by Beverly Ward
May 22, 2022
From Science: May is 'Mental Health Awareness Month', and, thankfully, in 2022, we have come a very long way in our awareness of the causes of and treatments for psychological problems. Science is constantly evolving and what we 'know' at any given time is merely our best understanding at that moment. If we look at medical science, we see an example of this in 'blood letting'. In the 18th century, it was believed that the best treatment for a cold was to 'bleed' a person, which meant to drain their blood. George Washington died after being bled three times, loosing 40% of his blood, to treat a common cold. Science was wrong, badly wrong.
Our understanding of mental health throughout history has also been badly wrong. Early theories about the causes of psychological problems were just as off as blood letting and thankfully, science now knows that they were wrong. Currently, we understand mental health issues through the Diathesis-Stress model. This model holds simply that there are two elements that contribute to our mental state, diathesis (genetic vulnerability) and environmental stressors. We are born with a genetic profile that determines the degree to which we are vulnerable to development of psychological problems (just as with physical problems). No two people are genetically identical, and my vulnerability will be different from yours. Environmental stressors are the second piece of the equation. Based on our genetically determined threshold, the degree of stress in our environment determines whether a given psychological problem will manifest. My threshold for stress and yours are different; my environmental stressors, including my developmental experiences, are also different from yours. The combination of the two is what creates psychological problems. And, we know that psychological problems are real, common, and treatable.
Within the field of psychology, there are various theories that build on the Diathesis-Stress model to explain our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how to best treat them when they become problematic. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a highly regarded theory that explains that our developmental history and significant life events shape our core beliefs, which influence our thoughts and we respond to those thoughts with emotions, behaviors, and sometimes, physiological responses (such as increased heart rate). The research on CBT is phenomenal and demonstrates remarkable effectiveness, this encourages me that science is on the right track in understanding mental health. My greatest encouragement comes from the alignment I see between the Cognitive Model of psychology and what we find in scripture. For me, this is the most important indication that science is beginning to Truly understand humanity. Today we recognize and celebrate the power of our minds and our ability to cultivate mental wealth.
From Scripture: The Bible is full of admonitions to guard and protect our hearts and minds. What are we guarding them from? Lies. Things that are not True. Thoughts, beliefs, and ideas that are in opposition to God's Truth (We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ, 2 Corinthians 10:5). CBT teaches us to challenge our thoughts, to test them with questions and techniques designed to make us look at the truth of a thought. I get so excited about combining CBT with Biblical counseling, I believe that, when we use the tools science has discovered for the purpose for which God has instructed us, we have a very powerful combination. In changing our thinking, we change our lives. Rick Warren did a wonderful job explaining this concept in the video below in the Lagniappe section. If you would like to learn more about this, his is an excellent teaching.
Action Plan: Practice the CBT technique "Putting Thoughts on Trial". When you notice a shift in your emotional state, ask yourself, "what was I just thinking" and then apply this technique to some of your unhelpful thoughts. There is a video in the Lagniappe section to teach you the Putting Thoughts on Trial technique.
Rick Warren's teaching on changing our thoughts
"Putting Thoughts on Trial" video (Putting Thoughts on Trial is the same technique as "The Court Case").