The intersection of therapy and faith has been a complex topic in the Black community. Many Christians feel like Jesus is their therapy, and have often indirectly or directly discouraged people from seeking help outside of the church. On the other hand, some mental health care providers are just as guilty of perpetuating this idea of having to choose between the two by suggesting that Christians are crazy for strictly relying on prayer to heal psychological conditions. As a Black woman who was raised in the church and a therapist, I believe you can have, and may in fact need both Jesus AND therapy. Let me explain why.
Faith and prayer have been sustainable strategies that Black women have used when that was all that was available to us. Not only was therapy not always available, but when it became available there was such a profound stigma attached to it that we didn’t consider it as an option. People who went to therapy back in the day were considered “crazy” as church was the only acceptable place to bare all your burdens. But what that did for us was teach us how to speak life into ourselves and increase our positive self-talk. If nothing else, we know how to encourage ourselves and each other. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that patients who pray or are prayed for recover at a higher rate than those who don’t. By that same token, faith helps to actually positively shape the brain and has similar effects to meditation. It gives us something to believe in, makes us feel less alone and that helps advance the healing process. Faith and prayer is important, however, faith without works is dead, and that’s where therapy comes in.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the work that accompanies faith, and that combination helps provide long term change. You learn skills to help regulate your emotions, process feelings and reframe thought distortions. Faith and prayer are great supportive tools that help further enhance the benefits of CBT. Both are valuable when it comes to managing mental health concerns.
As you can see, it is possible and most times, more beneficial to have both Jesus AND therapy. Sometimes Jesus if the only step you might need to take depending on your circumstance. But sometimes Jesus is just the first step you need to take on your way to a good therapist.