that counseling helps those who are struggling with depression and sadness. The authors relate that cognitive behavior therapy is the most used form of counseling in the medical arena. When comparing CBT to control groups (people who are on the waiting list and have not been seen) this form of counseling does appear to help.[v] It involves helping the patient change how they think about their problems and what they are doing about them.

None of this should be much of a surprise to those of us in biblical counseling. The Bible has real answers for the losses of life that often make people normally sad. As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews said:

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NASB).

Christian Counseling

I found one last piece of interesting research this week published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease titled “Religious vs. Conventional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Major Depression in Persons with Chronic Medical Illness.”[vi] The research compared two groups of persons who considered religion important, one which received counseling (cognitive behavioral therapy) without any religious reference and another group that had religion integrated into the counseling. Usually the religion was Christianity.

There were two interesting observations by the researchers. First, the use of the “clients’ religious beliefs to identify and replace unhelpful thoughts and behaviors,” did not reduce the effectiveness of the counseling given. Second, for clients who were “highly religious” the counseling with religious content was more effective than the counseling without.[vii]

These conclusions are a long way from what Peter had to say about the subject when he told us that God “…granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him…” referring to Jesus. (2 Peter 1:2-3, NASB) At the same time, it is encouraging to know that there are researchers who are willing to ask what role religion may play in counseling and then answer it.

[i]Good Mood Bad Mood, Charles Hodges. Shepherd Press, Wapwallopen, PA. p.69.

[ii] Michelle M. Larzelere, PhD, et al. “Treating depression: What works besides meds? Managing Depression without Medication,” The Journal of Family Practice, p. 454.

[iii]Larzelere, p.456.

[iv]Larzelere. p.455.

[v]Larzelere, p.455

[vi]Harold G. Koenig, Michelle J. Pearce, Bruce Nelson, Sally F. Shaw, Clive J. Robins, Noha S. Daher, Harvey Jay Cohen, Lee S. Berk, Denise L. Bellinger, Kenneth I. Pargament, David H. Rosmarin, Sasan Vasegh, Jean Kristeller, Nalini Juthani, Douglas Nies, Michael B. King. “Religious vs. Conventional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Major Depression in Persons With Chronic Medical Illness.” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 2015; 203 (4): 243 DOI:10.1097/NMD.0000000000000273

[vii] Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. “’Religiously integrated’ psychotherapy is effective for depression.’ ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 March 2015. <>.