Book Review: Will Medicine Stop the Pain?

Will Medicine Stop the Pain?, by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Laura Hendrickson, Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006.

This book, subtitled Finding God’s healing for depression, anxiety, & other troubling emotions, is written by two women who are certified by NANC, the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors. This is the organization whose philosophy and literature we tend to recommend and attempt to follow in the area of counseling. It is opposed to integrating secular psychology with the Bible in counseling.

Elyse Fitzpatrick is a counselor of women and a writer of numerous books on counseling, one of which our ladies have studied, Idols of the Heart.

Laura Hendrickson is a medical doctor who formerly practiced psychiatry but is now a Biblical counselor. She struggled with depression herself, but found peace in Christ. She had a brother who also struggled with depression, but ended his own life because he would not turn to God.

The book is very helpful and one I would highly recommend to anyone, although I should mention one ‘caveat’ at the start. This book is written by women for women… some guys might find that a bit disconcerting. I would advise our men to read this book anyway for the following reasons:

  • You will be helped in understanding some things your wife might experience because she is a woman.
  • Men can experience many of the same emotional/psychological problems as women. The approach of this book is biblical, the science of the book is universally applicable, and the philosophy of this book is one that both men and women need to adopt.
  • And finally: You’re a man, you can take it.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part is designed to help the reader understand what is going on when someone is suffering from ‘inner pain’ that is sometimes called depression or anxiety, or some other equally disturbing problems related to the inner man. This part has four chapters.

The first two chapters are excellent. In chapter 1, the authors address the question, “What’s wrong with me?” There is a huge debate in the world of counseling about what exactly is wrong when people experience inner turmoil.

Materialists believe that people are just chemical compounds and all problems are related to the physical body. If your feelings are bad, something is wrong with your body in some way. It is probably a ‘brain problem’ since the brain is the organ with which we think.
The Bible teaches that people are body and soul. It attributes many problems of inner turmoil to problems in the spirit. If your feelings are bad, they are often products of ‘thought-habits’ — ways you have gotten used to thinking, attitudes you have been in the habit of keeping, unbiblical desires you have delighted in fulfilling, and so on. It is possible that someone may cope with difficult outward circumstances for some time, but suddenly, ‘out of the blue’, find that years of faulty thinking produces overwhelming feelings of depression, anxiety, or other mental and spiritual turmoil that seem utterly defeating.

This chapter does a good job of proving Biblically that the inner man (the soul, the spirit, the heart) is responsible for much of how you feel. It is true that the body can affect your feelings, or even make your feelings worse. But if you try to deal with your feelings without dealing with your heart, you will fail in trying to overcome inner turmoil.

The second chapter addresses the question, “Will Medicine Help my Pain?” The chapter shows how psychiatric medicines work and discusses some serious problems with their use. The major problems of these medications are: “Poop Out”, Tail Chasing, and Dependence. “Poop Out” means that the effect of medications can and often do wear off – they lose their effectiveness. “Tail Chasing” means that sometimes side effects are mistaken for new problems and new drugs are prescribed with new side effects which then call for still newer drugs with other side effects and on and on it goes. “Dependence” means that individuals can become so dependent on the drugs they are taking that they have a hard time getting off them or reducing dosage.

In spite of these dangers, the authors of this book are not against all use of psychiatric medicine. However, they are very cautious about its use and recommend dealing with heart issues first. They offer hope that the heart can change if we are faithful to follow Biblical guidelines for thinking and behaving.

The third and fourth chapters are intended to address the problem of suffering in a more general way. These chapters do offer some benefit in understanding suffering, but there is a problem with the underlying theology of the authors which seems to this reviewer to be at times ‘cold comfort’ for someone in suffering. The concept that God’s primary objective in creation is getting more glory for himself is faulty. At best, it is poorly expressed and at worst, it diminishes the great attractiveness of a loving God who completely deals with human sin and its consequences without regard to any cost to Himself. This objection is relatively minor for the value of the book as a whole and should not put off anyone from reading the book.

