Does CBT have all the answers for anxiety and depression?

I usually shy away from talking about my faith, not wanting to proselytize.  But in truth it is one of the things that’s helped the most for me.  Here are some recent thoughts that have helped as I’ve struggled to make sense of anxiety, depression and faith.

Photo: Billy Alexander, stock.xchng

Maybe when things get dark God is suffering with us

Being depressed and/or anxious can be a lonely business, I worry that I’ll never be free of it.  At my worst I sometimes think the anxiety will make me totally mad; I am so worried I can’t concentrate, so I become forgetful, then feel incompetent and around the bend I go.  In recent times I’ve also felt so low that I wondered how to go on.  But however low I get, I believe God is mysteriously there too because when He hung on the cross He cried out ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me’ Matthew 27 45-46.

Why suffering?

I have no idea.   We are free to make our own decisions and sometimes we do things that hurt ourselves and others.  But I don’t believe that free will, or ‘sin’ are the reasons for all suffering. In the past I worked as an occupational therapist in mental health and my observation of the suffering of others was not something I could find a reason for.  Mental health problems are not our fault; yes we can do some things to help ourselves, but we can’t change our genes.  So I’ve been asking myself to what extent am I responsible for my recovery?

What can we do for ourselves and what can God do for us?

There are times in the Bible where Christ tells sick people to ‘Pick up their mat and walk’.  He doesn’t zap them; they have to take action themselves.  I liken this to my experience, so far of CBT.  Help is on hand, but at the end the day you need to do your homework, even ‘become your own therapist’ if you want to be well.

But our own efforts are not the whole story.  I am convinced that for me, there are times when my striving to get well actually gets in the way of my healing.  Maybe there is a place for surrender, of acknowledging that I, the medical/therapeutic professions and all our hard work is not enough on its own.

Someone recently pointed out to me that whilst Christ Himself sometimes took a proactive approach, at other times, he submitted to God in an almost passive way.  It was pointed out that from the time when our Lord enters Jerusalem on a donkey to the time of his death he totally surrendered to God and allowed events to unfold. He did not control events, or even his reaction to them.

Picking up your mat and walking (gently)

Christ said, ‘I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.’ John 10:10. [When I read this I always hear ‘life in a barn dance’] Sounds simple, but when you feel low it doesn’t seem possible that things will ever get better.  I and many others have tried and tried to get better, done the CBT homework, put into practice new thinking patterns, gone to bed earlier, got more exercise, refused to ask for reassurance, taken the medication, but up with the side effects etc etc, but still we’re not better.

What if all the trying and self-help is getting in the way of recovery?

I was recently challenged by the strange words of Christ.’ You did not choose me, I choose you’ John 15:16. I’ve always been a bit embarrased by this awkward bit of scripture.  I interpreted it to mean that our Lord somehow choose some people but not others and don’t think that squares with a God who created everyone.

But recently I’ve been thinking that this bit of scripture might mean something else.  What if Jesus was talking about initiative; what if he was saying that the initiative for Him being with us originates in God not us.  It isn’t that we are wanting to get better and God has not heard, but somehow if we trust God he will provide the healing and will take care of us.  Our health being a gift, not something that we have to strive for.

Just to clarify I still think that medication, helping yourself, CBT (and doing the homework), varied activities and excercise are all good things.  They may be all part of the healing that God ultimately wants.  But they may not be the only things that matter.  Until recently all my hope had been placed in CBT working.  I was clinging on to the hope that I’d do CBT ‘properly’ and my mental health would be sorted.  And it still might, but CBT is not a rock on which I want to build my life, God is.  That’s all.