In their book Psychology Debunked, Lisa and Ryan Bazler have joined forces to warn Christians about integrating psychological theories and therapies with the Bible.1 On the positive side, they have restated many things that the veterans and vanguards of the fight against the intrusion of psychology into the church have already said and they do give acknowledgement to that. Also, they have added to what has already been said with new and fresh voices warning against the intrusion of psychology into Christianity. On the negative side the Bazlers have ventured with a vengeance into the territory of psychotropic medications unsupported by their illogical reasoning and resulting in irresponsible recommendations. One chapter is the major undoing of the theme of their book, which is supposed to be about debunking psychology. The Bazlers do debunk psychology with excellence at times, but fail miserably in their one chapter on psychiatric medications.
It was good to hear about Lisa’s turnaround from her background and training to become a psychotherapist and to see her use her background to debunk psychology. However, in spite of her reference to having been a “former psychotherapist,” she was never a psychotherapist according to the State of California, because she was never licensed. In a phone call to the State of California, we were told, “The Board of Behavioral Sciences reserves the term psychotherapist to licensed individuals.” Lisa was never licensed and therefore should never have called herself a psychotherapist or currently refer to herself as a “former psychotherapist.”
Before debunking Psychology Debunked, we want to give a background for our criticisms, because we have written very little about mental disorders and psychotropic medications. One of the most difficult issues to deal with in the church is the cause and treatment of mental-emotional-behavioral disorders. There are hundreds of varieties of such disorders with the more popularly known ones being depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. The big question is whether such brain disorders are biological, spiritual, or a combination of the two. A bigger question is whether or not to use psychotropic medications. We begin with the axiom that the brain is both a biological and at the same time a spiritual entity.
The intimate relationship between the brain/body and the mind has led to misunderstanding and misdiagnosis during the entire history of psychiatry and psychotherapy. The problem of biological disorders that were thought to be psychological problems and treated as such is a grim skeleton in the therapeutic closet. Most psychiatrists and psychotherapists would like to ignore or forget about this history of looking at and treating psychological symptoms that were really the result of physical diseases not identified at the time.
At one time in this history there were undetected physical diseases which were treated as mental disorders because of the accompanying mental symptoms, and it is still true today. Two examples are general paresis, caused by the spirochete of syphilis invading the brain, and pellagrous psychosis, caused by a dietary deficiency of nicotinic acid. In both cases numerous people who have suffered from these diseases were labeled schizophrenic and treated accordingly.
This raises the whole problem of misdiagnosis and the tendency to refer people to psychotherapists or psychiatrists. There have been and still are great numbers of individuals erroneously referred to psychotherapists or psychiatrists who are really suffering from physical disorders. Sydney Walker III, a neuropsychiatrist, says:
Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans who are actually suffering from common medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism, Lyme disease, and even poor nutrition are misdiagnosed with psychiatric disorders. Studies show that the rate of misdiagnosis is more than 4 in 10.2
There is a whole range of bodily disorders that have mental-emotional, behavioral symptoms. Some of these biological disorders are in their embryonic stages—not yet detectable. These symptoms can result in personal discomfort and interpersonal problems.
An article in Psychology Today reports that there are “100 billion neurons in the human brain” and that it would take 32 million years “to count each synapse in the human brain at a rate of one synapse per second.”3 An article in the Psychotherapy Networker describes the human brain as “the most complex biological entity known on earth.” The author adds, “The number of possible interconnections among its neurons exceeds the estimated number of atoms in the universe.”4
The brain is obviously central to the mind-body relationship because it controls every organ system in the body. In addition, the brain also responds to every organ system within the body. This interaction of body to mind and mind to body is a complex process, and the enigma of it prevents us from knowing much truth about the underlying causes of mental-emotional symptoms. Our knowledge is limited because the secrets of human behavior are locked up in the mind-body relationship and particularly in the brain.
Michael Chase, in an article entitled “The Matriculating Brain,” wrote, “The human brain, for all our intimacy with it, has surrendered less to scientific research than have the distant moon, stars and ocean floor, or such intimate processes as genetic coding, immune reactions or muscle contraction.”5
Psych Meds Over Prescribed and Over Used
We want to make it clear that we do not recommend that individuals get on or off psychotropic medications. We generally do not write about psychotropic medications, but we do say that such medications are grossly over prescribed and greatly over used. Through the collaboration of psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies, psychotropic drugs have been unnecessarily foisted upon millions of naïve individuals.
Mental disorder labels are often recklessly applied by doctors to people who are undeserving of them. However, based upon recommendations from friends and pharmaceutical advertising, consumers request such psych meds from their doctors, and doctors who are on tight time lines too readily prescribe them. Admittedly, psychotropic medications are way over-prescribed and greatly overused, being prescribed for anyone with any sort of unpleasant feeling state for whatever reason.
