The writer of this article is the Rev. Robert J. K. Law, MB. BS., at that time Vicar of Halwell, Devon. It first appeared in "English Churchman" 21-28 February 1992 p8.


When I left medicine for the Anglican Ministry, I was sent several people who sought Christian counselling. My experiences in several mental hospitals had led me to see that orthodox psychiatry was not all it was cracked up to be. One consultant psychiatrist said to me, "We cant cure these people, we can only help them to live with their illnesses." To me that was an admission of failure. "Why couldn't they cure these people?" I asked myself. Then it hit me. Perhaps there was nothing there to cure!

I began to re-think the whole concept of mental illness and to observe closely what I was really seeing, and not what I was supposed to see as per orthodox psychiatry.

Whilst curate-in-charge of a church in Edgware in the late sixties, patients were sent to me by various clergy and from ordinary Christians. I studied them carefully and what I saw was so obvious I was amazed it had not been seen before. Actually it had been seen before, because it was there in the Bible; and also it had been acutely observed by many playwrights and novelists. But it had been obscured by the term "mental illness".

What I saw were people who were self-centred, who had no purpose or meaning in life and who were behaving irresponsibly or sinfully. It was this irresponsible, sinful behaviour that intrigued me most. I confronted them with the fact that they were behaving sinfully and challenged them to accept that fact and to behave responsibly. I told them that it was their own fault that they were as they were. They could not help their situation, but they could help their reaction to the situation.

To my astonishment, the moment they accepted the truth that their bad, irresponsible behaviour was their own fault, they first felt immediate relief, and then immediate healing. After all, if it was their fault, then they could do something about i.e. Many admitted they knew it was their own fault and now that they had been "found out" they were only too glad to put things right. In effect they had been brought to say, I have sinned by my own fault, my own most grievous fault.

Suddenly it became clear. These people were not suffering from some illness which the "Doctor" had to come and cure, but they were reacting irresponsibly, and they were covering up their bad behaviour by blaming others and making excuses. Psychiatry had given them the biggest cover-up excuse of all. "I cannot help my sinful, bad behaviour because I am mentally ill."

A humanist, O. Hobart Mowrer, who was President of the American Psychological Association, in his book "The Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion", published by Van Nostrand Press, challenged the Church to get back to its responsible duty of counselling. On p.72 of his book, he declared that psychopathology (which is another term for mental illness) was a moral problem which has gravitated into medical hands by default and complacency on the part of the Christian Ministry.

On p.60, he demands to know whether "Evangelical religion had sold its birthright for a mess of psychological pottage".

On p.157 he declared that so long as Protestant clergymen preached the gospel on Sundays and then on weekdays had recourse to secular psychotherapy for help in the management of their own lives, their message will have little force or effect in stemming the tide of personal and social disorganisation in our time.

Mowrer said further on p.168 that if the Church refused to go all the way which the person who was in that emotional and moral crisis which we call "neurosisu and psychosis", it would lose its very excuse for existence and would cut itself off from all essential sources of inspiration and validation. As soon as the Church turned such a person over to some other agency or profession to deal with it, it would sign and seal its own death warrant.

Continuing, (p.171), he maintained that to-days clergyman could only save himself by the radical expedient of returning to the full-fledged business of saving, rescuing, redeeming others. And only when the clergy did this would the Pulpit theology recover substance and stability which it was lacking today.

Mowrer calls mental illness a moral problem which should be handled by Christian clergy. I wholly agree with him.

One psychiatrist who had listened patiently while I lectured on my counselling in the seventies at Bath and showed that there was no such thing as mental illness, challenged me by insisting that mental illness did exist.

I asked her how she knew there was such a thing as a `mind in us that could suffer . Could she dissect out the mind and show it to me? Her astonishing reply was that we could not know we had a `mind.

I told her I knew she had a `mind and that she was revealing it to me at that moment. She looked bewildered, so I pointed out that the `mind only revealed itself in speech and behaviour. What goes on in my mind can be known by others only when I speak it out or act it out.

