by Joe Leavell
For many years I have suffered significantly from migraine headaches. These headaches often come on strong when I am very tired, overly stressed, slightly dehydrated, or even if I am exposed for a long period of time to bright light. Usually they begin when my eyes start to pulsate and see spots to the point that I can barely see out of my eyes. After a bit, it subsides and I know I have about ½ hour until a very intense pain on either one or both sides of my head will torment me. These headaches can last between 4-6 hours and can sometimes be strong enough to make me lose my dinner.
When the migraines start, I immediately seek fast acting migraine medication. Do these meds prevent my head from throbbing? Unfortunately, they do not. They merely mask and dull the pain so that I can make it through the headache. Several years back, my wife insisted that I see a chiropractor to see if they could help in some way. The chiropractor discovered that because of significant reading for school and the way I was using my laptop, my neck was curving incorrectly, completely inflamed, and even small neck rubs were met with sharp pain. The chiropractor was able to explain with me how the problem came about and he showed me how to better care for my neck through posture and exercises.
Did I follow his advice? By and large I did, and the migraines began to go away. I still had to take medication when I got an occasional migraine, but pretty soon, my bottle of migraine medication expired because I no longer needed it. Even though I had been getting a migraine up to every other week, because someone was dedicated to actually fixing the problem rather than just giving me medication, I went over a year without getting one migraine! Of course, in my case, I’m a dude and a pretty hard headed one. I haven’t been to a chiropractor in a very long time, have mostly stopped the exercises, and guess what, the migraines are returning. At least now I know why and what to do about it, and hopefully we can fix my neck again.
Why do I tell you about my neck? Well, it is not so that we can have a debate on whether or not chiropractors are the solution to all medical problems or are really a sham. That’s a discussion for another place. I bring up that story because I want to illustrate how our biblical counseling model is different from the medical model by using my experience of someone seeking to find the underlying problem rather than perpetually masking the pain.
The medical approach to abnormal behavior sees a biological source behind all mental disorders. In this way, disorders are treated in the same way a doctor would treat a broken bone: with medication and perhaps therapy for the pain while the body heals itself. Does this model obtain some measures of success in changing behavior? According to simplepsychology.org, about 50-60% of patients do see some benefit from the use of medication.
As is the case with my migraines, does the medication model solve the underlying problem or does it merely mask and dull the symptoms so that they will not as readily manifest themselves? This is of vitally important question because if our behavior is merely biological then there are many significant conclusions that can be understood. The most significant I believe is that if we merely have a disorder in the brain then we become victims of a dysfunctional body and are no longer responsible for our behavior. This takes away any hope of change or victory over our disorder because we are endlessly dependent on our medication to keep us acting normally.
At BCA, we believe that the Bible teaches that God created us with two parts: body and spirit (Genesis 2:7). These two parts to our being are extremely complex and both greatly affect the other. For example, as was the case with King Ahab when Naboth refused to give him his family’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21, depression, and even lack of appetite was caused by Ahab’s unsatisfied desires. Ahab’s sin affected his body’s appetite and he sunk into depression. Yet. is depression always the result of sin? No. In the case of Elijah, he was suicidal in 1 Kings 19. God’s solution for Elijah was not an immediate lesson. He gave Elijah a good night’s sleep and a nutritious meal that gave him strength. It was after his body was refreshed that God taught him. In Elijah’s case, his body’s physical weaknesses affected his spiritual perspective of his circumstances.
This is critical for our understanding of how to treat clients with mental disorders. The medical model seeks to merely resign the human soul to mere chemical brain activity rather than a spiritual being that God interwove with a physical brain for the function of the body. This is why science has not been able to genetically find biological reasons and solutions for all of our behavioral issues, such as anger, obsessive selfishness, pride, sexual addictions, etc. These problems stem not from biology but from a sinful heart/soul that desperately needs to see the heart change that can only be accomplished by surrendering our will to God’s. Yet, others have genuine physical struggles that are complicating their spiritual relationship with God.
At BCA, we are not opposed to medical professionals giving appropriate medication. We are not doctors, and we will not give medical advice to clients on whether or not they should take or abstain from medication. As was the case of my migraines, the medication was a genuine help to mask my pain so that I could endure long enough to find the source of the problem. We understand that the body can affect how we perceive things spiritually and vice versa. As such, we often encourage our clients to get a thorough physical exam (Prov. 18:13). However, while medication can sometimes help dull the physical symptoms, medication alone cannot solve the complex spiritual nature of humanity. The good news? God can, and He shares how in Scripture. This is why we are Biblical Counseling of Arizona, because God alone is able to sufficiently change the hearts and lives of the people who live here.
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