We caution those on psychotropic medications and those considering them not to be stampeded by the Bazlers into concluding that their mental disorder is definitely a spiritual problem, just because no medical condition has been found. Thorough physical examinations should be conducted to screen out any biological reasons for the mental-emotional-behavioral symptoms with the understanding that this does not exclude an undetectable biological condition. No discernable physical basis is not the same as no physical basis. Until we go to be with the Lord, we will all have spiritual problems and some will have both brain/body and mind symptoms whose causes are undetectable by current medical knowledge.
Our purpose of writing this article is to expose the either/or fallacy, promoted by Lisa and Ryan Bazler and others, that a mental disorder is either biological or spiritual and their further erroneous conclusion that one can know for sure that it is one or the other. No one under current medical knowledge of the brain/body and mind knows for sure whether a mental disorder is biologically or spiritually driven or whether it involves both. We know of no competent Christian professional who would claim, as the Bazlers do, that a difference can be known for sure between a biological or spiritual problem when it comes to the brain/body and mind.
A Spiritual or Psychological Problem?
In their zeal to help individuals, the Bazlers advise people about the use of psychiatric medications. The errors they make and the misinformation they communicate are quite common among too many people who call themselves biblical counselors, as well as numerous other Christians. Whereas psychotherapists may see all mental-emotional-behavioral problems, seemingly unrelated to organic diseases, as psychological, the Bazlers see them as spiritual.
At the beginning of their chapter titled “Should I Take Psychiatric Medication?” Lisa and Ryan Bazler describe “Hannah,” who had “tried everything.” They say, “Even though she was in and out of therapy for over ten years, her depression continued to get worse and worse.” They say that Hannah had been put on Prozac by her psychiatrist, but that the Prozac “deepened her depression.” They then describe Hannah as deciding “to turn her entire life over to God and follow Him with all of her heart.” They conclude, “As a result of her recommitment to Christ, Hannah has stopped being depressed and now uses her time praying to God and serving, loving and encouraging others.”6
We always thank God when a person is delivered from depression or any other disorder. However, depression is a very broad disorder with a huge range of possibilities of cause and condition. Therefore, the story of Hannah cannot be used as a general rule for treatment and outcome. Nevertheless the Bazlers use this single case of Hannah as an example for others. What follows in their chapter supports the Bazlers’ belief that what happened to Hannah is possible for others—that they also can stop being depressed as they commit their lives to Christ, under certain conditions, which we will discuss shortly. The Bazlers have probably never read warnings about the “Dangers of Anecdotal Reports”7 or “The Hazards of the Single Case History”8 or any other literature warning about their single-case-fits-all mentality.
There is no warning in this chapter against following Hannah’s example. There is a warning placed on the verso of the title page, but readers do not generally read the verso page, which contains copyright and other information provided by the publisher. Even though the stories written by the Bazlers and others may be true, they should never be told without some precautionary note. Over the years we have known of individuals who have been misled into throwing away their psychotropic medications because of hearing about such stories as the one above. In practically every case the result has been unfortunate.
For many years we have been concerned about medical doctors too quickly prescribing psychoactive medications and also greatly over-prescribing them. However, we do not make medical recommendations on what may be found in the future to be true brain disorders or diseases. We are aware that with some individuals on psychotropic medications immediate cessation would do no harm. However, for a number of individuals immediate cessation of psychotropic medications could be detrimental and life-threatening.
The Bazlers’ story should be used to speak about the unnecessary use of medication, but it should never be left as is, because some will consider following the Hanna example and immediately cease taking their psychotropic medications. We repeat, we are opposed to psychiatrists too readily resorting to psychotropic medications, but we never suggest, imply, or state that a person should stop taking a medical doctor’s prescribed medication, particularly psychotropic medications, without medical supervision.
An example to illustrate our point is a book titled Toxic Psychiatry by Dr. Peter Breggin, who is radically opposed to the use of psych meds. However, even he includes a page titled “Warning” at the beginning of his book. He says: “Do not abruptly stop most psychiatric drugs!” He goes on to say:
Most psychiatric drugs are far more dangerous to take than people realize, but they also can become dangerous when discontinued too abruptly…. Stopping psychiatric drugs should usually be done gradually, and only with professional guidance.9
Another problem with the Bazlers’ story is that the individual involved may have merely been mildly depressed or even, as they contend, truly depressed for spiritual reasons. No distinction is made. These stories and others like them from many biblical counselors could lead readers who are on psychotropic medications to the conclusion that they should do the same.
