Taking every thought captive moves a counselee toward hope, especially while facing depression. Today’s guest blogger is Joshua Waulk, the Founder and Executive Director of Baylight Counseling, a nonprofit biblical counseling ministry in Clearwater, Florida.
“I’m stuck, and I feel like God’s nowhere to be found.”
“I can’t get over how they treated me—like I’m something less than human.”
“There’s no hope for me. I’m sorry I’ve wasted your time.”
“This is just God’s will for me. There’s no use in praying.”
I frequently hear these types of emotionally charged sentiments from counselees who are in a season of depression. On occasion, I’ve been persuaded that the roots were at least partly physiological. But more often, there’s been an identifiable circumstance that gave rise to the person’s change in mood. Examples are job loss, illness, death of a loved one or spouse, divorce, and so on.
In many cases I’ve advised counselees to seek a medical checkup and to follow their doctors’ orders. Meanwhile, we enter the counseling process to shepherd their souls. In all cases I secure counselees’ commitment to share thinking that could be described as “suicidal.”
Fortunately, medical issues and suicidal thinking are not very common. More common: counselees’ ongoing heart-level, internal dialogue. On this point Paul Tripp has written,
No one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do.
Rediscovering Hope in Depression
Depression, it seems, becomes an unruly preacher of a false “gospel” that robs counselees of hope.It progressively dominates their thinking and influences their behavior. Embedded in this harmful pattern is a distorted view of who God is. Counselees also may doubt the trustworthiness of His promises. In such cases, counselors wisely help counselees learn how to take back ownership of that “inner-voice” and saturate their depression with the truths of Scripture. This is a key to the change process.
Take care to not minimize the reality of a counselee’s suffering. But also recall depression, like anxiety, often over-estimates the weight of the problem, while it under-estimates the abundance of hope available in Christ. The biblical counselor must specialize in helping counselees overcome the lies of depression with the truths of Scripture.
In the midst of depression, counselees may also fall into a pattern of thinking where every disappointment reinforces unbiblical expectations. Ed Welch has written in Depression: Looking up from the Stubborn Darkness,
Depression can accumulate lots of inaccurate interpretations about ourselves, other people, and God himself. Scripture comes and corrects those misinterpretations and false beliefs,
Taking Every Thought Captive
The apostle Paul wrote that Christians need to take “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). The depressed counselee’s thoughts often oppose the gospel.
If depression is like a preacher of a false gospel, the depressed person is like a congregation that gathers regularly to hear its voice and receive its instruction. In time, the roots of depression dig into the deepest recesses of the heart. This helps to explain why it so often plagues otherwise healthy people. But it also gives us clues as to how we may best help the depressed counselee.
While we may all benefit from an encouraging word from time to time, those who struggle with deep-seated spiritual depression need something more than religious platitudes, clichés, or the all-too-common “I’ll be praying for you!”
Landscapers do not remove fully grown palm trees with plastic spoons. Likewise, biblical counselors do not attack spiritual problems with weak schemes and methodologies that deny the existence of the soul and the truth of Christ. Instead, they equip counselees with spiritual weapons that have “divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4).
Fight for Change in Depression
Welch reminds us in Depression: Looking up from the Stubborn Darkness that the fight for gospel-driven change against depression is just that—a battle. He wrote,
These changes come only through a battle, and key to the battle is that we humble ourselves before the Lord and believe what He says.
This issue of belief is crucial. It is not a half-hearted belief, but a confidence in God’s Word. Will counselees believe lies or half-truths of depression? Or, will they believe the promises of God?
Do you counsel folks stuck in false gospel of depression? Here are three helpful strategies.
First, ask them is to list the negative statements preached by their “inner-voice” (i.e., their depression).
Then, work with the counselee to identify key Scripture references that speak truth in response to the depressive statements.
Finally, lead the counselees in a conversation that examines the statements by way of contrast and comparison. The goal is to arrive at points of practical application and renewed hope in the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the end, preaching the gospel to ourselves is powerful in the fight against spiritual depression. Troubled emotions are not silent. They always preach to the heart and demand a hearing. As biblical counselors, we must teach our depressed counselees not to allow their enemy to get the last word.
BCC: Your Next Step!
Your article is good, but incomplete. Jesus was under great stress in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before He was betrayed, even to the point of “being greatly troubled in Spirit”, or what we might even call ‘depression’. This, despite the “joy set before Him”, and knowing He would be resurrected again in 3 days for all eternity. Sorrow is real, loss is real, pain is real. When we try to suggest that these things are spiritual problems, we are not helping anything whatsoever, and often making things worse. I can picture a ‘Biblical Counselor’ talking to Jesus in the Garden trying to “preach the Gospel to His inner voice”. The article above contains some good advice for a lot of people in many situations, but it seems to miss the mark that almost all ‘Biblical Counselors’ miss, that in our pride we seem to think we know so much more about a persons situation or feelings than they do. We may have some keen insight into human nature, but fail to apply the right Scriptures into a persons situation at the right time. When I went through a horrific time of grief, people who over-spiritualized all my thoughts or motives were extremely irritating and pushed me away from what they were saying. Leading people into what we think might be the problem can often be so confusing and add insult to injury. We must be sure that we do not just assume there is spiritual deficiency in every case of turmoil or ‘depression’. While it is true that Spiritual truth affects the physical, emotional, and intellectual; it is also true that the physical can affect the others as well, etc. Once upon a time an incompetent paramedic assumed my wife was fine after a car accident when she was really in a state of shock, and some would maybe seem to think she had a spiritual problem. I see both ends of the pendulum being incomplete. Biblical truth helps me immensely, but it doesn’t seem to affect my allergies, and I shouldn’t be corrected for thinking the Bible is insufficient…