Attaching to God: Neuroscience-informed Spiritual Formation

084: Mental Illness or Spiritual Issue? And how they connect (with Dr. Matthew Stanford)

January 16, 2024 Season 5 Episode 84
084: Mental Illness or Spiritual Issue? And how they connect (with Dr. Matthew Stanford)
Attaching to God: Neuroscience-informed Spiritual Formation
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Attaching to God: Neuroscience-informed Spiritual Formation
084: Mental Illness or Spiritual Issue? And how they connect (with Dr. Matthew Stanford)
Jan 16, 2024 Season 5 Episode 84

Research tells us that when people suffer from a mental health crisis, the first person they turn to for help is not a physician, a psychiatrist, or a social worker, but a pastor, a priest, or a minister. Unfortunately, many church leaders are not trained to recognize mental illness and don’t know when to refer someone to a mental health professional. And how do we know the difference between a mental illness and a spiritual issue?

This is what we are talking about with Dr. Matthew Sanford, author of Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness, and CEO of the Hope and Healing Center in Houston, TX.

Other books by Dr. Stanford: 

Stay Connected:

  • NEED spiritual direction or coaching that aligns with this podcast? Connect with Cyd Holsclaw here.
  • Join the Embodied Faith community to stay connected and get posts, episodes, & resources.
  • Support the podcast with a one-time or regular gift (to keep this ad-free without breaking the Holsclaw's bank).
Show Notes Transcript

Research tells us that when people suffer from a mental health crisis, the first person they turn to for help is not a physician, a psychiatrist, or a social worker, but a pastor, a priest, or a minister. Unfortunately, many church leaders are not trained to recognize mental illness and don’t know when to refer someone to a mental health professional. And how do we know the difference between a mental illness and a spiritual issue?

This is what we are talking about with Dr. Matthew Sanford, author of Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness, and CEO of the Hope and Healing Center in Houston, TX.

Other books by Dr. Stanford: 

Stay Connected:

  • NEED spiritual direction or coaching that aligns with this podcast? Connect with Cyd Holsclaw here.
  • Join the Embodied Faith community to stay connected and get posts, episodes, & resources.
  • Support the podcast with a one-time or regular gift (to keep this ad-free without breaking the Holsclaw's bank).

[00:00:15] Geoff: Research tells us that when people suffer from a mental health crisis, the first person they turn to help is not a physician, a psychiatrist, or a social worker, but so often it's a pastor, a priest, or a minister. Unfortunately, many church leaders are not trained to recognize mental illness and don't know when to refer someone to a professional if they do.

And so, uh, how can we, uh, think about this or talk about this better and that, how can we, uh, think about mental illness and spiritual issues together rather than being in competition with each other? This is the embodied faith podcast with Jeff and Sid Holtzclaw, where we are exploring a neuroscience informed spiritual formation and produced by grassroots Christianity, which is seeking to grow faith for every day.

People today, we're very excited to have Matthew Stanford, uh, on the show with us. He is the CEO of the hope and healing center and Institute in Houston, Texas. He's also an adjunct professor of psychiatry at Baylor college of medicine, and he loves to research the role of faith communities and mental health care.

He's written numerous books. One is grace for the afflicted. Uh, he's also written, uh, which I have not read, but I just saw today. I was like, that is an interesting book. It's a book called the biology of sin. Yeah. And then most recently he has written a madness and grace, a practical guide for pastoral care and serious mental illness, Dr.

Stanford, thank you so much for being on the show with us today.

[00:01:46] Matthew Stanford: I'm glad to be here. Thanks for inviting

[00:01:47] Geoff: absolutely. Well, so just to start off, you see, and I love to have you kind of explain this a little bit, but you see, uh, ministering to those who are struggling with mental illness as part of fulfilling the great commission and it's what gave birth to your hope and healing center, um, out. Out of a local church there.

Why do you feel this is so important that it's like you viewed as part of the great commission is caring for those with mental illness.

[00:02:13] Matthew Stanford: Well, you know, I mean, I think that, um, I mean, it is the problem of our, of our generation, of our time is mental health. I mean, it, it, it cuts through everything, uh, that we are as a, as a society, educational system, criminal justice system, our economy, everything is affected and we are in a significant mental health crisis.

It's also something that, you know, the systems that we've set up you know, in the kind of the society have not been able to deal with effectively and they never have been able, the majority of people don't receive care that have these problems. And then as you said, people are more likely to go to a clergy.