“To Medicate or Not to Medicate”
The Bazlers agree that medications should be taken by those who have diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s that “have been proven to have a true medical origin.” In their section “To Medicate or Not to Medicate,” they say:
How can we know whether we have a true disease or a psychiatric “disease”? We should get medical testing for any perceived illnesses. Testing may include blood tests, brain imaging and other objective measurements. If testing is positive, we should take the doctor’s recommended medication and follow the appropriate treatment plan. If testing is negative, we do not have a medical condition but a mental one. As we’ve seen previously, our mental problems are really spiritual problems that we can diagnose and treat biblically.10 (Emphasis added.)
The Bazlers spend some time noting that there are no certain biological markers for the mental disorders and conclude from this that, because a medical condition is not found, all such “disorders and diseases do not exist.”11 The Bazlers say, “We can classify problems as either medical (physically measurable) or spiritual (physically immeasurable).”12 When no biological markers exist they say that “our mental problems are [all] really spiritual problems that we can diagnose and treat biblically.”13
The Bazlers contend that if no bodily disease or disorder is found after a “complete” physical examination, then the mental disorder must be a spiritual problem and therefore a spiritual solution must be pursued. This one statement by the Bazlers is riddled with error and leads to erroneous conclusions! What about true bodily or brain disorders or diseases yet to be discovered, whose symptoms are depression? There are all sorts of mental disorders that have been treated in the past by psychiatrists as psychological disorders that later were found to have physical causes. Because a biological reason was not found at the time, those disorders would have been diagnosed by the Bazlers as spiritual, making fools out of them as it did the psychiatrists who had earlier misdiagnosed. We gave examples earlier in this article.
One should not follow the Bazlers’ faulty assumptions, because often times only God knows if the depression or any other mental disorder is caused in whole or in part by a spiritual problem, and therefore only God truly knows if a spiritual solution is all that is necessary. The Bazlers’ conclusion that a mental disorder is spiritual under the conditions they set encroaches upon God’s territory. They need to repent of claiming to have knowledge that only God can truly know. It can be said that every mental-emotional-behavioral and bodily disorder should include biblical ministry to the one who is suffering, but not to confront sin unless one definitely knows that sin is involved.
We challenge the Bazlers to identify one Christian medical doctor who would agree with their conclusions regarding medical testing: “If testing is negative, we do not have a medical condition, but have a mental one” and “mental problems are really spiritual problems that we can diagnose and treat biblically.” There is no one on earth who can tell for sure whether a mental disorder that has no known biological markers is a spiritual problem or a biological problem or a combination of the two.
A patient experiencing depression or another mental disorder may ask his doctor for an image of his brain, as advised by the Bazlers, but most health plans will not cover that procedure unless there are other symptoms. In checking with the largest local health maintenance organization, we were given a list of other symptoms a medical doctor would look for before recommending any brain imaging. A patient cannot generally order a multiplicity of tests without a doctor’s recommendation.
Furthermore, brain imaging is still in its early stages of usefulness in diagnosing depression and other similar disorders. Certain problems, such as cell damage through tumors, strokes, and other mishaps, can be identified through brain imaging. But other activities in the brain having to do with neurotransmitters vary during the day and from day to day so that a specific diagnosis through brain imaging is definitely limited. Disease can be extensive, but not identifiable. Some diseases can be rampant and horrible but not even identified. Therefore, it is worse than naïve to state definitively that mental-emotional-behavioral problems that cannot be seen through existing tests are spiritual problems.
TO BE CONTINUED.
1 Lisa & Ryan Bazler. Psychology Debunked. Lake Mary, FL: Creation House Press, 2002.
2 Sidney Walker III. A Dose of Sanity: Mind, Medicine, and Misdiagnosis. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996, back cover.
3 Psychology Today, Vol. 35, No. 3, p. 17.
4 Mary Sykes Wylie and Richard Simon, “Discoveries from the Black Box,” Psychotherapy Networker, Vol. 26, No. 5, p. 26.
5 Michael Chase, “The Matriculating Brain,” Psychology Today, June 1973, p.82.
6 Bazler, op. cit., p. 101.
7 D. P. Spence, “Dangers of Anecdotal Reports,” Journal of Clinical Psychology, Vol. 57, pp. 37-41.
8 Elizabeth Loftus and Melvin Guyer, “Who Abused Jane Doe? The Hazards of the Single Case History,” SkepticalInquirer, Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 24-32.
9 Peter Breggin. Toxic Psychiatry. New York: St. Martin’s Press,1991, Warning page at the beginning of the book.
10 Bazler, op. cit., p. 115.
11 Ibid., p. 107.
12 Ibid., p. 118.
13 Ibid., p. 115.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, January-February 2010, Vol. 18, No. 1)