I’m excited to review another resource related to mental illness, one that adds another dimension to the collection of books I’ve recommended here. This one is written by a mental health professional with a passionate vision for seeing churches step into a proactive role in providing not only support and loving community, but much-needed access to professional Christian mental health care.
Kristen Kansiewicz is a counselor who works on a church staff. She’s smart and experienced, and she believes, as I do, that our churches have much to offer hurting people. She has written this book to address many questions people have when they or their loved ones encounter mental health problems. She has also written it to inspire and educate churches and their leaders, who are well-positioned to respond. This book and this conversation matter because, in her words, “every day many Christians continue to struggle with problems like depression, anxiety, trauma, and mania. It matters because an inadequate or untrained response harms people. It matters because in some churches people feel they must silently suffer, or seek mental health treatment in a way that their pastor has discouraged” (pp. 13-14).
I’m glad Kansiewicz has given her expertise and voice to this cause. This is a valuable resource, and we need more mental health professionals who have seen and value the church’s potential as a close partner in ministry.
On Edge: Mental Illness in the Christian Context by Kristen Kansiewicz
What this book offers
The book includes a short introductory section with some background on the history of the study and treatment of mental health and how the church has historically fit into that context. Kansiewicz gives a helpful overview of a few different Christian responses–pastoral counseling, Christian counseling, biblical counseling–that the average Christian may assume are all different terms for the same thing. She also introduces readers to the model she embraces: the church therapy model, in which a professionally trained, licensed Christian counselor works on a church staff in partnership with pastors. As she describes it, “this model increases accessibility to quality care and decreases the stigma of going to counseling, as mental health becomes an integral part of the internal church culture and dialogue” (p. 13).
Most of the book is dedicated to addressing questions many people ask about mental illness, especially as it relates to Christian faith. For example, she tackles “Should Christians Take Psychiatric Medication?” and “Isn’t Addiction Just a Really Bad Habit?” In her responses to these and other questions, she includes stories of people who have faced those specific issues. She also incorporates solid information about both mental health and Christian thought.
Kansiewicz also includes discussion of some specific mental health disorders, from a Christian point of view: bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, attention-deficit disorder, and addiction. Her answers show she is well-qualified to discuss both mental health and Christian beliefs, and she is familiar with the kinds of questions people ask when they’re dealing with symptoms of mental illness or a new diagnosis.
What I liked about this book
One of my favorite things about this book is Kansiewicz’s obvious passion for both mental health care and the church. If you know anything about the work I do, you know I share her view that churches are perfect places for providing not only a loving response, but access to good mental health care. Many mental health care professionals care about local churches and want us to offer more in terms of support, but she is advocating for a closer partnership that I would also love to see become commonplace.
I also appreciate her professional knowledge and tone. She comes across as competent and knowledgeable in a space where it’s easier to find stories of anguish that don’t provide much hope that solutions exist, let alone point to them. She is hopeful, reassuring, and unafraid to tackle some tough questions.
I’m glad she has not written a merely clinical resource; the book is full of stories that lend credibility, bring these issues to life, and help readers find their own experiences in its pages.
What I would change about this book
At the end of the book, Kansiewicz has included a brief section called “The Pastor’s Role in Responding to Mental Illness.” This section includes some helpful information but no real advice for pastors or other church leaders. It focuses on how to talk to your pastor about mental health and how to find other types of support and treatment. This is valuable information, and I would have loved to see the book offer more on what the church can do to help people with mental illness and their loved ones. Perhaps that’s a subject for Kansiewicz to tackle in another book.
I’d also like to have read more about what the church therapy model looks like. She mentions the model and explains very briefly what it is, but if other churches or counselors are to follow her lead, it would be valuable to have more information about how this approach works, what it looks like in everyday practice, and what it offers beyond what other forms of treatment and support can offer.
Who should read it
This book would be valuable for anyone living with a mental health challenge–their own or someone else’s–who wants to learn more about how that challenge fits into the Christian life. It would also serve as a helpful guide to finding support.
I also recommend this book to pastors and other church leaders who want to understand the questions people in crisis are asking, how they might address those questions, and how they can work in partnership with Christian mental health professionals.
© 2017 Amy Simpson.