And that's, that's been true for, you know, almost a hundred years, uh, where the data has been. People are more likely to go to a clergy before they go to a mental health care provider or a physician when they have these problems. So if they're, you know, in some sense, it's almost the reverse Great Commission in the sense that, you know, Jesus told us as we're going, you know, make disciples and send us out.

But really, uh, what the data shows is that we just have to kind of be at the forefront. Church and they show up. And so, uh, you know, I, I've often called mental health, kind of the mission field of the 21st century, uh, because it isn't just in the United States that people are struggling. And if you talk to missionaries, you know, trauma and things in other parts of the world, uh, where there aren't even functioning mental health care systems at all.

Uh, a lot of times, you know, they're desperate for resources to help with that. So I think it's a great open door. I've seen that, uh, you know, my own career, you know, where I had open doors to work in Libya with Muslim populations because of trauma during the revolution and, uh, Syrian refugees and different things like that, as well as here in the U.

S. where I know that people that would never walk into the door of a church to go there for service will go there because they need assistance.

[00:04:05] Geoff: Yeah. Thanks for, and you, before we jumped on, you said that even people who are not churched will still seek out, um, we would say like a religious, uh, professional before they would seek out a mental health professional. Is that right? Has,

[00:04:20] Matthew Stanford: Absolutely, that's what the data, and that's governmental data, that's not something that I gather or somebody else, the government gathers data on where people go first when they're seeking assistance and things like that, and the largest subset go to clergy, and it doesn't matter whether they're people of faith or they're associated with a faith community, so in some sense it's a very, you know, if you want to look at it from an evangelistic perspective as well, I mean, people are showing up.

The problem is, is that Clergy really, ministry, staff, congregants really aren't equipped to recognize what walks in because people don't say well I'm here because I have bipolar disorder. You know, they're here because I lost another job or I'm not getting along with my wife or whatever. Uh, and they just don't pick up on it.

Plus I think a lot of times we kind of have spiritual blinders on. Uh, you know, if it walks in the door of the church, it, it's gotta be a spiritual issue. And so we gotta try to put it into that context. And I think that's a. Very short sighted idea of what it is to be a church.

[00:05:18] Geoff: well,

[00:05:19] Cyd: Yeah, this.

[00:05:20] Geoff: I was gonna say, let's do this. Let's do the, uh, a spirit, uh, choose your own adventure here because you mentioned those two things as well. How do you recognize them? Uh, as spiritual. And then we also have like the spiritual blinders. I don't know which direction we want to go. Sid, were you going to go one of those two directions?

Were you going to go somewhere else?

[00:05:37] Cyd: uh, no, it was kind of, I was just going to ask a different question. So yeah, my question is just that, um, you know, I think a lot of times we are taught, you know, stay in your own lane, right. Of, you know, you do the things that you're equipped to do and you stay away from the things that other professionals are equipped to do.

And so as pastors, I think there's a lot of, you know, thought of, oh, well this isn't my area of expertise. I have no business. You know, sort of a quote, dabbling in mental health. And I can't diagnose mental health issues. That's not what I'm, you know, trained to do. So I'm just curious what you would say to, you know, how do you speak to that dilemma that maybe some church leaders have?

[00:06:21] Matthew Stanford: well, I think you know, I and I agree I think that there's no you know I would never tell a pastor or a minister or a congregant that they needed to be a you know Counselor or a psychiatrist at the professional level, but you know, the reality is is that the church is a body That's how God made it and I it would be hard you'd be hard pressed to find a congregation It wasn't equipped for just about anything Uh, if you think about the talents all the individuals have.

So for us, you know, we do a lot of training with faith communities. We trained over 6, 000 clergy and ministry staff here in Houston, and we're in 500 congregations and set up supportive services there. You just have to know how to recognize a mental health care problem. That what literally the difference between what is sitting in front of me is a mental health care problem or not, and then know how to connect that person to professional care and then have within your faith community.

Um, supportive opportunities much like you would have for anyone. I mean, we offer support. I, I oftentimes, it's what you said. That's a great question. The way you ask it, because a lot of times people say they will say that, well, I don't know anything about mental health, but I say, you know what? You don't know anything about cancer either.

And if someone showed up and they said they had cancer, you would be all over that to support them. You, you'd pray for them. You'd bring, you know, any church in America. They're going to bring you a bunch of casseroles. I mean, you know, it's like the, but oftentimes mental health has been called the no casserole illness because nobody brings you a casserole and they think, you know, or you, you know, you send the youth group over to mow their grass or you offer them some money from the benevolence fund or whatever.

