Jesus AND Therapy

Christians with mental illness have been stigmatized by the Christian church. They have kept their distance from “church people” and have found religion to be pretentious. Christian social workers should discern the faith experiences of our clients who are Christian and provide interventions and strategies that will assist them with navigating their faith and restoration for wholeness and healing. As Christian Social Workers lets abolish the stigma of faith and mental illness and equip clinicians and church leaders with tools of support for individuals and families with mental illness.

Just recently, I was involved in a social media discussion regarding “Jesus and Therapy”. This discussion was alarming to read since many people felt that having Jesus was enough to solve mental health issues. They felt that prayer and fasting would heal people and create emotional wellbeing for those who suffer from mental illness. It was also suggested that people weren’t praying or committed enough to achieve healing. Most of the comments came from “church people”, people who are members of a congregation and who do not have any therapeutic expertise. From the discussion, it seemed that those who commented were against therapy and further perpetuated the negative stigma associated with being saved and attending therapy.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the US- 43.8 million or 18.5 percent experience mental illness each year. Church going Christian clients with mental illness have attempted to seek solace from their churches but have been stigmatized by their church instead. Many have been told insensitively that they are not praying enough, reading scripture daily enough or are possessed by a demonic force. In a study conducted by Lloyd and Waller (2000) they found that “Evangelical Christians consistently endorse spiritual aetiologias for mental distress, which include the belief that mental distress can be treated solely through spiritual intervention (prayer, fasting and deliverance)” (p.679). With the prevalence of discrimination in the church of people who have mental illness, many clients are hurting and not receiving the therapeutic care that they need. They fear being labeled and/or ostracized from the church coupled with guilt and shame of not being “spiritual enough” to combat their mental illness. Clients need culturally sensitive tools and support from empathic clinicians to help them through their journey to emotional stability. They need empathic therapists that will dispel the stigma of mental illness in the church from clinicians who are equipped with strategies to assist church leaders and clients with tools of support to help those who are suffering with mental illness.

Being a social work educator and social worker for many years, I have seen how therapeutic services have the power to heal. Being a licensed minister, I have seen how Jesus also has the power to heal. It makes one ask, “what is the intersection of having both Jesus and therapy?” Is it a double healing? Or is it continued healing? Or can it be a forever healing? Is it possible that having just Jesus will cause healing or is Jesus and therapy necessary for healing? Well, I think it depends on the severity of the mental health issues, the client’s level of faith, and their willingness to incorporate both in their therapeutic plan. In Acts 10 we know that Jesus was the man of miracles who “went about doing good” and healed several people. We know that “he is close to the broken hearted”(Psalm 34:18), he “will restore health to us” (Jeremiah 30:17), and he “will sustain us on our sick bed” (Psalm 41:3). Sometimes this is enough to help clients to become restored in their mental health. It strengthens them, makes them feel whole again, increases their faith and causes them to change their perspective. Others may not have the same successful outcome and may need additional interventions for their journey to wellness.

In Glorify Magazine, the author discussed the benefits of having a Christian therapist. It was noted that this type of therapeutic modality would use scripture, theology, hymns, and prayer to help clients with getting through mental illness, stress, and life events. As Christian social workers, it’s important to be advantageous in helping to normalize the benefits of having both Jesus and therapy to help clients to get through their dilemmas and not insinuate that one should take precedence over the other. The two strategies of faith in Jesus Christ and evidenced based therapeutic interventions combined, can create an outcome that is supportive, sustainable, and unbiased. It can create an atmosphere of hope in a victorious end where people can see how they can become more than conquerors and learn to be anxious for nothing. Clients need culturally sensitive tools and support from empathic clinicians to help them through their journey to emotional stability. They need empathic therapists that will dispel the stigma of mental illness in the church from clinicians who are equipped with strategies to assist church leaders and clients with tools of support to help those who are suffering with mental illness.

Dr. Michelle Ratcliff has 22 years of experience as a social worker. She is an Assistant Professor of Social work at Delaware State University and a licensed social worker in Pennsylvania.



Freeman, N & Baldwin, I. (2020). Attitudes towards mental illness in American Evangelical communities, supernaturalism, and stigmatisation. Mental Health, Religion & Culture 23:8, pages 691-702.

Greenidge,S & Baker, M. (2012). Why do committed Christian clients seek counselling with Christian therapists? Counseling Psychology Quarterly 25:3, pages 211-222.

Lloyd CEM, Hutchinson J. It’s easy to dismiss it as simply a spiritual problem. Experiences of mental distress within evangelical Christian communities: A qualitative survey. Trans cult Psychiatry. 2022 Jan 18:13634615211065869. doi: 10.1177/13634615211065869. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35040741.

Lloyd, C & Waller, R. (2020). Demon? Disorder? Or none of the above? A survey of the attitudes and experiences of evangelical Christians with mental distress. Mental Health, Religion & Culture 23:8, pages 679-690.

McGuire, J.M., & Pace, A.C. (2018). Self-stigma of depression in Christians versus the general population. Mental Health, Religion & Culture 21:6, pages 601-608.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (April 2023). Mental health by the numbers. Retrieved on July 16, 2023

Peterson, P. Glorify Magazine: Why needing Jesus and therapy is totally okay – A Guide to Christian Therapy.

3 thoughts on “Jesus AND Therapy

  1. Great read. Thank you for your contributions to the feild of social work and may the Blessing of the Lord be upon each person reading this. May we do the work and the will of the father to change current statistics around for the best outcomes. I cannot tell you how many consumers I have had the opportunity to serve tell me “I was made to believe I am “crazy”, another is being afraid because someone in the church told them they had demons and failed to provide the proper solutions, the church has become to much like the world, but we (social workers) can be the change, we need to stop accepting and start creating.

    1. Sabrina, thanks for your response. You are so right. I have been told from clients on numerous occasions that they were not reading, praying or worshipping enough. They were also told that they were demon possessed. It’s happening more than we know. We are definitely the catalysts for change.

  2. Thank you for writing this it has been reaffirming of my belief as a Christian social work and soon to be psychoanalyst that Jesus AND therapy works and there doesn’t have to be a choice between the two for those who are looking to create lasting change in their lives and to follow Christ while doing it. Empathy, compassion, helping and healing are social work values which Jesus modeled in a dynamic way when on earth and He left the keys and passed the baton to his disciples (us) to continue to share His love to the world. This was a blessing to me and an encouragement to continue to incorporate FAITH and feelings in the work I enjoy doing so much. Blessings to you as you continue to do God’s work.

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