Pandemic mental-health challenges meet a shortage of professionals

By Sharon Richards, LCSW

Sharon Richards

The mental-health crisis predicted to follow the pandemic is already here. But the surge in demand over the last year has been met by a shortage of professional therapists.

As experts predicted, many more people are seeking counseling to address symptoms of trauma, anxiety, and depression. Others are desperate to explore overwhelming questions about their identity, God, and the meaning of life. 

While traditional therapies are sometimes ill-equipped to address these more existential questions, gospel-centered professional counseling is uniquely suited to bridge this gap. Integrating the gospel within the framework of a professional counseling relationship provides a unique opportunity for people to experience Christ’s transformative healing.

However, counseling centers serving communities on a sliding-scale fee system are more likely than their secular counterparts to collapse due to inadequate resources and funding. Christian-based counseling ministries often do not qualify for federal or corporate grants, which are limited to begin with. Churches which refer clients to these organizations are often not able to subsidize in significant amounts. 

And the counselors working at these small ministries often work part time, because the nonprofit cannot afford to provide benefits. So many professional Christian therapists have to choose to serve at a cost to themselves or leave for private practice to make a living wage. For these reasons, local Christian counseling ministries need our care and attention now so they can keep serving and healing people through the power of Jesus.

Exponentially increasing need

Disturbing trends are being closely followed by researchers and governments as well as local community organizations and churches. According to a recent New York Times article, two out of five people in the U.S. are struggling with a mental health issue such as anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, domestic abuse or substance abuse. And the rate is rising.  Experts are pointing to a “‘tsunami of psychiatric illness’ in the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic.”  

“The need has increased exponentially in the last year,” says Dr. Judy Cha, director of Redeemer Counseling Services in New York. People have experienced (and are still experiencing) an increased level and duration of distress, threat of physical harm or death, many losses, social isolation, as well as racial and political divides. 

“These have destabilized our sense of safety and security in life,” Cha says. “I can’t fully imagine what the impact will be, especially on children. But I do expect that there will be a long-term fallout from the pandemic.” 

In a June 2020 episode of NCF’s Hope Cast, Simon Barrington, founder of Forge Leadership, discussed the challenges that accompany the phases of recovery and reconstruction after any crisis. He predicted several re-entry phases, which would start with a honeymoon period full of joy and excitement, followed by more challenging periods of disillusionment and readjusting.

Barrington recommended that community-minded givers keep in mind this critical question: “How can we help people readjust?

The value of supporting Christian counseling

We asked directors of Christian counseling centers for their thoughts on the role of Christian counseling as a pathway toward healing during this uncomfortable time. Dr. Gwen M. White, director of Circle Counseling in Pennsylvania, says she sees the work of psychotherapists as a continuation of Jesus’ ministry of listening and healing those in need. “The truth still sets us free, including the truth we carry unconsciously, related to fears and old patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,”  White says. “Jesus still sets people free.” 

“I feel the urgency to make the gospel relevant in the counseling process,” Cha says. “Although there is value in what secular therapies can offer, I believe that mental health cannot be separated from our spiritual health because we are made in the image of God.” 

Quality gospel-focused counseling centers are running on thin resources. And this means another barrier for those seeking help. “Too often, people have to fight through a variety of issues to even get counseling, says Jonathan Holmes, executive director at Fieldstone Counseling in Ohio. “So to encounter a financial hurdle – for some, this is the end of their pursuit.” 

Consider the impact counseling had on one individual we spoke with: “When I was in my 20s and living in New York City, I knew I would be helped by counseling, but I couldn’t afford it. Someone wrote a check and handed it to me. They told me my thoughts and wounds were precious to God and to not run from them. That act of generosity launched a great journey of healing in my life.”

Photos: Top (Christopher Catbagan on Unsplash), Middle (Photo: George Desipris on Unsplash)

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