And so, so, you know, at some level, if we do nothing more for people with people, people and families with mental health issues than what we do for other individuals that have us. Concerns or problems or distress then we would be making a kind of a big leap forward from where we are But I also would say this I would say there's no issue that isn't spiritual or have some spiritual aspect to it I mean I literally was just Teaching I was teach a Sunday school class and we're just in a section of Mark where Jesus literally tells the disciples Someone gives you a cup of cold water Because you are, you come in my name, you'll never lose their reward.

Okay. Well, I mean, there you go. I mean, how simple is that? So if somebody shows up and they say they have a transportation problem and you help them with that, well, and that's spiritual. And so when I said spiritual blinders earlier, what I, what I think is a lot of times we try to We try to dilute it down to this is, what is the spiritual component of this?

Uh, and we lose the opportunity to just serve someone. Uh, and, you know, the fact that people are more likely to go to a clergy or really in a sense a church first is a great opportunity for us to kind of step into a problem that the world really has not been able to effectively, uh, take care of. Uh, and really, you know, make ourselves to some extent more relevant to people who are outside the church that we really are interested in real world problems.

[00:09:24] Geoff: That's so important. Um, I, I think that the spiritual blinders or, um, what you were kind of calling it, like, how do we? approach this issue as a spiritual issue or not? Like you wrote a whole book called the biology of sin. It seems like you were trying to answer that a little bit. Cause on the one hand, you could get the really strong, like church, a certain sex segment of the church.

That's like, everything is a spiritual issue. And by that we mean a sin issue and people, um. You know, need to confess and repent of their sin. And then whatever is quote thought to be a mental health issue or what any other issue in their life, we'll start getting cleared up. Then the other extreme would be, Hey, people are struggling with mental health issues.

We shouldn't even bring up sin. These people are not sinning. Sin is not even involved. And it seems like you were trying to kind of talk to both sides of that conversation a little bit in that book. Is that right? Why do you feel it's important to kind of, how do you hold those things together? Um,

[00:10:23] Matthew Stanford: book because there, there's a lot of confusion. Um, uh, Christians are unfortunately kind of generally afraid of science. Uh, you know, a lot of that's come from these, Kind of ridiculous kind of creation evolution wars that have gone on for a long time And you know the fallout from that is that people then kind of just dismiss science altogether And I am a scientist.

I you know, I have a PhD in neuroscience and I've you know I've been a scientist my whole life and so I've never really seen the conflict that you know Most of the time it's non scientists that are saying that but you know when you talk about mental health problems You do have one extreme in Christendom that will say all mental health problems are sin, like you said.

So a person's depressed, depression is a sin. A person's has anxiety, anxiety is a sin. And you know, schizophrenia is demonic possession. I mean, they're, you know, they're way on one extreme. And you're right on the other end, people might say, well, this has nothing to do with our, with church and, you know, send them away to get help and, you know, whatever.

Um, but there are, you know, in mental health, we do have. Behavior, uh, and thought patterns, and some, some of those, you know, the Bible says are sin, uh, and so, you know, so for instance, uh, drunkenness, you know, for instance, in the Bible is a sin, but clearly, you know, a substance use disorder is, we also can look at it from a different perspective and say it's a mental health problem, that does, you know, by calling it a mental health problem, that doesn't mean that it's not a sin, uh, it also doesn't mean that we can't treat it to some extent, you Uh, but, um, you know, people get very confused and so it when, you know, they say, Oh, well, you're, you know, you're the psychologist and you want to just call everything a, you know, a disorder.

Well, I think you can look at some disorders from one perspective, from a spiritual perspective. And, and they could be sin, and others you can, and you can look at it from another side, and you can think of them as disorder. Nobody, you know, as I said in, in that book actually, you know, no one says it's a good thing to have a disorder.

I mean, disorder means that it's not ordered, you know, and it needs to be fixed. So, um, but not all disorder is sin. And so, now, you know, at another level, you know, we don't want to get too theological

[00:12:37] Geoff: I do.

[00:12:38] Matthew Stanford: at another level, all disorder, all disorder is the result of sin, you know. So, you know, we could start at an original, you know, we could start at an original sin level and say anything that isn't within the natural order that God has, you know, ordained from the beginning is a result of sin.

