No more self-centred help

There is a tendency in our culture to individualize problems and say it is THAT person who needs to go and get therapy, etc. I, by contrast, must be completely healthy. When well-meaning people recommend self-help resources to those who are struggling with their mental health, it can sound just like this and make the person feel even worse.

God created us in community - one bunch of beggars telling another bunch of beggars where to find bread as Brendan Manning used to say. We are all broken and we all have 'issues' we need to work through. What is intended to help the person can isolate and demoralize them if it is not handled carefully. Self-help becomes self-ish help (because we don't want to get our hands dirty) or self-centred help (because we expect them to sort it out on their own).

Below are some guidelines you might like to use when using self-help materials in your church. A good time to try them out would be the next time you recommend the Mind and Soul website to someone!

  1. Any materials we use should be seen as a resource for ALL in the church. To be sure, some may find it particularly helpful, but its style should be open for anyone to read without shame.
  2. When you give someone a handbook or website or fact sheet, it should never be done in isolation. You should also include that person in the community of the church, for example in your small group.
  3. Self-help is hard to pitch right. Some will be very simplistic and the person may think you think they are stupid. Some will be tricky and they will be even more depressed if they can't take it all in. So offer to read it with them, or even study it together for you both. This 'guiding' is the best way to do self-help anyway - otherwise material tends to find its way onto the bookshelf or into the bin.
  4. If your church is planning to regularly use some resource, why not get people from the pastoral team to consider this article and see if there are things you could do together to support the resource.
  5. Make use of the excellent secular resources there are for many topics as these often have well-funded website communities and phone lines that can help the person talk things through.

Let's make sure our self-help doesn't leave them all by themselves...

Rob Waller, 20/04/2010
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