Sunday, March 26, 2017

Healing, Health and Wholeness 1.

Find a therapist/doctor who will treat the whole person and the whole family.  (David Larson, M.D. of Duke University, The Forgotten Factor in Physical and Mental Health, 1992)

As a therapist my interest in faith and medicine began in earnest in 1968. I received a telephone call from my Mother saying Dad was near death from an auto accident.  Dad was dying and the doctors only hoped he would survive until my brother arrived home from Korea. My older brother Maury and I went back home to be with Mom and Dad. We took turns holding on to Dad’s arms to keep him from pulling the tubes from his nose and mouth. It was an awful experience. I felt so helpless and hopeless.

After some time of trying to hold Dad’s arms, I began to silently pray for God to heal him. I had never prayed like that before. Our denomination did not believe in miraculous gifts. We “Prayed for the sick we didn’t pray for them to get well,” we joked but this was no joke. We had always asked God to “Bless the patient, the doctors and nurses and comfort the family” but never asked for a miracle. This time I was so desperate that I forgot my theology and prayed for a miraculous healing.

My prayers were awkward, mumbled and panic stricken. They were not filled with faith or even hope. Despite my hesitancy and poor faith I sensed the presence of a powerful force come into the room. The hair on my head stood up and I had chills down my spine. About the same time Dad became quiet and his labored breathing was smooth and peaceful. His body was calm and sleep replaced the thrashing and resistance we brothers were trying to control.

I knew Dad had been deeply touched and that allowed me to follow his lead and relax. His hands fell quietly on the bed. I thought God had answered my prayer, and, He had. Dad recovered fully. He lived another ten years. But I was also changed. I could no longer deny that the reason Jesus was known as “The Great Physician” was because He healed the sick. I was thrust into a fledgling healing ministry with no preparation but one great personal experience.

My profession resisted this story and so did my church. Neither was thrilled by hearing about God’s healing touch. Nor did either bless my desire to learn and do more about spiritual healing. Few of my friends welcomed my new faith in a healing God. Preachers and teachers who regularly talked about the Great Physician were shocked when I mentioned what He had done to integrate our theory with His experience. 

I was caught between the Scylla of fearful, unbelieving Christians and the Charybdis of anxious disbelieving psychologists. Before I went to graduate school in Counseling my Sunday school teacher warned me to “Stay away from psychology! It’s from the devil.” My religious friends were frightened about using love or prayer to heal.  I also found that my professional friends were deeply suspicious of any healing other than their own brand of theology from Freud, Skinner or Rogers.

During a class in 1972 a Professor of Sociology refused to allow me to research the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous. “We are a public university and we cannot violate the separation of church and state,” he pompously said.  His rigid stand against anything with a spiritual component shows how closed the minds of my teachers were.

A.A. is not, of course, a church, but they do allow clients to acknowledge God. Research shows clearly that A.A. is effective in treating addictions but that fact did not convince my agnostic teachers ending suffering was enough reason to teach the power of faith. Although that teacher was a practicing Buddhist, he was frightened about the idea that there is a spiritual reality in the world and he used all kinds of bogus excuses to forbid its study.  

The event with Dad at the Good Samaritan Hospital spurred me toward further study. In 1974-75 I wrote a doctoral dissertation that integrated psychology, theology and prayer. During my studies I found few believers and fewer psychologists willing to support my quest.  Even today some people are militantly against all expressions of religion outside a sanctuary. Recently an honor guard Chaplain was fired for speaking about God. He ended his graveside talk with "God bless you and this family, and God bless the United States of America," he would say as he presented a folded flag to them. Because of that, he was released from his duties.
However, despite what we read about government religious phobia, most Americans want doctors and counselors to integrate religious practices into their work. In 1993 and again in 1997 Eisenberg and colleagues surveyed Americans about their use of medical and psychological treatments that include spiritual alternatives. The percentage of persons who use at least one alternative therapy increased from 34% to 42% in those four years. The percentage who sought care from an alternative source increased from 36% to 46%.

Between 1990 and 1997 there was a 47% increase in visits to alternative practitioners, from 427 million to 629 million, exceeding the total number of visits made to all conventional primary care physicians in 1997.  The estimated amount paid to alternative practitioners increased 45% to $21.2 billion. The total estimated out-of-pocket expense for alternative therapies in 1997 was $27 billion, comparable to the amount paid out-of-pocket for all physician services in the United States. (1998 JAMA)

The numbers of persons seeking soul care from “alternative sources” has always exceeded those who visit professional counselors. Some 42% of distressed persons seek help from pastors, priests and other religious leaders.  An estimated 18% seek help from a primary care doctor and only 8% look to professional mental health practitioners. However, 100% speak with family members, friends, colleagues and church before seeing anyone else. Similar statistics hold for Ohio and for the nation.

Religious leaders are five times more involved in delivering mental health counseling than Mental Health Professionals. It could be said that ministers deliver more care and counsel than all other professions combined. When we add friends, Bible study groups, healing services, church counseling centers, Alcoholics Anonymous and other self-help groups the percentage of influence raises dramatically. 

At least 95% of all emotional support, counseling and therapy in the USA is delivered through religiously oriented individuals and groups. 

If you need and want Professional Counseling, call Life Way. 

If you want to be trained to help families in need to support for a member with an illness contact Sweeten Life Systems. 

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