So could at some level I say depression was the result of original sin? Well, yeah, absolutely. Is it a sin to have depression? Well, no, I don't, I don't think it is. And so, Uh, but, um, you know, so I did write that book and each chapter is a basically a behavior that the Bible says is sinful, but from which there have, but which science has found that there's a biological, you know, some basis for, um, and, you know, again, all behavior has a biological basis.

And so I, I don't, uh, I mean, I literally was just speaking at a conference last week, uh, and I was speaking at that conference on mental health training for

[00:13:36] Geoff: Hmm.

[00:13:37] Matthew Stanford: And when I finished that, when I finished that workshop, a lady, and I, this is not something I talked about, she literally walked up and she said, Do you think homosexuality has a biological basis?

I mean, that literally was, she just walked up and asked me that. Um, and that wasn't even what I was talking about. And I said, well, I think all sexuality has a biological basis. I know mine does. You know, and so, I mean, that's how God made us. Uh, that has nothing to do with whether it's a sin or not. It just has to do with God made us biological, and he also made us to have a spiritual aspect to us, or a very complex, uh, unity of, of those.

And, uh, so, you know, I think a lot of times we just kind of deny, like, people would say, well, if it's biological, that means it's not your choice. Well, I mean, I was born a sinner. I didn't choose to sin. I am a sinner. I was born that way. I was born in sin. Uh, and so, um, you know, I sin because I'm a sinner.

And now, you know, that I came to faith, you know, in the spiritual sense, I'm I'm righteous, but my biology is still broken. So, I mean, you know, we can think through these things. I mean, these are not, you know, I always say it's not rocket science. It's hard to land a rocket on the moon. It's not hard to think about these things and be a little smarter about them.

Um, you know, so I think, you know, Christians need to be a little bit smarter about the fact that we are biological, that these things are biologically driven, but that's not at all what,

[00:15:06] Geoff: Sure.

[00:15:07] Matthew Stanford: You know, the writers of the scriptures are trying to delineate biological or not

[00:15:12] Geoff: Well, it's not, it's not rocket science, but it is brain science though. Isn't it?

[00:15:16] Matthew Stanford: It is brain

[00:15:16] Geoff: The way I often talk about it is that. Um, we are made on the sixth day, which is the day that all the other animals were made. And so it's, it's proper and good, uh, to investigate what our life is like as animals. If, you know, just to say as plainly as that, and yet we are also, um, by God invited into the seventh day, which, you know, seems to be only something that humans, you know, we're made in God's image.

And so, you know, we are both, uh, we have animal natures, you know, we have these physical animal, biological, neurological. Realities that are us, and then we also have some sort of spiritual reality. So that's kind of what, you know, this podcast is trying to get at is that we have these two parts of us. And so, uh, mental illness, we can take that seriously, but not allow that as like, um, as an excuse for sin.

Uh, but then conversely, we shouldn't just say all mental illness is sin. And let's just, you know, yeah.

[00:16:14] Matthew Stanford: Right. I mean, if you have a mental illness, you certainly can sin, and it have nothing to do with your mental illness. I mean, you can, you know, it, uh, and so, and, and you can't just, if, if you have a mental illness, and it, uh, and it makes it, you know, it certainly, if it impairs your ability to control your behavior.

And you do sin. You can't just blame that on your mental illness. You're still culpable for that behavior. Uh, you know, but again, the thing is, is that not all mental illness is a sin. And not all sin would be deemed a disorder or anything like that. So, but we are biological. And so, I don't think there's any Uh, you know, I like to think about us as kind of, and I do in all my books, I kind of describe us as kind of four facets to ourselves.

So, like Luke 2, 50, Sue says, Jesus grew in wisdom and stature in favor of God and man. So body, mind, spirit and relationships, um, And, you know, I think when I see a person with a mental health problem that we're working with, I see that they're affected at all those levels. Uh, and so we want to intervene at all those levels.

We don't want to just say, well, all you got to do is read the Psalms and your depression will go away. Uh, because I think reading the Psalms is a great idea, but I don't know that it's a treatment for. a disorder that has a biological aspect to it. Not to say it doesn't have mental aspects and things like that, not to say that it can't even affect you spiritually, but I don't think that that's the only thing you do.

Just like I don't just throw medicine at somebody and say that's all you need. I mean, I've rarely ever seen a client that just takes medication and that, that fixes everything. Uh, that's just one tool. Uh, so, I mean, as a, as people of faith, you know, that read the scriptures, we can see that God's madness is a very complex being.