In Part Two, the authors address four areas of inner turmoil more specifically and then conclude with a chapter directing the individual to learn to live and think for the glory of God. This section of the book is very helpful.

The four subjects addressed are:

  1. Depression
  2. Anxiety
  3. Out-of-Control Moods
  4. Cognitive-Perceptual Problems (Dementia, Schizophrenia, Psychosis, Head Injury, etc.)

Physical problems may be especially evident in the area of Cognitive-Perceptual problems. Physical problems can be related to the other areas as well. However, one thing that we must learn is that regardless of our physical problems, we are each individually responsible for our heart attitude and our behavioural responses.

The last chapter of the book deals with how you go about changing heart problems. Whether you have any of the inner turmoil mentioned in this book, this chapter is excellent on teaching how to deal with putting off the old man with its habits and lusts and putting on the new man to walk in the light of the Lord. Everyone can benefit from this chapter alone.

The book deals briefly with each of the subjects it covers. As such, it can’t be seen as a comprehensive look at any one of the problems it mentions. However some of its brevity is handled very well by some helpful Appendices to the main book.

The first appendix is a very good, balanced presentation of the Gospel. It is referred to throughout the book. It is the first key to spiritual change. Unless you are born again, you cannot deal successfully with your spiritual struggles.

The second appendix is entitled “Understanding Medicine Dependence, Withdrawal, and Side Effects.” Further help about specific types of medicine reinforces some of the statements made earlier in the book.

The third appendix directs you on how to talk to your doctor about any medication you may already be on.

The last appendix provides a bibliography of other helpful books on the specific topics mentioned. The books recommended are all helpful and many will provide more depth for specific problems.

The also book contains many helpful charts and diagrams that illustrate the concepts the authors are discussing. They are very valuable.

One last comment: this book commits the sin of endnotes! Endnotes put information that should be in footnotes at the end of the book. A pox on endnotes! May they be erased from the possibilities in the publisher’s arsenal!

Having said that, be sure to check the endnotes. With only one exception, they provide excellent additional help on the points they are supporting.

~~~

“In either case, our feelings aren’t dysfunctional or sick. Our feelings are doing just what they were designed by God to do. They’re showing us that we have a problem. To feel better, we need to fix the problem, not just make the pain go away.” [pp. 31-32]

“When we struggle with emotions, the only sure footing that we can find is in the Scripture. Ultimately it really doesn’t matter that our friends are encouraging us or that we’ve convinced ourselves that we are getting better. What really matters is that God is there, understanding, upholding, protecting, and pitying us.” [p. 75]

•    “God uses suffering to draw us to Him. …
•    “Through suffering we learn to be more grateful for the suffering of God’s perfect Son. …
•    “Suffering is meant, in part, to motivate us to seek to change. …
•    “Our pain works to reveal our own misconceptions and sins and to lead us to repentance and truth. …
•    “Suffering humbles and enables us to comfort others who are suffering. …” [pp. 110-111]

“Maybe you want to please God, but when it comes down to choosing between your convenience and God’s commands, you find that you don’t want to obey God badly enough to say no to your own desires. Or maybe your real goal is to become a nicer person so people will like you rather than to become more holy. If your desire is focused on you rather than God, then you will feel ashamed of your failure (What will people think?) rather than sorry before God for your sin. If you respond with shame rather than repentance, you will be tempted to despair over your failure rather than being strengthened in your resolve to please God  the next time around.” [p. 158]

“Unlike the ‘five easy steps’ and ‘magic cures’ that the media bombards us with every day, the Bible teaches us that sanctification is a lifelong process that involves setting aside the old self and putting on the new.” [p. 187]

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Comments

  1. You may also appreciate the reviews at http://www.discerningreader.com/book-reviews/will-medicine-stop-the-pain as well as on my blog http://vineandshoots.blogspot.com/2010/07/book-review-will-medicine-stop-pain.html

    I am so thankful for this book, a message of grace to those who suffer with pain and emotional challenges.

    • Thanks for the comment, Michelle. I appreciate your link also.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jeremiah 33.3

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