Good News for Psychiatric Sufferers

11 September 2023 by Wes Bredenhof

I Have a Psychiatric Diagnosis: What Does the Bible Say?, Edward T. Welch.  Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2022.  Softcover, 88 pages.

Psychiatric disorders may seem more common than they used to be.  It’s not necessarily the case that they are more prevalent, but they do seem to be diagnosed more often.  As a result, I’m quite sure that a book with the title of “I Have a Psychiatric Diagnosis” is going to appeal to a wide spectrum of readers. 

Dr. Ed Welch is a well-known psychologist, Christian counsellor, and author of many books.  In this little book, he addresses those who have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder or mental illness, along with those who love them.  His goal is to bring Scripture to bear on this particular brand of suffering.  He wants to bring psychiatric sufferers the good news of Jesus Christ, so they can have the right perspective on how God relates to their suffering.  He aims to bring wisdom, rest, and hope.  He succeeds in achieving these goals. 

Being just a small volume, Welch doesn’t address every type of psychiatric diagnosis.  He focusses his attention on anxiety and panic disorders, trauma, depression, and narcissism.  Welch acknowledges the complex nature of each of these mental health struggles.  With most of them, there are medical aspects involved.  However, the author doesn’t want readers to stop there.  For example, he mentions breathing techniques and other suggestions for dealing with panic attacks.  He writes, “These can all be helpful.  Your work would seem to be done.  God, however, is missing, which suggests that your work is just beginning” (p.21).

With most of the chapters it’s clear that Welch is writing for sufferers and those who love them.  However, the chapter on narcissism is vaguer in terms of its intended audience.  In the other chapters Welch usually writes using the second person, ‘you.’  But when writing about the narcissist in chapter 5, he switches to the third person, ‘they.’  It seems to be more about helping people deal with narcissists.  As far as that goes, the author has many good insights.  For example, it’s always the narcissist’s birthday (p.71).  And: “One feature of narcissists is that their lives are trapped in the present.  They are poor at anticipating future difficulties and rarely make plans” (p.76).  He suggests readers think of narcissists as people from a different country speaking a different language – “…you have to figure out how to have basic communication with them” (p.77). 

I have one cautionary comment with the chapter on trauma.  Again, Welch deftly lays out the complexities.  For instance, he writes of the impact of trauma on the body.  One of the books he mentions is Bessel Van Der Kolk’s highly influential The Body Keeps the Score.  This isn’t a Christian book, but it does often get recommended by Christians in relation to trauma.  I have recommended it myself, but only the first three chapters.  The first three chapters give some excellent descriptions of how trauma lingers in the body.  However, beginning with chapter 4, Van Der Kolk gets into analysis and considerations of treatment for trauma.  It’s in that part of the book that he introduces something known as polyvagal theory (PVT).  Originally formulated by neuroscientist Stephen Porges, PVT speculates that evolutionary development has shaped how humans respond to stress.   For a Christian, PVT is a problem because at its foundation is the assumption that Darwinian macro-evolution is true.  PVT and Darwinism are joined at the hip and can’t be separated.  It would have been helpful if Welch had acknowledged this significant problem with Van Der Kolk’s work.

This book isn’t only for sufferers and those living with them.  It’ll also be helpful reading for all church leaders.  These issues are ubiquitous – it’s almost guaranteed that someone in your church is struggling with their mental health right now.  Welch opens a window into what that’s like and the best help available.

Originally published in Clarion 72.11 (September 1, 2023)