Uh, and, you know, a lot of times it's interesting. I'll, I'll see Christians that say, Oh, well, you just try to say everything's biological. And so you dismiss sin, but then they do what I would consider the exact same thing. They say, well, it's all spiritual and they just, and they completely deny the existence of our physical body.

Uh, and I say both of those are wrong. Both of those are wrong. We're this unity and, and God made us biological. I mean, I've said in talks I've given before and things I've written that, you know, our biological body is just as important to God as our spiritual nature. He made them. And so, you know, people don't like to hear that sometimes because they, they have that Sunday school idea that we're just going to.

Disappear like poof. We're going to be in the clouds, you know, with wings and a harp or something and nobody. But, you know, at the end of the book, it says we get the body back, you know, and it's this body. And so he's going to come to us and we're going to live in a physical way together. Uh, in a way we can't understand at this point, but, uh, the physical nature is very important to all of this and, you know, I've, I've just been very interested in how, excuse me, how people control or can't control their behavior.

That's what led me to be in this whole field that I'm in.

[00:19:12] Geoff: Ha

[00:19:19] Cyd: their behavior, that would, um, from what I'm hearing you say, that sounds like that would be one of the indicators, um, for someone who's maybe in the clergy, right? And someone comes in and starts talking about a personal thing that's going on.

And there begins to be this pattern that emerges of, of, I can't control it at all. Like, I've tried or I can't like, so what, what might be some of the other indicators that the person who's talking with us, um, may be exhibiting signs of a mental illness?

[00:19:50] Matthew Stanford: Yeah, I mean, I think the first thing is, you know, to kind of differentiate the difference between just kind of regular mood or, or, you know, thought issues that we all have, uh, from disorder. And, and really, when we, when we say disorder that we're saying that there's an impairment in your function in some way.

So we always ask people what we consider the big three. This problem that you just came to talk to me about, how's it affecting you on your job? How's it affecting you in your relationships? And if you go to school, how's it affecting you in school? So if it's causing you to lose jobs, well, then it's impairing your ability to function in at least one sphere of your life.

So that's a huge indicator. that we've crossed the line into disorder. Another thing is the chronicity of it. How long has it been around? I mean, if somebody comes in and says, you know, I'm really down today and I just can't seem to get going and you say, well, how long has this been going on? And they say, well, it just started yesterday.

You know, I had a fight with my mom. Okay, well, you know, that's not but if they say, you know, yeah, you know, it's really been going on for about six weeks. Well, that's that's serious. I mean, that's significant. And then how is this affecting your ability? Well, I've been missing a lot of work because I can't get up and get going.

Well, at that point right there, I would suggest that this person Is that a point where they're going to probably need to get at least some assessment to determine whether there's what's going on. I mean, this is not something that they're going to just be able to walk through themselves. They've already explained that to you.

And then, you know, there we actually use a little kind of six item scale. It's actually in the book madness and grace that you mentioned. Uh, and it's just six items where you kind of ask the person how they've been over the last month. And there's some cut off scores of If you score above a certain level, then that's suggested that you need to see a mental health care provider.

And it just makes it very easy. And it's just things like, have you, over the, the first one is, over the last 30 days, how often have you been so sad that nothing would cheer you up? So it really gets away from things like just being sad or worried. I mean, being sad is, everybody's sad sometimes, and everybody worries sometimes, but that doesn't mean you have an anxiety disorder or depression.

So, it's, it's all about functionality, kind of timeline or chronicity, and kind of intensity. That, that's the other way. How, how intense is this? You know, depression's a very dark pit. Whereas sadness is just kind of the blues. Uh, so kind of where is the person on that kind of intensity level?

[00:22:24] Cyd: Yeah. And that's, that's really helpful. Um, just to hear those things. And I mean, that's kind of, so I, I'm a coach and a spiritual director. That's sort of the similar criteria that I use too, when it's like, if it's disrupting someone's life, um, then it's, then it's, you know, beyond what we could do through coaching or spiritual

[00:22:42] Matthew Stanford: And don't worry about names. That's the thing we tell. It's the first thing we know in our training. Don't worry about diagnosis. Let me worry about that.

[00:22:49] Cyd: Yeah.

[00:22:50] Matthew Stanford: I don't care if it's depression and anxiety disorder or schizophrenia or whatever. I don't care. All I'm trying to determine is is the level of psychological distress that you're at a level that's impairing your functioning.