So people did not present themselves to me as "mentally ill" people, but rather people who for some reason or other were behaving oddly and it was my duty to find out why they were behaving oddly. Were they suffering from a stomach ulcer, a brain tumour, an ingrowing toe-nail or were they just behaving badly? Mental illness I soon discovered was another way of describing sinful, bad behaviour.

"The whole world is odd except for thee and me, and even thee is a bit odd" can be re-written, "The whole world is mentally ill except for thee and me, and even thee has a touch of mental illness"!

Every situation, whether it is a physical illness, my next door neighbour, the food I eat, the weather, anything and everything, affects my mind and so my behaviour. And when this became clear to me, I realised that people were not mentally ill but were reacting wrongly, indeed, sinfully to some situation or other. Some had got into bad habits and so these bad habits had to be washed out and replaced with good habits.

To the non-Christian I would often say; Only Christ can truly put you right and keep you right, but if you will not have him, then I can only help you to be as happy as a Pirate can be on his ship with his shipmates living under a sentence of death which would be executed when the lawful government gets hold of him. I can only help them to be as happy as they can be realising they abide under Gods wrath and that one day they will have to face Him as their executioner if they did not repent and receive Christ for salvation.

So the persons reaction to a situation became the most important aspect of my counselling and it was when I came to Devon in 1972, that the Lord enlightened me in this whole matter, and I sat down and traced out all the sinful paths leading from rebelling against a situation through guilt and self-pity into all the so called "mental illnesses". I realised then that Psychiatric terms did not refer to peoples characters, but to their behaviour. Those terms describe the various kinds of sinful behaviour arising from self-pity. No-one is an hysteric, or a schizoid or paranoid by nature. They are sinners by nature who are behaving in an hysteric, schizoid or paranoid way. It was at that time also, that a friend of mine gave me Jay Adams book, "Competent to Counsel" which confirmed all that I had arrived at by the grace of God.

So the persons reaction to a situation became the most important aspect of my counselling. I analysed the situations and came to the conclusion that there is only one situation that precipitates bad behaviour and that is, "I cant have my own way." However I divide this situation into three.

Situation One. That which makes me happy has been denied me or taken away.

Situation Two. That which gives meaning and purpose to life has been denied me or taken away.

Situation Three. That which enables me to cope with life has been denied me or taken away.

The first leads to resentment, the second to despair, and the third to cowardice. And it is the outworkings of these three attitudes that lead to all forms of irresponsible behaviour which psychiatrists have called mental illness.

My counselling, indeed all Biblical counselling, is to break down these wrong attitudes and by the grace of God replace them with godly attitudes. Such breakdowns are indeed good for you.

Finally, l would like to give you the famous illustration of a man sitting on a drawing pin, surrounded by various psychiatrists. The man sitting on the drawing pin is obviously suffering pain and is behaving oddly. The agreed diagnosis by all the psychiatrists is that he is suffering from pain illness.

The Behaviourist Psychiatrist says, "I can get rid of your pain illness by giving you an anaesthetic or by cutting the nerves so that you will not feel any more pain."

The Freudian Psychiatrist says, "Let us look into your past to see who we can blame for your pain illness and as the pain seems to stem from the sexual area, you must be having sexual problems."

The Jungian Psychiatrist says, "You are suffering from past evolutionary pains. You are part of the collective unconscious. Take courage. Everyone is suffering pain illness in some form or another."

The Adlerian Psychiatrist says, "You are suffering from pain illness because you cannot dominate the group."

The Existentialist Psychiatrist says, "You must find meaning and purpose in your pain illness."

Dr. Frank Lake, author of Clinical Theology says, "Work out the frustrations of your pain illness on Christ and not on your family or neighbours."

I knew Dr. Lake personally when I was in the Psychiatric department of St. James Hospital, Leeds, and he was in a neighbouring hospital. I remember him saying how he gave a very angry patient a crucifix to vent his rage on rather than venting it on other people. He went on to tell us how the man was so strong that he broke the crucifix in his clenched fist.

Dr. Lakes great problem was that he could not reconcile his ideas with Biblical teaching on sin, particularly original sin.

The Biblical Counsellor says to the patient, "You are sitting on a drawing pin. Get off that drawing pin and sit somewhere where we can talk about how you need not sit on drawing pins again!"