I work at a school for special needs children. Historically, there’s been very little effort expended to help people with mental illnesses, and when there was more help, only the wealthy could afford it. Eventually, with such overwhelming need, the medical establishment began treating mental illnesses more intentionally. As insurance companies began covering treatment, psychotherapists began treating mental illnesses with the same medical model as any other illness. More people were able to access help. However, doctors assumed that the benefits of mental health therapy are based on methods alone. This assumption has made treatment much less effective than it could be.

After 20 years of research, Dr. Wampold, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, found that it’s the level of connection between the therapist and client that is the strongest predictor of positive change in mental health.

For years I had a medical model way of sharing the gospel: we, the church, diagnose the world as sin-sick. We prescribe a pamphlet or a seminar, thinking that our role consists only of sharing information about the gospel. However, in 2 Corinthians, Paul teaches us that a letter written by even the most articulate person is nothing compared to seeing the message of a life being changed by Jesus’ love. We can eloquently define the story of God’s rescue of humanity, but it’s our lives poured into the lives of others that is the context for the most incredible change.

We prescribe a pamphlet or a seminar, thinking that our role consists only of sharing information about the gospel.

The mental health community remains reluctant to see the weaknesses of the medical model’s approach to mental illness. The focus on simply refining the methods of delivering helpful information makes treatment easier to fund, results are easier to measure, and professionals can avoid the messiness of connection.

But the questions remain—for mental health providers and the church: when something is more easily funded, does that mean that is what’s best? Do we value measuring results to the point of ignoring what could bring better outcomes? Is our focus driven more by our reluctance to be uncomfortable than it is by our desire to be a part of something much more transformational?

Jesus is changing my heart: I find myself loving to love people. He makes the very thing that delights me the most the key to carrying out the gospel commission. I get to be a unique epistle, written by God’s Spirit, to those I get to love. Hallelujah.

David Sherwood
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

David and his wife, Jeannie, have three crazy kiddos: Noah, Luke, and Anna Joy. David enjoys taking photos of his kids, writing down random thoughts, dining out with his wife, philosophizing and studying the Bible with young people. He can almost always be found at home working alongside his family to habilitate his 2-year-old, brain-injured son, Luke, who has given them more spiritual instruction, and inspiration than any book or sermon ever could.