Uh, and is it at a level or intensity? In which a mental health care provider is going to be necessary to help us walk through this with you, uh, and, uh, that's all you need to think about. So it's, it's just recognizing that what's in front of you a mental health problem. You don't care what kind of problem it is.

And that gets back to your original question about like trying not getting outside of your lane. You know, is it, it's like, okay, well now that's outside my pay grade. Okay. Now I need to have some vetted providers that I feel comfortable working with that I can. I can connect this person to, and then we can all work together to help move them forward.

[00:23:42] Cyd: Okay. So then my next question is, because this has happened to me several times, what, what happens when your vetted providers are not accepting any new clients?

[00:23:52] Matthew Stanford: Yeah, that's why you gotta, yeah, that's a, that's a great question, and that's why you have to, and that's why I will say that, uh, you guys had asked me before we got on, what's the, of these four R's that we talk about, we talk about recognizing, refer, relating to the person distress and restoration. What are the, I think was the hardest, the most difficult one referral is without a doubt, the most difficult one, because there are a lot of factors that you don't have any control over.

So, um,

[00:24:18] Cyd: Yeah. And when someone is in, when someone is in that place of really, really struggling and the soonest they could get in to see somebody is, you know, three to six months from now,

[00:24:28] Matthew Stanford: Absolutely. So you have to, you've got to, you know, in that, and churches struggle with the referral list and they usually can put a referral list together the first time, but they can't keep it up to date. It has to, at a minimum, somebody has to go through that referral list every single month. And call through it and make sure that they still take the same insurances that they still are taking clients, things like that.

There's nothing worse than someone giving you a phone number to connect and you call and they go. They can't help you because what our data shows is that actually drives people away from getting help. They usually won't come back and ask again. So, uh, You know, so it's a couple things that we recommend.

Number one, you got to constantly go through the referral list. You got to have a lot of options for people. So different options for resource level. So, you know, wherever you live, there's likely an indigent system for people that don't have resources. You need to understand how that works, the church. And so you need to understand who you call and how long it's going to take, things like that.

Um, you, uh, you need to have taken into account the possibility of the church, uh, offer some benevolence, you know, some, you know, will they pay for medication one time, two times, will they pay for three sessions of therapy? When you're making that referral list, you ask them, you know, if, if you're on our referral list, would you be willing to see somebody on a sliding scale, even though they don't normally do that?

I mean, we have over a thousand providers on our, Uh, database here at the Hope and Healing Center all vetted and we have lots of relationships that provide us services in ways that they don't provide other people. Uh, you know, you need to have primary care physicians on there as well. So if someone comes in and they're not going to be able to see a psychiatrist for six, eight weeks or even longer, well, maybe this may be a primary care.

I don't like that, but maybe a primary care physician can start them on medication to kind of bridge them. And so, you know, those types of things where you're, you're trying to give people a lot of different options. And then on top of all of that, that's where the restoration part of four Rs comes in, where you actually have something at the faith community where people can connect immediately, be that support groups or mental health coaches or some level of kind of supportive service that they can access for nothing immediately.

Uh, that has been shown to be helpful in the management of their illness. And that way it's not. It doesn't ever seem to someone like you're sending them away to get better. Uh, we always talk about bringing somebody in to help us help you. And so, um, but you're right. There's there can be a significant wait time.

And the better that referral list is. Uh, the, the, the better it is for you as far as connecting them. The other thing, the only, you know, one of the few good things that came out of the, um, pandemic, if you can imagine anything good came out of it, is that most providers now provide some level of virtual service.

And so, um, you know, so you guys are in Grand Rapids, uh, and, uh, so really anywhere in the state of Michigan. Is an option for you. Uh, and so you know, is the church could provide a portal where the person or an iPad where the person could sit and get their care. Right there, but they're connected to somebody that's in, you know, halfway across the state in Texas.

That's even even bigger because the, you know, the state's so enormous it gives us even more providers to connect with. And so that's another thing that churches should take into account. It doesn't have to be an in person. Maybe the church can just set up the option for them to connect virtually to get kind of get their services moving forward.

[00:28:00] Geoff: so good. Thank you for that. That's a, that's a great idea because I think a lot of times we do, we get stuck like, well, who's the person in town that we can refer these people to, but really, and part of it's the credentialing. So that's why you said in Michigan, because a lot of the credentialing isn't always across

[00:28:16] Matthew Stanford: Right, can't usually go across states, although there are some states that have reciprocity so they do allow Uh, and I don't know if Michigan is one of them. I know Texas is, and Texas doesn't allow any, which is horrible, uh, but, you know, you can, the whole state of, I mean, think about that, you go from, you know, I mean, if you're in a, you know, if you're in a faith community, you guys are at least in a large city, imagine you're in a very rural area, uh, well, that's, that's your, you know, When is now you can sample from the entire state of Michigan and maybe, you know, maybe you're looking for a Christian counselor.

Okay. A lot of people call me go. I want to go see a Christian counselor. Okay. Well, maybe you don't have any in your town, but maybe there's 50 across the state of Michigan. And now if they have virtual services, then you, you have an opportunity. So I think that is a good opportunity and really requires nothing more than an iPad.

[00:29:08] Geoff: Well, so you mentioned the recognition, although I felt like we could spend a whole 20 minutes or more on the

[00:29:15] Matthew Stanford: Oh, yeah. You can. It really is as hard as people think it is. That's the, that's the thing because it really is. It's a, it's a black and

[00:29:21] Geoff: or isn't as

[00:29:22] Matthew Stanford: Is this mental health or not? That's it. That's all you're trying to do. If you get beyond that, then you are, you're off on a tangent. And yeah, you know what? I can teach you lots of different, uh, criteria and diagnosis and all that, but it's meaningless to you because you're never going to do that.

So why, why would you even need to know that? And it confuses people too. Yeah.

[00:29:44] Geoff: Hmm. So then, uh, so hopefully someone is being referred as getting some sort of care. How then do we nurture? relationships, whether they're amongst family members or within the church, like say in a small group or a youth group or something like that. Uh, how do you continue to kind of walk with people in the midst of pursuing like a common spiritual life?

Like how do we keep that spiritual? Because I found, uh, and I know pastors who You know, if once they do make the referral, then it's kind of like, they feel like, oh, well, I can't like tend to their spiritual life because of the, you know, the doctor or people in a small group will feel that way too. Like, oh, we can't bring that up because, so we'll just kind of, you know, pretend that's not happening in their life.

Like this is how people feel stigmatized. And then it just kind of snowballs into not being in community. So how can you encourage people to kind of walk alongside them? Like, how can they do that better?

[00:30:39] Matthew Stanford: right. And what you're describing. I mean, I hear that all the time, you know, and you know, like I've had families come to me and say, well, you know, we shared that our son, our 28 year old son had a psychotic break and he was in psychiatric hospital. And that's the last time anyone ever said his name to us.

Like when you ask people why they go, well, we didn't know what to say. Well, again, I don't know what to say about cancer, but I've been in lots of small groups and like every single week they want to know how your treatment's going and can we pray for you. And, you know, I mean, so it's, there is the stigma.

So first thing I would say is, I think since we know these individuals are showing up at churches and, uh, you know, faith communities are a great place for support and care and God's teeing this up for us. I think the pastor and the ministry staff, they have to start the conversation. I mean, they have to make sure that.

We are, you know, that, that these things are part of our teaching that with that, uh, you know, we are having discussions about mental health issues. Uh, and how the church can be involved from the pulpit. Uh, I think it's, you know, I think the, the, the low hanging fruit for any faith community is some support groups.

Have some support groups at your faith community. A lot of organizations, all they want is you to provide a space for the group to meet, and they'll actually send a, they'll send a facilitator, like AAs are like that, or even NAMI sets up, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, they, they send, you know, so If you don't want to set up your own support groups, there's plenty of, of, of ones where they'll, you know, you just open up the, when you do that, what you're saying is the, the faith, this, our faith community is a safe place for people with these problems to come and get support.

Uh, and, and so set those up where people could come and, you know, make sure you offer family groups, a group where the caregiver is supported. I mean, that's one of the things we really encourage one of the first groups. Now you're, you know, you're, you're, that's the people who are always forgotten are the family members and mental illness doesn't just affect the person with mental illness.

It's like a bomb going off in the family of beyond that, you know, I think that, you know, it's important that those groups are looked at as, you know, I like to say their season of life groups, you know, and so. You know, if you're in like we have a group called minds transform, which is a group for, which is a faith based group for people who have a mental illness.

Okay. And so it's been demonstrated to reduce symptoms and increase spiritual growth. Uh, well, if I'm in, you know, if I go to that faith community and I'm in that group, the faith community shouldn't also be telling me that I need to be in a small group. That is my small group. And that should be listed along with all the groups.

So, you know, I, a lot of times I've seen, like, I open up a bulletin in a church and on one side they've got all the support groups listed and on the other side they've got all the small groups listed. You know what

[00:33:32] Geoff: And it's basically just like, you have young,

[00:33:35] Matthew Stanford: This is the crazy side of the bulletin and this

[00:33:37] Geoff: yeah, that's just what

[00:33:39] Matthew Stanford: side.

And so when you Don't be on this side. Be on this side. And so, you know, or, or people are like, they're double burdened. Like, oh, well, we want everybody. I mean, how many times you heard a church go, we want everybody at home. I've been to lots of churches that said that maybe that was more kind of 1990s, but certainly, you know, everybody in the home group.

Well, if I'm going to, uh, celebrate recovery, at the church, uh, which is more of an addiction group. And now I also have to be in a small, in a, in a home group. Then what you're saying is that my spiritual experience in the celebrate recovery is not a value to this church. And so if you list the celebrate recovery as one of your small groups and you count the the people that go to that as in these these.

additional spiritual groups. How is that person not going to an additional spiritual group beyond Sunday morning? I mean, come on, you know, and so we gotta, we gotta kind of rethink these. This is what I meant about with spiritual blinders. Uh, this isn't, this can't just be an add on where it's kind of like a thumb that sticks off the side of the church.

It's part of the life of the church. And so, we're not just caring for people that are pregnant and have cancer, or whatever. We're, when people have mental health problems, we are, we're caring for them. And, and that's part of who we are as, as the people of God. And we have support and services and care for them, just like we have that for everyone else here at our church.

[00:35:08] Geoff: so good. Well, so the two things I got to summarize just to summarize that is let's treat these things Relate with people as you would if it was a physical illness ask about it bring the casserole Figure out carpooling childcare, right you support them in the same ways and then for you for you all involved with churches The way you talk and then how you print out your physical like order of small groups or celebration recovery recovery groups like let these all be Represented as the spiritual life of the church.

I think that's so important. Well, thank you so much for being on with us today This again, I was just like I could ask so many questions but I know you put the time into your most recent book madness and grace a practical guide to pastoral care and And serious mental illness. So if, uh, I'll put that in the show notes, if any of you listeners are wondering, Hey, how can I hear more about this?

Um, check out that book and then where else can people find what you're doing or the group that you're doing or other resources that you're putting out?

[00:36:10] Matthew Stanford: Yeah, they, we have a podcast as well, the Madness and Grace podcast, and it's all on, it's all things mental health and faith, uh, that's wherever you get your podcast, and then also we have a, if you're interested in any of these resources, or training for your faith community, or your school, We do public schools and private schools.

Uh, you can go to MentalHealthGateway. org MentalHealthGateway. org and everything is available there. Uh, all of our training is free. Uh, all of our resources are free and they're both, they're offered both in English and in Spanish.

[00:36:42] Cyd: Wow. So that's like virtual. You can get those trainings online. They're not just in Texas.

[00:36:48] Matthew Stanford: Now if you're in, I mean if you're in Houston, we can do them live. In most places we'll do them live, we'll do them live virtual if you want it, but they are available just on your own time

[00:36:58] Cyd: Okay.

[00:36:59] Geoff: all be

[00:37:00] Cyd: a great resource. Thank you.

[00:37:02] Geoff: Um, thank you so much for, uh, taking, uh, some time out, uh, to be with us. Again, he's also written, uh, Grace for the Afflicted, A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness. And that spends a little bit more time going into not all the diagnostic stuff, but you do talk about, like, bipolar and IDI and, um,

[00:37:20] Matthew Stanford: I'm talking about, yeah, each chapter is like a different illness, and then there's a book called Grace for the Children, which is children's disorders, and each, each chapter is a different child's disorder, so, yeah, I mean, I think it's important that we, we educate ourselves on these things, but, but, you know, don't worry about diagnosing, let, let a professional

[00:37:37] Geoff: For sure. Well, again, thank you so much. This has been super helpful as we seek, you know, a neuroscience informed spiritual formation here on the Embodied Faith Podcast. You can find us on Spotify, on Apple, on Google, on all the different places. Please like, subscribe and share it. And Dr.

Sanford, thank you so much for your time.

[00:37:57] Matthew Stanford: Thanks for having me.